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You Made it Happen! An Update on our Giving Campaign

14 Dec


Hey, family! We just wanted to thank you for all of your support of our giving campaign. With your generous donations we will be able to have a fabulous, energizing retreat that will enable us to continue to do the work we love and to dream up new and innovative ways to get crunk! Your contributions have made the following possible:

  • Two nights lodging in a cabin for several CFs
  • Childcare for several crunk kids (the future!)
  • Transportation for an East Coast CF to join the rest of the folks down south

And more! Special shouts out go to the Media Equity Collaborative who recently awarded the CFC with a grant. We so appreciate the work that you do and your support of our work.

Basically, it’s a love fest up in here.

Now, if y’all are still feeling generous and you have a dollar or two to share (or some Frequent Flyer, SkyMiles, or reward points) feel free to click the “donate” button at the top of the screen. Every little bit goes toward the tangible workings of our collective. Thank you!




Happy Crunksgiving: The CFC’s 2012 Giving Campaign

28 Nov

CFs Eesha and Crunkadelic talk about the 2012 Giving Campaign!

“Grounded and Ready To Soar”: Notes From the 2013 CFC Retreat

14 Jan
CFs gathered in a circle talking

Grounded and ready to soar, #retreat2013

The business of our everyday lives (jobs, mothering, aunt-ing, loving and making love, creating and tearing down (oppressions), building and holding up, going in and coming out, taking care of ourselves and others, etc.) has been strenuous over the past 23 months. The CFC has grown exponentially since our March 2010 launch. In 2012 we added 127 new blog posts and our blog had over 1 million views with visitors from 212 countries (thank you!). We have nearly 12,400 likes on Facebook, active Tumblr and Twitter accounts, and our blogs are regularly re-posted on other sites (thank you!). We have attended conferences and symposia, sat on panels together, collaborated on academic work, done speaking engagements and workshops, and generally contributed to and helped shape the conversations that are happening in our online and offline communities–but it has been a long time since the CFs have all gathered together in one space.

CFs SheriDF, moyazb and Crunktastic putting up the CFC sign

Representing the CFC

CF Chanel strikes serious pose

This is what crunk looks like!

With the generous support and assistance of CFC Supporters who contributed to our 2012 Giving Campaign, and a grant from the Media Equity Collaborative we were able to finalize and fund our second retreat for early January 2013 in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

We learned from our first mountain adventure (in 2011) that we should plan to be up the mountain before dark so we planned accordingly.  We shopped for groceries a day early, arrived in town sooner than needbe, and “packed light” (E. Badu). Our timeline, while somewhat flexible, indicated that we would meet in Atlanta, at CF Sheri’s house, at 12:30 on Friday afternoon, and plan to be on the road by 2 o’clock. We arrived from various pulse points in our lives, the farthest driving up from Lousiana (by way of Jersey), the farthest flying down from the northeast. Nine CFs were able to attend the retreat: Sheri, Moya, Susana, Eesha, Brittney, Asha, Chanel, Crunkista, and Robin (me). We also had our two beautiful baby girls in tow, CBs Asali and Cori Rain (or as Asali says Co-rane).

Once we were all in the same place we hugged, talked, put on our CFC sweatshirts (thanks Sheri), laughed and shook off the exhaustion of a long week. Only a few of us were meeting for the first time while others reconnected and grinned as we unpacked and repacked cars with car seats, groceries, luggage, supplies, and a drum.

We left Atlanta at 2:15 (only 15 minutes behind schedule), two cars deep and leg-to-leg close as we ventured to north Georgia for our rendezvous. We stopped in a small town on the way (where CF Robin’s risqué t-shirt proclaiming what she doesn’t give a fill in the blank about inspired suspicious looks from the local folk who seemed a little alarmed and a little confused when brown body after brown body emerged from a mini-van and SUV) to break bread at Longhorn. We ate quick meals, taking the time, when it was available, to touch and love on each other, passing our babies back and forth transferring strength to strength and love to love. By the time we got to north Georgia there was some sunlight and light rain to travel with us up the mountain. Mountain miles feel like journeys. The steep turns and narrow roads make for lost time as we waited what seemed like hours to go from a stop sign to a railroad track to the world’s shortest (car length) cover bridge (made of four by fours). A trek up a mountain in near dark conditions is never uneventful, especially when there are cars coming down the mountain as you are going up. Our stop-and-go, mountain curvy ride ended in front of our three story cabin fully equipped with a wrap-around porch, hot tub, and what we knew would be a beautiful view in the morning. We unpacked and the party started. Moya, our resident DJ, put on the Friday night remix and announced, as it played in the background, that the “I Wanna Be Down Remix” by Brandy featuring MC Lyte is her ish… (it was ours too).

