Archive | January, 2012

The World Can Wait

30 Jan
Members of the CFC smiling for a picture.
Cis and trans* women of color do a lot of work that they don’t get paid for. Work at home, work at work, work in our communities, everywhere really. And a lot of it is done out of love. Love for our communities, love for our lovers, and things/people we believe in.There’s a saying, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and it has always missed the mark for me because it assumes that we would and do treat ourselves well. Women of color don’t always do that. We have a well documented history of doing for others before we do for ourselves. This self-sacrificing martyrdom has its consequences but I’m really interested in the impact it has on each of us.

It seems like we expend so much energy helping and saving others, we have nothing left for ourselves. I see too many of us feed everyone else and forget to eat. In the case of this blog, I’ve seen us use a lot of energy dealing with negative comments and backlash, finding and becoming resources for those who ask, then end up with little time or reserves left to support each other.

I take inventory from time to time of what posts get the most attention on the blog. Pop culture posts and even more specifically, moments in pop culture when white women do racist things or black men do sexist things get folks all atwitter. To me, this speaks to the gendered racism and racialized sexism that impact many of the cis women of color bloggers here. These posts that rise from our particular stand point are often the ones where we have to do the most work, reminding folks that no, this is not a post racial world and gender, race, and sex are always at work in complex ways. And we want so badly for folks to get it, that we neglect each other and ourselves in the process.

I think because we are so used to an embattled position with folks who wield power over us, we cut corners and are sometimes less patient/more careless with each other. As of late the CFC has taken some hits from other women of color, some deserved, some not, about what and how we write here. I’ve seen moments of real opportunity for engagement squelched by reactionary stances. I look for models of fierce and loving critique between women of color and I’m saddened by how rare it seems to be.

As I check my own willingness to hear the hard truths about myself, I see another connection to  my thoughts about women of color’s labor in the world. Why is it that my self-care to do list is the shortest and the last one I get to? Why do I expend more energy trying to make people understand rather than giving that time to the people who show up for me? Why do I lay claim to allyship when I’m too busy to be present in the ways people ask me to? Honestly, I think I find it easier to deal with someone else’s stuff than my own.

Racism, sexism, queer hate? I know how to handle those. I’ve got my arsenal of feminists theory and lived experience to take them down. By dealing with the world, I can avoid my own places of privilege or the stickiness of issues that don’t have such clear power differentials in my life. In an age where internet courage can allow you to rail at any deemed threat through a screen, we still have trouble saying the hard things to the people who are closest to us.

But I want to do better. For me that means not using the continued assaults on marginalized people writ large to shirk my own accountability to myself and fellow marginalized folks who I claim to love. It also means not expending inordinate amounts of energy on people who have no interest in my well-being because it impacts my ability to be there for the folks who love me.So, I’m adopting a new (for me) and modified mantra:

Me and mine first.

The self-care list gets checked first. The work I need to do for myself is next. Then comes the family/friends/loved ones.

The world can wait.

White Women’s Rage: 5 Thoughts on Why Jan Brewer Should Keep Her Fingers to Herself

27 Jan

What is wrong with this picture?

1.)   He is the President. She is being disrespectful. As hell.  Period. Point Blank. End of Discussion.

2.)   White privilege conditions white people not to see white rage. However, it makes them hyper-aware of Black threat.   Newt Gingrich is white rage personified. And for it, he gets loads of applause.  So is Jan Brewer, but usually we think of white rage in masculine terms. Gender stereotypes condition us not to see white women as being capable of this kind of dangerous emotional output. We reserve our notions of female anger for Black women. Such hidden race-gender logics allow Brewer to assert that she “felt threatened,” even though she was trying to handle the situation “with grace.”  Now look back at the picture: who is threatening whom? Couple white rage with white women’s access to the protections that have been afforded to their gender, and you have something that looks ironically like white female privilege. Yes (yes, yes), the discourse of protection is based upon problematic and sexist stereotypes of white women as dainty and unable to care for themselves, and yes, these stereotypes have caused white women to be oppressed by white men. But remember, gender does not exist in a racial vacuum. It is performed in highly racialized contexts, and history proves that what constitutes oppression for white women in relation to white men, dually constitutes privilege for white women in relation to Black men. (I’m not spoiling for a fight today, so anybody who feels uncomfortable with such assertions should probably go read some Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics and then try again.)  What I know is this: 100 years ago (less than, actually) a Black man even standing that close to a white woman would’ve gotten him lynched.  (Seriously, I just discovered that even accommodationist Booker T. Washington was beaten in New York in 1911 for talking to a white woman.) And I know that if a Black woman had wagged her finger at Bush II or even Bill Clinton, we would have seen her faced down, handcuffed, with Secret Service swarming. When your race and gender grant you opportunities to be treated with dignities that others don’t have or conversely, to heap indignities on those people, that is what we call privilege. Deal with it.

