Archive | April, 2012

If I Could Have This (Black-Girls-Run-The-Media-World) Moment 4 Life …

8 Apr

I have already begun my mental preparations for the latest insult to Black women’s romantic lives that Steve Harvey’s upcoming film Think Like A Man will most certainly be.

I have had to start these preparations because I know that despite the sense I claim to have, I’m prolly gone go see the movie. Why? Because even though light-skinned men went out in the 80s, Michael Ealy will never go out of style! He is #mmmgood!

Anyway, let me stop being scandalous. This being Easter Monday and all.

Instead, let me give a shout out to Scandal, Shonda Rimes’ newest show starring Kerry Washington, the first Black female lead on a primetime network drama, in, let’s just say, forever.

I caught the show via DVR this week, and I have one thing to tell you. Olivia Pope is a bad-ass. And for that reason, alone, she is my shero.  I don’t like all her choices, particularly of dudes (watch the show, if you wanna know!), but I cheer simply for the presence of Black female complexity being represented in primetime. And whatever I might think of Olivia, I do know this. Kerry Washington is a bad bish.

And I guess this is what it looks like when Black girls run primetime.

I was reflecting on just that point when I got the chance to see Washington as a guest on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.

Now, I was already an MHP stan before the show—the first  news show hosted by a Black woman on a major cable news network—(no shade to Jacque Reed for holding it down all those years at BET) debuted in February. If the MHP Show has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that in a Black feminist universe we DVR the news!

I’m so serious. I now have to have my weekly #nerdland fix. It is not a game. And  I swear this show is some of the smartest programming on weekend television. On television period. It matters even more that MHP is a self-avowed Black feminist, particularly since so many sisters still seem to have a problem with that word.  Both Washington and MHP identify as feminists and are fierce advocates for women’s rights through their various platforms. For all the reluctant feminists out there, these women represent just two of the many forms that Black feminism can take.

One of my favorite moments from the show was the day that MHP talked about the movie that Black feminist chicks – me included—love to hate: The Help.  But on her show, she chose to interview an actual domestic, Barbara Young, the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. And when Ms. Young offered a different perspective than that of MHP and her other panelists, MHP made sure that Ms. Young’s voice and perspective didn’t get drowned out by the other folks who felt educationally entitled to take up more space in the room. We Black feminists take care of our own.

The more I thought about this awesomely unique moment in which we have a Black feminist delivering the news, a Black female lead (who can act her ass off) in primetime, and a Black female show creator,  I realized that slowly but surely Black women are fighting back against this onslaught of misogynoir that has been the Tyler Perry-Steve Harvey media universe for much too long.

Sisters are kicking butt now and taking names later.

Over at, Kierna Mayo is leading a swift and steady revolution. I have read so many smart pieces there, since the site’s relaunch just a few months ago. I grew up reading Ebony and Essence, the two black magazines that we got at my house. My grandmother got Jet so the triumvirate was complete. But I let my subscriptions lag a long time ago.  Yet, I knew something had changed when I began to see the word “feminist” there on a regular basis. And when I tuned in a couple of weeks ago and caught an important  article on African American trans trailblazers, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Needless to say, is now in my regular rotation.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl won the Shorty Award for best web show, beating out 783 other entries. And Issa Rae demolished her racist haters in the aftermath.

Ava DuVernay won best director at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

And we can’t forget that whatever issues some folks might have with her, a Black Girl has got her OWN media empire.

 So even though I’m not in the habit of quoting Nicki Minaj,  I really do wish I could have this moment for life. This moment, when I can catch a Black girl (well, make that two Black girls) running things in primetime, a Black girl running things on cable news, a Black girl running her own network, a Black girl running the web, a Black girl running, and let the NYT tell it, a Black girl running hip-hop.

And to top all that off, there’s a Black girl running the White House. 

