Saturday, May 24, 2008

Raising Children A Form Of Slavery: Rebecca Walker Speaks

image I came across an article written by Rebecca Walker, daughter of famed womanist author Alice Walker.  Much to my chagrin, she maligned feminism.  It seems based on her relationship with her mother, feminism is "an experiment that has made some huge mistakes".  Throughout the article she relates events from her childhood to justify where feminism has gone wrong in her life, however it seems to me that though this article professes that the mistake is on the part of feminism, it is really a judgement of her mother. image Click here to read the article.

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I am huge Alice Walker fan. She has been an inspiration in my life, and I doubt I would  be the woman I am today, had I never been exposed to her work.   That said, I am not privy to her private life, and therefore I cannot make any judgement on what Rebecca has chosen to publicize to the world.  I would only add that her choice of whether or not to be a mother, only exists because of feminism. 

If we truly believe that the personal is political, then feminism is a useful analytical tool for all women.  It gives us a way to understand womens oppression in a patriarchal world.  Though motherhood is certainly an issue in feminism, it is not the only issue. Even among mothers, parenting is not a universalizing experience, it is mitigated by race, class, gender, age etc.  Each woman brings to the experience her own unique frame of reference, which must then be negotiated by the society in which she lives.

In truth women are often trapped by idealized notions of what motherhood is supposed to be. Mothers are always patient, kind, loving, self-sacrificing, tireless, teachers, etc.  The motherhood discourse is defined by personal infallibility, which we as human beings know to be an impossibility. Yet we demand it of our mothers, and defame them when they fall short of the monumental task.  This is part of what makes motherhood a stifling affair. It is a constant struggle between the woman that you are and the socially constructed ideal that you are expected to be. 

Feminism allows the deconstruction of the category of mother, as well as the "traditional" nuclear family. It is to the family that women  direct the majority of their lifetime of labor, and yet we know that domestic labor leaves women impoverished.  It is also in the family that we learn about the hierarchal nature of gender.  To claim motherhood, and the family as a major site of womens oppression is a reasonable assessment when we consider the time invested into each.  What we as mothers, indeed as daughters must do is learn to re-conceptualize our expectations with the understanding that mothering may not be appropriate for all, and that even in our supposed failings we have still added beauty to this world with the birth of our children.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Disney Promotes Noose Jewelry

Disney does not have a history of being racially sensitive.  From its historically inaccurate portrayal of Pocahontas, to the "enhanced" lips of the crab Sebastianimage in the Little Mermaid, people of color have been portrayed in racist caricatures.  In fact the founder of the company was a known racist, and so it comes as no surprise that the tradition of minimizing bodies of color continues on.

To promote the movie Dead Mans Chest, Disney is selling matching 14k gold plated noose earrings and necklaces. image That's right, for a mere 32.95$ you can wear a symbol that represents the murder  of innocent black people.  In light of  the racist portrayal of Michelle Obama, plus the outbreak of noose placings throughout the US, this could not be considered as anything other than inflammatory.  Clearly they care nothing for their African American consumers, or they would never create such merchandise in the first place, much less offer it for sale.  What self-respecting black person would willingly wear a noose as jewelry? Funny I don't remember swastika rings being made to promote Shindlers List, so why is a universal symbol of hate to blacks used to market Dead Mans Chest?  Oh I get it....because it only offends blacks, and who cares about them anyway, right? 

We invest meaning and emotion to symbols.  They represent the best and worst aspects of our culture. To the black community, who have witnessed generations of our young men hanging from nooses it is no ordinary ornament.  It represents hatred, fear, intolerance and death.  Once again Disney chose profit over respecting bodies of color. Whatever less than brilliant PR person came up with this, needs a crash course in US history and racism; that is if anyone working there is interested in owning their white privilege.

Ellen Tackles McCain On Gay Marriage

image Ellen did something that many in the mainstream media have not had the courage to do.  She declared her right to love as she chose, and challenged McCain to say she was wrong.  For someone who believes so strongly in his position I find it interesting that he could barely make eye contact with her.  Fact of the matter is that, hatred, and bigotry have no place in this world.  When we truly love someone it elevates who we are as human beings.  It proves that we are not violent animals incapable of beauty.  To deny the love of another due to ignorance and bigotry limits not only the individual, but us all.  Good for you Ellen! Now catch the video.....