3.)   Unchecked white rage has always been dangerous for Brown and Black folk in America. Jan Brewer’s Arizona is not safe for Brown people and by implication, not safe for Black people (Presidents included). Not only has she terrorized and racially profiled immigrant communities, but she has gutted one of the model Ethnic Studies programs for high school students in this country.  If there were ever a time for Black and Brown solidarity, it is now. And hell, lest we forget, Arizona is not even safe for white women. It is the vitriolic racial climate that Brewer’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies have helped to foment that led to the violence against Gabby Giffords.

 (It’s amazing what different stories these two pictures tell.)

4.)   This picture demonstrates something important. The logic of racial supremacy dictates that white people are most comfortable when people of color do the affective labor involved in maintaining white supremacy. (No disrespect to Gabby Giffords: of course, I don’t think this hug shared between colleagues supports white supremacy. But this kind of bodily connection is important for humanizing Black public figures, and it is the logic of that which I’m getting at.)   Historically, it was not enough to be placed in positions of servitude; affecting an attitude of subservience was also critically important.  Failure to be deferential could get you killed, even if you were doing the tasks at hand. The term “uppity Negro” hasn’t always been a slogan to rock proudly on a t-shirt.  Something happens when Black and Brown folks decide that we do not exist in the world to make white people comfortable. And white folks feel it.  This is why a movie like The Help so powerfully resonates with White America, and with countless facets of Black America as well.  The affective labor of white supremacy prefers Black people in certain postures, like for instance dishing out hugs and words of affirmation to  little white girls who will become white women that they, indeed, “is smart, is kind, is important.”

from The Sociological Cinema

 As if the world would ever teach anything different. The effect of such labor is powerful: white America feels more comfortable with the disturbing realities of racism, and Black people can convince ourselves that our humanity, and indeed, our struggle is being acknowledged.  Even her well-deserved Oscar nomination has not convinced Viola Davis of such ridiculousness. (And um, would someone help Charlize Theron get a clue?)

5.)   Finally, I just have to say it: If Jan Brewer and any other bad-ass wants to leave here with the fingers and toes they came here with, I would suggest they keep their hands to themselves. Because frankly, I wish a*&%$# would wag a finger in my face… Kudos to the President for keeping his cool. 


Why I’m (Probably) Not Watching “The Game”

26 Jan

Last year I posted on the return of The Game (yes, it has been a year since it (re)debuted on BET) and offered a critique of the ways in which the characters morphed to fit BET programming, which compromised the integrity of the characters that fans had fought and petitioned for.  After The Game came back on I was disappointed in the ways in which originally nuanced characters had been re-written as the typical black tropes: women who are angry, ghetto, untrustworthy, money-hungry, vindictive, and promiscuous.  And men who are selfish, ghetto fabulous, wreckless, and drug-addicted.

I tuned in a few weeks ago for the new season and I watched again last week (not because I was particularly interested, but it was pre-set to record on the DVR.  I watched it over the weekend because there was nothing else on TV while I was waiting for playoff football games to start).  Every week I am hopeful that the writers will fix what is not working—but these characters have no character.  (SN: I was not impressed seeing Nene Leakes on BET—Bravo is plenty!)  You can tell that things have completely turned upside down when the “deepest” character on the show is Jason Pitts (not sure how I feel about his newly discovered blackness—but at least he is being reflexive and somewhat responsible.  Last season he quit his job in order to focus on fathering his daughter, and this season he seems to be having an epiphany about his racial identity, and the issues surrounding it—his conversations with his “new black wife” sound like therapy sessions).  Meanwhile, Melanie and Tasha are at each other’s throats, Derwin has gone from charming choir boy to selfish superstar, and Kelly is M.I.A.  Maalik’s mommy issues tend to always lead him into detrimental relationships that are doomed from the start.  His tryst with the bosses wife has landed him on the bench and nearly bankrupt, and his infatuation with the model (did we even know her name?) had the Robin Givens-esque vibe of unreciprocated interest. And then there’s Tasha, I didn’t think the sexy Sapphire could get much louder or overly-dramatic.  I was wrong.

