Saturday, May 3, 2008

Can We Be Subdued?

Jessica Devnani found out this week that her appearance was deemed unacceptable. She had been hired to run one of the games at Canada's Wonderland. When she went to take her staff ID photo she was informed that she would either have to resign or get rid of her dreadlocks. Jessica decided to resign ( HUGE APPLAUSE FROM ME!)

It seems Canada's Wonderland considers dreadlocks to be an extreme hairstyle. Spokesperson Dineen Beaven is reported as saying, "We have 4,000 seasonal employees and we strive for a professional look for all our employees," The same appearance rules apply at the 11 other parks in the United States and five water parks owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Ministry of Labour program information officer Lori Barton said the issue doesn’t violate the Employment Standards Act. That act deals with issues such as overtime pay, holiday pay and the limit of hours on a work week.
“An employer does have the right to decide how you dress and how you keep your hair,” Ms Barton said.
A complaint can be made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission if it is related to specified grounds such as race or religion, said Afroze Edwards, a communications officer with the commission.
For example, if Ms Devnani was of the Rastafarian religion, it could be viewed as a violation of her human rights if she had to keep her hair like that for religious purposes.

I am a proud dread lock wearing sister. I have been growing my locks for 6 years now and they reach the middle of my back. They are my majestic crown of black beauty. Dreadlocks cannot be equated to dying your hair pink, as the government agencies and Canada's Wonderland attempt to do by stigmatizing those who choose to grow them.

Black hair, as all POC will tell you is not the same as white hair. It requires a lot of work to maintain. As POC we can choose to wear our hair au natural, straighted with chemical relaxers, weaved, or braided. Though this article focused on dreadlocks, many companies find braided hair to also be extreme.

There are limited options for blacks in terms of hair. Putting chemicals in our hair to straighten it, is damaging not only to the scalp but to the hair itself if it occurs for a number of years. The genesis of hair relaxing is the imitation of white hair. Recall in the movie Malcolm X when Malcolm got his first conk....He said to his friend, "it look white don't it?" Straightened hair is the internalization of white characteristics as the symbol of beauty. Think I am off base?? Think about the good hair/bad hair dichotomy. "Good hair" is considered relatively kink free, and relatively straight whereas "bad hair" refers to kinky "unmanageable" hair.

Cornrows have been re popularized, by the hip hop culture, and as such many businesses have wrongly categorized them as extreme. When they initially were made "mainstream" (read: white) was when they worn by Bo Derek in the movie ten. When a black woman tried to wear them to work shortly after the release of the movie to her job, at the Hyatt Regency she was sent home. When she took her case to court, citing racial discrimination, the Judge said that she only wanted to wear them because of Bo Derek, and that this was not a racial issue. This lead to a national boycott of Hyatt led by none other than the Rev. Jessie Jackson.
I don't know about you, but how many white girls do you think have a memory of sitting at their mothers knees to get their hair braided for the week? The washing, drying, oiling of the scalp, and braiding is a ritual that most black women have been through. But a white judge decided that it is not a racial issue.

Au Natural is another choice that blacks may make. The hair is usually cropped close to the scalp so as not to be confused with the AFRO, although many young blacks are taking a page from their parents style book and choosing to wear the AFRO. At the time of its initial popularity the AFRO was considered extreme.

It seems to me that until white culture appropriates our hairstyles, clothing, music, dress or mannerisms they are considered extreme. Why is it that whatever begins in black culture needs the stamp of approval from white people before it becomes acceptable? Think I being to hard on white people??? Think about Jazz, Blues and Rock N Roll, all at one time considered extreme until white people appropriated it and made a profit off of it. I am sure Little Richard is still waiting for a royalty check from Pat Boone after his horrible re-recording of tooty fruity.

You see until whites can make a profit from it, all things Black are considered uncouth, uncivilized, ghetto (read: low class), or even savage. Though this article starts off with black hair I believe the heart of the issue is black culture. When it cannot be stolen from us, it must be negatively stigmatized so as to deny the originality and or culture that is unique to POC.

As POC we must stand up and say, it is not okay to steal from us to make a profit. It is not okay to pass laws that force us to attempt to look like you. We are beautiful as we are. That which is different, is not necessarily extreme.