Lynch Michelle Obama

image Michelle Obama has come under alot of attack for making the comment, "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of this country."  The GOP have had a field day with this.  Their recent internet ads were so inflammatory, Barack finally declared that Michelle is off limits for criticism.  It seems her husband is not the only one to jump to her defense.   While randomly reading blogs I came across this depiction of her at What About Our Daughters. image It seems that in an attempt to "help" her image, liberals decided to portray Michelle getting lynched.  Why is it not enough to simply condemn the actions of the GOP without resorting to racist imagery?  How could this offensive photo ever be considered as helpful?  Blacks do not need a reminder of the history of lynchings and the KKK in America.  It is ever present in the social consciousness.  While they accuse the GOP of fear mongering and race baiting, is that not exactly what they are guilty of by resorting to a depiction like this in the guise of providing aid?  Not only is Michelle's body being sexualized, as is common with most media depictions of black women, her coloring has been lightened, and she is being tortured. She is also wearing a red dress, which is a color that is associated with licentiousness.  Yes lets defend the uppity, whore, negress from herself because that is the right (read white: liberal) thing to do.

MacFarlanes Babes

image Seth MacFarlane is busy planning a spin off, of his wildly successful show The Family Guy.  The lucky character to get his own show is Cleveland.  The working title is The Cleveland Show.  Since the characters of  The Family Guy are all white, and the characters from The Cleveland show are all black, I thought that this might be an interesting topic to analyze race and gender.

Lois is married to the idiot patriarch Peter.  She embodies  the good girl/bad girl dichotomy.  image During the day she is the doting stay at home mommy.  She is always conservatively dressed, and intentionally blind to her toddlers attempts to kill her. Of course perfect mommies have perfect babies, so Stewies antics get ignored. So content is she in the role of wife and mother, that she never explores hobbies, or interests outside of her family.  Despite the fact that she is more than aware that her husband the sole support of the family is an idiot, she never expresses concern that her subsistence is dependent upon him.  Way to be subservient Lois.

At night she is often portrayed as a sexed up tart, imagewho is ever ready to perform.  Lois's alter persona is just so damn hot, even the dog wants to do her.  Nothing like bestiality to affirm your sexual autonomy. Yeppers watch her give the dog a hard on;  now that is female empowerment at its finest.

image Too complete the role of female stereotypes on the show we have Meg.  Her daily wallowing in teenage angst is mostly the result of her inability to get, and keep a man.  On a show where women are judged on how they service the needs of males this makes Meg, decidedly a loser. She is routinely ignored by her father, unless she is the butt of his jokes.  She has thus far not been able to give Brian ( the dog) an erection and is so "underdeveloped" that she has not drawn the attention of the neighborhood rapist Quagmire.  How does Meg deal with the rejection of males? Well in the typical female way of course, she self-mutilates by cutting.  Meg is what happens to girls when they don't learn the good girl/bad girl script that her mother has mastered.  She is a lesson to us all.

image With the role of women so perfectly sculpted by The Family Guy, one might wonder if MacFarlane has finally run out of stereotypes.  I found the following brief rundown on the show at Racialicious  which originated at Spill.

THE CLEVELAND SHOW (working title) (Sundays, 9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT): Many years ago, CLEVELAND BROWN (voiced by Mike Henry) was a high school student madly in love with a beautiful girl named DONNA. Much to his dismay, his love went unrequited, and Donna wound up marrying another man. Cleveland once told Donna he would always love her, and if this man ever done her wrong, he'd be there when she called. Well, this man done her wrong. Donna's husband skipped town with another woman, leaving Donna with a daughter and a baby. Now she's come to Cleveland and offered him another chance at love. Unattached after the Loretta-Quagmire debacle and true to his word, Cleveland joyously accepts and he and CLEVELAND JR. move to Stoolbend, VA, to join their new family. Once in Stoolbend, Cleveland has a few surprises in store for him, including a flirtatious new stepdaughter, a 5-year-old stepson who loves the ladies, as well as a collection of neighbors that includes a loudmouth redneck couple, a British family seemingly stuck in the Victorian era and a family of bears living at the end of the block. FAMILY GUY was only the beginning. Get ready for THE CLEVELAND SHOW (working title)!

