Tag Archives: Black Women

The Game Rewind (and Revise)

3 Mar

Last night, CF Asha and I chatted about BETs The Game. We discussed our overall opinion of the series as a whole and the Tuesday (3/1/11) episode specifically. As Crunk Feminist we pay particular attention to the linkages of race, gender, and popular culture and ask for the writers and producers to do better. We posted the edited transcript of our conversation below.  (Note: It’s a bit long, but its a chat so should be a quick read).

Ashaf: Where should we start?
Chanel: well i think the Meagan Good (Parker) thing is a good place
Ashaf: But the season begins with Parker slapping the hell out of Malik. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I should take umbrage at the violence or accept it as part of kink culture. Are there lines? Am I being provincial?
Chanel: I don’t remember the context of the first slap. Was it sexual?
Ashaf: They were having sex on a toilet I think.
Chanel: lol. But they’re doing a lot of slapping this season. Didn’t Mel slap the shit out of Derwin last night?
Ashaf: Yes. Melanie got her slap on a few times last night
Chanel: That’s some lazy ass kink writing. The way they participated really wasn’t in a way that disrupted any kinds of sex norms, which is what I think is interesting about kink. This kink was on some Usher shit.
Ashaf: On some Usher shit!!! Bwahaha!!!
Chanel: what’s that song where he wants her to be the man for the night? Trading Places. Anyway in that song he does this whole thing about how he wants her to take control and give it to him like he usually gives it to her, but then in the end he takes control back. And some kind of way this kind of kink is similar because it seems to be controlled by male sexual desire.
Ashaf: Male desire definitely controlled Melanie’s attempts to liven things up last night. Did you see her face after the other woman kissed her?
Chanel: That whole thing was a shitty ass mess and did nothing for the overall goal of the season
Ashaf: What is the overall goal of the season? PLEASE clue me in
Chanel: i feel like this season really wasn’t thought of when Mara conceptualized the show.
Ashaf: I think they’re just trying to stay on television by cramming in as many stereotypes, booty shots, and pseudo-dramatic scenes as they can.
Chanel: I think that what we saw at the end of The Game’s run on the CW was supposed to be its ultimate ending that would have taken several seasons to get to. Now that it came back they have to try to create drama. But it would be much more useful if they were highlighting some Other Side of the Game (shoutout to Badu) that we didn’t know about. They are really pulling straight from the ESPN headlines and not even doing anything interesting with what they portray
Ashaf: Yes. The same formula won’t work here– especially when the show picks up two years later…
Chanel: They are using the headlines as a measure of authenticity as opposed to actually being authentically relevant to the lives of the viewers
Ashaf: I read an article that suggested that the Game was ahead of its time because the things that they were portraying eventually actually happened on reality television… Now they are behind those headlines, and it looks a little cheap, not cheeky.
Chanel: That’s so true. But it’s sad because these are the only places we have any form of representation. We are not on regular TV at all
Ashaf: But that’s why I’m so thirsty!
Chanel: i mean i feel like through the realm of cable television we have the power to really take some kind of power in our own hands and control the African American cultural representations. Cable television has a little more freedom than regular television because each channel tries to cater to a particular audience as opposed to a broad audience—so BET to black audiences
Ashaf: Yes!!!! And I thought The Game would be really powerful because it was OUR show– brought back by popular demand, not a major Network’s decision.
Chanel: but then that makes me wonder, what the game is saying to a largely black viewing audience, especially about male/female relationships and about black women. So for me, it’s largely becoming a disciplining project for black women. It’s providing a sort of measuring stick for us to adhere to.
Ashaf: Yes. Another way to tell black women how to get, keep and treat a man. Still, I wonder if the changes were the network’s decision or if they really just had less money and fired the good writers. The show looks like the writers meet in a living room and don’t belong to a union.
Chanel: yes! We totally need to know about the production
Ashaf: what about the rape scene last night?
Chanel: omfg. The rape scene
Chanel: that shit pissed me off on so many levels
Ashaf: Level one: Did she really “cry rape”- as in take a saying literally? Is that what people do? I wish that somebody came knocking on the door every time a woman cried rape…
Chanel: As if that what’s rape looks like though- screaming and throwing things. Sometimes sure. But that stereotyping of the reaction to rape is deeply troubling and leads a lot of women to blame themselves or wonder if it even happened because that wasn’t their reaction
Ashaf: Even if we give that horrible performance by Parker a pass and believe that she coerced Malik into sex with that move, what does it mean that the coercion was glossed over? He cried a few tears on a naked model before the show ended. But that was all. Coercion and rape were both jokes last night.
Chanel: Because certain bodies are unrapeable. Men and black women- these bodies can never be raped. So Malik wasn’t raped because men can’t be
Ashaf: Yes yes yes
Chanel: and for Parker, that just perpetuates the idea that black women cannot be raped because they either asked for it or are lying.
Ashaf: Especially those who claim to be raped by those with a great deal of power. We all know that powerful men have hearts– just like Malik. And golddiggers will try anything to make them fall.
Chanel: and speaking of the connection to the headlines, was that not that whole Kobe thing?
Ashaf: Yes, it was the Kobe thing. Recycling some questions from the public about Kobe’s rape trial: Why would Malik have to rape her when women throw themselves at him all the time?
Chanel: [difference being on the body of a black woman. and that connects to the history of the jezebel. the black female slave couldn’t be raped because she was hypersexual and was always already desiring and wanting some dick. Parker wanted sex so bad that she threatened rape to get it. I wonder if they’ll ever show that on the show. A football player actually raping
Ashaf: They lightweight showed one form of sexual exploitation last season when Malik revealed that he had a room full of videos of women, and that some of them didn’t know he was taping.
Chanel: oooooh yeah. I remember that shit. Surveillance at its finest