Friday, May 2, 2008

East Vs. West - The Feminist Divide

We have just enough religion to make us hate, and not enough to love one another - Johnathon Swift.

With the quagmire that has erupted in Iraq, Afghanistan has become the forgotten war. Women continue to die daily due to neglect, poverty, and sexual violence. Their voices go unheard by western governments that are preoccupied with the illegal war in Iraq. Though the new Afghan constitution has enshrined rights for women, the reality is far from what is professed. Womens bodies signify male honor and as such they belong to the males in their family. A woman who has been the victim of domestic violence or is a rape survivor often ends up imprisoned or murdered by her own family. A raped woman is considered to have brought shame upon her family.

Some would suggest that the genesis of male control is religion. I would submit however, that patriarchy is a global institution. Men have historically sought to create women as second class citizens. It is not a case of the crimes of the "dark skinned peoples". We cannot look at this situation, as something that "those" men are doing to "their" women. This is a tactic that many western feminists take in order to infer difference. It is a way of establishing an elitist based hierarchy. There are of course cultural sensitivities, that we as westerners must acknowledge, however we cannot take it to the extent of racializing this issue. Whether a woman is raped in Kabul, or on Fifth Avenue the shame is the same.

In the west women are told to keep sweet, or are offered virginity rings. While these do not have the totalizing effect of the burka, the message is the same, keep the family vagina pure. Our bodies do not belong to us. They are for the use of men. In Arabic, the translated meaning to describe a female child at birth is another's wealth. It acknowledges the fact that despite the investment that is necessary to raise a child, a woman will eventually enrich the home of another. (Goodwin,1994, p.42). In the west women routinely give up their identity when they marry and take on their husbands name. Not even our identity is of our choosing.

Abdul Qayum the chief prosecutor of the eastern province of Nangarhar announced during an interview, "If my wife goes to a bazaar without my permission, I will kill her. This is our culture. This is Afghanistan, not America". While he justifies his right to kill his wife based in culture in actuality he is speaking in the international language of male privilege.

As reported by Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, between 1993 and 1999, an intimate was responsible for 45% of homicides of women age 20-24 and almost 40% of homicides of women age 35-49. (Rennison, C.M., PhD., Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, 2001, NCJ-187635)
30% of women murdered in the United States in 1999 were murdered by a husband, former husband or boyfriend. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Trends in the United States, Intimate Homicide, 2001) 1,260 women were murdered by an intimate from 1976-1996. (Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998)
In 1996, nearly 75% of those murdered by an intimate partner in the US were women. (Greenfield, L.A., and others, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of data on crimes by current or former spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998. NCJ-167237)
Of 57 domestic homicides occurring in New York State between 1990 and 1997, 75% of the victims had ended the relationship or stated an intention to end it at the time of their death. (New York State Commission on Domestic Violence Fatalities, Report to the Governor, (Albany, NY: 1997)In 1996, approximately 1,800 murders were attributed to intimates; nearly three out of four of these (1,326) had a female victim. (Bureau of justice Statistics)

Location is no guarantor of safety. Each day globally women live under the threat of violence from those closest to us. It is this threat of male violence that must unify us. We cannot allow perceived culture to be a barrier to forming alliances. Lives are dependent on women realizing commonalities rather than difference. Often when we focus on commonalities it becomes clear that difference is not as large as was perceived.

When we look in askance at the practice of polygamy we must remember the FLDS compounds. When we question the Burqa, we must remember its binary opposite uniform, the sexualized female western body. Both are limiting and seek to construct women as other. Patriarchy is reinforced each and every time feminism refuses to see commonality. Note that by commonality, I am not suggesting the construction of a monolithic woman, rather I am suggesting that the female body is globally devalued, stigmatized, and raped. The aforementioned are international crimes against women. How these crimes are negotiated maybe subject to cultural relativities, however their acknowledgment as gender specific assaults must be reified. We cannot cloak Middle Eastern women, in a symbolic burka of victimization without acknowledging our own victimization by western men. The label that we seek to give others, is that which we already own.

