Archive | July, 2010

On Oscar Grant (and that other Black dude on TV last night)

9 Jul

Three (pink) Protestors at Oscar Grant Rally have signs taped to their backs that say "Don't Shoot"

I watched the verdict last night. Not on any TV news station because NONE of the major networks had any coverage of the rage and pain of the people in Oakland and LA last night. Tweeting with folks across time zones and continents, we tried to hold Oscar Grant’s memory.

As my Twitter Timeline filled with anguish, police positions, disbelief, it also became populated by folks who seemed to have a similar level of rage (or excitement) for LeBron’s decision to Join the Miami Heat.

I have to say that sports are not my thing and I already don’t hold professional athletes in much esteem but the reality that folks were more or even equally incenced by LeBron’s decision was beyond what I could process in an evening. An ESPN hour long interview, The Decision, sponsored by Bing “the decision engine” (gag), was all that major networks wanted to talk about. The contradictions of this country are astounding. LeBron’s lust for victory is more compelling than the realities of our criminal (in)justice system. Did I mention that NO major TV news network covered the trial  last night (I have a deep and abiding hatred for CNN; we have history)?

Riot Police in full gear; helmets, shields, bullet proof vests, etc.

I suppose I was also surprised by folks tweeting as though it was just another day in America, like this grave injustice didn’t occur, like this kind of thing happens all the time… oh wait. It does. And the fact that it does makes people more likely to check out than check in. More likely to say ‘F*ck it I want the new Nike’s’ than to question the system that sells you rubber and cloth with an 1000% mark up. As Summer M. asked “can we blame a cat for being nihilistic? if he screams “f[*]ck bitches, get money”? what decent alternative do we have to offer? our tweets?”

I don’t know that I have an answer…

Side Note: Johannes Meshserle does not sound like the name of a good ol’ American boy born and raised by parents born and raised in the US of A. Though I have no evidence of this my hunch is that the Meshserle clan don’t have an extended history in this country. Seems like an immigrant white boy, or a white boy that’s the son of immigrants, makes for a better first time “involuntary manslaughter” police perp than someone whose colonial and prison industrial complex roots are deeper. That and multiple “caught on tape” videos of Meshserle’s deed that can’t be erased from public memory…

On Audience

8 Jul

*updated 7/11/10. the video was incorrect. see the correct video below*

To begin with an aside, a video:

I’m really not down with proselytizing and trying to get folks saved. No. The reason I am interested in this performance is because the singers are, of necessity, blind but there is a background noise – of hands clapping – that features only a female group. I want to be attentive to the gendered dynamics of such performance. On the one side, literally, there are male singers who cannot see the women occupying the other side of the stage. The women are there to applaud the actions of the men. It is this sort of gendered incongruence that I think is a feature of much black popular culture. The women in this performance serve as a repository, as an audience for the men who are blind (to them, to their posture) but nevertheless need the performance of the feminine for their own performance of song to cohere properly.  Of course, the genius of the “Blind Boys” was in the fact of their blindness, in the fact that we are an ableist world that privileges certain modes of bodily existence as normative.  This literal blindness was exploited by record companies who would utilize these voices while not paying the proper amounts of money.  I want to be attentive to the ways that blindness as a metaphor can work in the service of ableist normativity and say that this writing is against that sort of ableism.

As the necessarily constructed audience is female, I want to give attention to other constructions of audience. The problematic construction of audience that I detect in the performance of “Leaning” is the reason why I am bothered by Tyler Perry. The ways in which media constructs black audience has all sorts of resonances for the ways we think through and think about gender. So I want to offer a few words about how TP constructs his audiences and how a figure like Aaron McGruder – by way of the cartoon The Boondocks – works against these gendered problematics.

To begin again for the second time, another aside: when I talk to black women – if we’re on the phone, if we go to dinner, if we’re walking down the street – they often call me “girl…” you know, in that “sistergirlfriend” sort of way. Sometimes we’re talking about dating and relationships. Other times, we’re talking about food and football. But somehow, I – a male-identified, male-bodied subject – come to occupy the space of “girl” for these women with whom I am in such close relationship. What this hints at, for me at least, is that the ways in which “sistergirlfriend” is constructed has as much to do with the sorts of conversations that take place between folks as it does with the bodies who sit in front of or walk beside us. We don’t always agree but we converse. Because of the ease with which we can speak about issues, because of the comfort with knowing each other, because we glide in and out of a variety of topics, I can figure differently – as “girl”…and that’s real cool to me. (Though, I am always aware of the gendered dynamics of any conversational transaction between myself and women; I do not name this ease with relationship in order to declare that I am not still influenced by and must daily struggle against sexism, misogyny and patriarchy.) I name this relationship in order to recalibrate how gender and audience is conceived, not necessarily based on bodily construction but equally on the possibility for conversation between subjects.

