Archive | April, 2010

“Not a Mouthpiece But a Megaphone: Haitian Women and Rape”

30 Apr

*Last week, we cross-posted a piece entitled ‘We Are Not Your Weapons. . .We Are Women’ a harrowing testimony of surviving rape from an American activist currently working in Haiti. While we stand in solidarity with the author, Amanda Kijera, she made some troubling assertions about the credibility of rape claims and the need to speak FOR Haitian women. We felt it necessary to write a Crunk Feminist Response.”

Dear Amanda,

We are extremely disheartened to know that you were raped. We are emboldened by your courage to speak out about this experience and to attempt to grapple so soon with the social and political implications of what you and other Haitian women have been enduring over the past few months. We stand in solidarity with you and with them, and declare unequivocally that the terrorizing of Haitian women through rape, lack of safe shelter, and lack of adequate resources must end.

It is also encouraging to know that you are looking for the positive outcomes in this experience, though we encourage you to take the time and space you need to heal.  The struggle will still be there, when you are ready to fight. We recognize that rape has been used as a tool of patriarchal terror throughout the world for centuries. We also recognize that Haiti has a marked history in this respect. Dictator Francois Duvalier enlisted the Tonton Macoutes, a government-supported militia to suppress Haitiains, and they often targeted women in an effort to stamp out dissidence and to reinforce women’s subordination. Nevertheless, Haitian women from all walks of life have, then and now, advocated and agitated for change. They have formed feminist organizations under threat of censure, rape, and murder. And while we are awed by their strength, we reject the notion of rape as a rite of passage or as an experience we should suppress in order to shield other injustices. Doing so reinscribes the same system that deem women’s bodies as weapons and commodities for trade, misuse, and abuse.

You noted in your letter that while you had initially been invested in rehabilitating embattled images of Black men, “it is the women who move you to write now.” We, too, are moved. Disturbed actually, by the pervasive patriarchal fallacy that makes so many women, particularly women of color, feel compelled to defend Black men, to love them, to save them, even when they won’t defend, love or save us. Like you, we know and affirm that most Black men aren’t violent rapists, and that they, too, have been victimized by the recent disasters in Haiti. Yet, we hope your article and this letter serve as a call to all men and women for a kind of courageous accountability, one that demands that we hold folks responsible, whoever they may be, for the kinds of damage and violence they do, psychic and/or physical.

Click here for the rest of our response posted by the good folks over at Race-Talk.

And here’s to sustaining courageous dialogues. . .

In Solidarity,


How a Big Girl Like it, Daddy?

29 Apr

I was working out earlier this week when a guilty pleasure shuffled onto my iPod: LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It.” As the fresh nineties beat spurred me around the track, I rapped along to every raunchy word. Eventually, the track got to the part where I like raise up my hands and testify.  LeShaun, the female MC on the track, asks LL, “how a big girl like it, Daddy?”  While I cringe at the whole “daddy” thing, I appreciate the big girl shout out. So often big and black gets conflated with a sort of asexual Mammy symbolism, and that mess is definitely for the birds.

I also think LeShaun held her own against the self-proclaimed G.O.A.T. on “Doin’ It.” Nonetheless, she did run into her own big girl drama. When it came time to shoot the video, she was pregnant and LL refused to put her in the video, choosing instead to use models/video vixens to lip synch for their lives in her place. Later, when he went on tour, a post-baby LeShaun was alledgely booted from the concert lineup and replaced yet again with a skinnier model. I always think of this when I raise my hands like a maniac to that particular beat. It’s a sort of hip hop cautionary tale, where “Daddy” always has the upper hand.

Why am I giving you a close reading of a catchy, but certainly problematic, song? I’ll tell you why.  As I raised my hand in solidarity with other sexy big girls, I immediately thought of the hoopla surrounding the recent Lane Bryant lingerie ad.  Long story short, Lane Bryant has cried foul because ABC and FOX had banned the clip for being too risque.  See it for yourself.