Chanel: i just worry about the implications of such representations. We’ve been blogging about this in the way that first black women’s experiences of sexual violence are never talked about and second when they are talked about they are deeply problematic. So in this case, she uses rape as a tool of manipulation and unlike a golddigger that wants his money she is hypersexual and only wants sex. But it’s still contributing to these archetypes of black womanhood that keep getting reinscribed and fed back to us (shout to Patricia Hill Collins)
Ashaf: It is strange that violence against women has never been addressed in this show that is all about athletes and their wives and fans… So why is it Malik’s character that gets used for all the “deep” stuff– absent fathers, tolerance of homosexuality, now coercion, rehab…? Is he supposed to be the most hypermasculine?
Chanel: He is supposed to be the representation of stereotypical black male athletes. The problem is they don’t really problematize this representation. Like it could be done really differently and good by pointing more closely to the structures that create such a representation. But instead they just drop that shit in and it sounds so familiar (single mom, drugs…) that it doesn’t call us to be critical. I’m thinking of a show like The Wire that did that particular well (though still left women and girls invisible and marginalized at best)
Ashaf: Right! I was going there. Earlier, they were doing some interesting things with his character… The Michael Eric Dyson guest appearance, the big girls episode… even the (hastily written) homosexuality episode. Now there’s no snark left.
Chanel: yes. That episode was good. It was one of the only times we saw black gay men on TV that weren’t there for comedic fodder
Ashaf: But even the gay episode was kinda comedic, right? Like is that really how gay men get down? They just read some signs then rub up on somebody from behind? That was kinda about heterosexist phobia that all gay men really want is to sleep with straight men…
Chanel: o yeah. I didn’t really remember the details of the episode. But you’re right. It was very flat representation. Even the model saving him provides a binary opposition for Parker and we get another good girl/bad girl thing happening where we are told to view one as evil and one as good. They ain’t slick with their constructions.
Ashaf: Yes– definitely the good girl/ bad girl shit going on. And what does a good girl want? To help the suffering man– even if it means jeopardizing her own sobriety by messing with another addict. What does the bad girl want? To satiate her own desires by any means necessary– cheating on her husband, crying rape-literally-, and coercing Malik into sex and cunnilingus. What was that “cat got your tongue AGAIN?” shit?
Chanel: I also want to touch on the threesome thing. I think it really showed (while not problematizing) the way that we as women continue to see ourselves as projects to be worked on. So even when our partner isn’t expressing dissatisfaction we go off and work on ourselves. Derwin didn’t ask for any of that, but she felt that she had to be better to keep her man. I feel like she’s having to do a lot of changing to keep him in ways that she didn’t have to before.
Ashaf: Yes. Harveyism. The message is that the marriage’s upkeep is up to the woman. I mean she literally dropped everything to “take care of” her husband. What does it look like to take care of a millionaire?
Chanel: how the hell he gon make her go to church?
Ashaf: Right! And when did he become the “head” of the household? He was so corny for all those seasons, but they were more like equals… both focused on doing their own thing and trying to figure out how to love and coexist.
Chanel: yes! How to love and coexist. I hate that Mel lost a part of herself to become one with him. I don’t believe that marriage is about two halves becoming whole. It is about 1+1=2
Ashaf: That is good addition, but in popular culture, love begins with subtraction. Black women need to take away a lot of things before they find “the one”– their attitude, their independence, their high standards and aspirations…
Ashaf: Last night, the women in competition trope was so loud!
Chanel: yes. Too loud. Where is the sisterhood?
Ashaf: Melanie’s competing with unknown groupies, with Derwin’s former lover, with the random woman at the club… She didn’t go through with the threesome because she felt jealous.
Chanel: *snaps*
Chanel: seriously. Melanie’s character has changed drastically
Chanel: she was always messing things up but i feel like before she was searching for self
Chanel: I’m not sure what she’s doing now
Chanel: it’s all out of fear of losing him. So really you’ll do ANYTHING to keep your man?
Chanel: you can miss me with all that. Seriously
Ashaf: I wish the producers would figure it out. The Janae thing is old (more competition!), Mel should have got used to it by now, and should even love Derwin’s son. Med school was a space for tension in the previous seasons– now she’s done. Her hair was sassy before. Now she looks like Weavonce.
Chanel: I feel like she’s become Kelly Pitts’ former character. The way she conducts that Sunbeam stuff is so unlike her. I also didn’t like that Melanie’s measure of progressiveness was tied to having a threesome. She told the woman something like “i thought i was the progressive woman but I’m not.” sooooo [not having a threesome] discounts your progressive politics?
Ashaf: Progressive is following your own desires, sweetheart, not fashioning your desires after what you imagine men will like.
Chanel: i mean i don’t think she’s progressive (well the show hasn’t shown that) but what does that have to do with that scene? And i feel like in some way it ties sexual activity to feminism. I mean they didn’t say feminism but i know they were lumping us in to that
Ashaf: I think it has to do with boiling down discussions of sexualities to discussions of tolerance. I am all for the no-bullying campaigns, but discussions of sexuality have the potential to queer lines… when we only talk about tolerance we are really talking about being politically correct (I don’t see sexuality. We’re all the same)
Chanel: but i know I’ll keep watching and hoping for it to get better
Ashaf: So what do you say to the person who asks why we don’t just change the channel? Why is it worth writing about? I gotta have something to tell my parents:)
Chanel: because we believe in it its potential and we have previous seasons to back up our beliefs. If we really felt that it was too far gone, we wouldn’t write about it. There is so much power and necessity in talking about sports
Ashaf: I think it’s also because pop culture is a form of education. People don’t want to criticize what they enjoy, but they are learning all along. This show will educate the jurors on future rape trials and that’s scary to me.
Chanel: so true! Pop culture matters in so many ways. I just really want complex representations of blackness in all its forms
Ashaf: Yes… crying for complexity
Chanel: depending on how this is received we can think about briefly talking about The Game every Tuesday

