Archive | November, 2010

In the Meantime: Some Thoughts on Voting

4 Nov

I got a lot on my mind, so bear with me. 

Though the gains the Republicans/Tea Partiers/general all-around fools have made this past Tuesday should be no surprise, they are, nonetheless, disheartening.  Living in Alabama where the electoral choices seem to be conservative candidate A v. ultra-conservative candidate  B, it’s hard for this crunk feminist to feel good about her choices. ‘Cause let’s be real: when you choose between the lesser of two evils, you’re still choosing evil.

Nonetheless, with a heavy heart, I went down to my local voting spot to exercise my right and, to be honest, to show my damn face.  As I walked toward the entrance, there was a trio of law-abiding black folk sitting exactly thirty feet from the front door. One called out to me, saying, “My princess, here’s a sample ballot.” (Side bar: I don’t think I’ve ever been called “princess” in my entire life, but I’mma let that one slide since the sister was an elder and trying to do her civic duty). I noticed they were handing out sample ballots to every black person who crossed their path. I also noticed that they were getting some serious side eye from some melanin-lite voters. Sigh.

I entered the building feeling a lot more sad than I did two years ago. Not that I was jumping up for joy in 2008 either, but I digress.  Once I got inside I noticed lots of black people voting. Like, a whole lot. Like, most of the people in the room.I’ll admit it. I had a sort of kumbaya moment seeing everybody.  Standing behind a sister, we exchanged greetings. I asked how she was, and she replied, “Blessed, really blessed. Happy to be able to do this.” She said this with a simple grace and dignity. All I could do is nod in reply.

Herein lies the rub. Black folks in Alabama have not the opportunity and safe conditions to vote in for all that long. The politics here are so retrograde that driving through this state sometimes I feel like I am not in the 21st century at all, but in some strange time warp. So, I can’t dismiss the mere right and opportunity to vote as something that is not particularly significant. At the same time, in a place like Alabama (and increasingly across the country), those of us on the left–shoot, even moderates!–are getting shut out as the Right/Wrong has a very successful political temper tantrum. So, what does it mean when 1) you have to choose between the lesser of two evils and 2)your “lesser evil” has no chance of even remotely winning. Let’s be clear, while fools like Palladino are dismissed in New York (for now), candidates in his vein (who are ridiculous, uninformed, and who spew hateful nonsense) summarily thrash their more moderate opponents in my neck of the woods. In other words, what does exercising the right to vote mean when the system is so ridiculously effed up?

I guess what I’m trying to figure out  is, what are the strategies those of us on the left (can) employ in the face of such rapidly encroaching/re-entrenching conservatism, both locally and nationally? For while I see the most efficacy in battling oppressions in our local communities, the fact of the matter is national de jure sanctions do affect the everyday lives of Americans. For example, I remember reading about so-called welfare reform as a kid in my social studies class and not soon after experiencing its effects in my own home, so the notion of opting out of the national dialogue does not ring true to me at all. At the same time, I’ve been known that hope is not a political strategy and that we are going to need more rigorous and radical applications for justice and social change.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on voting, the election, and the state of progressive politics.

Brothers Who Just Don’t Get It: A Hump Day Rant

3 Nov

I have refrained from commenting on the Black Marriage Negotiation Videos for multiple reasons: I found them to be somewhat funny, I’ve been busy, and I’m tired of the single black man/single black woman finger pointing game that most of us are pros at by now. As I watched the videos though,  I was unconvinced that I was seeing a “balanced” portrait. While the videos presented both sides of the issue, and while the one in which the sister was the problem rung true at several levels, the one with the brother was not as sharp, witty, or true. It struck me as coming from a brother who lacked a serious capacity for self-reflection and critique, however intelligent, well-read, or witty he may be.

Turns out I was right.

Yesterday,  several Facebook friends posted the Root.com’s interview with the creator of the videos, Darroll Lawson, an allegedly happily married father of three. According to the interview, Lawson created the videos to “drive traffic to his website,” which is apparently about “empowering men to empower families.” Lovely. Apparently the only way to empower Black men is to pick on Black women.  What an original idea.