I dare not close my eyes, cuz I feel like, in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone. And yet, I choose to savor this moment. Sometimes we Black feminist chicks, I guess because of our fervent desire to make this world reflect our best dreams for it, are quick to see the shortcomings, the wrongs. But in this moment, however brief it turns out to be, there are at least a few things going right.

And in a salute of that, I’m doing my Black girl dance, cuz this is what a Black girl world could look like.

So DO tha ladies run this? Hell yeah. At least for this one singularly  exquisite moment. And right now, this one brightly shining moment is enuf. Because if I know Black girls, I know this. Don’t give us even an inch, because we will take over the whole she-bang. #watchoutnow


Reconciling the Non-Profit “Post Industrial” Complex with Black Girls in Mind

5 Apr

Who is Anna Julia Cooper? Click here to learn more. Awesome FIRST wave Black Feminist.

On Monday, I went to visit the Score Small business mentoring office to learn about the benefits and limits of a 501 (c) (3) versus an LLC or a conventional corp. #planning. #wingsup.

I was REALLY surprised to learn that a 501 (c) (3) is seen as being owned by the public because of the tax exemptions that it receives.

I was really surprised to learn that there was an entire series of tax exempt classifications.

I also learned that,

To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

This has huge implications for Black girls, in that I know that 501 (c) (3)’s are relatively recent institutional creations charity wise. This also makes me I wonder what was the unstated rational for preventing 501 (c) (3)’s from being allowed to be involved in electoral politics.

Here is the exact language,

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Were 501 (c) (3)’s created, in part, to absorbed the progressive energies of women while also giving them a wage?


What happens to Black girls employed in 501 (c) (3)’s when the executive directors don’t know that they are magic, and attempt to relegate their duties to to administrative realm ?

Don’t get me wrong, I have been an admin before, and I enjoyed the work, because not only was I good at it, but I was also recognized as being a extremely good at it.  I can run your office. Trust. Without an awesome admin, you don’t have an office.

However, if you are a Black woman who is a policy expert, health expert or finance expert and you have to keep struggling to not have your position turned into one that is increasingly administrative and marginalized, and less focused on your expertise, it feels both racialized and gendered. Our mothers and fathers did not sacrifice and fight tooth and nail for us to go to school, only to be treated like administrative mammies in the workplace. #DamnthatwasaTangent. #HadsomeShittoSay.

Which leads me to the question of how does this rule impact the lives of women in general, women of color in particular?

How does the creation of 527’s impact the lives of women of color?

How different would community organizing look of 501(c)(3)’s could participate in electoral politics?

Black Girl 501 (c) (3) thoughts? I wonder what Latoya thinks…

Trayvon Martin and Prison Abolition

2 Apr

When I say I’m a prison abolitionist, people think that means I want to tear down the walls of the prison and free everyone today.  But what it really means is that I want to work towards building a society that does not rely on prisons to address all of our injustices.  As a prison abolitionist, I recognize that prisons treat the symptoms and not the root cause of social issues.  I recognize that prisons have history, we did not always have them and we can get to a place where we don’t use them (hell, I see evidence of this already with the increasing use of house arrest to monitor people.  Of course this is not better and is in many ways far worse, but it does point to the possibility of a prisonless world).

And while I wholeheartedly believe in the possibility of a world free of prisons, I find myself struggling with this Trayvon Martin situation.  How can I demand a criminal conviction for Zimmerman when I am opposed to prisons?  This kind of struggle between my politics and my real life is not new.  I often go through these “ok, now what do I think” moments when I am forced out of my activists bubbles filled with hope and promise.  But when I walk into my home and my house has been robbed, or I turn on the news and little girl has been raped and murdered, or I log onto Twitter and a young black boy has been killed, that theory shit goes out the window and find my non-prison believing ass saying “lock his ass up!”