On Watoto From The Nile- Letter to Lil Wayne

3 Mar

This musical open letter to Lil’ Wayne is getting lots of love!

I want to join the chorus and give a big ol’ YAY to black girls creating media and saying what’s on their minds! Speaking back to Wayne’s misogyny is super important!

That said, I wonder about the limits of such a message.

Steve Harvey’s views on women are not progressive. He’s simply peddling a more respectable sort of black gender relations that still have women in the role of subservient sex goddesses but with a bit more modesty. To set him up as a positive alternative to Wayne misses his own belief in narrow gender roles for men and women. The song disparages Wayne for being single and seems to imply that ideally he should be married or that if he was acting right he would be. Erykah Badu is signaled as a “good” artist despite having worked with Wayne (and she’s single too; tweets is watchin’).

Wayne gets constructed as wholly negative and Lauryn Hill et. al as wholly positive. That good vs. evil split is a little too easy and doesn’t get at the complexity of the issues I have with Wayne’s music. For me it’s not so much the “calling women out their names” as it is his objectification of women that informs his word choice and the earlier trauma in his life that may impact his behavior.

When we are young and maybe a little influenced by our parents, we can go a little too hard in the virtuous/Queen/good black people paint. In speaking back to Wayne and other rappers with misogynistic lyrics we have to be careful we don’t end up creating a new box for women, that is just as limiting if a bit more respectful. The “Madonna” is just as limiting as the “whore”, even if she gets more props.

I ain’t mad at them though and I definitely am sending them love, particularly since they are getting such hateful comments on the video’s Youtube page.

The three black girls embracing each other who made the video giving peace signs to the camera

Congratulations, Watoto From The Nile, for rekindling a conversation that needs to be had!

Praise the Lorde!

18 Feb

Color picture of Audre Lorde laughing

On this day, in 1934, Audre Lorde was born. She named herself “black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior” and gave us the words to do the same. Although many quotes will be in circulation today, I’d like to offer this one up, as a particularly good example of Lorde’s crunkness.

All too often the message comes loud and clear to Black women from Black men: “I am the only prize worth having and there are not too many of me, and remember, I can always go elsewhere. So if you want me, you’d better stay in your place which is away from one another, or i will call you ‘lesbian’ and wipe you out.” black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests.

-Audre Lorde

Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving

Publised in The Black Scholar, vol. 9 no. 7 1978

 

Can you believe she said this in 78?! That it is still all too relavant today?

h/t to Yolo Akili for the quote.

Why I Am Watching “The Game”

17 Jan

“It’s so crazy how these fans are so embedded and … attached to these story lines,” Tia Mowry said. “They actually think Melanie and Derwin are real.”