I do see some things I would call into question (my nostalgia for raunchy songs from my youth, notwithstanding) and I certainly would not call this a crunk feminist commercial. However, I don’t take issue with a big girl (who is probably a size 12) wearing lingerie and planning a little afternoon delight. She’s grown and if that’s how she gets down with Dan (and shoot, it could be short for “Danielle,” hello), I’m not gonna hate on her expressing her sexuality.

I do think it’s interesting that the ad is considered any more risque that what we see on Vicky Secrets ads all the time.   (Side eye). And I do think it’s more fruitful to think about the structures that these ads spring from, than to simply bash a voluptuous woman for wearing a fierce plunge bra and matching boy shorts.

Bottom line: regardless of what Lane Bryant, ABC, FOX, the Weather Channel or whoever wants to say, I appreciate complex portrayals of women’s sexualities, ones that don’t simply fall back into the white, stick-thin, heterosexual, or the bourgeois, and I’m pretty sure my crunk comrades do too.

Hearts led Baby it’s your deal…

25 Apr

Apparently people across the country are outraged by Erykah Badu’s public disrobing.  Perhaps this was a matter of timing.  Had Ms. Badu waited until this month, April, which is Confederacy History Month in southern states like Texas, it might not have been such a big deal–the War of Northern Aggression being all about a state’s sovereign right to disrobe black people and buy and sell black bodies all willy-nilly and everything.  Still, no one wants to admit to viewing a black woman’s body on her own terms.  That shit’s embarrassing.  So much so that Dallas police had to compel one actual witness to come forward so that they could formally charge @fatbellybella with disorderly conduct.

Watch the video.

Guilty as charged. On several counts.  Giving the middle finger to the state by not securing the proper permits to film in the big D (li’l a double-l-a-s)? Guilty.  Resuscitating a beloved dead white man’s violently tragic death for purely niggardly purposes?  Guilty.  Removing one’s clothes for reasons other than satiating the male gaze?  Guilty.  Demanding that said gaze look at a black body in a non-sexual manner?  Guilty.  Publicly proclaiming a black woman’s agency?  Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.  /sarcasm

What was just as interesting as the video was the responses to the video. There were blog posts (here, here and here), Twitter comments, response videos and legal action taken against Erykah. In fact as of today April 20th, Erykah Badu has been charged with disorderly conduct and can either pay a $500 fine, or contest the charge. It will be interesting to see what she does. Which leads me to two questions:

What does it mean that this is a society where women’s bodies are used to sell everything from beer to cars, yet the presence of a Black woman’s body on her own terms prompts fears about children witnesses and fears of nudity? Let me be clear, a nude body and sexual body are not one in the same. But then again, folks don’t have #noactright because the nude white model’s at the MOMA got fondled last week by  museum visitors. This happened in an installation, which is apart of the Marina Abramović restrospective, where patrons must walk between two nude female bodies. Full stop. Jen Carlson, writing in Gothamist says,”the Yugoslavian-born performance artist wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t make her audience experience something they haven’t before, no?” Two different settings, high art, nudity and folks acting like they have no home training when it comes to seeing a naked female body. One body violated in the moment and another subject to a public scrutiny that’s still copping its feel.

Back to Erykah and the Dallas Police Department. The Dallas police received hundreds of calls from outside the state in complaint of Badu’s actions.  Badu’s pale(r) inspirations, Matt & Kim, generated no such vitriol.  No one lodged complaints out of concern for the poor children who were exposed to the pasty frostbitten (it looked cold right?) bits of a white woman and man.  Erykah’s video predicts the retribution by a state that wants to keep people on the straight and narrow.  (Who shot ya?) She did apparently disrupt the order despite the fact that most people weren’t even paying attention to her when she did it. Check the disinterest in the bystanders.  Wu-Tang is for the children (RIP, ODB), but according to Dallas police, Erykah ain’t.  The DPD said she didn’t care about the kids grazing the grassy knoll. This despite her own words on Twitter and in numerous interviews about how she worried that they might be traumatized. So she sent out a telepathic signal to let them know her intent.  Next time, Erykah, use an iPhone.