Goodwin, Jan. (1994) Price Of Honour: Muslim Women Lift The Veil Of Silence On The Islamic World. New York: Penguin Group.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Historical Racist Cartoons?

According to the New York Times, a series of racist Warner Brothers cartoons was posted on YouTube by an unidentified user. When he was questioned as to why he chose to post these videos, he claimed that these videos have "historical value".

According to the New York times, when these videos were first released in 1942, they were unsuccessfully protested by the N.A.A.C.P. Due to a lack of complaints by youtube users the videos have not been taken down.

I question how these videos add to historical data. It is well recorded that blacks in the US were enslaved, and lived under a jim crow system. In fact racism is not a thing of the past. These videos are racist and inflammatory. The continued demand for these videos confirms that many still find such representations of blacks acceptable.

I urge you to contact youtube, and demand that these racist videos be removed. I see no valuable historical content that needs to preserved. These videos are a mockery of blacks and present us as less than human. Youtube should not need a massive outcry to decide that these videos are offensive. Within the first two minutes of this clip, I decided that this was an affront to me as a person of color. These videos belong in the Warner Brothers vault.

Michelle Obama

Ms.Obama spoke eloquently in defense of her husband. Michelle made it clear, that she did not want to come across as the woman standing behind her man. I liked this, as often political wives are viewed as accouterments. When she continues in her praise, Barrack tried to cut her off. Michelle made it clear, that she was aware that he was attempting to silence her, and continued speaking. Though she said that he was trying to stop her because he was embarrassed, I believe that it is important to take note that not even a presidential candidate can silence this woman.

Often when women speak we are interrupted by men. It is assumed that we have nothing of value to add to any conversation. What a man has to say often takes primacy. I applaud Ms.Obama for publicly declaring her right to speak. The next time you are interrupted by a man when you are speaking, regardless of the reason, have the courage to finish your thought. What we as women have to say is just as valuable as any man.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why Black Men Matter.

I recently came across a posting of Aposates via Racialicious, that disturbed me greatly. It seems Apostate was trying to understand why race is a feminist issue. She commented:

"This is why a race-centric analysis of women’s issues bothers me. Feminism is about women, period. It’s race-neutral. Hopefully, it will remain about women, instead of turning into an ersatz black civil rights movement pre-occupied with issues of police brutality against black men."

The idea that race analysis in feminism works as a detractor is problematic in that without it, feminism will work to only benefit white women. As a WOC, race, gender and class (though not mentioned by apostate) intersect in my lived experience. As my race and gender are visible I must constantly negotiate biases of others based on social constructions. If it were possible for me to wash away my blackness, then maybe I could understand why some insist that race and gender are two separate issues. Each day when I face the world, I face it as a black woman. Before I walk into any room, my race and gender announce what is acceptable treatment. Historically for black women that has been, overt sexualization, exploitation both at home and in the labor force, crude caricatures of the harping, head swinging shrew, and my favorite the ever loving mammy (milk tits). The aforementioned is a perfect example of the ways in which white women still use race privilege to exploit women of color.

When white women were agitating for the right to work, black women could not relate as they had never spent a day without work. When white women were fighting for the right to abortion, black women were being forcibly sterilized. To this day white women still travel to third world countries to get dark women to bare their children through the process of surrogacy. (Yes mammy is alive and well). When white women complain about exploitation in the media, they are loathe to admit that at least they can see themselves reflected often. How many times must I go to a movie or turn on the television to see no one matching my reflection? I am not talking about those light skinned women that Hollywood likes to employ to fulfill their racial obligations, I am talking about a beautiful dark skinned woman. Race is omnipresent, and as such is systemic in nature. It is invisible only to women whose bodies are not stigmatized by a darker pigment. Note that I will not speak of whites as not raced, as the white body is just as much raced as the black the body. The difference lies in how the white race is perceived. White is socially understood as normal, clean and acceptable. It is for this reason that privilege is able to be denied.

When feminist theory uses race as starting point for analysis it allows for a more concrete understanding of women. Just as we cannot point to one WOC as a representative for her race, we cannot construct a monolithic woman to represent all women. When apostate asserts that the desire of black women to talk about the oppression of black men is a detractor from feminism, she is speaking from a position of privilege that has not been acknowledged. In the words of Alice Walker, "No person is your friend that denies your silence, or denies your right to grow." I am a WOC, and I am an aunt, mother, daughter, sister, cousin and friend to black men.