I was one of the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to watch The Game’s resurrection on BET last Tuesday.  And I will also be in the number, along with most of Black America, who tunes in tomorrow to see what happens (Will Melanie tell Derwin that DJ is his child? Will Kelly and Jason have make up sex already and get back together? Will Titi blow up Malik’s spot and tell the boss he is freaking his wife?  Will Malik apologize for turning out Titi’s girlfriend? Will Tasha keep up the friends with bennies relationship and risk her heart for good sex?). 

I must admit that part of the appeal of The Game in the past was the relatability of the characters.  I believed (in) them.  I could see part of me or someone I knew in them.  They made sense.  I laughed with them, cried with them, felt for them.  As a spin-off of Girlfriends, I felt like I already knew them.  But the return of the show and the return of the characters left me feeling somewhat ambivalent and confused.  I don’t know who changed more in the two years since the show was cancelled on the CW, me or them?

The characters have become so exaggerated and embellished that they are hardly likeable anymore.  Somehow the ambitious, independent, supportive women have been morphed into golddiggers, (potentially) trifling baby mamas, insecure damsels, and vengeful enemies.

Looking back, the original characterizations were woman-friendly.

Melanie was the privileged young woman who much to her parents chagrin fell in love with a college football star and later followed him to California to begin his career.  She was determined, however, not to lose her identity in his and prioritized her own dreams of becoming a doctor, enrolling in medical school and postponing marriage until she achieved her goals.

Tasha Mack was the epitome of strongblackwoman.  She too held on to her identity with tightly grasped fists, embracing both her pre-millionaire teen-mother-of-a-football-phenom-son- self with the go-getter-sports-agent-entrepreneur self.  She pursued her own business in a male-dominated field and rarely held her tongue.  She was proud of who she was and where she came from and negotiated womanly needs with her financial aspirations.  Sometimes too Sapphire-like for long-term relationships, she was unapologetic for her sass and entered relationships heart first (head last).

Kelly was the quintessential white Barbie-doll trophy wife who rose from humble beginnings to marrying the black football player. She struggled with her identity as a woman, wife, and mother independent of her husband but played the supporting role of yes-woman.  Towards the end of the last season she began to finally find and embrace an identity of her own, outside of her marriage.

The women were decidedly different but their friendship made sense.  They made sense.  They were all so very human—and their issues, tangible.  But two years later, they are hardly recognizable.

I had high hopes for the season premiere.  And clearly I was not alone.  There were countdowns, watch parties, facebook conversations and Tivo recorders set in eager anticipation of catching up with the characters we had come so close to knowing, the characters that Tia Mowry says we find so “real.”

I was, however, somewhat disappointed.  I am not overly concerned with the storyline of the show (though that could clearly be talked about) because I realize that after a two year hiatus they had to do something to fill in the space and bridge what has been going on between then and now (though, admittedly, I wish the show would have picked up exactly where it left off, with Melanie and Derwin’s makeshift wedding in the hospital chapel, welcoming his new namesake to their family, John Legend’s soft, melodic voice whispering “this time I want it all” in the background…but I digress).

I feel like the characters became caricatures, empty shells of their former selves.

Perhaps the writers are taking their cues from reality shows about athletes and their girlfriends and wives (a la Real Housewives, Basketball Wives, Football Wives, etc.) where the more over-the-top the better, the more flamboyant, loud, and stereotypical the higher the ratings—but I am hopeful that things can/will turn around.  These characters are redeemable.

Since when does Melanie decide that staying at home and posing for magazine covers will fulfill the drive and ambition that led to three years of medical training?  Since when does Tasha Mack seek self-definition through a man?  Since when does Kelly become so self-absorbed, money-obsessed and vengeful that I can hardly stand her? Since when do all of the women become defined by their relationships (or lack thereof) to men, without even the comfort of each other (friendship)?  (At least in previous seasons they could rely on their sister-friends to help them through the breakups, disillusionment, identity crises, etc.)

Admittedly part of the appeal of The Game is what keeps me tuning in to reality television shows.  I get invested in the characters and I care about what happens to them. 

I am equally critical and curious. 

As a feminist, I will keep watching The Game because I want to see if they will redeem the characters.  As a consumer, I will keep watching The Game to see if Melanie keeps her dirty little secret.  Either way, I have the DVR set and ready for tomorrow’s episode.

Really Regis?!

30 Nov

Dear Regis Philbin,

Please watch this video of YOU, Regis Philbin, co-host of Regis and Kelly, SMACKING NICKI MINAJ’S ASS! I’ll wait…

No I won’t, min 3:40

Other Crunk women of color have waxed poetic about this so I won’t belabour the point.

It doesn’t matter that her last name is Minaj or that she’s black and a “she” so you thought it would be ok, that her ass is awesome, rumored to be fake, that she talks about sex explicity in her music. That’s not an invitation to sexual harassment on national television.

You don’t get a pass because you’re an elder and white and like Lil Wayne.

You don’t put your hands on people!!!

And Kelly, I see you with your not at all innocuous “How BIG is your…waist?”

