Saturday, December 13, 2008

Michelle Obama:Hair and The Politics of Submission

I have dreadlocks that reach to the middle of my back.  I love them and feel that they are an expression of my racial pride.  My femininity and sexuality are quite tied up in my locks.  By now the cat is out of the bag that black women have some hair issues that are completely unique to us.  We have traditions tied up in hair care and routinely spend a sizeable chunk of our disposable income to tame it into submission.  We wrestle with it from birth and very seldom are we ever at peace with the final result.

Often much is inferred from the way in which we choose to wear our hair.  Braids, dreadlocks, or afros are considered socially radical hairdos.  What these hairstyles have in common is that they require a woman to wear her hair in a natural state.  Imagine the way that you were born being considered counter-culture. 

It tells us that no matter how progressive we believe we are, socially whiteness still stands as the model we are meant to follow if we are to achieve any form of acceptability.  Unless I use a relaxer filled with chemicals that will eventually lead to balding (now you know why so many older black women wear wigs) I am deemed radical, or unkept.

For those black women with the ambition and the drive to reach the highest levels of professional achievement, the choice to forgo the weekly visit to the hairdresser is not optional.  Yes you read that right, WEEKLY, to say nothing of the activities we don't participate in for fear of our hair turning back.  It's no accident that so many black women do not swim.  Even as children playing at the park we are already aware that getting snow, or sand in our hair is completely unacceptable.

When a woman such as Michelle Obama decides to lead a public life, just like everything else about the black female body, hair quickly becomes an issue.  Each media outlet feels that they have the right to weigh in without even being really cognizant of the issues at play. Lets have a look at some commentary from the Hartford Courant.

Obama, who sometimes wears her dark shoulder-length hair flipped at the ends, often is compared to Jacqueline Kennedy, considered by many to be the most stylish first lady in history.
Her youthful look is a stark contrast to Laura Bush, whose traditional side-parted hairstyle, similar to that of Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, reflects her image as a supportive mother, teacher and librarian, hair experts said.

Right because she has a flip she cannot possibly be the supportive mother, teacher and librarian...Let's just ignore the fact that Michelle gave up a flourishing career in order to be there for her children while their father pursued his political ambitions.  I suppose her declaration to be mom in chief means nothing, her radical hair tells us so.  OOh but she is still a stylish one. You know how us black women just keep up with the latest trends and breed as a hobby in our free time.  We're not real mothers, we're all baby mommas. Motherhood is the realm of respectable white women.

"She has to deal with white people's stereotypes of a black woman," Weitz said. "She has to project an image the public will find acceptable, comfortable and appropriate"...

"It's a kind of racial politics," said Jacobs-Huey. "Michelle conveys a sense of realness in her hairstyle. It says she is an attractive, modern woman who is aware of her femininity and sexuality and does not try to hide it."

No she does not have to project an image.  While white people may get upset when they see our natural hair because we are refusing to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, ones appearance is always an active choice within what one can financially afford.  Michelle did not always relax her hair.  Certainly choosing to embrace our locks may not be politically expedient, but how about we all admit that the decision to run for the lye solution is a conscious choice. You don't trip and end up in the hairdressers chair.

I find the last part of this commentary the most disturbing of all.  How does adding a chemical to ones hair mean that you are embracing your femininity or sexuality.  Does the lye come blended with a pheromone that gets released slowly over time?  Why is it that we are only women when we are mimicking Eurocentric qualities?  Finally please explain what is real about dumping a bunch of chemicals in your hair so that it is far removed as possible from its natural condition?

I understand why Michelle made the coiffure choices that she did, but let's not pretend for one second that it was not a conscious decision, or that the reason it is viewed as beautiful is not because it mimics whiteness. As a WOC, Michelle is more than aware of the consequences that occur when white people are uncomfortable.  Just like any other black woman it is safe to assume that she has had to deal with the ignorance and outright privilege that masquerades as concern, curiosity or even envy.

So how about we all resist the temptation to compare her to other first ladies and just acknowledge the obvious elephant in the room...MICHELLE IS BLACK, That means no matter what parallels that we attempt to make, her colour must be included in the equation.  A flip is more than a flip on a WOC.


Drop It Like It's Hot

Hello everyone.  I still have not managed to get my xmas tree up yet but I vow to get it up today no matter what.  I have promised Mayhem and Destruction an afternoon of decorating and xmas movies.  Hopefully this will scare the grinch that is living in me off. 

So you know the routine.  Below you will find some links to posts that caught my attention this week.  Please check them out. I promise they are all an interesting read.  When you are all done with that, be sure to leave your link behind in the comment section and tell me a bit about your week.

Sex with crazies

Baby Love My Infant Son Became The Other Man

Why I Became A Feminist

The Muxe Of Mexico

Dr. Phil Playing Into Transphobia Once Again

Use "Ghetto" As An Adjective

Oh, the horror

On Good Intentions

On Gayness

Did Your Mother Abort You

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Friday, December 12, 2008

When Asian Women Tell It

Now that is all about speaking truth!

H/T Uppity Brown Woman

The Easy Bake Oven In My Vagina: The Role Of The Good Mother

One of things that I consciously try to do is think about the ways in which I reproduce hierarchy and negative social construction in my life.  I wear many hats, but I would say by far my role as a mother is one of the most important to me.  Mayhem and Destruction are a full-time job all on their own.  From the minute they open their big brown eyes in the morning, to the last night night I love you mommy, they consume a great amount of my energy and time.

Some choose to see motherhood as just a natural course of events.  When we are children we are taught that we grow up, go to college, date, get married, reproduce, then die. This staged cycle of life leaves open so many variations on a theme. 