Despite Badu’s best efforts to explain herself (she went on 106 & Park, for fuck’s sake), despite her attempt to be intentional, folks had the unmitigated gall to say that they couldn’t understand the clip as anything more than a publicity stunt.  Which is to say they’d rather not read or listen…to words.  Which explains several (pop) cultural phenomena, including Sarah Palin and blazing hip-hop and R&B, in general.  (To be sure, Sarah Palin and Erykah Badu will never be mentioned in the same blog entry again.)

What good do your words do if they can’t understand you (or stop looking at your ass)?

Let’s write a $500 check to the city of Dallas on behalf of Erykah.  The shit might bounce, but the sentiment won’t.

Co-authored by moyazb, summer of sam, & mdot

We are Not Your Weapons. . .We are Women.

23 Apr

Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I started to write what I thought was a very clever editorial about violence against women in Haiti. The case, I believed, was being overstated by women’s organizations in need of additional resources. Ever committed to preserving the dignity of Black men in a world which constantly stereotypes them as violent savages, I viewed this writing as yet one more opportunity to fight “the man” on behalf of my brothers. That night, before I could finish the piece, I was held on a rooftop in Haiti and raped repeatedly by one of the very men who I had spent the bulk of my life advocating for.

This story is crossposted from Race-Talk. For the rest, click here.

Do You Remember The Time When You Fell In Love…with Activism

22 Apr

The spring of 2000 changed my life.  I was a graduate student in Women’s Studies at The Ohio State University, mildly active with the Afrikan Student Union.   One April day an advanced grad student named T.J. reported that the CWA Local 4501 union campus workers were stalled in their negotiations with the University, primarily over wages, and that they needed student support to win.  Within a few days there was a relatively big rally on the steps of Bricker Hall, to which I brought my djembe, and then T.J. announced over the megaphone that we were going in.  I went inside the administration building not knowing what was going on and having little experience with organized student activism.  This action was the beginning of a 30-day building takeover in support of the workers.

The first few weeks run together because once the workers decided to strike, there were rallies, teach-ins, demonstrations, and so much more every day that I could hardly keep up.  It was as if people did this all the time.  Undergraduate students and graduate students and workers and faculty and community members were all working together to make sure the workers won.  All food service and campus work from landscaping to trash pick-up ceased and the workers and the work they did were made visible to students in a way that they or it had not been before strike.  The student organizers worked tirelessly to convince students to side with the workers and not the Administration because the workers were making less after more than twenty years of service than a new worker at McDonald’s.

The Administration Building became the STRIKE FREE ZONE and professors who refused to cross picket lines taught their classes throughout the hallways of the building so that their students understood the importance of what was happening.  We marched from OSU to City Hall, during another demo a student was arrested when we blocked a major intersection on campus (the only black male among numerous white students), and we crashed every local speaking engagement President William Kirwan had to make sure his audiences knew what was going on at OSU.  Student organizers contacted Maya Angelou and she refused to come to campus until the strike was settled, and Kwesi Mfume also refused to speak at graduation. But the major event that won the strike was when union workers across Columbus, Ohio (through the work of the local and state AFL-CIO) organized a picket line in front of the union construction entrance of the OSU Buckeye football stadium AND students picketed the non-union entrance to the stadium.  When we shut down the renovation project happening at the stadium the university lost over $400,000.  Needless to say the strike was resolved within days of that demonstration of student and worker power.

We, the student organizers and activists, were black, Latina, Native American, white, at-risk, Japanese, Taiwanese, muslim, queer, christian, women, black nationalists, lesbian, transgender, biracial, Indian, working-class, local youth, wealthy, musicians, feminists, historians, chemists, queer identified fathers in heterosexual relationships, poets, you name it.  We were beautiful.  We argued, laughed, cried, screamed, but most of all we learned by doing and taking risks and being committed.

I met my life partner on that picket line.  I went to work for the labor movement in Washington, DC as a union representative for campus workers at George Washington and Howard University.  Spring 2000 was the time I fell in love with activism and I have been in love ever since.  Today I’m remembering the 10 year anniversary of a powerful demonstration of student, youth, faculty, worker, faith, and community power.  We took on The Ohio State University and won.