When asked if he was working on a video focused on men, Lawson replied, “The thing is, we’ve heard the narrative on that. There’s no ammunition there. They’re about to come out with a movie called For Colored Girls, and there’s only one black male who’s positively portrayed, and even then he’s positively portrayed because he’s in a position of submission to women’s emotional changes.”

Ammunition? I guess Black women are targets at the firing range.

And of course. Shange’s For Colored Girls was a male-bashing movie. He goes on to say, “we have heard for ages how trifling men are. Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage, Waiting to Exhale — all these things position men poorly.”

Gotta love Black male narcissism.  These movies and books were about Black women, and their experiences. What is so hard to understand about that?

Lawson goes on to say,

“There was a dearth of any kind of criticism leveled against black women, and as soon as you do it, there’s this public outcry like, “How dare you?” It almost becomes a form of censorship, and men are feeling it. In part — I don’t know how large — it is affecting families and affecting men leaving their families because they don’t have an outlet. They just run because they can’t deal with it.”

No outlets?  Anything by Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Rick Famuyiwa for that matter are outlets for brothers to express their angst and general disdain for Black women. Sometimes sisters come out okay (in Rick’s case) but beyond that, we look pretty terrible in all these portraits. And let’s be clear that however much both Black men and Black women critique Tyler Perry, his movies are all about redeeming the embattled Black male image and proving to Black women that if we stopped being so emotionally effed up we could get a man.  For those who disagree, 2 points: a.) find me one movie where the educated sister, the one who has a degree, is not a total bitch. b.) yes, while there are negative brothers in every movie, in every single one there is a contrasting good black man character to balance it out. Not so for the sisters.

I could go on and on but I have other things that I really should be doing, so let me share my thoughts with y’all in short form.

a.) the only folks with the power of censorship is the state. Black women have never had the power to do to Black men what Lawson accuses us of. On the other hand, Black men have always had the power to determine the level of public exposure and access of Black women’s careers. Think W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, MLK , Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Dr. Dre, Diddy, Junior Mafia, and Jermaine Dupri.

b.)For Colored Girls was written in the 70s, the Color Purple movie came out in ’85 and Waiting to Exhale the movie, in ’95. I challenge anyone reading this thread to show me a movie or a book from the years 2000-2010, the entirety of the 21st century,  that has engaged in the supposed male bashing done by these texts or films.

c.) Traditional brothers claim that sisters are the ones who nag. But the videos, Hip Hop and otherwise, the Steve Harvey-esque self-help books, Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes movies,  the blogs, and all of Lyfe Jennings’ songs, are a never-ending sermon about how Black women need to get right. If Black women ever preached that much, brothers would run away screaming. Check yourselves.

d.) Lawson claims ultimately that feminism is the problem:

“I was really trying to interweave this notion of feminist theology. It’s interesting that a lot of the steep decline [in black marriage] really occurred after the [initiation of the feminist movement].”

Of course, feminism is to blame for Black folks not getting married, because clearly Black women just don’t know their place anymore. We want to be too independent, to have full lives, where we work, think for ourselves, make contributions not only to our families, but also to the larger society. Shame on us.  So for this shoddy reasoning, I have three responses 1.) rather than continuing to blame Black women for the decline of the family, another one of Lawson’s really original ideas <side eye>, why don’t we finally have an actual conversation about all the economic and social obstacles that impede traditional Black families. If the dude is expected to be the breadwinner, and black men are systematically underemployed, undereducated, and overincarcerated, there’s gonna be a problem. Black folks have been saying that since at least the 1940s; the only difference is that we recognized that we weren’t the ones causing the problem. Structural racism was and is. 2.) Outdated conceptions of black masculinity have done as much if not more to impede Black family structures. It is brothers who leave because they are unwilling to become creative about other notions of productivity and support in the face of the structural challenges mentioned above. Sisters are left to fend for themselves and then defend themselves when we create independent lives. 3.) Both Black men and Black women need to rethink these limiting notions of partnership, in the first place. The ones we are working with are too tight, and I know my breathing feels real constricted right about now.

e.) Whatever truths might be present in the first video, I refuse to have a discussion about sisters being the problem. To quote Lawson,

The thing is, we’ve heard the narrative on that. There’s no ammunition there. Well that’s good, cuz it’s about time that sisters stop being on the receiving end of the bullets. Now NEGOTIATE that!