When you give birth in a hospital you are instantly inundated with the various parenting magazines on how to raise your children.  They are filled with advertisements for the latest bottle, crib, stroller and toys.  Some will even give you a step by step guide of what to expect as your children age until they reach tween stage.  This assumes that all children are the same and that they will have similar experience. 

The mother that they are approaching is the over privileged socially unaware white woman.  Her experience is made normative over and over again.  How many times have you seen motherhood as experienced by WOC, or disabled women, or poor women?  Our voices, and our experiences don't count as motherhood. 

When I lay on my back, my body arched in pain as I struggled to give life to my children my claim to motherhood was made real.  When I stand in the middle of my living room instructing my children to stop because someone is going to get hurt my claim to motherhood is real.  When I lie awake at night and worry about their future and the ways in which the world will be unfair and unkind to those I love the most, my motherhood is made real.

It is easy to say that if you don't like what you see you should simply not purchase parents magazine or parenting today.  This excuses these magazines of constructing motherhood as an experience that happens to only women of a certain race, or class background.  Why should a poor working class mother feel from the beginning that she is less than because she cannot afford a three hundred dollar stroller?  Why is she to be shamed because she cannot afford organic baby food?  No woman that loves her child starts with the premise of doing as little as she can get away with.

Just as any other role that involves women, motherhood is highly constructed. We are constantly shamed into performing certain behaviour whether or not it is in our best interest. 

How many of you have run across the vagina equals Betty Crocker syndrome? If you have not, then you probably soon will.  The education system seems to think that this is still 1950 and that mothers are at home with tons of time on their hands to participate in bake sales.  This request is never gender neutral, even though Daddy has two perfectly good hands himself.  Why is this still the norm when most women work a double day?  Even if a woman is a stay at home mother how does a vagina translate into the ability to bake? Do I have an easy bake oven stashed somewhere in my vaginal opening that I was not aware of?

What about the ever so famous PTA?  Why are the join the PTA pitches not aimed at fathers?  Why are fathers not being asked to volunteer time in the classroom?  As far as I know it takes a sperm and an egg to produce a child and therefore they should be requested to contribute in the same ways that mothers are.

It seems though  the father as provider model is still alive and well.  Despite the gains of feminism and the lies of the MRA, women still end up doing the brunt of the child raising.  This is not to say that fatherhood is not important, or that men are not important role models for their children.  What it says is that the division of labour is highly unfair and we discipline women into believing that this is normal and naturally occurring.

Whether you are negotiating race, class or gender issues how you come to understand motherhood and your responsibilities is as much a matter of how this role is constructed, as it is the example set by your own mother.   We are often shamed for things that are beyond our control or guilted into performing gender that is either not in our best interests, or adds undo stress to our already busy lives.

Motherhood for me is extremely complex.  While it is my goal to improve upon the excellent example of my mother I still fall prey to the ways in which I am guilted for wanting a space of own, a moment in time where I can just be Renee and not mother and unwife.  I may jokingly tell the children that they can send their therapist bills to me when they grow up, but the reality is that no matter how hard I work to set a good example, fill their lives with love, and ensure a good education for them; if by some terrible chance that something should go wrong the first response will be, some woman didn't do her job. This is especially true because we are predominately a family of colour. 

Yes motherhood the job.  We all know that reproduction is necessary to keep our society functioning.  We all know that work within the private sphere maintains and supports the work in the public sphere and yet the domestic labour of women is consider a labour of love not worthy of remuneration, or even being factored into the GNP or GDP.  We demonize poor mothers but are loathe to provide them with the opportunities to provide the basics for their children.  In the end the rallying cry will not be we as a society failed, but some mother didn't do her job.

If you are poor, or of colour the support network is even less likely to be available for you, and yet motherhood is even more challenging when you must negotiate different stigmatizations.  Unlike the rich white woman we are less likely to have a live in third world nanny to exploit.  These women can do it all, as long as you ignore the fact that they are exploiting another woman all the way to their mommy and me classes. 

In the end there is no such thing as the perfect mother, no matter what the magazines tell you.  As a woman you will probably end up doing the bulk of the work and you should be prepared for that before even contemplating the idea of reproducing.  You will be asked to make compromises on a daily basis and in the end if you are lucky someone will remember to say thank you. 

Mother is what I am, but not who I am.  The complexities of my being demand more than this.  Though this is shocking to those that have bought into all the eternal guilt that comes with giving birth, a woman is all that she chooses to identify as not what society has limited her to be.


Spanker Gets A taste Of His Own Medicine

I have written repeatedly about the harms of spanking children.  Many have a tendency to justify it by claiming that it was done to them and that they turned out just fine.  When we look at it though, it really is an act of violence.  If one adult hits another it is considered assault and usually comes with some sort of criminal charge.

According to the dailynews a father tried to spank his teenage daughter when an altercation occurred over the damage of a household item.  Instead of submitting to the corporal punishment she turned around and punched her father.  Though this clearly an act of self defence, the girl has been charged with domestic battery.

We all know damn well that had he been successful in "spanking" his daughter the law would have turned a blind eye to his act of violence.  We don't want to get involved in family matters even when they are harmful to the child.  It is only when the violence escalates and the child ends up dead or maimed  do we say why was nothing done, or where was social services?

Though they claim that the father was not abusive, what exactly do they think that spanking is?  Why is it permissible for a grown man to be physically violent with his child (in this case a girl) as a form of discipline? What lesson was he hoping to teach this child by hitting her? Corporal punishment leads to a myriad of issues.

  • Becoming Depressed
  • Having Suicidal Thoughts
  • Striking Siblings and Peers
  • Performing Poorly at School
  • Becoming Delinquents and Committing Crimes
  • Having Career Problems
  • Abusing Their Own Children and Spouses, when Adults.

