Archive | August, 2012

What violence does

13 Aug

A Sikh woman and her young child walk toward a temple flagpole to remember shooting victims from the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin during a vigil at the Sikh Temple in Yuba City, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.
Nate Chute, ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP

These things are hard to think about. They are painful to feel. They engender confusion and rage.  After the shooting at the Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin two weeks ago, I have found it so difficult to think about the incident and the aftermath. I can’t seem to intellectualize the story without thinking about what it felt like for those inside.

Immediately, I think of all the mandirs and gurdwaras I’ve sat in. I know what they feel like, what they look like, what they smell like and sound like. I know how loud and boisterous prayer there can be – the clanging of symbols and the women singing, and how soft and silent – the hushed humming of hymns by elders. Immediately, I’m transported to those moments.  When I think of violence in that scene, my brain experiences a moment of cognitive dissonance.  And then, a wash of sadness, pain, confusion and rage.

These are the hallmarks of terrorism, though. These feelings of confusion and emotional dissonance. This is what terrorism intends. This is what violence does.

This violence, though, is of a kind. It was fueled by bigoted hatred. It was fueled by a racialized rage. It was targeted.

It was not, as it has been called, “senseless.” Nor was it the same as the Colorado movie theater shooting; it was not random. These incidents occurred within days of each other so they are coloring and colored by each other. The things they have in common are apparently only two: these acts of violence were committed by white men, who purchased their guns legally. Many have written about the need for stronger gun laws, and some have written about the racial dynamics herein. Some have even written about the unnamed racism and Islamophobia in the impulse to educate the country about Sikhism (as it is different from Islam) in an effort to clear up any misunderstanding. And then there is the deep beauty of the Sikh faith.

All these points are vital. Race is playing a role in the way we talk about James Holmes, and Michael Page. It is playing a role in the way we talk about their motives: are they “crazy?” It is playing a role in the extraordinary search through our collective consciousness to find a rationale for their actions. And failing to find something, the age-old question: Are they “mentally stable?” Compare and contrast this with the incident in which NYPD shot and  killed Darrius Kennedy, a man reported to be “mentally ill.”  Darrius was black. Darrius was shot 12 times. As NYC officials are scrambling to justify that use of deadly force by appealing to the fact that Mr. Kennedy had a history of mental instability, we see the raced and classed treatment of these men, and these incidents.

These nuances, and political framings are helpful, actually. What has made this process so tenuous, I realize, is what is being asked of me.  Of us all. We seek explanation. We seek understanding. These things do exist, of course. These men had motives. But these are the wrong questions.

We don’t need to ONLY understand their motives and their lives. We need to understand what violence does. We need to understand what racially motivated violence does, in particular. It seeps into our consciousness, it redraws boundaries of safety (movie theaters and temples are no longer “safe”), it makes it seem as though we are not safe anywhere.

This feeling is all too familiar to many of us, black, brown, immigrant, poor, female-bodied, gender non-conforming, non-white, differently-abled, queer, trans etc. This feeling is fear, terror, even. That we are not safe. That is country is not for us. That our difference makes us targets.

It removes our belonging. That is what violence does.

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Throwback Thursday: The Twilight of Good Sense

9 Aug

On this Throwback Thursday I wanted to go back to one of my earliest posts. With the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, I got to thinking about what’s up with the fantasy of having a rich white man controlling you. It’s not like many of our realities are that different. I’m just saying. In any event, here are my thoughts on Twilight and the popularity of similar stories.


Yes, this is a post about Twilight. Well, sort of. If you break out into hives at the mere mention of the series (ahem, “saga”) that has tweens, some of their older sisters, and a lot of their mamas enthralled, keep it moving.  I understand your pain.

I was anti-Twilight from the jump. I remember seeing the cover and thinking it was interesting.  (Whoever designed the eye-catching covers for the series is brilliant). Then I read the jacket flap and saw that it was pure crap. In fact, this happened to me a couple of times; I’d see the cover and think, great design and then when I opened it I saw it was the same crappy book. I know the axiom about not judging a book by its cover (or, in this case, by its jacket flap). In fact, I remember going to a book store and seeing the striking cover for asha bandele’s memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and being immediately intrigued. I read the jacket flap and was like, I don’t know if I’m up for this. Fast forward more than ten years later and it’s one of my favorite books and I’ve taught it several times. But, let’s keep it real, Stephanie Meyer is no asha bandele.