Whew! Thanks for listening. Love to hear y’alls thoughts.

 

Love Is Not Enough: Some (Disjointed) Thoughts on Jay-Z and Dating in the Hip Hop Generation

1 Nov

“Love is not enough” has been my relationship mantra for several years. By it, I mean that just because I love someone doesn’t mean we are supposed to be together or to stay together. One of my classic exit lines is “let me leave while I still love you. I don’t want to have to hate you.” For many folks, I could be talking about a romantic relationship, or I could be talking about our relationship to Hip Hop.

Last week Jay-Z gave an interview in the Wall Street Journal in preparation for his new book Decoded. Co-written with dream hampton, the book presents more than 30 of Jay-Z’s most well-known songs and his explanations of them. There are two particularly compelling parts of the interview. First, reflecting on what lyrical changes he might make when confronted with his words on the page, Jay, said,

“Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not “Big Pimpin.” That’s the exception. It was like, I can’t believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.”

If you think “reading it is . . .harsh,” imagine being on the receiving end of some of it.

But like many of the most avid connoisseurs of Hip Hop, I still think Jay-Z is the tightest rapper in the game, notwithstanding any recently whack BET top 10 rap specials’ determinations to the contrary.

There was a second moment that bears discussing. When asked what he would change about Hip Hop if he could, Jay responded,

“We have to find our way back to true emotion. This is going to sound so sappy, but love is the only thing that stands the test of time. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was all about love. Andre 3000, “The Love Below.” Even NWA, at its core, that was about love for a neighborhood. We’re chasing a lot of sounds now, but I’m not hearing anyone’s real voice. The emotion of where you are in your life. The mortgage scandal. People losing their jobs. I want to hear about that.”

Wow. Yes! This is exactly right.

So this is what it looks like when Hip Hop is all grown up. Grown folks in Hip Hop conclude what we all begin to know after the sucking and fucking years have lost their savor. “Love is only the thing that stands the test of time.”

Some have said that the litmus test for Jay’s sincerity will be a disavowal of misogynist lyrics and a refusal to perform songs like “Big Pimpin” in his shows.  Uh, maybe.  Yes, as a feminist, I believe that a person’s politics and performance should be congruent. But how many of us actually achieve this on the daily, particularly when it come to matters of love?

“I Never Ask for Nothing, I Don’t Demand of Myself” – “Justify My Thug” (2003)

Over the weekend, I got to hang out with some CFs in Atlanta, all single, or kind of single, and primarily straight.  Each of us found ourselves in varied states of relational ambivalence: loving or liking someone who doesn’t quite love (or like) you back, at least not in the way you deserve; fearful of trying to date again after years of disappointment and failed expectations; and recovering from heart break or at least deeply hurt feelings.  Yet, we are all also unapologetically pragmatic about getting our needs met even when conditions prove non-ideal. As a pragmatist, I had to ask, “is it feminist to remain in a situation where you aren’t getting what you need or want, but you are at least getting something?” What I heard was a collective groan, as we all thought it through. And then after that, a painful, collective, and resolved sigh.

No, probably not. But it is what it is.

I Call A Spade a Spade. It Just Is What It Is. (Jay-Z, Blueprint 2)

And IT is the condition in which we find ourselves. Perpetually alone. Needing love, needing companionship, needing sex. But willing to settle for less than, if only for a moment, even as the sermons, feminist and otherwise, play in the background. Is love enough? In the lonely moments of an otherwise full life, love definitely seems like the solution, like the stitching that turns a beautiful piece of fabric into the form-fitting number that accentuates the best parts of yourself. For all of us who don’t have the love that we so desperately want, it most definitely feels like enough.