My friend Cee-Lo Green has some choice words for both of you.

Sincerely,

MB

On #ForColoredGirls *Spoiler Alert*

8 Nov

Production Still of Female Leads in For Colored Girls

I got to see an advanced screening of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls promoted as a fundraiser for Sistersong and Sisterlove, two of my favorite social justice organizations and collaborators in a campaign called Trust Black Women. Before the film, Loretta Ross, black feminist warrior activist, described their work to get billboards taken down in Atlanta that compared black women’s decisions to terminate their pregnancies with genocide. They represent some of the fiercest women of color reproductive justice organizers in the South and beyond, and like the fierceness of Shange’s original choreopoem, their brilliance was smothered and silenced by a black man who feels like he can tell our stories better than we can. 

If you haven’t seen the movie, I can say the critics got it right. It’s a whole lotta mess: anachronistic, unbelievable, over the top, basically like any other Tyler Perry production. But there are moments, moments where seasoned actors stretch beyond the limitations of the director and a disjointed script to make magic. Can there be an Oscar for colored girls who do the damn thing in a Tyler Perry film when the writing is not enuf? Kimberly Elise FTW and Macy Gray was fire too. And I love me some Anika Noni Rose, even though I always feel like she’s doing the big drama of stage when she’s on the screen (worked nicely though for the choreopoem). In spite of some fabulous performances, For Colored Girls completely misses the original’s tone and message. From Shange’s work we get themes of self-love, pleasure, hurt and healing, decentering men in our lives, etc. Tyler’s framing leaves us with the exact opposite understandings; sex leads to pain, pay more attention to the men in your lives, know your role, and don’t forget you are some how responsible for whatever misery life brings you.

*spoiler alert*

What I really want to talk about is Tyler’s obsession with men who have sex with men. I mean in every film there is always some plot point or dialog that includes a man who looks like he just walked off the set of Noah’s Arc talking about how gay he isn’t. In this film, Janet Jackson, channeling Meryl Streep a la Devil Wears Prada, has a cough (people with HIV cough faintly, didn’t you know?) and a husband who in one of the first scenes is literally caught with his pants down receiving oral sex from a man. Carl is a stock broker who is so emasculated by his wife that he needs to get his submission elsewhere. “Walking down the street holding hands with a man, that’s gay!” he says in total disgust before he goes on to admit to having sex with men.

Though this plot point was apparently penned by Shange herself in her new edition of the text, this scene felt like a window into Tyler Perry’s and a lot of ostensibly straight men’s hearts. Showing genuine affection for another man is a sin but having sex with a man to reclaim your masculinity after being emasculated by women who don’t know their role is another story. There’s no discussion of Carl’s desire here. Bitchy black women are not only responsible for rape (how couldn’t she see the signs that we so clearly see as the audience?), their children being thrown out of windows (if she’d just left him earlier it couldn’t have happened) they are also the reason that black men must “bend” turn to each other for sex. In other words, black men have sex with men because black women won’t play their position, which is one of submission.

The film leaves you with a sense that  there’s something these women should have done, could have done differently to prevent these things from happening to them. What was a choreopoem of colored girls self-redemption becomes a PSA on how black women need to make different choices to forestall the violence that befalls them. The men however are simply reacting to the poor choices made by these women and as such are never truly held accountable for their actions, a posthumous slap to the face and forlorn gaze from a prison cell notwithstanding.

Perry was able to squelch condemnation from the very organizations most able to raise constructive criticism regarding his simplistic narrative by providing an opportunity to screen the film in advance for their benefit. What could have been a powerful moment to add the complexity that Perry missed, instead became an opportunity for Tyler Perry Studios to ask us to spread the For Colored Girls gospel for them as we were implored to tell our friends to go see it opening weekend. A brief talk back that included not one criticism of the film left me feeling confused and disappointed. If these women warriors could (would) not bring much-needed nuance how would other audiences (with less contact with the realities the film attempts to portray) react?

Black people have some healing to do. Tyler in particular needs more than his plays, movies, and TV show to work through his boyhood traumas. Like Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album and subsequent performances, trying to work your sh*t out publicly in your art doesn’t always provide the most liberatory frame through which to process. Self medicating through art may seem better than other more obvious self-destructive drugs of choice but when your own wounds keep you from acknowledging that you are capable of and culpable in inflicting others trauma begets more trauma and a vicious cycle is created (an important point we could have learned through the film itself).

Tyler’s rage at the black women who didn’t protect him comes through in every production he’s been associated with and perhaps his desire to understand their neglect might be better directed in the service of telling his own story, a story of a brown boy who wasn’t man enough for his father but man enough for the mother of a friend who molested him and the THREE men who did the same.  What might it mean for Tyler to tell his own story such that Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg, Jamal Parris and Spencer LeGrande might have had a more receptive public to hear their truths? Tyler’s hurt haunts For Colored Girls, muddling the intricate and multi-layered tapestry that Shange constructed, and leaving this colored girl with little recourse but to reach back for the rainbows of the original.