I find the gender dynamic in this case to be even more disturbing. Don't women have to fear enough violence in their lives, without having their fathers beat them to teach a lesson.  Yes I said beat them, because that is exactly what spanking is despite whatever euphemisms we want to attach to it. As an adult this man clearly had several options and yet he still felt that it was appropriate to try and physically assault his daughter.  Had he attempted to be violent with his wife or partner the law would have seen his actions as domestic violence.  It is only the age of the victim involved that makes this an issue of discipline.

I am further disturbed to see that this child has been charged with, misdemeanour domestic battery.  This was clearly an act of self defence.  She did not initiate the violence and acted to protect the physical integrity of her body.   How is it right that the victim is being charged?  This only further proves the imbalance in  the judicial system. 

There are many instances when women are charged  and do jail time for defending themselves.  We may want to just crack this up to teenage rebellion, but ask yourself why this young girl didn't exist with the right to live a violence free life, or do everything in her ability to stop herself from being violated?  The wrong person is dealing with the justice system today.  Everyone should exist with the right to act in self defence.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Saving The World One Savage At A Time: Porn To The Rescue

One of the messages that we are constantly told is that we can shop our way to redemption.  Today many product are somehow "greened", or a percentage of the profits are aimed at fixing imbalance. Somehow it is believed that the exploitative capitalist economy will undo some of the damage it has caused globally.  This approach is the Bono model to guilt free consumption.

It seems that almost every single industry is attempting to clean up its image to make itself more palatable.  We want to consume and we want to exploit we just want to do so in ways that are not as visibly obvious.  Call it living in denial.  Clearly the porn industry can fall under the extreme end of exploitation, when it is not an active part on the part of participants or when it actively chooses to present images that are dehumanizing.  It is not a simply matter of what get you off as much as it is why certain images get you off.

Interracial porn is the stuff fetishes. Ingrained in the sex act are the master/slave binary and the defilement of white women, or women perceived as pure by the sexual bestiality of men of colour.  The sex further takes on different connotations when it occurs between POC; call it the exotic voyeur made real for the digital age. The sexual activity of the other is somehow dirtier, more sexual because of how we have constructed the bodies of POC.

Even this impulse to consume the other is now be constructed as positive.  You can relieve your guilt by purchasing Porn of this nature by buying from companies that donate to the savages in need.

The following images are sexual in nature and are not safe for work.

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You are supposed to feel relief because the men that are being employed to work as "studs" are receiving income that they otherwise would not have had.  We just won't focus on the fact that a choice in constrained circumstances isn't necessarily a choice.  While I wish to believe in the activeness of bodies that we have constructed as docile, this does raise many problematic issues.  At what point do we say that the potential for exploitation mitigates the degree of free will any one individual possess?

For their performance the producer, Sakkun. gave a Kenyan aid organization one million yen (around $10, 800 U.S.) and 1,000 more (currently about $10.77 U.S.) is donated for every DVD sold  Does this feel like a "win win" situation for all involved? The company makes profit and an aid agency gets badly needed funds.

It all seems to work just fine if you ignore the fact that it constructs Africa as the land of unevolved savages waiting to sexually consume women.  It's harmless if you ignore the exoitifcation of African black bodies for western consumption, and finally that every industry can be made positive by throwing a few scraps from the table.

Porn for the poor fails on so many levels.  The fact that there is even an attempt to justify it only reveals the degree to which our self interests takes precedence over the actual suffering of human beings.  We will do anything to make our narcissistic tendencies seem less harmful than what they are including throwing pennies at a problem that requires human engagement and the dismantling of a predatory system. We cannot shop our way to absolution; and therefore fucking our way there is even less of a possibility.

H/T Sociological Images via an email from Kimberly


Oh Honey Chile

Okay I am going to say it, Some white people function with the idea that black people are supposed to want to interact with them.  In fact we are supposed to like them.  Give your head a fucking shake.

I know that you are used to mammy comforting you and catering to your every need, but Mammy is dead.  White people keep inventing roles for POC to play and it always comes down to the same thing; serving white interests even when it diminishes our humanity.

Just so you don't think I am pulling this out of my ass, here is an example of what I am talking about.

One does not fight injustice with more injustice, one does not demonstrate the flaws of racism with racism. Would you really be interested in hearing any excuses for why any particular white person was racist? If I grew up in a poor black neighbourhood and had nothing but bad impressions of black people would you suddenly say "oh well it makes sense for YOU to be racist"? Of course not. You want to hold everyone responsible for their own actions. A black person judging all white people because of some is exactly the same as the opposite situation. It's still racism. Trying to justify it just weakens your ability to be seriously critical of it elsewhere.

And this:

White people live with this idea that POC should love them even though we have been given very little reason to do so.

Hey, thanks for the awesome stereotype! You know, you're totally right: As a white girl, all I ever do when I walk out my door every day and see a person of colour is suppress my urge to yell, "LOVE ME!"

Please don't tell me about my ideas of entitlement to be loved. Although I admit that your saying it reminded me of a few awesome scenes from my favorite movie: "Whatever you want, name it and it’s yours -- but you gotta love me!" Interestingly, that scene is weirdly racially loaded, too, and could use some serious academic unpacking. /digression

Sometimes surrounding yourself with people that look like you and understand you culturally is a way of protecting yourself.

Of course I understand (in an impersonal since since I'm white) a distrust of whiteness as an oppressive system and of white people as agents of it. However, the way you say it, it sounds like you're suggesting there's some inherent value in self-segregation beyond mere self-interest. I'm not saying self-interest doesn't suffice, but as you've written it above, the rationale sounds suspiciously similar to the rationale of a restricted country club or something. "Cultural differences" surely is one of those oft-bullshitted terms for encoded bigotry against and segregation from traditionally oppressed people.

The above comments can be found on this post written by Samhita of Feministing.