Of course Donnas first husband ran off, and left her a single mother, he was after all a black man.  The idea of more than one black man being faithful to his wife the way that Cleveland was is unheard of. And Of course Clevlands wife left him for a tryst with the rapist Quagmire.  You know us black women, we simply cannot refuse sex with a white male, despite a history of slavery, rape and exploitation.  I mean aren't white males the ultimate trophy to a black woman.  After all, that's all that matters to black women, getting a good piece of dick.

Of course Donna had to turn to Cleveland for support.  You know a woman cannot live alone without a man in the house.  Heaven forbid she should be strong enough to stay single for a few months, while she gets over the betrayal of her husband.  Better run and get  a new master quick as can be, we wouldn't ever want too many days to go by where we actually thought for ourselves.

And finally the piece de resistance, the overly sexed up teenage daughter.  Notice how Meg the white female is devalued for not being sexy enough, and the step daughter (the black character) is immediately sexualized.  I get the math, white girl equals good and black girl equals bad.  Black female bodies are always already sexualized by a culture that is predicated on our exploitation, and so it is no surprise that MacFarlane would immediately go there.  I mean what good would it do to present a young black female as striving to get ahead, or even as simple as respecting herself? 

Some reading this post will question why I am getting all worked up. Just like my survivor post, I am after all critiquing pop culture.  Shows like Survivor and The Family Guy matter simply because we mindlessly consume them.  It is in this consumption that we internalize messages that have a tendency to create certain segments of society as "other".  In the case of  The Family Guy, it  sells itself as a comedy.  Rape, ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and pedophilia are just a few of the issues that have been given the humor treatment by this show. The aforementioned are issues that have either stigmatized, or damaged many in our society in serious, and lasting ways.  To turn the pain of others into a 30 minute laugh reel, is to reduce the  lived experience of others into meaningless fodder.  I am sure Seth, that you will have yet another hit on your hands.  All I can do is hope that people will stop and think before laughing, what if this were me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Corrections Canada Does Not Value Life

image In yet another startling example of bodies that matter, a report released today accuses Corrections Canada of negligence in the death of  Martin Blackwind, a Native inmate.  Blackwind intentionally severed a major artery in his arm, and then hit the emergency button in his cell.  It took ten minutes for staff members to call an ambulance.

According to CTV:

The report, which is based on two separate investigations, found that:

  • Staff failed to extend first aid.
  • Staff did not determine what Blackwind's injuries were.
  • They left him alone and locked in his cell, bleeding to death, for long stretches.
  • They did not call for an ambulance until 10 minutes after the man's distress call.

Four corrections staff have been disciplined for failing to administer first aid and failing to take action to save a human life.

Their punishments range from 10 to 20 days without pay.

  • Videotaping responses to medical emergencies.
  • Delivering a "diversity awareness-sensitivity program" to all correctional staff.
  • Sharing all information related to inmate deaths and injuries with police in a timely fashion.
  • Developing a response policy to allegation of discrimination.

Corrections Canada says it will respond fully to the recommendations and that an investigation into the discrimination allegations has already been convened. 

Watch A Video of the story here

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. On October 19, 2007, 19 year old Ashley Smith image was left to asphyxiate in her cell.  According to CTV, Staff members allegedly saw the girl on a video monitoring system with a ligature around her neck. However, officials reportedly did not intervene immediately, believing she wasn't seriously harming herself.  Smith suffered from a mental illness.

How could it not be readily obvious that someone is trying to commit suicide when they are viewed putting a noose around their neck?  Even if they thought that she was not serious, they had an obligation to intervene immediately, especially with the knowledge that she was mentally ill.  I suppose saving a life was just to much effort. After all, she was a convicted criminal, why should it matter if she lived or died? Never mind that she had her whole life in front of her.  Who cares what she potentially could have contributed  to society. She was just a woman, and we all know what female lives are worth --- nothing.

Travis McDonald, 36; Karen Eves, 52; Valentino Burnett, 47, and Blaine Phibbs, 31, have all been charged in connection to her death at Kitchener's Grand Valley Institution.

The charges fall under a section of the Criminal Code that relates to "omitting to do anything that it is his (or her) duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons."

Another corrections officer is facing charges in connection with a separate incident with Smith at a Saskatoon prison.

Correctional supervisor John Tarala was fired from his position last September, accused of assaulting Smith.

