Saturday, February 28, 2009

Transgender In Iran

The following is a great documentary by Tanaz Eshaghian that examines what it is to be trans gender in post colonial Iran.  To many westerners Iran is a closed society and we are often subject to rhetorical propaganda reports that give little illumination on what it is to an Iranian.  Not only does this video give us a unique perspective on the citizenry, it focuses on a group of people that are seldom reported on.

Much appreciation to the talented and charming (yes girl you still owe me cornbread) Monica of Transgriot


Part 2


Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

What Are your thoughts on this series of videos?

The Obamas: A Change is Gonna Come for Whom?

I have a new post up at Global Comment

Like most peoples of the African Diaspora I am thrilled to see a black family living in the white house; where once slaves toiled under the weight of the lash, a young black girl now sleeps peacefully. The love affair with Michelle Obama has become quite obvious. She has made the cover of people and the cover of vogue. There are some who would suggest that the high visibility of Michelle’s image stands as proof that women of colour will be finally be seen as beautiful rather than as exotic backdrops used to promote a Eurocentric beauty ideal. The images commonly used to represent people of colour have been highly racist, often reducing us to animals.

We are all somewhat uplifted by the Obama family however, overstating their ability to radically change the understanding of racialized bodies and in particular that of women of colour is indeed problematic. Even though they exist with a large degree of social power, they have continued to be assaulted by race-based attacks. Obama was most recently featured as a chimpanzee by the Post and it was only after a huge uproar that Rupert Murdoch finally apologized for the cartoon.

The ascension of the Obamas to the very pinnacle of power in the US has given many grounds to posit that we have moved into a post-racial world, but those claims can only be supported if we ignore the ways in which people of colour continue to be disenfranchised.

The high visibility of the Obamas has created new opportunities, but those only translate into new opportunities for those who already existed with a degree of social and economic privilege to begin with. As the staunch Washington insiders searched for blacks to include on their guest lists, those most likely to be approached for inclusion were already considered part of the Afro elite; celebrities and those belonging to old black sorority families quickly found themselves in high demand. It is not enough to say new opportunities for blacks without asking the question of opportunities for whom.

Finish Reading Post Here

Drop It Like It’s Hot

Hello everyone.  Thanks for another great week of conversations.  I am once again reminding everyone that in an effort to have an open space that Womanist Musings is open for guest posting and or cross posting.  Simply hit me up by e-mail and we can work something out.

I am still looking for contributions for this months Tell It WOC Speak and Ally blog carnival.  If you have written a post from an ally perspective that critically discusses race and the isms or are a WOC please submit your articles here.  We all need to work together if we are going to raise awareness.

On a finally note of official business, I am considering starting two more blogs.  Their focus will be 101 issues involving trans and anti-racist critical thought.  Often times we are bogged down in conversations having to explain the most basic things because people have not done their due diligence to learn. It is my hope that with these two blogs we can just point people in the right direction and continue on with our conversations.  They should ideally look something like feminism 101.  As I already have a busy schedule and Mayhem and Destruction seem intent on destroying my tampons and licking each other crazy, I cannot possibly hope to complete this undertaking by myself.  If this idea sound interesting to you, please shoot me an e-mail and we can discuss it.

Okay here we are at last.  Below you will find a list of the post that really caught my attention this week.  Please show these bloggers some love and check them out.  As always this is an open thread so when you all through don’t forget to drop it like it’s hot and leave your link behind in the comment section.

Beauty, Consumerism and Environmentalism

Slavery and Semantics

Against the “replace ______ with the word black” school of criticism

Bad science on booze in Pregnancy: women infantalized with absolutist message

Rape Is Cheaper Than Bullets

choke on your rainbow flag, homo. do i go around saying i’m straight?

Dangerous you women who know themselves

Do Bras Prevent Breasts From Sagging?

A Few Hours: Feminism is in Choices

Yes, I Am Now An Indigenous Feminist

The worth of girlhood


Friday, February 27, 2009

Clint Eastwood: Race Based Jokes Are Funny

Here we go again with another stunning display of white privilege from an elite Hollywood star.  In an interview with Der Spiegel Clint Eastwood was quoted as saying the following:

'People have lost their sense of humour.”

'In former times we constantly made jokes about different races.

'You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth otherwise you will be insulted as a racist.

'I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a "Sam the Jew" or "Jose the Mexican" - but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist

'It was normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem.

''I don't want to be politically correct. We're all spending too much time and energy trying to be politically correct about everything.'

image Of course he didn’t have a problem with it, whiteness has always been the group in power and therefore free from race based attack.  Simply because the world has changed enough that some now have the courage  and the ability to speak out against racism does not mean that former racist commentary was ever well accepted.  It has always hurt on some level to be considered an other.

What Clint Eastwood wants is the right to mock peoples lives and experiences without censure or social discipline.  Wrapping it in comedy is meant to make it seem like it is harmless but in truth, reducing someone's humanity is never funny. 

How dare we uppity POC not take a joke…Now people have to whisper their racism; what the hell good is whiteness anyway, if it does not allow people to exist with undeserved privilege?  Whiteness is supposed to be able to mock and demean at will.  If undeserved privilege  is taken away then they will be just like the majority of people on the planet.  Imagine a world where everyone was truly equal and respected, noooooo we cannot possibly have that.