Let's get this straight honey chile, though it is not good to lump people together into a group, white people have given POC precious little reason to trust, let alone want to interact with you on a daily basis.  We do so not necessarily out of choice, as to earn a living one cannot avoid the interaction.

After daily dealing with the racism and the ignorance of some white people, it is comforting to return to an environment where you don't have to deal with the power differential that comes with racism.  I don't think people realize exactly how many coded phrases get innocently tossed around on a single day, and how stressful that it can be.

Overtime it becomes more than a minor irritation.  It is downright insulting, degrading and infuriating.  Yet the desire to reject whiteness and instead seek the comfort of the black community is racist...lets not look at the impetus behind the desire...oh no the darkies have to love us.  But...But...you wanna be seen as an individual.  Well your individual ass is soaked in privilege and no matter how anti-racist you claim to be, it is a rare person that will not take advantage of their privilege. 

I don't know about you, but blacks only have two cheeks and we can only turn them so many times.  You may not want to hear about racism and how it relates to power but it is a reality.  Each and every day whites can not only act on their racial privilege, they can commit small acts that support the imbalance.  No matter how much hatred, or anger a black person has in their heart they do not exist with the same kind of power; and therefore cannot  act upon their anger in systemic ways.

When blacks retreat to their own communities, or refuse interaction outside of what is necessary to survive, they still don't escape the pull of whiteness.  Everywhere we look, like books, the newspaper, television, radio etc., we will be reminded of our second class citizenship.  We cannot retreat to comfy little country clubs where the only white people are for ambience and servitude; whiteness forces itself into every nook and cranny whether welcome or not.

But no rejection is racism...we must love you...sho nuff noos massa.  I loves me some white peoples, that is what you want to hear.  Only white privilege could be demand to be loved in the face of the damage that racism has and continues to cause.   Perhaps a Tomming house negro makes you comfortable, but some POC are trying to escape the early death that dealing with racism causes.  I sho nuff reckon its a mighty fine thing to loves the good white folk; however at some point a retreat is necessary just for the sake  of mental sanity.  When you beat a dog it will eventually bite you; and therefore it is quite understandable why some people choose to retreat.

I tell my truth, and I deal with the consequences but even this space which is mean to be safe is at times hostile and uninviting.  I have even thought of deleting this blog due to the WPD (white privilege denial) that often occurs.  Then I realize one simple fact, if I fade away I have allowed myself to be silenced, I have capitulated to the very forces that demand supremacy over my life.

Talking about racism is tough.  I can understand that from the point of view of a white person it may feel like you are being attacked, but trust me, even though the anger is at times harsh it pales in comparison to the daily onslaught of racism and white hegemony. We are angry and we are entitled to our emotions, and it should not have to sugar coated when so many don't feel the need to stop expressing their racism. 

I won't play ever loving negro for you.  It may come as a shock to your sensibilities but I ask you to pause for a moment before you get your back up and think about how this would make you feel.  Seriously how would it make you feel to be told over and over again that you need to love your oppressor because otherwise you are being racist.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

OJ Simpson: Justice today for Crimes of Yesterday

I have a new post up at Global Comment

Yesterday was the culmination of the fall from grace for “The Juice.” The once beloved football star, and darling of advertising companies, was informed he would be a guest in the Nevada Penal system for a minimum of nine, to a maximum of thirty-three years by Judge Glass.

In his statement he attempted to explain his participation in the armed kidnapping, “I did not know that I was doing anything illegal. I thought that I was confronting friends and retrieving my property. So I am sorry. I am sorry for all of it,” Simpson said.

Though Judge Glass made it very clear that she was sentencing him for this crime, and not the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman; however one could not help but be cognizant of the fact that his conviction in this instance occurred exactly 13 years to the day of his acquittal in their deaths.

The Goldman family has been relentless in their pursuit for justice despite the not guilty verdict. They clearly saw the December 5th sentencing as divine retribution even though it did not find Simpson culpable for the death of Ronald Goldman.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment knowing that that S.O.B. is going to be in jail for a very long time,” said Fred Goldman, the father of Ron Goldman.

“He’ll never change, and he’s going to stay in jail for a very long time,”
he said, before adding: “There is never closure. Ron is always gone.”

Clearly, even though he was pronounced not guilty of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, many people still feel that he got away with murder. There is a sense of relief for many that OJ will be spending many years behind bars.

This raises the issue of whether or not this notorious ex football star received a fair trial. It is supposed to be a trial by a jury of his peers, and yet except for two alternate jurors, the jury was comprised entirely of white people. This is problematic, as in the original trial for the murder of his ex wife and Ronald Goldman, there was a huge divide between whites and the African American community regarding his guilt or innocence.

Finish Reading here

What Does WOC Mean?

Can you believe it? I, a black woman am asking this question?  WOC is a huge umbrella term that has come to be understood as comprising all non white female bodies.  It is a convenient little acronym that is utilized as a descriptor, but behind it is a hierarchy of bodies that we seldom consider.

Often times when we say WOC what we really mean is black or African American woman, even though the term implies a much larger understanding.  Oppressed female bodies often have difficulty having their voices heard or their concerns legitimized either socially or online.  This often leads to a competition between the oppressed for access to the few available platforms where we can legitimately be heard.

It is a very difficult thing to avoid the Oppression Olympics because the issues are so very personal.  When I have been called a nigger, my personhood has been reduced.  This is no different than an Indigenous woman being referred to as a dirty sqaw, and yet the personal nature of the racism causes us to privilege individual instances as somehow more damaging as though there can be a good, or a less punishing form of oppression.

When we speak about race often times it comes down to a black/white binary.  Racial discord is understood to be about blacks and whites; and therefore the experiences of Latin@ women, Indigenous women, Pacific Islanders and Asian women are often not factored in.  These aforementioned women must negotiate  racism. When a Latin@ woman is called a hot tamale it is both a reflection of her gender and her race. When Asian women are portrayed as docile little china dolls, just waiting to worship the first available white phallus, it is as much an indictment of their gender, as it is their race.