But is it really?

I used to be so sure. That it wasn’t. Over the summer, after the Dating While Feminist debacle, I met a man whom I could love. Faced with the choice of a long distance relationship, he repeated to me what I had said to him in passing, “Love, as you told me, is not enough.” Ouch! I wondered if I had put the nails in my own casket by denying love the power to do what it does best: make a way out of no way, open up possibilities, move people to go the extra mile, force folks to rethink long-held truths.

My students grappled with the same question in a Hip Hop Feminism course I taught last Fall. In book after book, each scholar, after holding Hip Hop’s feet to the proverbial fire and finding it long on potential energy, but absolutely lacking in kinetic energy , ended up at love, explaining– but not necessarily advocating– that we stay wed to the culture because we love it, because we see its potential. That we keep engaging the music because we love it, because it moves us, because for so many of us, it gave us a “culture and a language.” But then I am reminded of Rihanna’s admonition, in an interview she gave earlier this year, on the heels of the Chris Brown situation. “F Love,” she said. In other words, don’t stay in something unhealthy, for the sake of love. Well, amen, to that.

And yet, like Rihanna’s most recent musical offerings indicate, the reality is much more complicated. And in moments like this, where we know what is right but can’t make our hearts match, feminism will have to be gracious enough to find room for us, to squeeze us in and love us. Feminism’s sofa is an oversized one anyway. Grownfolks need to stretch out. Love seats are for teenagers.

And what Jay-Z has said is definitely grown folks conversation. To encourage brothers to love deep and hard, in an emotionally dysfunctional culture, in which going deep and going hard are activities best engaged in with the phallus, is not an insignificant thing. We use the word revolutionary too damn much. This might not be revolutionary, but it’s something.

Hip Hop is not the only thing that needs brothers who love hard and deep. I know whole lot of sisters, self included, who need exactly the same thing.

And some times, I think us hard core feminists miss the opportunities these kinds of reflections provide because they aren’t packaged the way we think they should be. So if Jay-Z doesn’t fully repent and go in the opposite direction, we are asked to write his comments off as insincere, and in the most cynical fashion, to see them as a mere publicity stunt.

I wasn’t felt which is why I ain’t never played myself / I just play the hand I’m dealt—Justify My Thug (2003)

There are limitations to what Jay-Z can and ultimately will do in Hip Hop, because for him, it is both art and business. Rarely do love and money mix well. But love is a legitimate reason to come back to the table. Only if we come to the table can we hold him (and others)  accountable if (t)he(y) renege(s). I don’t hate the player, and I no longer have to hate the game. I might not win, but I have a winning shot. My crunk coupled with my feminism give me nothing, if not a trump tight deck.

His “heart has led.” But, now, baby, “it’s our deal.”

For Colored Girls Blog Carnival

1 Nov

 

Image of the cast of For Colored Girls hugging
Dear QBG/CFC Bloggers, Friends, colleagues, and more,

 

With the premiere of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls approaching, we at Quirky Black Girls are planning a blog carnival concerning the movie. A blog carnival consists of hosting a webpage where linked blog posts discuss a similar subject. We know that many people are going to blog about the movie, the way that it relates (or doesn’t) to Shange’s original work, how it represents black women and men, how triflin’ it is, so we decided to create a central location where people could read it all!

If you would like to participate in the carnival, please send us a link to your blog at quirkyblackgirls[at]gmail[dot]com by Friday, November 12, 2010.

Oh and be sure to check out what Real Colored Girls are doing in terms of helping folks organize screenings and discussions in their area! Also, Evelyn Alfred is rocking out with a For Colored Girls twitter book club! Check the #forcoloredgirls for all the awesomeness!

With so much love and rainbows,

QBG’s Fallon & Moya

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