And thus, Tyler Perry. We all know about and many lament the work he produces. Black women, for him it appears, are a monolithic group. They are either professionally successful but vindictive or professionally wanting but sweet. They are trifling or triumphant…all through the power of Jesus and a man who will serve as an erotic and romantic partner. His work is as homophobic as it is sexist, patriarchal and boring. Nuance is not the name of his game. TP constructs audience, it appears, based on lack: of a man, of success, of spiritual fulfillment. His construction of a female audience is the reproduction of the blind boys who sing and the seeing women who only clap. There is no transaction taking place – which is to say, there is no conversation between the blind boy (TP) and the mute but clappy audience.

As the uber-phallus, he gives women the images they want, or are supposed to want. Those who speak back are simply haters, or misguided or bourgeois. The only ones who figure for him are those who keep clapping as he keeps singing his song. Why is the construction of audience done in such a way to have TP performing and while the audience mutely claps along? What do these continual refrains mean when considering how gender is thought, how sexism, patriarchy and homophobia perpetuate? Normative ideology regarding women as receptacles is reproduced by these constructions of audience. We can clap but we can’t speak back. We can speak back but the ways we speak will be shut out because of the singing. And the blind boys will not see our posture because of the flashing lights of celebrity.

There has to be another way. I find Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks refreshing for just this reason. His construction of audience diverges from TP’s constructions because the audience – by way of his satire – are required to be critically distant to the work (as opposed to how TP dismisses critics). A cartoon that features anime styling and fight sequences, it could be argued (at least from one blogger’s point of view) that McGruder critiques the very sexist, patriarchal and homophobic folks that TP pacifies with his performances. Using the episode “Pause” (or, what has been affectionately dubbed “The Tyler Perry Episode”) as an example, McGruder’s usage of the phrase “no homo” and the term “pause” in the episode by the annoyingly sweet, misguided, faux-thug Riley as a declaration to distance himself from “gay sounding” phrases is a literal send-up of folks (from Cam’ron on down to Kanye) who use this sort of rhetoric. “How can I know you not gay if you don’t say ‘no homo’, Granddad” is what he says. Riley repeats these two phrases so much throughout the episode that they enter the realm of the ridiculous. The audience McGruder constructs must ask what the usage of these phrases mean by someone like Riley – a character whom many find humorous but silly – and then reflect on their own usage of such cornyass vitriol.  In other words, most people like Riley but few want to be Riley.  But Riley has literally exhausted all of the rhetorical possibility for explanations of “no homo” and “pause”; the explanations for such phrases he offers are evacuated of any coherence or depth.  For one to continue with this language means they have to figure out a way to do so without resorting to the types of rhetorical flourishes Riley proffers.  This is a difficult task.  McGruder allows his audience to think differently.

Of course, also in that episode are the ways in which Winston Jerome (TP?) slips between drag, effeminate and hypermasculine performance while still maintaining the language and sentiments of homophobia, sexism, patriarchy and religiosity. The plays produced by Winston Jerome in the episode force a consideration of the type of audience we are when we participate in his enterprise. Stretching Winston Jerome as a metaphor to his limits, the character implodes: hella sexist, homophobic and patriarchal while at the same time sometimes in drag, sometimes effeminate, sometimes hypermasculine, always in love with Jesus. Whereas TP constructs an audience that must sit, watch and clap along, McGruder creates a situation in which the audience cannot idly sit and watch but must create critical distance between themselves and all of the characters in order to assert their own personhood. That’s a lengthy way of saying that McGruder allows his audience to think, to challenge, to dissent.  Similar to the ways in which the audience must create critical distance between onself and depictions of Riley, audience must do likewise with depictions of Winston Jerome (or…TP).  The conflictual nature of ambivalence is protracted in such a way that in order to enjoy TP, one must figure out a way around the sexism, patriarchy, religiosity and homophobia found in those performances.

This is not to say that McGruder constructs a “masculine” audience. Rather, it is to say that McGruder’s audience has to engage listening practices in radically different ways than TP’s. We don’t just stand, listen and clap to the beat. We reorient it, we revise it, we refresh it.