All non white women are equally constructed, yet when we use the umbrella term WOC, more often than not the speaker is referring specifically to black/African American women.  As a black woman when I discuss race it is often from the point of view of black women.  It is what I identify as and it is therefore the easiest for me to base any critique I have in reference to racism, both in the larger world and within feminism from this specific standpoint.

The black/white binary is pervasive.  When we look at the conversations that occurred during the recent election it was deemed that they were ground breaking because race was being discussed in new and eye opening ways.  In actuality it was not race in the larger sense that was under the social microscope, but relations between blacks and whites. Whiteness as a race was never considered, as it was still relegated to the normative, non ethnic position.

If we are going to talk about race we need to move beyond the black/white binary.  The purposeful erasure of other bodies of colour fosters the false idea that if we can solve the black/white binary that somehow racism will come to an end.  There seems to be the cultural notion that because racism does not effect us all in the same way, that it is somehow less damaging when non black people of colour are targeted.

When I think about the ways in which Lain@ are routinely attacked and savagely beaten, I certainly am aware of how pressing their issues are, and yet we barely bother to acknowledge the racist bent to the social stigmatizations that they face.  It is wrapped up in the immigration debate and protecting American jobs.  What we don't want to admit is that "American" is code for white. We further don't want to admit how much race is a factor because once again we socially believe that racism occurs only when blacks and whites interact.

I work very hard to try and be aware of the many different issues facing POC.  It is extremely difficult to find relevant information because non-black POC are largely invisible in our social discourse.  Take a moment to pause and think about the number of Asian actors that you can view on a typical night of television programming.  It is as though if we don't admit that they are real then we don't have to deal with their issues.

I call for a real conversation on race, class, and gender.  No more creating people as invisible and trivializing  their experiences in order to rank the  white/black dialogue as a definitive attack on systemic racism.  If we are truly committed to making a more equal world, no race should escape scrutiny, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us with our various degrees of privilege. It's time to have the conversation we are not having.


What if you could buy social justice?

We have a real treat today readers.  Professor What If is guest posting today.  She makes some excellent points which I am sure will lead to great conversations.

What if you could pop into Whole Foods and purchase an end to human trafficking? What if your local grocery store produce picked by workers who earned a living wage? What if you could buy some no-sweat clothes (clothes not made via sweatshop labor) as easily as digs made out of the lifeblood of others? What if American Apparel sold diversity rather than anorexic chic, racism, and sexism? Heck, what if you shopped at Wal-Mart and could purchase a union membership or some fair labor practices? Well, all of the above would be pretty darn cool. I, an admitted shopaholic, would love to be able to buy me some social justice.

However, as much as we are exhorted to “go green,” “buy organic,” and “shop for the cure,” being avid consumers will not a socially just world make. You can shop until your wallet is empty and all your credit cards are maxed out at Sprouts, and this will not make the food industry any more safe or fair. You can get a hip new hybrid and zip around with a softer “carbon footprint,” but this will not change Big Oil pillaging or the toxins corporations color our water supply with. You can buy a “Inspi(red)” shirt from the Gap, and this will not eliminate AIDS/HIV. Or, as News Out of Africa puts it, “it’s a sad thing to promote consumerism as even a partial solution to funding the HIV/AIDS pandemic.” More generally, it’s a sad and dangerous thing to promote consumerism as the solution to the world’s problems.

The inability to make socially just purchases is a problem for all of us as we can’t very well walk around naked and starving every day as we try to find clothes made by workers who are paid fairly or food to eat that has not been either genetically modified or harvested via the exploitation of others. It is also difficult because we here in the land-of-the-not-free-or-equal are taught from birth that if you buy it, you will feel better.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a ten part series over at my blog, Professor What if, that will critique consumerism and the trend to promote shopping as a way to save the world. At this, perhaps the most shop-crazed time of year, I think a consideration of our worship of consumerism is in order. Posts to come are as follows:

Part 2: The One True Religion: Consumerism

Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart

Part 4: The Church of Disney

Part 5: The Mall as a Place of Worship

Part 6: Wearing Justice: T-shirts, Bracelets, and Ribbons, Oh my!

Part 7: Driving Your Way to Eco-Freedom: The ‘Go Green’ Message on Auto-drive

Part 8: Saving the world Oprah style: I’ll give you a million dollars to save the world…

Part 9: Think Pink: Cancer Profiteering

Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Emancipation of The Female Orgasm

When you hear the truth you just know it ladies.  What the fuck is ladylike when you're sleeping in the wet spot and still don't know what it feels like to cum?

H/T The Bliss Project

Blacker Than Thou Or Internalized Racism

This is a little game played amongst black people.  I have to admit I have been guilty of playing it on more than one occasion.  I usually get drawn in when the ever so touchy subject of black hair gets brought up.  This is largely because I see chemically treated hair as privileging Eurocentric features.  I cannot divorce the origins of the project from the identity of a person.

At any rate, the blacker than thou game arises from the idea that there is one way of being black; and therefore if you don't fit a certain stereotype somehow you are not legitimately black.  This can take the form of social discipline of language, dress, and speech.

At times this can be a real deterrent to our progress as a people, because education or a desire to learn can be seen as taking on the qualities of whiteness. When you are living in a world where everything around you daily refies whiteness as good, it is tempting to reject much of it in order to preserve self esteem; however this can damage our own communities.

Even the title of this post will be offensive to some.  There are those of color that resent the term black to this day.  Some prefer to be called African ___ (fill in the blank) and some prefer not to be be referred to by the colour of their skin whatsoever. 