CF Sheri, Moyazb, EeshaP and Crunktastic pose together

Thick as thieves

6 CFs pose for a picture outside at the mountains

Quick…strike an old school pose!

We paired off and looked around the house, picked the beds we would sleep in, and ate snacks before congregating in the open living room for official retreat business. Meanwhile Asali and I tagged ourselves crunk feminists with blue post it notes while Sheri wrote out our Saturday Schedule and Crunkista (“the baby whisperer”) and Eesha bonded with Cori Rain. Asha, Chanel, Moya and Susana christened our cuddle couch (the comfortable corner couch we designated for cuddling) while Brittney rebelled, sitting in a single recliner and declaring her intent to avoid the cuddle couch (cc) all weekend. We spread ourselves out, caught our breath, and got our bearings before we gathered in close and did a check-in ritual (breathing deep, saying how we felt in that moment, how we hoped to feel at the end of the weekend, and one thing that our CFs probably didn’t know about us). From our first-night sharing we realized that many of us came to the space emotionally and physically tired.  We needed affirmation, recognition, inspiration and sisterlove. We discussed and adapted our agenda, set up an altar (CF Sheri did a reading from Homegrown by bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains about the cultural functions of altars), assigned roles (timekeeping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and talked about our emotional triggers, pinpointing the ways our relational lenses and communication styles are influenced by our astrological charts. Our commitment, for the weekend, was to discuss concerns and improvements, plan editorial content for the year, and envision the world we want to see (for ourselves, the collective, and the babies).

CFs relax on comfortable couch

The “Cuddle Couch”

CF Robin and CF Eesha with their laptops

Vision work

On Saturday morning we had a hearty breakfast of sweet potato waffles, fritatas, scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, bacon and fruit. We spent the morning reviewing and visioning which included reflecting on the success and growth of the past year (reviewing) and then shifting to how we can create the world we want to see (visioning). We started with a long conversation about the Collective’s values and principles and committed to ensure that the work and outreach we do is continually guided by those beliefs. In particular we decided that we want our work to be inclusive (recognizing the nuances of what that means), to honor the voices and work of our feminist foremothers, to be grounded in the intellectual traditions of black feminist thought, to incorporate self-care and soul-nourishment, to shape conversations, to contribute to our professional and personal development, and to concretely build our audiences and communities. We designed the editorial calendar for 2013, talked about digital literacies (including the launch of the soon-coming website and our forthcoming digital video series) and made intentional plans for self-care and growth over the next year.

CF Crunkadelic and CF Moya relaxing on the couch

Cuddle Couch, Take 2

Before dinner we drank wine and left over margaritas and then ate homemade pizza, salad, and Susana’s delicious chocolate buttercream cupcakes (also known as Audre Lorde Have Mercy Cake). With a sleeping Asali and Cori Rain we gathered for late night woman talk. Sheri twisted Brittney’s hair, Moya posted pictures from our session and we passed around extra cupcakes and bonded over good wine. We shared secrets and talked about everything from politics and popular culture (Scandal) to feminist sex and our desires for the new year (shouts out to Susana for writing an impromptu ballad, On The Kitchen Table).  We talked into the wee hours of the morning (3AM) knowing we had an early check out the next day (8AM alarm).

CF Chanel and Cori Rain

Crunk Mama

Sunday morning breakfast was continental and last minute showers, packing, and cleaning swallowed the first few hours of our day. Our only business was to wrap ourselves up in the space we created, flourishing in grown woman and baby girl love and intentionality. We closed out our retreat with a blessing for Cori Rain. We got in a circle, took a collective breath, played some Nina Simone, and serenaded Cori Rain with well wishes and blessings to the brilliant beat of Sheri’s drum. We ended with two final words from each CF, the first to describe how she felt in that moment and the second to describe what she would be taking out into the world from our brief time together. CF Eesha’s final words, which were the final words spoken in the circle, resonated with us all. Her words collectively described how we all felt in that moment and what we would all do when we left each other to face the world. With a self-assured smile and early morning eyes she said, “Grounded. Soaring.” Indeed.