For Colored Girls Blog Carnival

1 Nov

 

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

 

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

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

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

With so much love and rainbows,

QBG’s Fallon & Moya

On ‘The Mean Girls of Morehouse’

14 Oct

Having gone to Morehouse’s (unofficial) sister school I feel compelled to comment on this Vibe Mean Girls article and subsequent fallout. In fact it feels kind of good to once again put this “audacity of parenting” thing on the back burner. Y’all ain’t ready 🙂

If you haven’t heard, Vibe acknowledged the fact that there are queer black folks in the world (more than CNN could do), let alone at the elite single sex HBCU, Morehouse College. The article profiles queer students who actively blur the binary line of gender and look damn good doing it. They wear their fierce so loud, proud and unapologetically they were dubbed “the plastics” by an ostensibly straight Morehouse brother of theirs.

The article title, while again evocative of a favorite literary device of mine, is sensational. It conflates the appropriated “plastics” moniker to girl identity which none of the students interviewed do themselves. They articulate a reveling in androgyny and gender bending that makes a lot of “straight” dudes uncomfortable, even administrators, hence the infamous dress code barring students from wearing women’s clothing (Read my thoughts on the dress code here). One student is interviewed while shopping in a women’s boutique in Atlanta and a store employee makes her shock regarding his attire known, providing a little more drama for an article already doing a lot by acknowledging the harsh realities of these students. What we don’t learn is how they are treated in the classroom or how daily jabs impact their ability to concentrate on their school work. A lot of them leave. Despite President Franklin’s claim of a Morehouse that accepts all identities, students that too obviously flout gender conventions have a nearly impossible time of making it on campus.

Looking at the comments section made me swear off them for good as it was filled with the most hateful language and threats. I attended school when Gregory Love was attacked in the shower with a baseball bat for supposedly looking at another student. My then ally identified self went 30 deep with other feminist and queer sisters and brothers to a panel at Morehouse that disintegrated into violence when folks tried to discuss the issue. This reaction is not unique to black people but the costs of homophobia in groups that are multiply marginalized are so much higher. If we can’t be at institutions that are on some level supposed to be for us, where do we go?

Morehouse may tout itself as a single sex institution but it is not a single gender one, as much as it may want to be. If female-assigned-at-birth students in the AUC can take classes there, hang out there, spend the night there (covertly 🙂 ) etc. why can’t male-assigned-at-birth students do the same in the same heels and make up? If any group should understand the fallacies of looking a certain way to be treated humanely its black people. And yet, black folks are determined to traffic in a politics of respectability that does little but make some of us tokens for a power structure that not all of us can access. People wonder why King’s beloved community has given way as we increasingly limit the criteria for admittance. If the people who decide who has access are middle class, straight, Christian, black folks, that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

That said, I get the nihilism and “do you” mentality of so many black folks excluded from “proper” blackness. When you know that people think and treat you as though you are  less than human why continually try to convince them otherwise? Why not just go for self?

The cycles of violence created in the name of “uplift” never cease to amaze me. If we truly want a different world it’s going to take seeing people for who they are not what you want them to be. Morehouse has a unique opportunity to engage students around questions of blackness and gender identity, to craft new black men and more, poised to create a better reality for many communities. We can’t afford to hold on to antiquated notions of gender and blackness. The future is fierce.

Pic of three black men queering masculinity at Atlanta Black Pride 2009

Sticks, Stones & Microphones

4 Oct

I can still hear a whisper (song). Arms oval. Neck curled. Hips sway to the familiar southern bass from a black (male) speaker rapping to me the dance floor.  Before I could face the voice coaxing me to move, he drops his hook—a line about a violent sexual fantasy, a common come-on echoed in hip hop club culture.  Still.  Arms raised, I am arrested by his lyrics likening sex to a beating. He wants to “blow my back out.” His lines are in step with other rap courters recounting sexual conquests by the penetrative acts of cutting, bussing, stabbing, screwing, hitting, pounding, smashing, thrashing, tapping, or slicing my body (into parts).  The hearty bass thump with the choreographed slow motion flutter from the strobe light stages a sensual seduction, or what he describes as “making love” in the club. But, love in this space is an illusion. It is a manufactured special effect similar to the one simulated by the strobe light.  It is this conversation between the flashing light and darkness, between bodies and sound, where I am swayed by a melody of misogyny.