On one hand, we want to think of ourselves as the "black community", however no such monolithic group exists.  It is easier to speak in generalities, and say the black community says or does xyz, but it would be a false universalizing statement.  "The community" is full of dichotomies; however the racism that we face is real.  It is this universalizing experience that causes this desire to speak in a communal sense though we are little more than a collection of individuals experiencing divisions that effect us differently based in race, sexuality, ability, class and gender.

The experience of an African immigrant to North America, and a black person whose family has been here for generations are quite different.  The African immigrant will deal with xenophobia as well as racism, on top of whatever other areas of marginalization that they personally are dealing with.  Their concept of blackness will be completely different from one that identifies as African American, and yet their voices and  their experiences are equally important to understanding the complex  issues that POC  face.

Who is black and what constitutes blackness are issues that we will continue to battle.  Some would choose to exclude others based on personal prejudices.  The Afro elite would love to silence the voices of the poor because they feel it reflects badly upon them; yet the poor and the marginalized constitute a significant percentage of the black population.  The poor question the elite, noting that they do not suffer in the same ways, and therefore challenge their right to legitimacy.

This is an ongoing internal conversation as we try to decide amongst ourselves what constitutes legitimate blackness.  Who gets to speak on behalf of a community that has such clear and divergent interests?  Just like all other groups it is my belief that intersectionality must be included in our conversations about race.  The needs of a transgender woman, and the needs of a disabled woman are equally important.  Each has a unique experience in terms of the ways in which race  issues will manifest itself; however each has a legitimate claim to blackness.

We have a tendency to accuse one another of internalized racism the moment someone  presents an issue, or a perspective that we cannot wholly identify with.  This is the result of privileging an individual understanding of what constitutes blackness, rather than considering the position of someone we have constructed as "other".

This infighting amongst us over legitimacy is counter productive.  When we bifurcate identity into politics without giving equal weight to what each group is saying, we are doing the masters work.  Division between marginalized bodies helps to maintain white hegemony. 

One of the ideas that came out of the 60's civil rights movement was the idea of black pride.  If we cannot accept blackness in all of it multiplicities then there is no such thing as black pride.  What is the concern of my brother or sister is my concern and until we can decide on a more cohesive understanding of what it means to be a POC in a society determined for us to remain second class citizens, I fear that we will tread water with little  to no progress being realized.  Today blackness to me means each and every person who chooses to identify this way regardless of how I feel about their political stances.


Keep Obama Alive: The Presidential Thong

Obama received secret service protection before any other candidate in the past presidential election.  Though we do not like to discuss it, Barack has faced a barrage of threats.  This in part is due to the colour of skin, and the fear that whiteness is devalued by having a black male as the leader of the US.

In a country in which leaders have been assassinated, JFK, RFK, MLK, the fear of someone unilaterally deciding that change terrifies them enough to commit murder is very real.  We are resistant to talk about it because this is not a celebratory event.  It is our unspoken fear.  To make matters worse there are those that once again seek to capitalize from the unspoken.

 

image

For a mere 12.99 you can express your fears.  What better way to do that than to wear it on your crotch?  Is there nothing more beautiful than a patriotic snatch?  Red, White and Blue anyone?

I am sick and tired of people attaching the Obama name to cheaply made shit to capitalize.  From the Obama commemorative plates, to the Obama dildo, and now the Obama thong, the commercialization of both his image, and his name for the sake of profit has got to stop.

Why is it that everything comes down to purchasing something?  If you want to show your admiration, respect and concern for Barack it seems purchasing something you don't need, is over priced and unbelievably tacky is the way to  show your "patriotism" and presidential support.  Will presidential toilet paper be next to wipe up after all of the shit that is being pitched?

H/T PaulSpoerry


Monday, December 8, 2008

WOC and The Table Scraps Of Feminism

I waded into the blogosphere 8 months ago.  I didn't have to think twice about what my blog would be about for a very simple reason, the voice of WOC are quite silent online.   If we examine the major feminists blogs one thing is extremely noticeable, they are run by white women.  Isn't it funny the way the online world mirrors real life even with the anonymity of the internet?

I then took a look at some of the feminist magazines that could be found online, only to discover the same disturbing trend.  It seems that we are once again on the outside waiting for a seat.  One editor at a feminist magazine this weekend asked me what WOC stood for via twitter.  I believe that speaks volumes.

In the course of 7 months, this blog has developed a fairly decent readership.  In fact I would admit that a part of the reason are the links that it receives regularly from Shakesville, Feministing, Feministe and Pandagon.  The women who run the aforementioned blogs have been more than generous in their promotion. 

What I cannot fail to notice is that despite the fact that women of colour definitely have something to say, our blogs are not counted as major voice in feminism online.  It is like we are some sort of "special interest group" who have completely divergent needs.  That's right I'm saying it, white women are "the women" and we are just a side group looking for scraps.

I was in a discussion with some black female bloggers this weekend who clearly expressed to me their feelings of rejection by feminism.  In fact, one commentary alluded to the fact that to be successful you need to kiss ass to a white woman because that is where the power lies.

If you happen to be considered a mystical negro, white people will listen so that they can do the correct amount of flagellation to call themselves liberal, but how many of them are really listening because we are women?  The racial politics are important; however it is our womanhood that seems to get overlooked in the whole desire to prove how liberal you are. 

There are clearly some very talented WOC bloggers; Harrietsdaughter, Black Amazon, Tanglad, Monica of Transgriot, Elle, Ojibway Migisi Bineshii   etc and etc and yet each and every time I visit their blogs, I cannot help but notice the difference between their commentary section and the commentary section of the four major feminist blogs. 

Some white women lurk without commentary because they are doing their due  diligence in the STFU & L department, but many do not even bother to visit.  They stay in their comfortable little niches where they can be assured that the issues covered will largely represent them.  To read a blog written by a woman of colour is to risk coming across something that will make you uncomfortable.