Crunkista’s Top 5 unfeminist moments

4 Jul

Crunkastic recently reminded me that even the crunkist of the feminists has her/his moments and it got me thinking. Spreading the feminist word (although incredibly gratifying at times) just ain’t easy. I have to admit that being crunk comes naturally to me but honestly being feminist all day everyday…is ROUGH. Acknowledging each and every oppression and holding myself and others accountable for oppressive practices just doesn’t come easy. It can often be exhausting. It is a true process. In truth, I am still learning how to define what feminism means in my life and what being a feminist entails. So, why am I writing this? Because I want all of the CFs and CFs in training to know that none of us are perfect. We all have our journeys. Sometimes they’re clearer than others. We’ll fuck up often, but learning from those mistakes makes us stronger; smarter. Because this is a learning process, I’ll be the first to share with you my top five most unfeminist moments.

5) Dancing to every PITBULL song at the club and sadly knowing all of the not-even–close-to-feminist lyrics.
[**I have no excuse. I really can’t help myself. Damn those beats.]

4) Letting family members get away with any sexist, racist, misogynist, and/or homophobic remarks.
[**Often times I go off on them. But I have realized that lecturing the old and young folk about patriarchy, sexism, colonialism, internalized racism, and the ills of most organized religions does not make you the popular cousin during the Thanksgiving meal. It makes them “forget” to invite you over next year.]

3) Wanting to have Maxwell’s baby.
**[I LOVE susiemaye but I would cut her if she got in the way of me and my future baby daddy, Maxwell. Feminist on feminist violence is NOT Feminist. Especially when you’re gay.]

2) Putting up with all of my exes’ bullshit. I can’t even list all of it ya’ll, but trust…it was too much.
[**Putting up with immature, misogynist, hypocritical, selfish, abusive behavior of any kind is NOT feminist. Being in communicative, honest, tender, loving, supportive, healthy, positive relationships…that’s feminist.]

1) Faking it. More than once…actually quite often.
[**These days, making sure my needs are REALLY met is the most feminist thing I can think of. Orgasms are FEMINIST and I gots no time for fake ones.]

Please feel free share yours.

~Crunkista

Thriving in Hostile Territory: Black Feminism in the College Classroom

1 Jul

In the spirit of Janie and Phoeby, CFs Robin and Crunktastic offer our joint reflections on Robin’s particularly grueling experience in the classroom this past week.

There Will Always Be One–Robin’s Story

I realized this after teaching my first class six years ago and having a student challenge me for the first time, questioning my credibility.  And with that initial challenge came many nights of continued debates in my head about whether or not I had the capacity to open myself up to be judged and evaluated in ways that continually and perpetually make me feel less than qualified because my route has been across dirt roads and not paved ones…

One.

And despite my ability to transform minds and challenge notions of what is “right,” my mama always told me that you can’t please everybody, so what is the point in trying to?  And she said the most important changes I can implement are the ones welcomed with open arms.

My arms, wrapped around my entire body, could hardly contain the internalized pain of the many ways and times I have been the target of somebody else’s frustrations or insecurities.  I am not prepared to carry the weight of all this anger, shame, guilt, pity, confusion, insolence, indifference…

Last semester I was told that two of my students stated to a colleague that while they were sure I was smart, it didn’t come across in the classroom.  I was dismayed and wondered how I could ever come across as “not smart” (with over ten years of training and four university degrees).  I swallowed the criticism in alarm and it joined the other wrongs I have consumed.  My belly is so full of air (my anger) and pity (other people’s bullsh*t) that I sometimes feel pregnant.  And because I am a black woman who writes and speaks authoritatively about lived experience and “grown up words” (like racism and sexism), I am immediately implicated. My body is implicated. My authority is implicated. My intelligence is questioned.

My academic mother reminded me today that I have to find ways to restructure critiques so that they don’t feel like personal attacks, and she said there will always be…

one,

generally clothed in skin and sex opposite mine, predictably white and male, and assuming his white maleness substitutes and/or trumps my black femaleness and degrees.  We struggle for legitimacy.

One.

It has repeated itself in my classes for years.  The generally quiet or silently passive aggressive student rises with a voice of dissent against the majority who feel fortunate to have had a space in the room, a voice in the space…  The attacks have come in assignments (so much so that I have had to add a stipulation in my syllabus that prevents students from using reflective assignments to critique me or the class) and in public statements…like today…seeking an audience for the words of war wielded at me like weapons, and waiting for a response.  But I bite my tongue, hold my composure, and don’t give them the pleasure of acknowledgment or the agency of engagement.  I am not the

one!

And I recognize that the enemy is there all along, camouflaged as an ally, seeming to be open to the progressive politics of classes that challenge privileged positions and attitudes…

one

who claims my class is sophomoric, my positions unjustified, my rhetoric violent…

One.