And lest you think I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal romance hater, I’ll let you know I’m not. I grew up reading all of that, in addition to a healthy dose of Harlequins, Danielle Steele, and V.C. Andrews. I devoured Terry Prachett, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, random sword and swashbuckling dragon-fighting novels, and anything that was about mythology or folklore. I read X-Men comics (and watched the cartoon), I was addicted to Batman: The Animated Series, and I watched all of the Star Treks. To this day, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books. (How I managed to sneak in some Jane Austen and Toni Morrison is rather surprising, in retrospect).

I mention my sundry literary history to say that I’m what you might call an Afro Nerd. (And that’s Dr. Afro Nerd to you in the back sniggling). Point is, I know my weird. But just as I was spreading my feminist wings in high school, I began pushing away from the sci-fi. I was reading all this stuff about knights and ladies and traveling into space and I was not seeing myself reflected in the pages. Eventually, I stumbled on Parable of the Sower and it changed my life. I still gave sci-fi the side eye for its racism, sexism, and imperialist fantasies, but I was so happy to find a black! woman! writing! in the genre that I loved.

Anyhow, with my nerdtastic credentials I can smell paranormal bullshit (i.e. Twilight) a mile away. But, when Crunkista said, “Watch Twilight, you’ll enjoy it,” I couldn’t just cast her recommendation aside. I mean, Crunkista knows her stuff. So, I rented the movie and you know what? I laughed my tookus off. I know it’s not supposed to be funny, but that’s half of the fun—guffawing at the ridiculous high school angst and the corny lines, all the while admiring RPattz’s blush and eyeliner, not to mention Taylor Lautner’s abs. (He makes me feel like an old dirty lady, but I digress). I have even read the “saga.” (All I can say is I can never get the hours back that were sucked away by thousands of  cringe-worthy pages. They were good for a guffaw or two, I will say that. Anything to not grade papers).

So many others have rightfully lambasted Twilight (see here, for a start), so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, as it were. I do want to give a shout-out to some good fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, works that don’t feature vapid, listless, uninteresting protagonists who cannot live without a man and that don’t feature characters of color as the animal attachés to a set of heroic whites. How about Octavia Butler’s Fledging (a great twist on the vampire novel), or Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (black lesbian vampires, ftw!), or if you want to get a little more fluffy, check out the Vampire Huntress series by L.A. Banks, which features fierce vampire hunter Damali and her on-again/off-again vampire beau, Carlos Rivera.

I’ve been thinking a lot about CF Chanel’s post about meeting girls where they are. Like other crunk feminists, I see the efficacy of using what girls are watching, listening to, and reading as a way to engage them. And as Chanel and others have suggested,  we need to show them (and ourselves) that there are choices. And if they haven’t read a novel or story that features the world as they (would like to) see it, they should, as crunk foremother Toni M. suggests, write it. I wonder if when we see our sisters, cousins, daughters, and/or friends reading New Moon or what have you, if we can’t also just slip them a copy of The Gilda Stories (or a blank notebook and a pen) and see what happens. I’m just saying.

take a load off family: black women, hair and the olympic stage

7 Aug

The author on the move in Harlem.

I am no athlete. I have not won an individual sports competition since maybe the second grade. I recall Usaining all comers in the 40-yard dash but, as Kasi Lemmons learned us, “memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others indelibly imprinted on the brain” and I might have photoshopped that one.

My middle school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.

With high school came the freshman basketball team, aka junior varsity cuts. Public school competition and talent defections resulted in us losing every game of the season. Each timeout we, headstrong and skill-poor, loudly militated against the directives of our sweet coach Leo. My dad, a brief overseas basketball pro and former international basketball coach, spent most of my games in laughter and, quite possibly, shame on the loftiest bleacher next to his rugged white bud who my older sister and I affectionately called Mountain Mike. The other Mike, a black Chicagoan, was my dad’s barefoot running friend.

These days, I too am something of a minimalist runner. I have been marathon training since my birthday two years ago and my lightweight racing flats have propelled me to eight and half minute splits on 30 plus miles a week although if 702 shuffles into rotation, I can break seven minutes. Of course, this feeble athleticism does not compare to the kinesthetic genius we are witnessing at the London 2012 Olympiad, particularly in track & field, which commenced Friday, and showcases athletes of the African diaspora. This heightened visibility has called my attention to the hairstyle choices of black women competitors. I know full well that the firestorm that has surrounded teen Gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair makes this a sore subject but know that my distress is rooted in love. I’m confused as to how heat-retaining, scalp-suffocating and often weighty weaves lend themselves to peak performance.