Heaven forbid you might be called on any of your privilege.  Why listen to women of colour, when it is a well known fact that we have very little power online, never mind socially?  Whiteness feels comfortable in its own reflection, and why not, it is all it has ever known.  Every social institution is controlled by whiteness; and therefore it is hardly surprising that feminism has the same trend, after all it is but a microcosm of the larger world.

The rejection of WOC is a forceful thing.  I can say this from experience.  I have done more than my share of time in womens studies classes, learning about all of the great achievements of white women, waiting patiently to hear about the work done by my sisters.  Sure the professors will occasionally point to bell hooks or Vandanna Shiva to try and claim inclusivity, but before long one quickly learns that it is women like Elizabeth Cady Staton, Germain Greer, and Simone de Beauvoir, etc., that are the real heroes of feminism

In conversation with those terribly amusing and bright bloggers, the one thing that we kept coming back to is that  we have to do for ourselves.  This is not a new sentiment on the part of WOC.  I myself have expressed frustration with feminism and its desire to privilege the experience of some, thus silencing the voice of many.  There have been many occasions when I wished to completely disavow feminism because I could not see even the smallest reflection of myself.

What is most disturbing about this is for social justice movements to succeed it needs a cross section of representation.  The emancipation of WOC cannot be achieved without white women, and white women cannot achieve equality without us.  Even knowing this as truth, we sit at separate sides of a great divide staring at one another with hostility and distrust.

White women do occasionally ask how do we heal the rifts in feminism, as though the mystical people of color have the answers.  Well my crystal ball is fresh out of answers.  What I do know for a certainty is that unless this movement (read: feminism) becomes more inclusive out of more than a sense of earning and maintaining its so-called "liberal" credentials, WOC will forever be on the outside waiting for a table scrap.


To Whom It May Concern

Dear Readers the following is a copy of the e-mail that I sent to the principle of Avis Shelby.  This is the school were two black girls were bound by the hands and feet to teach them about the middle passage.  Please take the time to email the principle at ashelby@hms.nrcsd.org. or the teacher Eileen Bernstein at ebernstein@hms.nrcsd.org.

The administration has not seen fit to fire this teacher and they must be made aware that no child should be subjected to this in the name of an education. I ask that you stand with me please and dispatch a letter to inform the principle of your disgust not only of what was done in the classroom but their handling of the situation.  Thanks to Kim in comments for contact information.

To Whom it may concern;

It's funny to start a letter on this basis, considering the subject matter concerns every single black parent that has ever trusted a school system to educate a child. I am writing concerning the incident in which a teacher in your employ Eileen Bernstein, made the decision to bind two black female students by the hands and feet, to teach them about the middle passage.

The news story I read about this issue mentioned that the children were crying throughout the incident, and that the teacher has since refused to even offer an apology.  At this time I am aware that you are attempting to avoid a civil suit for damages, but you should be aware of exactly the kind of harm this woman has done.

When you send a child to be educated you are placing someone you love the most in the hands of others.  For a parent it is an act of trust, a display of faith in the system.  Your teacher in the performance of her duties has violated that trust.

As much as black children today are looking forward with new possibilities, due to the election of Barack Obama, they must still deal with the legacy of the ugliness of African American history.  They are not blind to the fact that but for a few hundred years difference, it would have been them, bound, raped beaten, and surviving on menstrual blood and feces during the middle passage.

Learning about slavery and the living conditions of the slaves is a traumatic thing for black children.  You see when we are first born we see colour but do not attach value to difference.  It is society that slowly over time teaches children of colour that not only are they different, they are viewed as less than. This history lesson is not an abstract idea for a black child because connections are quickly made to the way in which they are treated today.

Though racism functions on a systemic level, it is dealt with daily on a personal level. That is exactly what happened in your classroom.  The girls were not taught that day about the middle passage, they were taught that they were less than their peer group because of the colour of their skin.  They learned that despite all of the progress that people of colour have made ,  that it was still possible for someone white to remove what humanity was invested in them for the sake of maintaining unearned racial privilege. 

Had your teacher bothered to have a simple conversation with black adults what she would have come to learn is that for most of us the discovery of racism, and how our people were treated during slavery was a very traumatic thing.  I remember watching roots and not sleeping peacefully for weeks.  What stayed with me was not the image of the white slave holding planters, but the black people who looked just like me who were reduced to beasts of burden for gain.

This could have been approached in a much different manner and the result would have been quite different.  She could have shown the students clips from movies, or read passages from the various books available on the subject.  Instead Ms. Bernstein chose to centre out two black children as an example.  I do not believe the choice of students was accidental, and if you are honest I am sure that you will agree with my conclusion.

Ms. Bernstein has done irreparable harm to these young girls.  As a black mother who is  tired of seeing black children weep around the globe, I am asking that you treat this issue with the seriousness  that it deserves. No more vulnerable children should be entrusted to her care.  At at time when black children are struggling in education the last thing they need is an education system to show them through action that they are not valuable people.

Sincerely

Renee 


Debasing African American Women For Profit

Some people simply have no shame; and therefore  attach  labels to pure shit to earn a quick buck. They will sell you the lie that it is all about appreciating your culture, or showing respect for black women to get you to spend your hard earned dollars.  Lord knows that black women have it tough enough in this life, we can certainly use all of the help that we can get. 

As the holiday season is upon us many will attempt to support black companies by their patronage.  If you are going to spend the money anyway, and you can help out a struggling black business in this rough economy it would seem to be a great idea right?  This kind of shopping is something we are supposed to feel good about right?