Over the years, I have developed coping strategies to “manage misogyny.” In the past, I defiantly put an “X” in the air

Wayne and Drake perform at BET Awards

while walking off the dance floor, persuaded the deejay to play more woman-friendly songs, or created other words to replace the ones I could not bear to hear. Each year, I emotionally prepare myself to watch the BET or MTV awards. As a new crop of crooners emerged, I began listening to more R&B than rap to no avail.  The love songs don’t even love me. These days, I find myself storming out of clothing stores and restaurants, feeling accosted by the background sound taking over the physical and psychic space. I cannot turn off or tune out all of the car stereos, metro ads, or highway billboards where these images and words have become commonplace. Just how much hate can one woman tolerate?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I want to take time to reconsider the matter of words.  I want to think about the weight they carry in the everyday lives of black women.  More than a discussion about our love-hate relationship with popular culture, I want to take seriously the way misogyny impacts our relationships with menfolk and ourselves.  “Managing misogyny” has become an unwanted, collective group experience for women and girls of color from the hip hop generation(s). Language that humiliates, demonizes, objectifies and threatens is a form of violence.  It is verbal and emotional abuse accelerated and intensified by mass media technologies that make it so pervasive and systematic it is virtually inescapable. We know how language impacts our lives. We are witnessing how the state deploys labels such as terrorists, insurgents or enemy combatants to dehumanize (and kill without accountability). What about the words echoed by the black (male) speaker and transmitted by state-regulated media to dehumanize black women and girls? How does the language of hip hop sustain an environment conducive to our continued sexual and gender exploitation? Rap misogyny is verbal abuse.  Let’s name it. Let’s call it what it is because we’ve spent too many years feeling silenced by it.

Words hurt.

~ Aisha

This month, consider the language of popular hip hop music within the context of violence:

From the U.S. Department of Justice website: Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.

Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, biting, etc. Physical abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with his or her children.
  • Economic Abuse: Making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.
  • Psychological Abuse: Causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

More Musings on Melanin (or lack there of)

26 Aug

Artistic rendering of three black women's faces light and dark

“Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.” -Patricia Hill Collins

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” -Audre Lorde

*Mic check*  Is this thing on?  *Dodges balled up brown paper bags*

Hello, all.  First, we’re really grateful for the lively discussion our little polemic has engendered.  We’ve been monitoring the discussion both in the comments section and in Twittropolis, but wanted to let things marinate before we posted again.  (Besides, Moya B. felt ill and Summer had a not so awesome Monday, so we’re just now getting our act together.  Dissertations, after all, cannot write themselves.)  Now that a good few days or so have passed, we’d like to take some time to address some of the more salient points we’ve noticed in the comments section, and also perhaps clarify some things we said in the original post.  We hope this conversation is understood to be just that: a conversation. We are not shutting down light skinned folks for speaking on or about race as it relates to their color; we are asking, however, that these discussions become more nuanced, which, in our estimation, includes pot calling kettle a lighter shade of black.

1.  @Carolyn asked: Light Skin Privilege Checklist? Are you serious?  Yep.  We’re serious.  Admitting privilege is hard but it’s absolutely necessary for liberation. Part of what constitutes race is skin color and phenotype; racism cannot function if you cannot recognize this difference, and subjugate accordingly.  It’s what racial hierarchy is based on.  So, let’s be honest about the color spectrum that exists in between the stark polarities of black and white: one’s proximity to one or the other can play an incredible role in how hard knock one’s life is.  As many have noted in the comments section, we didn’t invent colorism three days ago, and dark skinned black folks are not the only ones who acknowledge this reality.  To argue that light skinned privilege does not exist, that all black people are treated similarly regardless of hue, vehemently denies the validity (and the existence) of all that inspires this age-old skin tone conversation.  Denouncing the existence of light skinned privilege requires one to believe that skin color does not affect how one interprets the racialized world and vice versa.  And that’s just not true.  It’s not.  If you don’t believe us, google it.  Or pay attention to Soledad O’Brien’s entire career.

Plenty of (black) people don’t want to acknowledge the ways that we are privileged above others, and we understand that.  Part of the difficulty of living in a society that constantly espouses punditry that articulates clearly demarcated dichotomous stances is that it leaves no room for gray area, and to occupy such a space is dangerous.  In such circumstances, admitting that one has a certain set of privileges causes others to question whether or not one is at all oppressed.  Admitting that one has privilege, then, often results in having to constantly prove that one is oppressed in other ways.

Furthermore, one of the most humbling experiences is learning to accept the piece of the oppressor within ourselves.  For instance, by virtue of having a non-disabled body in an ableist world, intentionally or not, we are granted certain privileges in our movement through it. We may not have actively done anything to to be granted that privilege, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist–or that we don’t benefit from it through no real “merit” of our own.  Yet acknowledging and understanding our privilege is only part of the work.  Are we willing to leverage our privilege for the sake of each other? Huey answered yes.  So did Angela…and Audre. Will you?