We place  so much emphasis on punishment, that once an individual is incarcerated we fail to see them as fellow human beings.  The Head of the Correctional  Officers Union disputed the report in Blackwells case claiming, "we did the best we could under the circumstances."  The best that they could do was to let a man bleed to death.  To them Blackwell was not a man that had a family that loved him, or a life that was worth living in any regard, he was a murderer.  Yes he committed a heinous crime, but he was more than that crime.  No act, no matter how violent or shocking is totally descriptive of a person.  Negligence in his death should have been punished by more than a 20 day suspension.  Prison officials may not have inflicted the wound that led to his death however, their negligence and apathy, certainly were factors in his death.

Smith and Blackwind were both negotiating multiple locations of stigmatization, and marginalization.  Blackwind was an aboriginal man, and Smith was a mentally ill woman in the Canadian penal system.  Considering that we live in a ableist, racist society, is it really shocking that they were allowed to die?  Both Smith and Blackwind stand as a testimony to what bodies matter in Canadian society.  If you want justice in this country, you must be white, not mentally ill and certainly not incarcerated. Any combination of the above, and you could end up dead.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Black Child Akin to Monkeys

image Madonnas adoption of a black child from the African nation of Malawi, has recently been declared the same as adopting a monkey for the zoo.   It seems that  Brian Kilmeade,image from Fox network, thinks that  black children are tantamount to animals that need to be saved from savagery through kind white intentions.  While there are issues in terms of Madonnas adoption of David, it is not a reflection on the child himself, rather it is a reflection of the Kipling like standard that has become the norm in discourse surrounding African bodies.  When he "Took Up The White Man's Burden," he did so from a paternalistic racist position.  Black children are not monkeys!  Nor does white largess validate their humanity.  Once again blacks are created as 'other' and made fodder for ridicule to uphold white hegemony.  Shame on you sir, I would suggest it is you who needs to be saved from yourself. 

This clip was discovered at Racialicious

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nude Teacher Too Sexy For School?


Ms. Tziolas was recently released from her position as a teacher at Narraweena Public School.  It seems that the photo for which she posed with her husband, was deemed to sexual for the administration.  Parents came to her support though with a petition and a rally.  They just want their teacher back.  In response Ms. Tziolas has filed suit alleging wrongful dismissal.

This story caught my attention due to a question posted at Dirty Rotten Feminist.  The question was,  "What would you do if sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia just disappeared tomorrow? Seriously? If fighting the good fight was done, and everyone was magically equal in all respects of the word? What would be the first thing you’d do?" My response was, "This is going to sound weird but I would walk my neighborhood naked. It would be something to experience a world in which my gender, and body signified only what I intended it to signify. My nakedness would be a symbol of my freedom."

The controversy regarding this photo explains why my wish is so relevant.  When we look at a body, it becomes host to social construction.  A naked woman in a patriarchal society is always sexualized regardless of her intent.  What matters is how the image is read by others, and not what the body signifies to the individual.  For women the body is the receptacle of negative stereotypes.  'Woman' is less than, licentious, devious, and weak.

By firing Ms. Tziolas what the administration was effectively doing was disciplining behavior that it had deemed obscene, due to the understanding that good girls keep their clothes on.  Good girls perform their gender based on a strict code dictated by patriarchy.  Her nakedness directly confronted the Whore/Madonna complex and challenges the reader/viewer to question what the body signifies.  What if Ms. Tziolas is neither the whore or the virgin?  What if she is just a body on display bereft of a sexualized lens?  Could we then appreciate the beauty of the image without attempting to stigmatize and or discipline her?  If women possessed actual autonomy over their beings it might be possible to see this photo as an expression of freedom and love, but as long as the feminine is uniquely conflated with a male sexual gaze, images like this one will continue to be considered problematic.  He who has the power to name, ultimately controls how images akin to this are understood. 

Field Of Panties

Female migrant workers form a  group of super exploitable labor.  Many women have families that are dependent upon their financial  contributions. Their legal status and their gender combine to make them vulnerable.  In a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1993, 90% of the female farm workers said that sexual harassment is a serious problem. Employers are able to use their legal status, lack of English skills, an unfamiliarity/ fear of the justice system to leverage sexual favors.  If women refuse to submit to sexual advances they are forcibly raped.  According to the Los Angeles Times,  workers refer to work sites as "field of panties" because of the frequent occurrence of sexual assaults.