The newly emergent female characters are flat, at best, and those that are rounded out with a background and personality only serve the purpose of furthering problematic black woman representations.  One of the newest Sunbeams from last season, for example, is a former stripper groupie turned football wife who’s largest contribution to the group has been teaching the women how to shake their asses for their men (not to mention suggesting threesomes–because of course sex is what gets and keeps a man–side eye).  Then, we discover in this week’s episode, thanks to Tasha’s nonchalant and retaliatory comment to her, that she doesn’t have custody of her children (can you say Jezebel stereotype?).  Brandy, (or should I say Chardonnay) the newbie this season, seems to fit the sassy Sapphire stereotype (with the ghetto, named after alcohol name) who’s anger and attitude make her a younger version of Tasha Mack.  Her purpose seems to be to help Jason get over his fondness of white women and get in touch with his “black side.”  Smdh. 

I am clearly not the only one disillusioned and ambivalent about The Game.  In the article, “The Game Doubles Down on Melodrama, Eliminates What Fans Loved,” Tyler Lewis states: 

“If Mara Brock Akil and BET want to make a black nighttime telenovela where the cast never interacts with one another, where the relationships established in the first three seasons are thrown out in favor of separate, unconnected, over-the-top storylines for each of the five leads, then it should decide on what kind of show that is and settle on a consistent tone.  Because I do think the ship has sailed on any hope that The Game will be the show that folks wanted to be brought back. I think the audience has accepted it (and, likely, moved on). The producers should commit to it.”

Their ratings have dropped significantly, from 7.7 million viewers when they re-launched last January, to 5.3 million for the season 5 premiere on January 10, 2012.  This week’s show only garnered 2.88 million viewers.  I suspect that the downward trend will continue… how many episodes and chances will fans give before they find something else to watch on Tuesday nights? (I for one will be tuning in to White Collar, I have a hella crush on Neil Caffery). 

None of the characters have the same innocence and likeability they used to.  Perhaps if they weren’t already rich in previous seasons I could believe that money changed them… or perhaps the writers are trying to depict the extremes of newfound celebrity and the ways in which it can go to your head and dismantle your relationships (clearly possible and realistic, look at T.O. )—but would this be true of everyone?  I understood Jason’s arrogance–and Maalik’s personality was already eccentric and extreme, but it seems like no one gives a damn about anybody else anymore, and given the previous relationships they had with each other, that is not only unbelievable, it is unfortunate.  Watching The Game has become like watching Basketball Wives (Miami or L.A.), or some other petty reality show that glamorizes selfishness, opulence, and fame for fame’s sake.  

Is it BET?  Do the writers need a re-up?  Does Kelly Pitts need to make a return (I’m not really feeling Brandy)?  Am I naive for thinking we could go back to the way things were?  I’m not sure what the remedy is, but there is definitely a problem.  I guess time will tell if the season and show is salvagable.

I am not going to say that I will never watch The Game again (there is a reason reruns and marathons show at insomniac hours), or that I am not hoping it somehow survives (the actors aren’t writing the scripts, and they have to eat), but I damn sure erased it from my DVR recording schedule.

Tonight! Join a conversation on the State of the Union!

24 Jan

CF Eesha here, y’all.

 Tonight is the President’s State of the Union address to Congress. If the election season so far is any indication, we know that amidst the politicians and the pundits there’s very little time for real talk.

This is one of the most important elections in recent history : there is a war on poor people; we need a deep investigation of the way corporations reign with impugnity; and  we need to call out the racism and sexism that permeate our society. So…

TONIGHT,  live at 7:30 p.m. ET,  Jan. 24th at


You can submit questions to panelists from twitter, for people who tweet @TheLeague99 or use the hashtag #BarackTalk. Join the conversation, we want to ensure some real crunk representation!