Four CFs showing off the CFC Sweatshirt logo

“We Take Our Feminism Crunk”

A Crunk Love Offering

19 Dec

In the spirit of what started as Crunksgiving, CFs Robin and Raeone come to you with the final installment of our 2012 Giving Campaign vlogs.

They discuss the influence of the blog in their lives and classrooms, and urge you to match the CF’s labor/s of love with an offering of love.

RandRGetCrunk from UA, Telecommunication and Film on Vimeo.

If the CFC has impacted you in any way over the last 2 and 3/4 years, please show your support. Every “dolla” helps/counts and will be used towards our outreach and in-reach initiatives in the new year.

Shouts out to everyone who has already generously donated to our campaign. Thank you! We appreciate you.


CFC’s Favorite Things: Crunk Holiday Gifts

21 Nov

So it’s that time of year again where conspicuous consumption, The United State’s favorite pastime, goes into overdrive. Here at the CFC, we’d like to counter the external pressure to buy the latest expensive gadget that will be obsolete by the next manufactured buying push, by suggesting you gift differently. Last year, CF Crunkista got this tradition off to an excellent start and we are building on that work this year. Basically, boo capitalism but if you are going to spend, here are some awesome products, people, and projects to support this holiday season.

  1. ProductsThe Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie
    • The soon to be released, The Summer We Got Free by Black Girl Dangerous Mia Mckenzie is some of the best fiction out there. If you are able to read this book, you should and so should everyone you know! The kind of seeds this will plant in minds will be the most delicious of strange fruit!
    • Danielle Henderson turned her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr into a book! Buy it from the feminist bookstore Charis and you are doing two great things at once!
    • A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara and What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg are great children’s book for any little ones in your life.
    • If you just have to have an e-reader, get a Kobo and support independent bookstores in the process. They’re the only e-reader that promises not to share your secret copy of 50 Shades of Grey with the Feds.
    • A toy that encourages little girls to be engineers. :o) Goldieblocks…yes, I know “goldie” but its an awesome idea. For a less whitewashed toy try Roominate, created by three women (1.5 of color) engineers designed to help spark girls’ interests in STEM.
    • For beautiful, hand-made art, Chicana feminist scholar and folk artist:
    • For the Queer satorialist on your list, try Malakni, Marimacho, The Andy Moon Collection, and Distinguished Cravat. For fat fashionistas, support Fat Fancy Fashions.
    • Your favorite childhood book– the actual print version from your childhood that you find at a used bookstore or online.
    • A nineties-celebrity-turned-ordinary-citizen autograph. Last I heard, Devoe was selling real estate in Atlanta. Surely he would sign a shirt for Moya for $20 (please!!!). Also, I know some people who know some people who know the members of The Boys (Dial my Heart). And if you want to get CF Crunkonia a gift, please track down at least one of the girls from Visions (Ooh La La) and get them to sign something.
    • More Music ideas – For music to gift, buy music from some great indie (self-distributed artists):
  1. People
    • Support the people of Palestine! Buy some good Palestinian olive oil, donate money to important Pro-Palestinian organizations and efforts.
    • Support a local person who knows how to do something. Even if this person isn’t marketing their services, pay them to give you and your friends a workshop. For instance, get one of your best dancer friends to teach a session on twerkin. Do you have a spoken word artist in your kinship circle? Get them to teach the tools of spoken word that may just help you in your daily tasks. Do your own Shawty Got Skillz Share or invite the shawties to teach you something!
    • Are you trying to understand your life and the reason you keep encountering different versions of the same person over and over again? Raising a little one and want to adapt your parenting to fit their emotional needs? Give the gift of an astrological reading by the one and only Yolo Akili.
    • Do you know a desperate graduate student or organization that needs some editing post haste? Buy them some editing hours from Summer McDonald.
  1. Projects

We know you have ideas too, dear readers! What’s on your list to give and receive this year?

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…

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.

The Power of Words: Racially Coded Political Rhetoric

9 Jan


New Gingrich has repeatedly referred to President Obama as “The Food Stamp” President while contrasting that with his own aims to become “The Paycheck” President.

Ron Paul, in an attempt to beat unruly logic into submission, has tried to convince us that “entitlements” are not “rights.”  In an effort to dispute affirmative action and minority rights he equates such “entitlements” with the “entitlements” that big businesses get from big government, thus causing the word itself to lose any precision it might have had. This of course is in addition to his refusal to clearly address his connection to several blatantly racist comments on publications bearing his name.