Olivia Tamayo was raped three times by her employer over the course of six years.  Her status as victim/survivor is not unique to women working in the fields. image What makes her unique is her 2005 victory  in court.  According to the Southern Poverty  Law Center, "Tamayo, of LeMoore, Calif., was the first migrant farmworker to prevail in a federal jury trial against her employer for sexual harassment. She first complained to her employer but received no protection. She then sued Harris Farms with the help of the EEOC, and in January 2005 a jury awarded her $1 million. The settlement was recently upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

While there is reason to celebrate this victory against exploitation, there is still much work that needs to be done.  Workers need to be able to feel free to report abuses without being subject to deportation.  As long as their status as citizens hangs over their heads, women will be afraid to report incidents of rape, violence and threats to the authorities.  Regulation of this industry needs to be increased, and a gender specific committee needs to be formulated to deal with issues specific to vulnerable female migrant workers. 

Some women have resorted to wearing loose clothing in an attempt to hide their gender.  No one should be subjected to rape to achieve subsistence for themselves and their loved ones.  It is the dirty secret of the agriculture industry.  Often we consume products without knowing their true cost.  If we stop and think at all, it is usually about the economic exploitation that workers undergo so that we may consume at relatively cheap prices.  What is never factored into the equation is the human cost.  Tamayo represents one of many who has been violated.  Agribusiness needs to be held accountable for the women that it has treated as prey.  One rape, is one rape too many.

Prostitution And The Niagara Region

When I first moved into the Niagara Region 12 image years ago, it was decaying tourist trap, whose best days seemed long gone.  Everyone knew where the prostitutes worked.  They were on the historic Lundy's Lane, and the ones that were in rougher shape worked the Bridge St area.  Though locals would complain about how obvious they had become, little was done about their presence.  You see whether the city would admit it or not, the prostitutes were a necessary aid to the local economy.  When the lights at Wax Museum failed to bring in the tourists womens bodies kept the local economy afloat during the lean winter months.

Clean up this city, raged the local residents.  Their worries involved  property value,  and had nothing to do with the exploitation that these women were living through.  Indeed, prostitutes were, and are viewed as vermin to be exterminated, never mind that these women were struggling to survive in a city that mostly supplied seasonal work at that time.  The money earned from prostitution would in some cases go to augment the meager amount of money received on unemployment insurance during the cold winter months.  Never mind that there were few social support networks in the area to help these women give up a life on the streets, or reasonably paying full year jobs that would eleviate the need to work as a prostitute.  Just get rid of the vermin is all the locals wanted. 

Flash forward 12 years and the metamorphosis to the trafficking areas is obvious.  No longer can one drive along those streets and see a parade of prostitutes.  Niagara is now pitching itself as a "family" styled Las Vegas, image and so now the city and the residents concur that the prostitutes need to go. Other than gaming and the declining auto industry ( one GM plant) there is no real  industry to speak of.  Most jobs are low paying service sector jobs and quite a few are still seasonal.  In the last 12 years the price of gas, food and rent has skyrocketed in this area, making the need to earn extra income that much more dire. 

In a classic don't ask, don't tell, prostitution has moved in doors.  Just a short drive down highway 20 and there are a myriad of strip clubs to choose from.  In the downtown core there are a few "massage parlors".  It would seem like the perfect solution in that the residents and the city are both happy, prostitution is no longer visible, and yet the city still benefits from the blackmarket economy that the sex trade provides.

Everyone is happy, except that is for the prostitutes that now are not only exploited by their johns, their pimps, and the city, they can now add sleazy strip club owners and massage parlor owners to the list.  Everywhere a prostitute turns in this region there is someone waiting to prey upon her position as a marginalized member of this community.  Everyone is being enriched by their labor while they struggle to survive largely living in cheap rundown older motels.  These  invisible workers of the region are necessary to the economy, and yet they are stigmatized bodies. When they think of the falls it is not with misty eyed visions of a romantic honeymoon, instead they live with the real threat of violence, rape, police harassment and STD's.