So how do I reconcile these things?  I’m not sure yet.  But what I do know is that this really is not about the prison, but about a prison state that targets black and brown bodies in problematic ways.  It’s about a system of policing and surveillance, in which some bodies are always under the eye of the state. Be it police constantly circling their blocks, surveillance cameras in the project hallways,  metal detectors in their schools, or overzealous neighborhood watchmen finding them “suspicious” Li’l Kim had it right in saying “police stay on us like tattoos.”  #WeAreAllTrayvon not just because we are brown bodied in a state that recognizes us an inferior, but because we all live in a system that sees us as toxic and worthy of elimination—either by locking us up or killing us.   Thus, my call for no prisons is not really about ending the prisons but about ending a system that disciplines us for having the audacity to breathe.

But this does not mean I do not wish to hold Zimmerman accountable.  I world without prisons does not mean less accountable, it means more.  It would mean that Zimmerman would have to be held accountable to the communities he harmed and not just the state.  It would also mean that the world that creates a Zimmerman would also be held accountable for fostering a culture that sees dark bodies as suspicious.  It’s about recognizing the structural and cultural conditions that make a Trayvon possible.  So we must talk about policing in conversation with the ways in which Disney participates in this socialization by making all of the evil characters dark (Scar was the darkest lion on, Ursula was a black octopus, and Jafar wore a dark cape).

So we can and must continue to demand accountability from Zimmerman, but we must also recognize the ways in which Zimmerman is the product of a larger culture.  We must recognize the ways in which our culture breeds individuals that perform such heinous acts and who do we hold accountable for that?

Update: I have included a few resources for those who would like to know more about the growing prison abolition movement.

For more information on prison abolition check out:

Critical Resistance (National organization working to abolish prisons)

Angela Davis on the Prison Abolition Movement and Frederick Douglass

Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

Are Prisons Obsolete? and Abolition Democracy by Angela Davis

Three Thousand Years and Life (shows what alternative models of accountability are possible, even inside the prison!)

Visions of Abolition from Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life (featuring Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, and other academics)


Why I Supported the Hoodie March and Not SlutWalk

2 Apr

Nearly two Wednesdays ago, after a long day in the office, I frantically drove home, donned one of three dark hoodies that I own, hopped a train to NYC from Jersey, met another Sista Prof friend and made it via taxi to Union Square just in time to participate in the first One Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin March, which had been announced only the day before.

After hearing from Trayvon’s parents and the family’s attorney, we burst into the streets of Manhattan, speaking Trayvon’s name, almost as if the fervency of our incantations would call this boy, this young Lazarus, back to life. The energy in the air was nothing short of electric. We were not there when Trayvon begged for his life on a suburban lawn in Florida. But our collective screams on his behalf hopefully served to amplify his own screams that night.

I have been taken aback by the degree to which this case has touched the nation. With more than 2,000, 000 signatures on the petition and many public figures donning hoodies on his behalf, Trayvon’s murder has the potential to galvanize national conversations about racial profiling, the criminalization of Black male bodies, and the unequal way that arrests, conviction, and sentencing are applied to Black v. non-Black persons.

But as I sat home the next day and reflected on how simple a decision it was for me to attend the March and how glad I was that I went, I thought about my more ambivalent stance toward another movement that is also central to my political commitments.


It occurred to me that there was a central point of connection between the organizing principle of the Hoodie Marches and of SlutWalk, namely that each movement has sought to dramatize the intrinsic illogic of suggesting that one’s clothing choices invite–and more to the point– justify violent treatment. Not two days after the NYC hoodie march and one day after more than 30,000 people showed up in Sanford, Fl on Trayvon’s behalf, Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News that in fact Trayvon’s hoodie has as much to do with his murder as Zimmerman’s gun.

As if.

But then all of a sudden, dudes understood. I saw FB status after FB status saying, “a hoodie is no more to blame for Trayvon’s murder than a woman’s clothing choices are to blame for rape.” I might have cheered.