The esteemed panelists include (you’ll get to ask them questions during the live tweet!):

  • Goldie Taylor, MSNBC, CNN, The Grio
  • Rhymefest, hip-hop artist & former political candidate
  • Andreas Hale, founder of TheWellVersed
  • Shaheem Reid, MTV News, XXL Mag
  • Michael Skolnik, GlobalGrind
  • Chuck Creekmur, CEO,
  •  Sabrina Hunter, author of *Skeletons in the Closet*
  •  Jamira Burley, anti-violence activist from Philadelphia
  •  Davey D, influential blogger/ activist
  •  Dee-1, hip-hop artist
  •  Phil Ade, hip-hop artist
  •  Janee Bolden, writer
  •  Jasiri X, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia
  •  Paradise Gray, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia

Join the convo. Represent crunk feminism. Speak up. Speak out. We need your voices!

Culo, Coffee and Crime: More on Disrespectability Politics

23 Jan Popular representations of Black and Latina women
Popular representations of Black and Latina women

From left to right: Jennifer Lopez (, Nicki Minaj (King), Duchess (NY Daily News), Beyonce (, and Saartjie Baartman (Wikipedia)

From an Australian researcher claiming Beyoncé’s name and her celebrity bum with a horse fly, a pissed Wisconsin congressman attacking the national obesity campaign by deriding the First Lady’s derriere, to Diddy riding on somebody else’s butt for more fame in his new book called Culo, across the academic, political, and the popular, our booty remains integral in what CF crunktastic has deemed disrespectability politics.

I came across Culo as a recommended Christmas stocking stuffer from Amazon. The accompanying website bends over backward to market the “coffee table” book as high art by telling the would-be buyer that “culo” is an Italian word rather than the familiar Spanish slang tossed about in rap and reggaeton songs by Pitbull, who pairs with Timberland to provide the soundtrack to the book’s R-rated promotional (music) video. The site also hypes famed fashion photographer Raphael Mazzucco, who has made a career of capturing near-naked women for Victoria Secret and Sports Illustrated.  Diddy’s collaborator, Jimmy Iovine, suggests the book is a part of Interscope’s diversification—expanding from music to book publishing [and I would add, expanding the Black American hip hop aesthetic to include diverse women (read: non-Black)] as part of Interscope’s global booty. (Interscope is a part of the largest multinational music group in the world.)

Book cover for Culo

Book cover for Culo

The art claim is supposed to give Culo international cachet and curtail local cries of racism and sexism. The claim is also deployed to distinguish itself aesthetically from similar visual representations, such as those seen in Waka Flocka’s “No Hands.” It is supposed to celebrate a so-called new era in which “the world is no longer flat.” It ain’t so flattering for African-descended women who carry the cultural baggage of the fuckable, unrapeable, insatiable, and hyperfertile jezebel because of a muscle. Along with my frustration with the postrace rhetoric is the postfeminist one that wants us to believe that Culo is a celebration of women’s power and beauty (by reducing us to a body part).  I mean, actor Al Jolson celebrated his mammy in blackface, but most black folks ain’t remixing that cinematic minstrelsy. [Insert your Tyler Perry comments here.] My 15-year-old Sir Mix-a-Lot big butt loving self might have bought some of P. Diddy’s pro-woman posturing. But, the glossy-printed, 240-plus page fake feminist fantasy could not be sold to me today. I am a grown ass woman.

Poster from facebook page dedicated to Claudia Aderotimi

I am a grown woman who grew up in a southern inner-city believing that outer beauty—the booty specifically—could trump intelligence and was the biggest asset for a dark skin Black girl, so when I heard about young Black and Latina women participating in p(l)umping parties where they inject one another with illegal infertility hormones, industrial-grade silicone, cement, or superglue, I became deeply disturbed that the thang that has narrowly defined our desirability is also taking our lives. Such is the case for the Nigerian-born Londoner, Claudia Aderotimi (aka Claudiyah “Carmella” James), who came to a Philly hotel for the injection and died 12 hours later when a poisonous concoction entered her bloodstream. Aderotimi, named an African princess by 50 Cent, was convinced her hip hop stardom would be deflated after folks figured out her booty was padded.