“Ain’t no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don’t stop. Wha-what”

ACT like you got some sense, and THINK for yourself!

21 Apr

I wish Steve Harvey would go sit down somewhere and smoke a pipe, because all he’s doing is blowing hot air.  And Black women are lining up in droves for a turn on the hot air balloon.  Just two nights ago a young undergraduate student asked in a panel on racial stereotypes, “Why can’t Black women find and keep a man of any race?” Sigh.

Tonight, Steve Harvey and Vicky Mabry will co-host a Nightline Face-Off: “Why Can’t A Successful Black Woman find a Man?” featuring Sherri Shepherd, Jacque Reid, Hill Harper, and Jimi Izrael.

As you can see, I’ve never been good at acting like a lady, and playing my position. So I’m gonna talk out of turn and suggest some of the things that I do and don’t want to hear in The Conversation this evening.

  • We don’t need to hear that Black women’s issues are keeping them from getting men. Why? Because the statement assumes that Black women are more pathological than every other group of women, and any sound reasoning person knows that false.
  • We don’t need to hear, Steve Harvey, about Black men’s need to profess, provide, and protect. Can we get a 21st century definition of Black masculinity already? One that “uncouples strength from dominance,” demands that black men do their own share of the emotional heavy-lifting in relationships, and one that frees everybody up from performing gender roles that are unproductive, stressful and unfulfilling.
  • We don’t need to hear that the panacea for our dating problems is interracial dating. It’s an option that any woman should choose if she’s so inclined. But don’t tell me I should be so inclined until you’re ready to release me and all Black women from the unstated expectation that we hold down the crumbling Black family at all costs, including our health, safety, and mental well-being.
  • We don’t need to hear black men tell us that they know what’s best for us, that they understand our plight better than we do. Like the Combahee Sisters told us, “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us.”

And here’s what we do need to hear:

  • We do need to hear that Black women “find love, sex, companionship and community” in a range of ways. And we do need, Sherri Shepherd, to write ourselves some permission slips to do so.
  • We do need to hear that all “successful Black women” aren’t straight, and that queer Black women have their own challenges and triumphs when it comes to finding love.
  • We do need to hear how amazing singleness can be. Cuz let’s be clear. Having time to think, to read, to travel unencumbered, to be in your own space and love and appreciate your own company, is the luxury of the single woman, and the necessity of the professional woman. Frankly, the more I like me and my life, the more I’m convinced this whole marriage thing is  overrated.  Do I want a man? Yes. Sometimes. For some things.  But on other days, I simply want me, a good book, and maybe the company of some close girlfriends.

Watch the show if you want. I probably will, since I’m single and have nothing better to do. <Side eye> But I am gonna do myself this one favor. In matters of love, I gonna  ACT like I’ve got the sense my mama gave me, and THINK for my damn self!