My thick hair is hot on a warm day, let alone during a workout, and I can’t imagine sewing in more. I’ve never worn a weave, nor do I desire to, and, excepting about three years of my life, my hair has been relaxer-free. As a result, I have been able to vigorously c-walk (s/o Serena) to my heart’s content with little concern for root reversion. Madame C.J. Walker does occasionally call and on those occasions, I can’t front, I abstain from exertion for a week. You know how it is.

Beyond my skepticism about the practicality of a skull saddled with multiple packages of Indian Remy in elite competition (and a testament to our excellence is that we still slay), I am concerned about the witness it offers of our esteem, the invidiousness of European beauty standards and the message our adaptations to them send young black girls interested in sport. I am saddened that so many of us equate looking our best with extension-assisted styles. Must we weave, wig, braid in extensions before we hit the pitch, track, mat, slough? I don’t buy that the ubiquity of yaki is about convenience. Show me the receipts. Only thing that accounts for our epidemic edge-sacrifice is history. We been making our way up the rough side of the mountain since the middle passage. Let’s have an honest conversation about what we do not because the world is watching but because we are, would-be Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryces and Sanya Richards Rosses. I’m not proposing a ban on sew-ins but having a conversation about our wholescale investment in them even in the most illogical of circumstances.

Tomorrow I’ll greet the sun with my pillow-dented ‘fro. If I’m feeling vain, I’ll spray bottle my hair with water to define the curl, but most mornings I’m not about that life. I’m about the thrill of coming on the Hudson from my Harlem home, arms pumping, legs kicking, neon lime kicks pounding the pavement to the sounds of Lloyd, Azealia Banks and yes, 702. Sweat beads on my scalp and dots my forehead. It feels good to go hard. The wind blowing through my hair feels even better and, as a bonus, gives lionesque body. By mile five, it’s right voluminous.

For Whites Who Consider Being Allies But Find it Much too Tuff

6 Aug

Trigger Warning: Some language about sexual violence to follow.

The following post is a crunk public service announcement for our own post most racial times.

For the record, being a white ally means…

Not expecting your friends/colleagues of color to do the heavy lifting around your own privilege…

Not recentering the conversation back to yourself when difficult subjects come up…

Not asking people of color to be less angry so you can really listen. Child, please…

Not petulantly zeroing in on petty aspects of a person of color’s argument or analysis because it makes you feel uncomfortable or illuminates holes in your thinking. It’s really transparent…

Not bringing up the fact that your best friend/boo/adopted stepchild is black/brown/polka-dotted. Such “facts” are not get-out-of-jail free cards for saying stupid shit or generally being racist. You can have intimate relationships with people of color and still have fucked up race politics….

Not expecting/demanding cookies and milk because you are pursuing anti-racist activism. While we may be happy to work with you, you are doing what you’re supposed to do. Period. Point blank…

During conversations about race, the phrases “race card” and “oversensitive” don’t even enter into your mind, much less escape your lips. It’s never the right answer.

And, never forget, being a white ally means being less concerned with potentially being called racist and more concerned with actually perpetuating racism.

I’ll end this PSA with the wise words of the late, great poet, Pat Parker.

“For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”

the first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,

but don’t play here every time i come over.

An if you decide to play Beethoven-don’t tell me

his life story. They make us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me

to locate your restaurants

of cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,

mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,

rips your house or is just being an ass-

please do not apologize to me

for wanting to do them bodily harm.

It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than

whites-don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words-if you really want to be my friend-don’t

make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.

This was a crunk public service announcement. Carry on.

Gabby the Great Gets the Gold!!!

3 Aug

And #thebestisyettocome. ‘Nuff Said!

Postscript — Check out this awesome, tearful tributefrom Dominique “Awesome Dawesome” Dawes!

Throwback Thursday: Dear Patriarchy…

2 Aug

 

 

On this “Throwback Thursday,”  I wanted to revisit one of Crunkista’s earlier posts–a kick-ass kiss-off letter to patriarchy. I think it’s eternal in relevance and general crunkness. Enjoy!

*****************************************************************************************************************************

Dear Patriarchy,

This isn’t working. We both know that it hasn’t been working for a very long time.

It’s not you…no actually, it is you. This is an unhealthy, dysfunctional, abusive relationship because of you. You are stifling, controlling, oppressive and you have never had my best interest at heart. You have tricked me into believing that things are the way they are because they have to be, that they have always been that way, that there are no alternatives and that they will never change. Anytime I questioned you or your ways, you found another way to silence me and coerce me back into submission. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve changed and in spite of your shackles, I’ve grown. I have realized that this whole restrictive system is your own fabrication and that the only one that is gaining anything from it is you. You selfish dick.