The sensational news coverage about botched butt injections is as much about the illegal (and deadly) act as it is about criminalizing particular Black bodies. (BBD said you can’t trust a woman with a big butt and a smile in the 1990 hit “Poision.”) Duchess, a transgender woman who has been charged with the near-death of a Florida woman seeking an injection, has had her mug shot along with a full body photograph released to the press. The side view harkens to pictures of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman dubbed the Hottentot Venus in 19th Century European freak shows. Fast forward two hundred years and African-descended women are still at center stage, fulfilling the twin feelings of lust and disgust regarding Black women.  There was no retraction when the Miami Herald news reported Duchess as having a backside the size of a “truck tire.” And, two women providing a PSA about pumping parties (which turned into an attack on race and gender conformity) saw nothing wrong with describing the supposed ugliness of (transgender) women whose full lips looked like “inner tubes” and whose booties were just too big for their bodies. There was a reason why Baartman was pejoratively called a Hottentot Venus: It could recall erotic beauty defined by the Roman goddess while reminding folks that our so-called less-than-human bodies could be exploited for commercial profit under white patriarchy. In the “new era” of booty worship, we might want to remember that one.

Make Me Over: The dangers of ‘Pumping Parties’

Disrespectability Politics: On Jay-Z’s Bitch, Beyonce’s ‘Fly’ Ass, and Black Girl Blue

19 Jan

The birth of baby girl Blue Ivy Carter to parents Jay-Z and Beyonce’ earlier this month has cemented their status as the First Family of Hip Hop. Seriously, they have become the Obamas of the Hip Hop Generation, a comparison that is no less compelling given President Obama’s public admission of Jay-Z fandom, Jay-Z’s claims that the multi-racial fan base of Hip Hop made an Obama presidency possible, Beyonce’s performance at the inaugural ball, and her partnership with Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign.

But within the context of Hip Hop culture itself, this couple represents the possibilities of Hip Hop all grown-up, in love, married, and pushing the “proverbial baby carriage.” In fact, based on age alone, they are the blending of the first generation of Hip Hop, heads Jay’s age who came of age in the 80s,  and Hip Hop’s 2nd Generation (the middle children I like to call us), folks’ Bey’s age who came of age in the 90s. Destiny Child’s first album dropped when I was in high school (Holla, if you hear me), and I got put on to Jay when I headed to Howard for college (It’s [still] a hard knock life.)  Btw, 1998 was a great year in music. Lauryn, Outkast, Jay, DMX. #ButIdigress.

So the conversations—both doting and derisive– that have surrounded the newly nuclear Carter family in the last few weeks offer a pretty interesting gauge for how Hip Hop’s multiple generations of folks are thinking about family, beauty politics, gender issues and the potential of Hip Hop. The ways in which these two perform couplehood and parenthood have become a marker (alongside the Obamas) for  both the possibilities and limitations of the traditional family narrative among a generation most known for popularizing the terms “baby-mama” and “baby-daddy.”

Over at VerySmartBrothas, Champ rightfully called foul against those women who were ready to let Jay off the collective black girl hook and re-brand him as role model,  after doing two decades worth of dirt.  I think that rush to see Jay as an upstanding father and family man is summed up thricely.

A.)Black women are too damn forgiving. (which is ironic considering how bitter everyone says we are)

B.) Nothing can get the panties wet like a reformed bad boy: a bonafide alpha male, who in a questionably-feminist  (but nonetheless desirable) Black masculinity narrative has the potential to sex you senseless, beat the shit out of…  protect you, cuddle you, and listen to you, depending on your needs at the time.  

C.) Hip Hop Generation Black folks still have a deep love affair with respectability politics, or this notion that obtaining/creating a traditional nuclear family makes us grown up, middle class, and “fit” to participate in the larger body politic, American dream and all. Don’t believe me?:  Remember how much folks were disturbed when Chrissy proposed to Jim Jones on Love & Hip Hop? No worries though. He turned the world right side up again and proposed to her.

Just a couple of days after Blue was born,  Jay dropped a touching tribute to her called “Glory feat B.I.C.” While the current ur-text of Hip Hop masculinity showed his soft fatherly side serenading “the most beautifullest thing in the world/daddy’s little girl,” Blue made her debut via gurgles and cries not only to the world but also onto the Billboard Charts, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. While Jay was content to let Blue speak herself into existence amidst his loving words, his audience looked askance, wondering whether other Black girls will have such luxuries and pleasures of voice in the discursive world that Jay-Z has helped to create.  

A world in which bitch trumps beautiful, ho trumps human, and golddigger trumps golden. #everydamntime

A world, incidentally, in which Beyonce’s ass provides the inspiration for a group of Australian scientists looking to name a new species of insect with a golden posterior.

The Beyonce Fly

 I ain’t blaming Jay for that.  But suffice it to say, Beyonce’s “flyness” is forever memorialized in insect form. The legacy of Saartjie Bartmann lives.