2. In her initial comment to our post, wheelchairdancer wrote that her blog was an “attempt to speak to the whiteness of the disability rights world while maintaining [her] ground as a mixed race woman.” Word. The non-disabled black woman feeling like she could step to wheelchairdancer and that she owed her an answer to  a question is a clear example of ableism at work. But part of what wheelchairdancer seems to be claiming is that disability whitens all the time which, if we may go down the troubled road of personal experience to prove this point, is not always true. Moya’s great-grandmother was a chair user, but her disability did not whiten her because she was dark skinned.  In other words, the fact that wheelchairdancer’s racial identity was questioned seems to have less to do with the wheel chair and more to do with her skin tone.  Disability can only “whiten” if one’s skin allows one to be interpreted as such.  It should be noted, that in her comment, wheelchairdancer identifies as mixed-race.  This identity marker alone requires the benefit of light skin.  Mixed-race folks who don’t look mixed-race don’t necessarily benefit by calling themselves that.  What allows one to identify–or even be mistaken–as mixed-race (and therefore not black) is light skin tone.

3. Thanks to both excerpted authors for trying to engage a dialog rather than shut it down, but a brief word on context and why we chose these blogs.  Our quick and dirty understanding of taking something out of context is when the reader, in this case, infers something from the text that was not intended.  So, in a sense, we did take both redclayscholar’s and wheelchairdancer’s words out of context.  All sarcasm aside, neither one of us thought that either one of these personal ruminations on what it means to be light skinned was attempting to forward deliberately a kind of “Woe is light skinned me,” rhetoric.  But that was never our real point.  Our purpose in deconstructing what was conveyed in these narratives was not to hate on a kind of light skinned melancholia.  Rather, we were interested in the kind of blowback, the implications of constructing these narratives in such a way that privilege is obscured.  What does it mean and what are the stakes of telling a story about the trouble one receives from blacks about being light skinned, without disclaimers or acknowledgment that in general being light skinned is a privilege?

As we said in the original piece, we don’t deny the realities of oppression light skinned black people are experiencing. In other words, light skinned black people are oppressed.  But, as the two epigraphs suggest, oppression does not forgo privilege.  Axises of privilege are not independent of each other; they inflect each other–and, if we are all being honest, we know this. This is why we talk about race, class, and gender.  If class didn’t affect blackness, for example, James Evans would have been the 70s version of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.  We are asking that we examine race more deeply to see the ways that white supremacy works through each other, intraracially. We must be willing to articulate those differences, that privilege.  If we, as black people, are unwilling to talk about and own the little bit of privilege some of us have amongst each other, how do we expect white heterosexual men to do it?

Besides, light skinned black people aren’t the only black people who are tested about their allegiance to blackness.   Queer people, quirky black girls, black people who play rock music even though we invented it, etc. are perpetually having their blackness questioned.  Our work, if we are committed to blackness, is to proclaim that we, too, are black.  But we need not do that by being appalled by another black person with the audacity to question us.  We also needn’t minimize the aforementioned inflections of blackness–class, gender, sexuality, skin tone–to stake our claims in the muck of monolithic blackness.  We should do the opposite; we should talk about those inflections and nuances of blackness not only as privileges, but rather as that which comprises a richer notion of blackness that has always existed.

4. Yolo made some really fantastic points in his comment, and no one responded to him.  Y’all should read it–again.  (Shout out to Effie and Tasha Fierce for hearing us and to Jah and Crunktastic for holdin’ it down while we got ourselves together)

5.  As many others have said here and in the world (but it feels so good when you rinse and repeat), privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. Black people’s reconstructionist visions of 40 acres and a mule silenced the rights of indigenous peoples in their land, just as the Cherokee refusal to recognize their slave descendants silenced another sector of the black community.  If we accept that white supremacy works differently among different racial ethnic groups of color, why do we then imagine that it does not work intraracially? To repeat, part of the way “race” plays out in our community is based on skin color.  SB1070 is about targeting people who look like illegal immigrants, usually of Latino (we know, totally an American construction) origins. As The Daily Show points out, no one is getting riled up about Canadian anchor babies. Irish, Italian and Jewish people have had access to whiteness in large part because of skin tone. Similarly, the hierarchies within other people of color communities speak to these realities as well. As black people who are in relationship with other people of color, we have witnessed the ways in which light is right operates in racial groups other than our own.  It is imperative that we examine this reality amongst ourselves.

6.  Finally, although we’ve spent all of our time here discussing the role oppression has in the construction of black identity, to be clear, we are not arguing that black subjectivity is solely comprised of being denied certain privileges.  That would be a really foolish thing to do, and they would kick us out of grad school if we believed such hogwash about Negroes.

*Drops the mic*

Sincerely,
Two jigaboos (tryna find something to do)

P.S. We didn’t invent the privilege checklist. Check out the OG White Privilege Checklist and another one that has engendered a similar amount of venom as folks dispute the co-constitutive nature of privilege and oppression, the Black Male Privilege Checklist. We’d also like to remind everyone that pretty privilege is a long documented phenomenon. For more on it and more great TV time enjoy The Bubble episode of 30 Rock (h/t to @superfree)

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