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places…

19 Apr

I have no choice but to blame my little brother. It’s his fault that this shenanigan publication finds its way into my mailbox once a month. Something about selling magazines for a band fundraiser. It was either this or a subscription to House Beautiful so I chose the lesser of two evils, or so I thought. Previously, I sort of boycotted Essence magazine, only picking it up if it was laying on some friend’s coffee table or in a doctor’s waiting room. But, alas, now I am confronted with its ridiculousness every month. The May issue brought Jill Scott’s bright-eyed and smiling face to greet me and I thought “maybe I’ll actually give this one a read instead of tossing it in the pile by the fireplace.” So I opened it up and went straight to page 92 to read an article entitled “Why Don’t We Get Married.” I should have known better, but instead I chose to be naïve, deluding myself into thinking this just might be an article about the myriad reasons why Black folks choose not to marry or why they are not allowed to marry. Including the fact that some of us aren’t even interested in marriage (either personally or politically) or—Gasp! Shock! Horror!—that there are actually Black gays and lesbians who might just be affected by this pesky federal ban on gay marriage! Of course, this was not the case.
Instead it was an article that quickly devolved into talking about what’s wrong with Black women and what we can do to “fix” ourselves to be better mates for Black men. The article was a reprint of a Q&A style discussion with about six Black women and men and was moderated by the Essence Relationship Editor Demetria Lucas and comedian Finesse Mitchell, whose qualifications simply listed him as “Dating Specialist.” As an aside, I’d like to know where to go to buy one of these certifications that makes you a specialist, expert or guru ‘cause somebody’s gotta be sellin ‘em – maybe I’ll check eBay! But I digress, much like the quality of the article, which trafficked in the same tired stereotypes of fat, lazy, loud emasculating Black women who can’t get or keep a man. Lucas kicked it off by asking where all the fellas have been hiding. According to the “brothers” present for this Q&A session, there are hoards of Black men at the gym where, apparently, they are safe from the clutches of Black women since NONE of us EVER work out! As a matter of fact, according to Finesse Mitchell, “the young chicks and the ones who just broke up with their man or who are trying to lose baby weight are in the gym. But women who have a man? They stop going to the gym.” There are tons more of these little nuggets in the article, check it out if you can stomach this kind of nonsense. However, the final straw for me was Essence’s willingness to traffic in one of the most dangerous yet powerful trends in popular culture’s current fascination with Black women’s love lives: the myth of scarcity.
The article ends with Lucas soliciting a little dating advice from the brothers for the single sisters looking for love. Who are told simply but poignantly “Don’t date like a man. Guys are constantly shuffling women, and women think they can do the same. But your deck runs out…” It’s this kind of “reasoning” that silences black women and ushers us back into an uneasy alliance with a “benevolent” patriarchy. Under the guise of brotherly advice, Black women are basically told that we just don’t have the option to be picky; there simply just aren’t enough brothers to go around. We need to find a brother, good, bad or indifferent, close our mouths, stick with him and hope he proves Kanye wrong by not leaving us for a white girl. But, what Essence and Finesse Mitchell left out is that the myth is only a threat if we can safely assume all Black women are only and always interested in dating Black men. The rub, however, is that we can’t assume that. Black women find love, sex, companionship and community in so many dynamic and amazing ways and we are selling ourselves short if we think there simply ain’t enough loving to go around!

A Crunk Take on the Latest Anti-Choice Legislation

16 Apr

Check out CFC member Eesha on GRITtv. She’s dropping knowledge on some of the latest anti-choice tactics.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “A Crunk Take on the Latest Anti-Choic…“, posted with vodpod


The Future is Now

12 Apr

Last week, on the CNN show Amanpour, I heard a discussion between the host of the show (and long-time anchor-crush of mine. Anderson who?) Christiane Amanpour talking with Louise Vance and Marie Wilson (founder of The White House Project) about feminism today. While I can’t track down a video clip of the conversation, the transcript is here. Filmmaker, Louise Vance has just created a film which will show on PBS called “Seneca Falls.”  She says,

“I think what’s common is that women of all ages, but particularly young women, have no idea that the condition of women 150 years ago in this country was really akin to slavery. Women had no rights. They were banned from college. They didn’t own their wages. They couldn’t sit on a jury. They couldn’t hold public office. They were really in a condition that is hard to describe or even conceive of today.”

First, a comment: to compare gender discrimination to slavery is particularly ridiculous, considering that it makes women of color invisible and tries to create a hierarchy of suffering that is not only futile but also wrong. White women were not slaves. Their possibilities were limited, certainly, but they were not legal property. Their options were often constrained and their lives proscribed, but they were not bought and sold on the open market. This comparison is egregious, and serves no real purpose in building a movement for social justice because many women, especially poor women and women of color have very limited access to the rights Vance mentions as though they exist equally for all women today.

Also, if I ever hear another person say that young people, young women in particular, are not engaged in the political process, I’ll scream. Likely, at them. Crunk is as crunk does, after all. Over the past few years, like Vance did on CNN, I’ve heard more and more people say that young people just don’t care, or they just don’t know the history of feminism.

I heard it from the pundits during the presidential election. Will the young people come out to vote?

I hear it time and again from others, often older  second wave feminists (but sometimes younger, as well) that young feminists don’t know their histories. That they don’t know what’s at stake.

I hear it time and again, but what I see is something else entirely.