In this world, the global desirability of a Black girl’s ass excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair. Somehow, I think this will be a sorry consolation prize for Black Girl Blue, whose beauty (or potential lackthereof) is already fodder for internet renditions of internalized Black self-hatred.

This is a world where disrespectability politics reign, a world where black women’s bodies and lives become the load-bearing wall, in the house that race built, a world where the tacit disrespect of Black womanhood is as American as apple pie, as global as Nike. (Just do it. Everybody else is. )  In this world, Black women have moved from “fly-girls to bitches and hoes” and back again to just, well, flies.  Insects. Pests.

But getting back to bitches…

Right on cue (and a little too conveniently) reports surfaced that Jay-Z was relinquishing his use of the b-word, and it seemed that Blue had already begun to work her magic.  Like others, I was skeptical, but intrigued. I mean, if you weren’t already convinced, read Jay’s (and dream hampton’s) book Decoded, and there’s no denying that he’s a highly intelligent brotha, one who is no stranger to defending his word choice. Even Oprah, who took him to task for using the n-word, respects him enough, finds him worthy enough of an OWN Masterclass.

Turns out that the whole thing was a hoax, a story hatched with a half-way believable poem, by an internet writer hoping to create buzz with a side of consciousness. Annoying as such tomfoolery is, I can’t knock a Black girl for wishing that a man’s relationship to the women in his life would lessen rather than heighten his investments in patriarchy and misogynoir (black girl hatred).

As much as I didn’t believe the story, I thought the strategy ingenious. I mean, what self-respecting new father, what respectable man, would actually issue a statement reasserting his right and intention to the use the b-word copiously?  

But fellow Sagittarian Jay-Z is nothing if not principled, so that’s exactly what he did, letting it be known through his camp, that all b-words– bitch, Beyonce, and baby Blue—remain in his lexicon.  It was a respectful fuck you to doing the respectable thing and a straight up diss to respectability itself. Hip Hop aesthetics at their finest.

And herein lies the conundrum. Black feminists have long pointed to the limitations of respectability politics, steeped as they are in elitist, heteronormative, and sexually repressive ideas about proper Black womanhood. When disrespect becomes where we enter, we confront a reality that is pretty dismal for Black womanhood. But when we enter at respectability, there we confront limitations, too.  I mean, Michelle Obama, the country’s Leading Lady, can’t even get no respect.  It is time to face the fact that the more-than-century-long project of respectability politics has been an utter failure, particularly since it hasn’t convinced Black men to treat us any better either.

Our recognition beckons new strategies, even as we confront the terrible realities of the challenges that give rise to them. If you’ll permit me to put on my professor kangol and theorize for a moment, I think we must consider the potential in the space between the diss and the respect—the potential (and the danger) of what it means to dis(card) respectability altogether.  This space between the disses we get and the respect we seek is the space in which Black women live our lives. It is the crunk place, the percussive place, the place that makes noise (and music), the place that moves us,  the place that offers possibility in the midst of two impossible extremes.  And frankly, that is what I would wish for baby Blue anyway, the ability to make her own way in the midst of two largely unattainable extremes of Black woman- and manhood represented in her mommy and daddy.  I hope that in having access to their humanity, she can draw from who they actually are, rather than who we make them out to be. And I hope she will know that she, like every other Black girl, is the most beautifullest thing in this world, simply because she is.

For the rest of us, we might have to accept that this magical, Edenic, place “when and where” Black women “can enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of our womanhood” is not forthcoming. We’re gonna have to fight for the dignity that’s rightfully ours. So um #nodisrespect but excuse me while I #takeoffmyearrings.

When the Shit Hits the Fan: On the “Shit [People] Say” meme and why it matters

17 Jan
Screen shot from Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls video

In case you missed it, there’s a new meme on the block and its kind of my favorite thing ever! The video that got things started, Shit (white) Girls Say, makes up for its own lacklusterness with the brilliance that it inspired. I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve been around groups of straight white women to know if those characterizations are true or not, but it smacked of sexism that made me think it’s more projection than accurate performance. It was followed by  Shit Black Girls Say which failed to capture the things I say as a Black girl. These weren’t simply reflections of “shit girls say” but a demographic of straight white and black women with a particular class background. The infantilizing title aside, “Shit Girls Say” poke fun at women through the use of the male gaze.