Earlier this week I blogged about the murder of Stephanie Beck.  For her murder Wayne Ryczak image received a sentence of time served plus a day.  He admitted to killing her in "self-defense".  Many were shocked at the sentencing in this instance.  When one stops and thinks about the communal conscience when it comes to prostitution can it really be a surprise?  If sex trade workers are not enriching the community they are considered expendable. It matters not that are someone's daughter, or possibly someone's mother or sister, all that matters is the degree to which they can effect the local economy. Ryczak did not pay for his crime because he only acted on what the community has been wanting for a decade - take out the trash, and get rid of the vermin.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama Says Lay Off Michelle

Obama made clear that he is not a Muslim, and that the GOP should stop attacking Michelle.  He declared her as one of the most honest, best people he knows.  In no uncertain terms he declares that he will not tolerate any abuse of Michelle. The following video shows a side not often seen in political families.  The Obamas have good chemistry, they love and respect each other, and it made me feel good to see this video.

Deep Dick, and Violence Equals Cure For Lesbians

Early in May, I blogged about the murders of political lesbian activists Sizakele Sigasa, and Salome Masooa in South Africa to raise awareness of the growing violence. image Each day women are subjected to verbal, as well as physical assaults by men.  In a homophobic, as well patriarchal society lesbianism is seen as a rejection of males as well as a threat to male sexual power.  A womans body has historically been  meant to be available for the sexual pleasure of men, and to refuse to fulfill that role is to risk your life in South Africa.  Rape is the violent expression of power.  There is no conflation between rape and a desire for sexual fulfillment;  particularly in these instances rape functions as a disciplinary action.  The bodies of Sigasa, and Masooa stand as a warning to all others who would dare to flaunt male superiority.  

According to the Mail and Guardian, Isaack, a human rights lawyer, said that there was “a grave increase in hate crimes in the country, especially murders of lesbians”.

She ascribed violence to the desire of some men “to show lesbians that, at the end of the day, they are women and less powerful than men”.

They are less powerful because they are women and their gender makes them vulnerable to attack. Rape is a direct attack on womanhood as it says to the woman, I can possess you at any time without consent.  It says that only the male body is worthy of respect, and autonomy.  Rape forces women to confront our shared second class status in society.  It is the great equalizer, in that no matter what class, religion, race or creed a woman falls under she is always under a threat of attack. The lesbian community of South Africa know this threat in a very real, rather than conceptual way.

According to the Mail and Guardian, One of the protesters outside the court, Matshidiso Mofokeng (20), said she was afraid of walking alone in her home township of Vosloorus because she “knows what might happen”.

Just as women in the west fear walking in parking lots after dark, the women of South Africa know that darkness can be the veil of  soul searing violence.


“I don’t feel safe. All the lesbians here are extra careful in their communities because the people we live around don’t accept us,” Mofokeng said.
“When I walk past a corner where a group of guys sit, I am bound to have passing comments such as: ‘You just need to get laid and then you won’t be lesbian’. Most of us have been attacked verbally; one can only hope the verbal attacks do not become violent.”

In this quote we can see the idea that lesbianism is considered inherently wrong.  It is something that needs to be cured rather than accepted.  It is no accident that the "cure" for lesbianism involves a deep dick.  Sex with man of course makes a woman a woman, after all lesbians don't have real sex do they?

Night life is a particular challenge for township lesbians. “I can never go to a party alone; we always go in groups,” explained Tumi Mkhuma from Katlehong.

“If I get drunk I become more of a target. I can’t even walk around with my girlfriend because the guys threaten to take her from me. I know they can do this because I have no power to fight for myself.”

Isaack remarked on the different situation of black lesbians living in and outside the townships.
“I have lived both experiences and the difference is shocking. Black people think that ignoring sexual diversity in their communities will make it go away, and that if it doesn’t they have the right to violently remove it,” she said.

Though lesbians are the group being targeted it should be understood that this is an assault on all women.  Every time a woman is raped it reinforces male hegemony.  If we stand in silence because the group of women being targeted identify as lesbians, what we are doing is colluding with our own victimization.  No matter who it happens to, rape is wrong.  You cannot force someone to change their sexual identity by subjecting them to violence,  nor will turning a blind eye to these attack absolve the community of shared guilt and shame. 