I will not continue to live like this. I will not continue to settle. I know now that there is a better way.

Before you hear about it from one of your boys, you should know that I have met someone. Her name is Feminism. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She validates and respects my opinions. She ALWAYS has my best interest at heart. She thinks that I am beautiful and loves me just the way I am. She has helped me find my voice and she makes me happier than I have ever been. We have made each other stronger. Best of all, we encourage and challenge each other to grow. And the sex…the sex is so much hotter.

I’m leaving you. You’re an asshole. We can never be friends. Don’t call me. Ever.

Never yours,
Crunkista

UPDATE: Gabby Douglas leads Team USA to the Gold

1 Aug

I purposely titled this essay to highlight Gabby Douglas’ leadership of the USA Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team, which she led to victory yesterday, by capturing 33% or 1/3 of the total points  the team received.

You heard right. This kid, who commentators continue to suggest is “unable to handle the pressure,” was the only member to compete in all four events — vault, bars, beam, and floor.

So though she’s only 1/5 of the team, she did 100% of the events, and captured 1/3 of the points.

Of course she didn’t get 33% of the coverage, or even a quarter of the love her teammates got.

During the medal ceremony the camera panned to and stayed with Jordyn, ofttimes obscuring Gabby’s face. Commentators were exultant about Jordyn’s gold medal. “Jordyn’s gold.” As though there were a medal with her name already engraved on it or something.

But um…

The Olympics trades in Gold Medals, not Gold Stars! Put another way, there are no “A’s for effort.”

I want to be clear. I have nothing but love for Jordyn. She’s the reigning world champ. She’s mega talented, and she showed up for Team USA in a major way yesterday. I do not want to diminish her accomplishments in any way in this post.

But I take serious issue with the media’s coverage of her accomplishments and the sense of white entitlement that permeates that coverage. The coverage magnifies Jordyn’s victories, while minimizing Gabby’s. And it isn’t right. Not to mention that it is classic passive aggressive white racism. (Yeah, I said it.) The kind that injures not by heaping insults but by failing to grant recognition, when it has power to do so.

Gabby didn’t receive the low score in any of her four events, and she received the highest score in two of them (beam and bars). (See all scores here. Click on the plus out to the side for individual scores in each event.) Gabby outscored Jordyn on each of the three events they competed in yesterday, and she outscored Aly in one of two events. She didn’t put up one score less than a 15.066 in any event.

The first to do floor, Gabby’s performance received a score of 15.066. Solid. I literally waited on the commentators to find anything good to say about the routine. *Crickets* They said virtually nothing. And then Jordyn performed. They were glowing with accolades and affirmations for her, in a routine that was technically less difficult than Gabby’s. When the scores came back, Jordyn had a 15.000. And you could almost hear the disappointment, not at Jordyn’s solid score, but that it was lower than Gabby’s.

I guess I should be happy that at least this time, the media found it appropriate to actually pan to some shots of Gabby’s family watching in the audience. But unlike her counterparts, they never said who those three Black people were. I guess we could just Match them up based on skin tone. Contrast that with the fact that every time they panned to Aly’s or Jordyn’s parents, there would be some commentary about their reactions.

I am extremely proud of team USA. I hope that is clear. I watched the Magnificent 7 win Gold in 1996. Most of these girls were barely toddlers then! After the interview, they talked about the 2004 Olympics as their most memorable one. Made me feel O.L.D. So it was truly awesome to watch us return to that former glory. And these girls deserve every bit of shine they get.

And I am determined at least in this space that Gabby will get her just due.

Because let’s be clear.

Gabby showed up for her team in each and every event, and in Black vernacular, she showed out! But that reminds me of some more ol’ school Black wisdom, too– “you have to be twice as good, to get half as far.” Every Black kid hears this at some point in her lifetime. It still rings true. And what our parents don’t say is that even then, you still might be invisible. Invisible, that is,  in your accomplishments. Your flaws won’t be treated half so graciously.

Anyway, brush your shoulders off, Gabby. (Check her doing just that at the 1:02 mark!)

bob-costas-talks-to-the-fabulous-five-after-gold.html

They may not see you coming, Gabby. But know this. We see you! We SEE you!  And we are cheering you on! #yougotthis

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