But really, what I had was a larger question. Why had I, an ardent (CRUNK) feminist refused to support SlutWalk? My primary reason as I’ve said before was about the inherent white privilege signaled by a movement that wanted to “reclaim” the word “slut.” Moreover, I felt like there was simply much more at stake to ask a woman of color to come and actively identify as a slut, than was at stake for the white women who readily jumped on the bandwagon. Also, as Trayvon’s case has demonstrated, the larger issue within SlutWalk was policing. I told organizers months ago in a dialogue in our comments section, that a critique of policing would invite all kinds of folks to come to the table. Because what has become abundantly clear is that both gender and racial ideologies are deployed to constrict the rights of women and men, Black and Brown to take up public space.  So my choice not to participate was an active assertion of the principle that I don’t want to be a part of any feminism that fails to actively critique racism.

Yet, I know that contemporary Black feminism emerged not just as a critique of white women’s racism, but also as a critique of Black men’s strident sexism.

Nothing infuriates me more than race-based organizing in which Black men take up all the space in the room. And it is precisely because of the long history of unjustified murders of Black men, that brothas feel entitled to exist at the center of the Black racial universe and feel justified in having the struggles that they face take up more than their fair share of the finite political, financial, and emotional energy and resources that we have to organize.

The result is that Black women find it incredibly difficult to make the case that the issues which affect us– alarmingly high rates of AIDS/HIV infection, disturbing statistics around Intimate Partner Violence, homicide, and rape, disproportionate rates of poverty, increasing numbers of incarceration and policing, the explosion of sex trafficking of young women, and copious amounts of street harassment—matter as much, are worth as much attention.

To put it the way some brothers have more or less put it to me: YES, sistas are being beaten, raped, and making do by themselves, but brothers are being KILLED. *Brotha drops mic. Walks away* Conversation over. (with no acknowledgement of the kind of privilege it is to both have the mic in the first place AND an audience when you do get the chance to speak.)

And now, another black boy is dead. And we are all rightfully angry.

But this position does not come without its risks.

Consider that there are no mass marches for Rekia Boyd, no massive national outcry, though her story has received more coverage in light of the Trayvon Martin situation.

In a zero-sum universe where resources are finite, and we have to pick our battles, rape/beating/harassment is (apparently) no match for state violence and murder. Within Black communities, high rates of Black male-on-Black male homicide matter more than the numbers of Black women killed at the hands of their Black male partners.

Feminist or not, it remains clear that Black women’s collective racial love affair with Black men is still going strong.

As a feminist, I personally struggle with what it means that on any given day, racism still seems to matter more to me than sexism. 

I marched for Trayvon almost without a second thought; with SlutWalk, its shortcomings were enough to keep me away.

 And while I could chalk up my choices to my experiences with violence– I have seen lots of violence in my lifetime, having lost my own father to gun violence—my choices are not quite so simple, when I acknowledge that I also have many, many women friends –and quite a few male friends, too—who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse and far too many female relatives who’ve confronted near-deadly violence at the hands of their male partners.

A couple of days after the Hoodie March, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference called Women of Power in Harlem. At the behest of the conference’s fierce Feminist Enough organizer, Shantrelle P. Lewis, we panelists rocked our hoodies at the morning sessions.

Photo by Jati Lindsay

That simple request and the seriousness with which we all took it, reminded me of just how much it continues to matter to Black women that our Black feminism not alienate us from Black men.

In fact, if I could just keep it one hundred, I think Black women care much less about whether our racial commitments or feminist expressions alienate us from white women.

Yet, the question remains

 Do Black men love us as much as we love them? Do they care enough to make sure their racial commitments and their gender politics and investments in unhealthy forms of masculinity don’t alienate us? Are they outraged about the shit we’re facing?

How do we make it so that our choice to stand up for Trayvon and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated in his name doesn’t set Black feminist organizing back three decades, by reinforcing notions about Black men being an endangered species, particularly since in this moment, it feels in some ways, like they are?

I don’t have answers, but I do invite dialogue. Feel free to share your thoughts.

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