I Wish I Was In Dixie

Internalized hatred is something that I have been trying to understand for sometime now.  About a month ago I came across the story of  Jacksonville City Councilwoman Glorious Johnson, at Blackpoliticalthought. In an attempt to build racial solidarity Ms.Johnson recently led a crowd at a image Confederate Memorial Day event in a roaring rendition of  I Wish I Was in Dixie. She urged them to sing the unofficial Confederate anthem "loud and proud."  According to the  Florida Times-Union,  "Johnson defended her singing of Dixie. In a letter, she said that it told the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth."

Behind her, Confederate flags rippled in the breeze at graves where the Kirby-Smith Camp says 40 Confederate soldiers are buried. Tending to such graves is part of the mission for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.image

During the ceremony, Johnson joined about 60 others who pledged allegiance to the United States flag and then said a "salute to the Confederate Flag."

Johnson said in an interview after the ceremony she doesn't view the Confederate flag as a racist symbol. She said by talking with members of the organization, she has learned more about the Civil War.

"This flag is not a flag of hate, but a flag about heritage and history," she said. "The people out here are not about hate, but about heritage."

The heritage/history that the Confederate flag and Dixie represent are slavery, Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan, and oppression. It is revisionist to suggest otherwise.  The fact that, that flag continues to be celebrated is evidence that white privilege is alive and well not only in the south, but in the United States. 

As she stood there on that windy day channeling the fictional character uncle Tom, did she for one minute envision the horrors her foremother endured  surviving on urine, feces and minimal food during the middle passage?  When they arrived in the states the last shred of their identity, and humanity was torn from them as they were sold as human chattel at slave auctions. Her ancestors  survived whippings, rape, and all manner of degradations so that she could sing Dixie in celebration.  I could no more happily sing that song, than I could put on a white sheet and go trick-or-treating with my children.

By identifying in an apologist manner with the symbol of the confederacy, Ms. Johnson has internalized hatred, prejudice, and fear.  Even if we accept that the premise of this was to increase social cohesion, without a critical conversation about race, and its role in the history of the south, I fail to see how anything meaningful could have been accomplished.  Ms.Johnson played the role of token black woman thus giving  the impression that African Americans accept with joy  the status of a colonized people within a "free state." 

No matter how many renditions of Dixie Ms. Johnson sings, it will not change the fact that the Confederate Soldiers she was celebrating, died trying to keep her ancestors enslaved.  Participating in this event may have elevated her status to favorite minstrel fool, however playing the roll of  queen of the least, will not engender anything other than ridicule from whites, and righteous indignation from blacks.  No matter how many times you wish upon a star Ms. Johnson, you will not turn white, nor will a group of avowed rednecks change their racist attitudes.  Learn to love yourself for who you are, and if that is not possible at least show your ancestors enough respect, to stop celebrating slavery, racism, and discrimination, on soil that is soaked with their blood, sweat, and tears.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In The Name Of Honor

The bodies of Jasbir and Sunita were dumped on a dirt road in full display, to restore honor and balance to a village. honor They had done the unacceptable, and dared to love without permission.  Their bodies represent the angst of men from a bygone era, desperately attempting to hold on to power.  According to NewsDaily, "Among the Jat caste of the conservative northern state of Haryana, it is taboo for a man and woman of the same village to marry. Although the couple were not related, they were seen in this deeply traditional society as brother and sister."

"Growing economic opportunities for young people and lower castes in Haryana have made "love marriages" more common, experts say, and the violent repression of them has risen in tandem as upper caste Jat men fight to hold on to power, status and property." 

It didn't matter that Sunita was 22 weeks pregnant and was just 21 years old, with an entire life ahead of her.  All that they saw was their so-called honor, and to cleanse it according to Reuters they viciously punched and kicked her in the stomach, as she cried for help from her boyfriend 22-year-old Jasbir Singh

Sunitas womb represented visible evidence of her desire for autonomy, and in attacking her not only did these men reassert their patriarchal privilege, they confirmed the social hierarchal power structure. By attacking her newly swollen belly, they clearly defined the bifurcation of gender vis a vis power.   In a region where women wear veils and cover their faces in public, a woman daring to follow her own heart  simply could not be tolerated. Not even her mother weeps for her.

"Nobody would drink water in our house," Sunita's mother Roshni is reported to have said. "My daughter's action made us aliens in our own land. But we have managed to redeem our honor. She paid for her ill-gotten action."