I realized what didn’t make these funny to me was exactly what made the ones that came after them work so well: Privilege, or rather the lack there of. The power differential in “Shit Girls Say” is skewed. Men dragging women and parodying what they believe to be their words as marginalized people in society has significant limits. In contrast, the videos that have marginalized folks speaking for themselves and back to the power structure by simply repeating the privilege denying questions and statements they field, are solid gold!

None has more fully made its way around the Interwebs than Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls. I have heard every one of those statements. And according to facebook, so have many many of my friends. Comedian Franchesca Ramsey brilliantly pulls the meme out of patriarchal hands and creates the opportunity for folks to see and hear privilege in action. Her appearance on Anderson discussing her viral video actually underscored many of her points. Anderson was shocked an awed that she had experienced what she described in the video and the sad truth that many white people still don’t know what racism means came to the fore.

Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls begat so many gems:

the list goes on. A friend on facebook quipped, “I’m almost starting to feel sorry for white girls. almost.” And that got me to thinking about the limits of this meme.Laughing at the ridiculously offensive things that white women say to women of color is one thing but it’s much harder to laugh at the threats of violence that are often embedded in the things white men say to women of color. Watching Shit White Guys Say to Asian Girls didn’t make me laugh it made me sad and it made me pause and think seriously again about power differentials across axes of color and gender.

Watching Shit People say to Native Americans left my heart feeling heavy. Shit Black Guys Say  did make me chuckle but again, my laughs were stifled by the dishonesty directed at female partners laid bare (I was super excited to see a comedian favorite of mine from my favorite web video ever). Shit gets real and not very funny when the power differential is wide.

And  as much as I love the witty way that people are speaking back to oppression through this meme, I realized that some conversations are just too fraught to be distilled in this way. I started to think about conversations amongst different “girls” of color, what a Shit Black Girls say to Arab Girls (or vice versa) might look like. I don’t think that this format could hold the complexity of such a conversation and it definitely couldn’t be the one sided, question/statement only nature that these videos suggest. But now as the meme starts to peter (maybe?), we might be open to thinking about conversations and exchanges amongst the margins and how that might shift the camera lens.

Some Reflections on the Limits of Sainthood

16 Jan

 How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Martin Luther King day is here again. For many, it’s simply part of a three-day weekend and, thus, a time to sleep in.  For others, MLK day has become yet another day to shop till you drop. It’s also a day where we are privy to various snippets from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, played on loop and quoted by the most conservative pundits to the most liberal, although, quiet at it’s kept, he said many, many brilliant things.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a literature of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) course. Although I live in Alabama, a state filled to the brim with vital civil rights history, many of my students knew very little about the CRM, and even less about King, even though they all claimed that he was very important or even a personal hero.  It was during that time that I really fully recognized how limiting political sainthood is. All my students knew who MLK was (or thought they knew), but the information they had received about him was so sanitized and incomplete that his words and philosophy were simply platitudes trotted out once a year to underscore that we had achieved his Dream. Imagine their surprise when they read about King’s anti-war stance, his thoughts on capitalism, and his emerging radicalism towards the end of his life. Take, for instance, King’s words just months before his death:

 And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

“A Christmas Sermon” (1967)

 King’s sermon is not a series of platitudes but an admonition for our own time. Indeed, it’s high time that we take our icons, our saints, off the pedestal and really heed their advice. Keeping MLK and others as distant, perfect leaders is really a cop out, a way to assuage our guilt at being “inadequate” heirs to the Movement, or to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve achieved some “post-racial”  paradise, or to convince ourselves that the task of liberation is just too daunting. On this MLK day, I think that we owe it not only to MLK’s memory, but to the many forgotten foot soldiers of the CRM and Black Power Movement, to do more than recite sound bites or raise our fists in mock salute.  We need to remember the richness, the complexity, the contradictions, and the power of black political struggles in the U.S. and across the Diaspora, and continue not only believing that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but we must continue doing something about it–at home and in the streets. 

From “King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta.King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. ‘One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.'” 

5 Reasons To See The Mountaintop

15 Jan

I went to New York City over winter break to see Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop on Broadway.  I had been excited about seeing the play since it debuted in October.  It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in a re-imagining of the night before Martin Luther King’s death. 