Rick Santorum, descendant of Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” rhetoric, told a room of mostly white voters in Iowa that he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

Mitt Romney holds as one of his campaign slogans that he vows to, “Keep America American.”

Rick Perry, in a stunning move of political originality, asserts that our President is a socialist. With the word “socialist” serving as a catch-all for a whole host of undesirable traits and policies, including, but not limited to, disrespect for the 10th Amendment’s protection of states’ rights.

With one primary down and another coming up in New Hampshire tomorrow, it has become difficult to avoid the spectacle that is the quest for a Republican candidate for President. A spectacle made such by a cohort of candidates that stubbornly refuses to winnow, casting us all into the Party’s frantic search for a standard-bearer.

And so it begins in earnest: the contest within the Republican Party to dig up its next contender. Let’s start at the beginning, though. Elections are about politics. They are condensed, hyper-charged and frantic attempts to remove people from positions of power, or by other to hold on to those positions or newly acquire them. To do this they need to convince us that they deserve these positions of leadership.


If politics is about communication, then it is also inherently about language. And language is a complicated medium, especially in the context of rhetoric and persuasion as in the case of politics.

“For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.”[i]

This assertion was made by philosopher of language and logic, Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Later in his philosophical career Wittgenstein proffered an uncommonly held belief that the meaning of a word or phrase can best be found by understanding the way that word or phrase is used. By way of explanation: traditional theories of meaning in the history of philosophy often looked to something outside the word or phrase to give it meaning. Something objective and/or representational. Wittgenstein challenged this idea intensely and argued that, “if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.[ii]

Now, this detour through Wittgenstein’s (latter years’) philosophy of language is to draw our attention to language and its power. A point also made, albeit in a completely different context, by another attuned to the power of language, Audre Lorde:

“For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the op pressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection.”[iii]

With this contest, as in all past election years, we are subject to contortions of history and murky poetics of politically coded language, per Lorde’s caution. I say “coded” because contrary to what the candidates are saying, we have to look to the way these words, words like “food-stamp president,” “socialist,” “entitlement” and many others are doing some heavy lifting in regards to race. They are imbued with meaning. If you don’t believe me just consider for a moment their “use.”

Consider the potential complicity with our racist legacies. Lorde and Wittgenstien, in each their own manner, asked us to assume responsibility for the act of listening to words for intent, for difference, and for the way they are used. Our competing parties and politicians give us competing aspirational narratives. Narratives that tell us a story about our history, and narratives that offer a vision of the future. So, we have to ask: What are the Republican candidates (and the Democratic ones, too, who deserve their own article about race) offering to us as a vision?


Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Romney and Perry’s comments make the perfect case for the power of words. They demonstrate racially coded rhetoric in an almost symphonic manner. (Sexist rhetoric too, worthy of it’s own full analysis, since there are similarities but also important differences.) Let’s look at the responses that these candidates are offering when confronted with charges of using coded and racist rhetoric.

Currently, former Speaker of the House, Gingrich is irritated with the response to his remarks calling President Obama the “Food Stamp” President. Despite having offered the NAACP his services to come and explain himself, they remain uninterested in hearing Gingrich’s explanations.  Perhaps they consider it futile to give Speaker Gingrich the opportunity to explain how his comments are not simply about race. Something that would be hard to back up with his policy platform.  Gingrich’s thinly veiled and deeply charged language is clearly deploying the racist belief that there are certain Americans (black and brown ones) who would rather not work and that our President is allied with such people and caters exclusively to their interests.

Congressman Ron Paul, is dancing along a thin and meandering line between coveting the votes of racists while disavowing racist statements in newsletters bearing his name. In fact, he rather clearly disowned without disavowal when stating, “ If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say.” Given his broad and deep connections with people who say and do racist things, this is quite a non-apology and head fake toward contrition, but barely even that.