This past weekend I was confronted again, like I frequently am with beautiful evidence to the contrary. At the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (full disclosure: I used to work at CLPP) there were hundreds of young people gathered to learn and discuss the trajectory of the movement for reproductive justice. (Here’s some great content coverage from our friends over at Feministing.)

Lots of students, from high schools and colleges. Lots of young people who know the importance of building a movement committed to knowing history and looking to the future. A movement that includes young people expressing their deepest longings for a just world.  They have a vast and expansive view of gender justice, that goes beyond sex to include gender expression. They link race, class, gender, ability, nationality and other identities with marvelous ease and brilliance. So don’t tell me young people don’t care.

They do. I know them. I work with them. I see it every day.

At the conference, I moderated a panel on “Working in the Movement” and was struck by the passion and dedication of the young people who came. It was attended by young people who go to conferences to learn about repro justice and then want to passionately participate in the creation of a world that meets their needs and the needs of the communities they live in. To make it their life’s work.

They do participate. They come to the meetings and events I organize on health reform. They intern in my office. They challenge me and make me a better activist. At 29, I’m pushing the edge of the category “young activist” but it’s cool with me, because there are so many young, engaged people to work with and learn from.

So to those who say that young people aren’t paying attention, I say: look around. They are. They are leading campaigns for change in their communities. They are continuing to work for healthcare access and reproductive justice. We’ll always need more of them, but the ones I meet and work with are working as hard as anyone and deserve recognition, not dismissal.

So to those who say that we need young people because they are the future, I say: look around, the future is now.

Dear Kiely

11 Apr

Dear Kiely,

A friend of mine was really upset about your video (I think a lot of people were) and has reached out asking folks to write an open letter to you as she did. I wanted to talk about your videos and say my peace (intentional spelling) so this seemed like a great invitation.

First, I’m not trying to lecture you about what you should be doing. I get that women are sandwiched between this virgin/whore rock and hard place and that you in particular are marked with your girlhood empowered Cheetahdom that you hoped “Spectacular” would help you shed.  I just find it disturbing that the mature womanly reincarnation of your image involves the glorification of date rape.

I know that you say that the song isn’t about date rape, that sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes you kiss a girl and you like it (that song is f*cked up too by the way and yet not at all on the level of insinuating as you do in your song that date rape is just another wild night on the town) but the flippant nature of these remarks belie the messages in the video. By suggesting in your song that you were so drunk the evening comes in pictures, you blacked out, feel like you are on drugs, that you don’t remember dude’s name or if he used a condom its unclear how you remember that the sex was spectacular or that you were able to give consent. It also makes it seem, as did your response video, that women are being irresponsible and it’s their fault that they get into these situations. The problem is them, their wild drinking and their out of control behavior as opposed to questioning a situation in which a woman isn’t even present enough to say yes or no to sex, let alone the use of a condom.

And how come when you are trying to convince us that the sex was spectacular, it’s only through violent metaphor i.e. blowing one’s back out? And though I’ve never worn tracks myself, I have it on good authority that it would be pretty painful if one was torn out of your hair. Is the sex not good if you’re not in pain the next day?  Mad love to the kink community but this song and many others on R&B airwaves lack a level of intentionality and consent that puts them in a different category for me.

Kiely, I know that this isn’t just about you; it’s a systemic problem that will take more than a youtube video defense of yourself to undo. There is probably a lot of pressure for you to make a splash and distance yourself from the safe, girl power image of your teen years, but I wonder if you couldn’t have thought about that distancing as maturation. How dope would it have been to have seen an empowered totally consensual one night stand play out on screen and imagined in your lyrics? Why does it have to be a walk of shame the morning after? Also, what’s with the scene of the white guy trailing you for a few feet even as he’s with another partner? Why is the video set up to cash in on overplayed stereotypes about sex workers and working class neighborhoods? It seems that all of these decisions could have been different and could have really opened a dialog about the culture of hooking up and how women can do so in a safer and ultimately more pleasing way for them.

With fierce love,

Moya B.

P.S. I totally still bump Cinderella all the time!

* Update*

Check out this video response to Spectacular, with more information about how to get involved!

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