"Black males have the greatest chance of dying before they reach twenty. Although they are only 6 percent of the U.S.population, black males make up half of male prisoners in local, state and federal jails. An overwhelming majority of the twenty thousand Americans killed in crime-related incidents each year are black males. Over thirty-five percent of all black males in American cities are drug and alcohol abusers. Twenty-five percent of the victims of AIDS are black men. Fifty percent of black men between sixteen and sixty-two are not active in the labor force. Thirty-two percent of black men have incomes below the poverty level." (Gibbs, as quoted in Dyson 96)

Yes,I just went on and on about the issues of black men. These issues are important issues to black women because we are their mothers, sisters, aunts, wives etc. We are their loved ones, and what happens to them effects our lives. When a black womans husband is addicted to drugs or doing time, do you think that it will have a positive or negative effect on her life? When a black man fails to find employment that pays at a subsistence level, do you think that it has a positive or negative effect on his family? Finally when Mrs.Bell, cried out with a mothers grief over the loss of her son due to the NYPD, was that not a womans issue?

There is no doubt that black men still have the ability to abuse, and exploit black women. I cannot claim that the relationship between black men and black women has always been smooth, however as a womanist I refuse to turn my back on them, to do so would be to deny the people that mean the most to me in this life. When I look into the eyes of my son, he will know that his struggle is OUR struggle. How can we ask men to change and take up our battles with sexism if we are unwilling to acknowledge the ways in which their lives are effected by racism. To partner with black men to eradicate or reduce racism is to improve the quality of life for black women.

A division between people of color serves a racist agenda. When we see each other as enemies we are most likely to work at cross purposes. As witnessed from the civil rights movement, when we work together much social change is possible. Why should we be content to see our brothers and husbands struggle in order to make advances as women? In reality we know that it is not black women that will advance through gains made from feminism, it is white women. When white women were voting, black women were marching arm in arm with our black brothers for the right to vote.

To ask me, as a WOC to forgo racism as part of the struggle for the improvement of womens lives, is to ask me to ignore a vital part of my existence. My black skin gives testimony to my daily lived struggles. What you see as a secondary concern keeps me from getting jobs, effects where I live, and whether or not my interactions will be successful. If you want my partnership you have got accept that which makes you uncomfortable --- my blackness. It is a real to me, as your whiteness is to you.

Dyson, Eric Michael (2005) Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind. New York: Persus Books Group

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Axe Body Spray

Though this video is meant as a parody it is so disturbing, I almost do not know where to begin. It makes a mockery of sexual assault in that it claims the genesis of this uncontrollable behavior is due to the scent of a cologne. In fact it claims that women, "temporarily loose their decorum," when they smell Axe. Apparently these women were helpless to stop themselves from committing these "lust related crimes", due to the intensity of Axe spray. It is clear that the producers of this video are referring to sexual assault. Rape is a crime of power. It originates from a mans desire to subjugate and humiliate women, and not from a desire to have sex.

The video also confronts the Whore/Madonna complex. Before women smell Axe and loose the ability to control their sexual urges they are described as nice girls, cookie bakers, perfect and pure. Positive adjectives are used to enforce abstinence, thereby disciplining the female body, and reinforcing the patriarchal desire to label, in order to maintain sexual ownership of womens bodies. The irony here, is that men are being portrayed as victims of female lust, when in reality we live in a rape culture. The media is saturated with images depicting the violation of women.