And I hear ratemyprofessor says I am an extremist feminist (feminist, yes, extreme, no) who does not dress appropriately (whatever that means) but is nonetheless

a

“hot”

one.

I count…

adding,

subtracting,

dividing

and multiplying,

all the while standing in front of the class in stilettos and jean shorts, long enough to cradle my thigh but not touch my knees, and a tee shirt…

because my wardrobe doesn’t have a damn thing to do with my big ass brain…

and come up with

one…

two, three, four, five black folk in the room who are counting with me.  We are always outnumbered, and there is still inevitably

one

in the room.

And I generally hold my composure because the last thing I want to do is reiterate an assumption about black women in general as angry or aggressive or crazy…

even though sometimes I feel crazy

in rooms of supposed normalcy

in a culture where the ideology of normality,

heteronormativity,

and mythical norms claim I don’t know what I am talking about…

But mama said there will always be one…

and she ain’t never lied.

Shake That Load Off: Unbearable Weight–Crunktastic’s Response

The biggest lie ever told is “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt.”

Bullsh*t. Life and death, as the proverb goes, is in the power of the tongue. Yet on a regular basis, women of color in the academy are forced to confront words, discourses, and wagging tongues that would so soon relegate us to the land of the dead. In those moment’s we need our Phoeby’s, our friends who we can trust to take our words and our experiences and treat them, and by extension, us with the care that others are so unwilling to give.

The authority signaled by our degrees and job titles will not protect any woman-of-color from the inevitable challenges, resistance, and downright disrespect she will encounter in a college classroom. Black bodies have never been viewed as repositories of knowledge. Female bodies have never been capable of dispensing rational ideas. Taken together, Black women in the classroom walk directly into a hodgepodge of stereotypes that can literally feel suffocating.

In these moments, we need to remind ourselves that:

1.)  We do our students, our colleagues, and ourselves no favors by doing others’ emotional labor for them.

2.)  Resistance to the truths we speak, truths of our experience, make them no less true.

3.)  Our goal and our purpose is to educate, not defend.

4.)  Everyone won’t like us no matter how hard we try.

5.)  Liberation is a process, not a singular event.

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs helped me to understand this concept of emotional labor when she came to visit my Black Feminist Thought class this past spring. We had read Audre Lorde’s famous essay on parenting, “Man Child,” in which she wrote about the challenges of raising a future Black man. “I wish,” she wrote, “to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objects of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own Black self. For me this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him.” Lorde refused to be anyone’s emotional beast of burden, even her own son’s.

Black women, women of color, we need to take heed not only in our lives, but also in our professions. We do not exist to do anyone’s feeling for them: not our partners, not our friends, not our students or colleagues, not the random folks we encounter daily who attempt to draw upon our supposed deep wells of empathy.

Yes, our work requires a fair amount of emotional labor, of radical empathy, of critical commiseration and sustenance. But frequently, we confront the reality of illegitimate emotional labor—that which the person is perfectly capable of handling, but instead places upon you as a “natural,” if unwilling surrogate. We must learn in this case to make a critical distinction between their “stuff” and our “stuff.”

With our less-evolved students and colleagues, we must not do their work for them. We must not internalize their reactionary, emotionally driven critiques and criticisms of us, our work, our politics, our teaching style, our style of dress, or any other ridiculous vitriolic targets they can imagine. We must not be willing targets of our students’ and colleagues’ misguided rage. We have to recognize such attacks for what they are—attempts to make us do someone else’s work—be it internal or external—for them. The transfer attempt has been successful at the moment that you leave a space weighed down and stressed out, while your student or colleague leaves feeling vindicated, uber-rational, and oh-so-wrong.

Sometimes such attempts will present in ridiculous end-of-semester, hail mary requests  for all kinds of accommodations: make up tests, make-up assignments, sob stories that will induce you to excuse the student from his or her assignments, and angry outbursts when you refuse to crack.  This, too, is the kind of labor that we should reject.

And let me toss this in for free: Black men’s status as an “endangered species” is also not a legitimate reason to become their emotional whipping posts.

We all have to carry our own emotional load. Gone are the days when black women’s bodies, minds and spirits are the beasts of burden able to carry the load of the world. That kinda labor might make us stronger in the short run, but in an even shorter run than everyone else, it kills us. In fact, let’s retire that “If it doesn’t kill us mentality.” I reject the notion that the only strength worth having is the one I must risk my life for.  Hear this: if it ain’t a labor of love which brings forth life, abort it. Quickly. Your life depends on it.

A little Outkast is appropriate on this one I think. . .

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