Women represent  family honor because their bodies are colonized and  constructed as weak.  Generation after generation of male control has usurped the authority of the feminine in order to exercise power, ultimately that is what an honor killing is, an assertion of power.  Female bodies only matter to the degree that they conform, otherwise they are dispensable fodder, or markers of consequences. Sunitas body was placed publicly to reaffirm the submission that is expected of women.  That her mother does not weep for her daughter is proof of how deeply ingrained the internalization of patriarchal priorities and sensibilities is. 

When the villagers express pride in this horrid event,  as Sing did in the following ..."The people who have done this should get an award for it," said 48-year-old Satvir Singh. "This was a murder of morality." in actuality it is an expression of relief on two counts.  One they are happy that they themselves were not targeted with violence and two, that social order as they understand it and have become accustomed to has been restored.  They cannot imagine a world in which equality of the sexes exists, and frankly neither can I.  The difference is because I am a woman I do not find the idea of equality threatening.  For women equality is something that we  dream of the world over.  No group willingly gives up power, and so it is up to those of us that remain to continue to define ourselves as we see fit, thus carrying out the struggle in Sunitas name.

Hang 'Em High

According the Saginaw news, officials at Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center are investigating an employee's claim that he found a noose hanging in his work locker Friday May 9. noose

Management and fellow staff at the center, 1500 Weiss in Saginaw, have apologized to the employee and condemn such behavior, a written release from the center said.

Director Gabriel Perez has met with staff to emphasize the center's zero-tolerance policy. If an employee is identified as the culprit, he or she will face discipline.

'Management, staff and I will not tolerate any discriminatory acts in our workplace,'' Perez said.

Perez is meeting with employees, management and union officials. The center employs about 500 workers.

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 2274 represents the workers. Comments from Ed Mason, president of the union chapter at the center, must go through the public affairs office, said Carrie Seward, public affairs officer.

Though he is not quoted or mentioned by name, he was part of the released statement, she said.

Michael Victorian, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based union, said he was trying to get details on the incident. He had no further response prior to deadline.

Officials declined information on the worker or the area in which he is employed. However, they said employees within that department will have mandated sessions of Equal Employment Opportunity sensitivity training.

''The work expectation is that personnel act in a professional and respectful manner toward each other and our patients,'' Perez said.

While I applaud the center for being pro-active in spite of not finding the guilty party, I seriously doubt that racial sensitivity classes will bring about a fundamental change.  lynching Consider that whoever placed the noose in the locker, acted with malice and forethought, in complete awareness of what a noose would symbolize to a black man, indeed to any African American.  To actually believe, live and think in an anti-racist fashion takes work.  Sitting through a conference learning about institutionalized racism without a desire on the part of an individual to change will achieve nothing but mockery and derision of a group (blacks) that are already marginalized.

America is on the cusp of great change, as for the first time a black man has a legitimate chance of becoming president, however it is still deeply haunted by racial divisions.  Mistrust, hatred, ignorance, and apathy rot the very core of American society.  Color remains the demarcation point of unity. Though it (read: race) is a difference that has been created through  social construction,  on the corporeal plane race ultimately can, and does function as a determiner of life chances.  Who will live, and who will die is what the noose symbolizes. Strategically placing nooses in such a fashion that they will be discovered by blacks is an obvious threat, as well as an exercise in white power and privilege.  It has historically been white people who have determined the value of blacks, and based on that value, blacks have been forced to negotiate a life from within the margins.

There are some who would say that the recent strategic noose placements are isolated incidents, I  submit, that they are not.  noosewatch As the map courtesy of  Diversity Inc illustrates, the latest incident is but one of many. Discovering a noose is no different from finding a cross burning on your front lawn.  It is an act of hatred, meant to incite fear and submission of black people.

As a WOC it has effected me on the deepest of levels.  I am the mother of two sons, a sister to two brothers, and a daughter to one father.  My life is inextricably linked to black males.  While black males endured the physical death through lynching, it is  black women who became mourning widows, daughters and sisters.  To lynch a black man is to attack an integral foundation of the black family.  It is in unity that black men and women spend their lives, and  too separate us from each other through acts of unspeakable violence is to reduce us to desperate wounded animals.  Generation, after generation the air has bared witness to the lament of black mothers upon seeing the bodies of their lynched children.  Will a diversity awareness conference ever truly be able to translate that?