To be certain of offending all that view, the producers of this video also decided to include skewed racial imagery. The "helpless" virgins are of course white women, whereas the black women are licentious, loud, aggressive and overbearing. The white women are taken to a prison wherein the inmates are largely comprised of black women, to participate in a "scared straight" like program. Apparently, black women are more susceptible to the smell of Axe body spray. When the the black inmate begins her lecture she demands to be called "mommy" by the virgins who have been led astray. She in turn promises these white women that she will, "brush their nice little hair, give them showers and tuck them in." Yes ... oversexualized mammy will be more than happy to serve. Isn't that what black women are meant for, serving the domestic needs of white women and the sexual needs of white men? Though the inmate is speaking in a predatory tone, it clearly finds it basis for authenticity in the roles that black women have historically been made to play. To make sure you get the point, the only visibly sexually aggressive move, is made by a black female prison guard. When the white man is slathered in Axe products, she can be seen to be eagerly licking her lips. Yes, ever carnivorous in our sexual desire, we cannot wait to reveal our "true" sexual nature. Black woman are always already sexually contaminated, and as such the Axe spray becomes an excuse for us to act. Notice that in the Whore/Madonna complex narrative as presented by this video it was white women and not black women that were referred to as "squeaky clean nice girls."
Since the advent of this product, its commercials have presented skewed gender imagery that belies the seriousness of male control and aggression toward women. It is women, and not men that must run and hide from assault. It is women and not men that live in fear. Even for Axe this video is an all time low.

The Ebony Power 150

Ebony recently published its list of the most powerful 150 African Americans. When I first saw this list, I was delighted that blacks were getting the recognition that we so seldom receive. Ebony has been publishing this list since 1963. I am sure like everyone else, I glanced down the list looking for names that I recognized, and people I thought had been neglected. Slowly but surely it began to dawn on me, that there was a disparity between men and women. In fact the ratio between men and women is extreme.

Arts Entertainment and Media: 13 women 18 men
41.9% women 58.05% men

Business: 9 women 25 men
26.4% women 73.5% men

Education: 2 women 8 men
20% women 80% men

Religion: 1 woman 14 men
.06% women 93.3% men

Politics & Law: 16 women 44 men
26.6% women 73.3% men

Military: 0 women 2 men
0% women 100% men

Public Service: 2 women 6 men
25% women 75% men

The only category that comes close to 50% is Arts and Entertainment. In every other category men dominate the list. Are women simply not participating in the other fields, or have we been purposefully ignored?

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Food Network

This time last year I discovered I had a very serious illness. My life abruptly came to a halt. I stopped going to school, and took a disability leave from my job. All of a sudden I had time to watch TV.
One of the things that I love to do is cook. Suddenly I had time to watch the food network. In fact it turned into quite the obsession for me. I went to their website and downloaded recipes that I wanted to try. I even developed favorite chefs. I was delighted with my little culinary world until I noticed one LARGE glaring omission. The lack of people of color.
The chefs are dedicated to making food from across the globe. In fact in a single day it is quite possible to see dishes from Turkey, China, India etc. There seems to be a push to offer international cuisine. So here is my question....if the network is so into multiculturalism why are there so few chefs of color? On their website you will find a listing for only three shows that are hosted by people of color and two of them are hosted by the same person!
I am not satisfied with seeing white people cook "ethnic" food. I am not satisfied with the occasional traveling show focusing on events like Caribana to show racial solidarity with people of color. Bobby Flay can dance (badly at that)while he prepares Jerk Chicken, but let us not forget that this is a Jamaican dish. You know Jamaica, an Island in the Caribbean largely populated by, you guessed it BLACK people. Why should I accept these chefs as experts on dishes derived from my culture? Did they wake in the morning to the smell of fried dumplings, saltfish, fattened up corn beef, banana pancakes etc? I think not. These were the smells that emanated from my mothers kitchen.
There is a deep and abiding connection with food and culture. When we come together to share a meal, we are sharing more than just the food in front of us, we are sharing traditions, and teaching our children their history. When I stand in my kitchen, and make the same food that my grandmother made over sixty years ago I am offering my children a connection to their past, one that is specifically linked to the nurturing of my mother and her mother before her. It is a link created, and maintained by the women in my family.
My culture is more than a culinary vacation for the adventurous. It is real and meaningful to me. Part of living in a multicultural society should not mean the ownership of others, of cultural links and traditions. Show me that you respect my culture and identity by honoring people like me. Taking our recipes, and profiting from them shows an inherent disrespect. This is beyond invisibility, it is outright thievery. You have no right to take without asking. You have no right to share what is not yours. You have no right to colonize through invisibility....I am the subaltern, and I have spoken.