I found the play to be provocative and compelling in many ways, helping me to challenge what it means to celebrate MLK Day tomorrow.  More importantly I have been challenged to think about what it means to honor his legacy, a legacy that we inherited, linked to a dream that we expand with our own visions of equality and justice. 

The play runs through Sunday, January 22, and if you are in NYC or will be in NYC between now and then, here are five reasons I recommend you see it:

1. The play offers a portrayal of Martin Luther King as human, vulnerable, flawed, and afraid.  It also exposes his sexism, his occasional self-importance, his frustrations with the movement, his fears about dying, and competing responses to his cause.  It offers an intimate glance of his private, alone without an audience self, and then his flirtatious, needy, interestingly comical self– in the presence of a common woman who is both impressed by and ambivalent with him.  His regular black man self is more ephemeral than his public self, but we see the conflicts and complications of what his life must have been like, from the inside out.

2. The play is held together in the hands of a heroine (and expands the possibilities of feminine-focused spirituality).  One of the two main characters is Camay, a black woman who is strong, opinionated, beautiful, witty, charming, sarcastic, foul-mouthed and angelic, but NOT a stereotype!  Her character will inspire you to be yourself unapologetically and to use your traumas and pain to be a worldchanger.

3. The play does not shy away from the controversies or contradictions of King’s life, or his legacy.  It insinuates that there were multiple sides to him, as there are to all of us.  It shows us a glimpse of who he might have been, beyond the iconic figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement.

4. The play offers a reminder that social activism and social justice movements don’t start or end with one person.  Important work requires multiple arms (and sometimes more than a lifetime of time to invest). 

5. The play has an inspiring and powerful message.  (I am sure you saw this one coming).  The show makes you think AND feel.  As Angela Bassett said of the play, “It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you sigh.”

It is, however, not a show without flaws.  The scope of the topic is huge for an 85 minute narrative, and I found it to be a little slow-starting.  Also, as a rural black girl the exaggerated southern accents were distracting, at best.  Other critics have pointed out the lack of historical accuracy or the (un)believability of King’s everydayness.  I, however, am a fan.  The storyline captured my imagination and the amazing portrayals by the actors gave me characters I could care about, representations that were familiar, and a story/possibility that I will remember. 

 If it weren’t for the miles I would have to travel and the money I would have to find, I would see it again before the curtain closes!

It’s a f#@%g compliment.

12 Jan

I’ve been ruminating on this one for days. I thought that the longer I waited to write it, the nicer I would be. Fuck it, I was wrong. I’m just gonna go there.

I’m a feminist. Sometimes it feels like I live breathe, eat, and sleep feminism. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m just feminist enough. A while ago, I made the mistake of calling another like-minded individual a feminist. I don’t even remember what they did to merit the honor, but I sure do remember their reaction. They actually got offended at the fact that I called them a feminist. Wait. Stop. What?

I was taken aback by the negative reaction. I didn’t even know what to say or where to start. I apologized for offending them and we both went our separate ways. I still think of them as a closeted feminist. This made me realize that I need to be prepared. Should the opportunity present itself again, this is what I will say:

“Relax. I wasn’t trying to offend you. Me calling you a feminist was a fucking compliment. Why? Well, for starters your actions showed me your amazing strength. In spite of the patriarchal/political/cultural/societal structure that fails and oppresses you daily, I saw you fight back. I was impressed. So impressed that I called you a feminist. That was some real feminist shiiiiiit.

So, the next time you want to go on and be offended because I called you a feminist, please check yourself. You’re a fucking feminist. Deal with it. Don’t do feminist shit if you don’t want to be called out. Stop fighting it. Join the movement (willingly). We fight for you. We will fight with you. We believe in you. We will believe with you. We SEE you. We will always see YOU.”

For the record, you are taking a feminist stance every time you:

  • Don’t believe the hype
  • Take action to make the world a more just place (for all its inhabitants)
  • Question the patriarchy
  • Acknowledge your own privilege(s)
  • Believe that you are beautiful just they way you are–even on bad days
  • Talked to your friend/child/neighbor/family about the skewed norms the media/marketing machines create, uphold and push on us
  • Stood up to someone when they did you (or someone you love) wrong
  • Told your child that his/her hair, skin, smile, are beautiful
  • Questioned a double standard
  • Gave yourself permission to love yourself and others

The list goes on. Feminists do some real cool shiiiit. You may not be a full-fledged feminist today, but maybe–just maybe—you are feminist enough.


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