Enter: AFROCENTRIC GIFTS (not linking to this trash hit the google)

Images below the fold may not be acceptable for work, open with caution.

image This is called the desert rose and retails for 135.00

image This is called the GoDiva and retail for 135.00

image This is called the Sunny (Samba Queen) and retails for 135.00

image This is called the Bonnie (Beach) and retails for 135.00

image This one is called Room Service and retails for 135.00

image This one is called Pride of the Masai and retails for 135.00

Well these collectible dolls are in celebration of black womanhood.  Does anyone feel special, loved, or adored?  Just being put up on such a pedestal and then sold for such an extreme amount of money just makes me so emotional-- and that emotion would be anger.  I am sick of black women being devalued in this way.  To wrap it as a purchase of uplifting the black community is beyond a falsehood. 

Black women matter damn it.  We are 50% of the community.  We are mothers, daughters, and sisters.  At some point we have got to start to understand that when black women are portrayed like this it is damaging.

To make matters worse the section of the site that celebrate our heroes is predominated by black men.  It is as though the only contribution we provide is by being fuckable bodies; toys for mens pleasure.  This is an insult to all of our sheroes who have fought valiantly over the course of hundreds of years to ensure not only the continuation of our race, but our slow progression towards equality.  To be erased from history in this way is a slap in the face to all of the achievements of black womanhood.  Even those of us who daily labour in obscurity do so with the hope of a better future.

I know that this is just one small little store on the internet.  I am probably throwing traffic at it in my attempt to draw awareness to the horrid nature of the products that it sells.  The point of the matter is that these little stores repeatedly reproduce these items; thus generating profit from the defilement of black womanhood.  At some point we need to decide that yes we need to support our community, but not at the cost of the devaluement of half of it. 

When you purchase from these so-called Afrocentric stores make sure that they are committed to supporting all of the black community.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Shame: How Green Are Your Thumbs?

image Some of you may have guessed from reading this blog that the environment is a huge concern of mine.  Often I try to link the ways in which our actions are ruining our beautiful blue planet into blog posts.

My family composts, and recycles both paper and glass.  We buy used and try very hard to find new uses for old products before we throw them out.  As parents, the unhusband and I feel that it is necessary to leave as small an environmental footprint as possible.

One of things I have blogged about is that agribusiness and our method of exchange are ruining our food supply.  I have also discussed the fact that until recently most people produced goods in the home for consumption.  Today that has been replaced with take out food, or easy chemical filled micro wave meals.

As a person who tries very hard to live by my beliefs I have to admit to a personal shame....everything that is living with chlorophyll around me either dies, or commits suicide.

image Each year I start out with the best of intentions and plant my garden.  Within a few weeks everything is dead.  I don't know what I do wrong, but the unhusband tells me that I have black thumbs for a reason.

I cannot tell you how many innocent house plants have met their death under my care.  People have told me that they are giving me an idiot proof plant, and sooner or later we end up having a funeral for the thing because somehow I have managed to kill it.   Right now I have 4 plants that are barely hanging on.  The unhusband has started to write a bucket list for them, as he seems to feel we will all be singing swing low sweet chariot for them any day now.

I just keep trying though.  One day, somehow I am going to be able to manage my environmental beliefs with my ambitions for a greener world.  Even though everyone tells me I am doing more harm with my continued efforts, I forge onwards.

Okay your turn, what beliefs have you been unable to live by due to either lack of effort, or lack of skill?


Teaching Slavery

One cannot teach American history without teaching slavery.  When doing so with African American children, it must be handled very carefully.  It is a source of great pain and suffering.  Even though today we are free as a people, the psychic memory of what our ancestors went through still haunts us.

I remember watching roots with my parents when it originally aired.  I had nightmares for weeks.  I did not understand, and was terrified that I would be treated like the blacks that I saw on television. 

image A teacher in Rockland County decided to use tape to bind the hands and legs of two little black girls, and then force them to lie under a desk to teach them what it was like to be a slave. One of the little girls cried throughout the whole experience, as the white teacher explained to the children the conditions the slaves endured during the middle passage.

From her privileged position she could not imagine how traumatic this could be to two little black girls.  Even when spoken to about her teaching tactics, she refused to apologize. To make matters worse this woman still has a job.  Each day these girls get to face the woman that decided it was okay to publicly shame them.  How many more tears do our children have to shed?

How many different kinds of wrong is this?  Seriously, imagine the horror, shame, and embarrassment, of those two little girls in front of their peer group.  This is not a fucking joke.

image I wonder if while she was binding their hands she was imagining herself back in  the times when this was an everyday occurrence. Who the hell thinks that it is acceptable to tie up two little girls, to teach them about anything?  To then add the indignity of pronouncing them slaves is almost more than I can bare.

Everyday there are examples of how racism continues to be an issue in our society, despite the lie that we are living in a post racial world.  Blacks are told we are to sensitive when we complain, and whites continue to deny their unearned privilege.  It seems continually we are reminded that we are different, but we are expected to accept it silently.'

'The minute we complain, we are uppity Negroes, trying to use a crutch to get an unfair advantage.  Can you just imagine the uproar if a black teacher had decided to tie up two little white girls? Hell it would be all over CNN.  Two little white girls would be deemed to fragile and pure for such treatment.

At what point are we entitled to our dignity?  Slavery is something that is very painful to people of colour, and to see the memory and legacy of it disrespected in this way, is harmful not only to the children that were bound, but to each and every single person of colour that is daily subjected to racism. 

It is my hope that the parents will organize and get this woman fired.  No one who thinks that it is acceptable to tie up two little girls has any place in a classroom.  There are many methods that could have been employed to teach about slavery, but this certainly was not a good pedagogical decision.

Okay WPD tell me that this isn't really racist.  Go on, tell me that I am being too sensitive.  Find a way to twist this story so that I am the racist and not the teacher who bound these children.  You see, I know the one thing that whiteness has perfected over generations; the ability to find every excuse possible to excuse its privilege.