Former Senator Rick Santorum, has indeed disavowed racist intent, going so far as to claim that he doesn’t recall making those comments and that he “condemns all forms of racism.” This hasn’t of course gotten him so far as to condemn his votes against affirmative action programs, immigration reform and wage increases for this country’s working poor.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Party’s frontrunner, when vowing to “Keep America American,” is positioning himself in opposition to President Obama, undoubtedly. While some have apologized for claiming that this phrase is a 1920’s slogan from the KKK, it is still worth investigating. When Romney positions himself as the keeper of American identity, he is implying that others are un-American. What does he mean by implying that our first black President might be un-American? Is it to question his values, his beliefs, his policies? Perhaps it is all of those things, but to deny that this is racially coded-language is naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst.

And Texas Governor Rick Perry, perhaps in a league of his own, carries on using the term “socialist” with imprecision, and has defended the highly offensive (and rather obviously racist) name of his family lodge, by saying it had been painted over ever since he can remember seeing it: an assertion that has come into question.

Racists, and those who stand by when racist things are said, or actively exploit racism themselves, do not do so with blatant pride (for the most part). Such are the victories of the civil/human/womens rights movements, of which we are proud and for which we are grateful. Open declarations of racism are out of vogue. Which means we must look closely for the deployment of coded language and its aims.

When candidates talk about race without actually talking about race they are acting in a subtle, yet powerful, way to make the discussion about policy and politics into one that is charged with race and racism. Language is power. It comes from history and walks through to the future. It creates and sustains meaning. It holds the past and forges the present. It matters, and its importance cannot be understated.

As Wittgenstein asserted, when investigating meaning, the philosopher must “look and see” the variety of uses to which the word is put. He said, in no uncertain terms, “Don’t think but look!”[iv] So when we look at this unyeilding use of clearly coded language, what do we see?

[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations , 1953, G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell. P. 4.

[ii] Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books, 1958, Oxford: Blackwell.. P.4.

[iii] Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Paper delivered at the Copeland Colloquium, Amerst College, April 198O

[iv] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, P. 88.

The Choices We Make

26 Sep

Story #1- Last Monday I picked my son up from his afterschool program and was met with a full on tantrum.  He was upset that I would not allow him to eat the gummy Starbursts given to him by his chess coach and informed me that he had already had some at “snack” time.

Story #2-On Saturday my mother asked me to pick up some food for my stepfather who is diabetic and paralyzed from the waist down.  My stomach cringed because I knew he was going to ask me to pick up something from a fast food restaurant.

Story #3-Last night I was reviewing literature for America Recycles Day in preparation for my son’s school event which is scheduled for November 15th.

Yes, I’m one of those mothers who don’t want to go along and get along. I regulate my son’s high fructose corn syrup (chemically processed corn) intake, I do not want to purchase fast food for an advanced stage diabetic, and social marketing campaigns always get the side eye (to borrow from my sisters).  Each of these stories raise concerns for me because it is damn difficult to function in this ridiculous culture of consumer capitalism because at every turn you have to suspend common sense to make decisions like purchasing school pictures and selecting the pose before your child actually takes the picture.

Here are the primary issues with each story, I had to have a 45 minute conversation with my son’s coach about the inappropriateness of giving children 25g of sugar (HFC) for an afterschool “snack.”  Food prices are increasing significantly, yet my stepdad’s double burger and fries costs $2.36.  I can barely get a cup of tea or a half-gallon of milk for $2.36, so how can I pursue a discussion about changing food habits with a family member on a fixed income.  $2.36 is not affordable food, that’s damn near free in comparison with the costs of slow food.

Finally, I want to be an active parent so I joined the Green and Healthy committee at my son’s school.  So why is America Recycles Day sponsored by Pepsico, Disney, Nestle Waters, Johnson and Johnson, LG (appliances and electronics), and Glad (plastics)?  Their investment in global supply chains that destroy natural resources and people’s lives globally is precisely the problem.

When I was young a school fundraiser was a bake sale of homemade goods or chocolates that had actual sugar not HFC.  Now a school fundraiser means talking with parents that work for Coca-Cola Inc. and online jewelry and magazine sales.  Having a 45 minute conversation every time these situations present themselves would not only usurp all of my time but it would also make me a pariah in my son’s school, afterschool, and in my family.  So I get screamed at by my son for taking away the 25g of HFC sugar, quietly hand over the bagged $2.36 meal, and hold my nose while planning an America Recycles (for a) Day activity with leading corporate plastic, aluminum cans, and energy polluters.  You may think these are minor but this is one week and simply the stories I choose to share.  I know I have “choices” and that I need to “choose my battles” but really it’s the same limited choice day in and day out—engage or resist, and I’m getting a bit worn out.

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