Some will say that Eastwood represents a dying breed, however his attitudes can readily be found amongst a cross section of society.   Privilege is a rock upon which many continually stumble and yet they refuse to recognize it.  You will just have to excuse me if I refuse to feel pity because some people are offended that they cannot spread their hatred freely anymore.  They have been fond of  telling us that we are too sensitive for years, so I guess now its your turn.  Put your big pants on Clint and suck it up.  You don’t deserve to exist with anymore rights or freedoms than any other person.

Gays And Lesbians Know The Meaning Of The Word Attack

Watching this video was confirmation of two of my strongest beliefs; all people matter and language is extremely important.  The fundies  appropriate language as a weapon to defend their undeserved privileges.  Often behind the mirror of free speech they are simply spreading hate.  When I spoke in favor of separating hate speech from free speech, instantly the word censorship raised its ugly head.   The point that must be remembered, is that hate speech has real world consequences that often mean violence and even death for a particularly marginalized group.  Language is how we frame and practice discourse and therefore; if we continually frame someone as other, it is because we understand them as such in a desire to privilege certain identities.  If there is a cost to speech it certainly is not free.

As allies of the gay and lesbian community, it is increasingly important that we take it upon ourselves to speak out when we hear bigots using hate language to attack.  This kind of attitude flourishes because we tolerate it.   They need to learn that there is no such thing as a safe space to express  hatred.   As a mother I have taken this one step further by actively teaching my children that love in whatever form it manifests between two people of equal standing is a beautiful thing.   Language that is regularly tolerated at the homes of their little friends quickly gets an invitation to leave my home.  It is of the utmost importance to their father and I, that our home is a safe space for all who may enter and that means each person must actively acknowledge through action and behaviour that all people matter.  You could say that this is our family slogan.

It can be terrifying when you first start speaking up in the cause of justice because you face ridicule and censorship however; it is important to remember that whatever social stigmatization that comes your way, it is far less than that which is faced from those that inhabit the bodies that are deemed less than by our society.  At times in your zeal to be of aid, you may even say something that is offensive to or about the community you are trying to advocate on behalf of; don't get defensive, apologize, learn, and move on.  Standing from the outside looking in you can never have an accurate understanding of all of the issues at hand, but if you have a sincere heart and a willingness to learn, you can make a difference.  Small everyday acts matter and if your form of revolution is to ensure that your children learn to value people, speaking out in the company of friends, or simply not buying from companies that promote hate and difference, rest assured that each small act in the defence of equality and justice is a stance in the promotion of all the goodness that we are capable of.  We cannot change the entire world but if we can sweep the cobwebs from our little corner of the universe, we make the world a safer, happier space for all.

H/T The Bilerico

Dissent At Your Own Risk

This is a guest post from Danny

Good morning/afternoon/evening folks.  My name is Danny (my ID here is SanguineDream) and I have been reading Womanist Musings since about the time I started my own blog last June.  I've enjoyed reading her blog but we haven't always been on the same page on the issues.  It would be a lie to say that I've always seen eye to eye with her but one thing I can say is that when we did disagreed on something we were able to keep things civil.  In fact that is the topic of my post here today: reaction to dissenting voices.  I'm glad Renee has offered me the opportunity to come out from My Corner of the Universe and write a guest post (my first guest post at that) on how having a difference of opinion is not a telltale sign of malicious intent.  I hope you enjoy.

When you read someone else's blog what do you expect?  Do you expect a regurgitation of what you already know, think, feel, believe, etc?  Do you expect to hear/read/get someone else's perspective on an issue?  I think it may be worth it to visit this seemingly innocuous topic.

The reason for the visit is because I think that whether we realize it or not what we expect from a blog has an effect on what input a reader offers as well the reaction a reader offers to someone else's input.

When a user goes to a blog expecting to get a different perspective on a situation it is perfectly understandable and anticipated that there will be differences of opinion and said user will more than likely be a voice of dissent.  Despite what many people may think being a dissenting voice does not automatically make one the enemy.  However time and time again the dissenting opinion is often treated like a virus that must be eradicated.  I find this to be a problem but the problem does not always lie with the dissenting voice.

Of course there are times when a dissenting voice comes onto a blog with the purpose of causing disruption however there times when the resulting disruption is not caused by the dissenter him/herself.

If people go to a blog to get a different perspective and hear a dissenting voice why is there the desire to respond to that dissenter as if they are not welcome?  I mean if they are really there to get a different angle on the topic why do they react to the dissenter with great hostility in an effort to run them off of the blog?

I'm sure a person that does this is doing so under the justification of trying to stop the dissenter from stifling the conversation.  So you have someone doing exactly what they don't want to happen to him/herself in order to prevent it from happening to him/herself.  Unless the dissenter is truly trying to stop the conversation (and I'm sorry but the owner/moderator of the blog in question is the only one that can decide who can determine who is being disruptive) or turn it in a certain direction is it really fair to try to shut them out of the discussion?  If someone responds with great vengeance and furious anger at the slightest hint of dissent, who is the one that is really stifling the conversation?

The reason I bring attention to this is because responding to any and all dissenting voices with unprovoked hostility can have very dangerous consequences.  First and foremost if a blog suddenly begins to shut out anyone that does not agree with the crowd it will turn into an echo chamber.  And by echo chamber I mean that the only voices that are heard are always saying the same thing.  It's difficult to have open dialogue, much less incite change, when only certain dialogue is welcome isn't?

If You’re Homeless Your Possessions Are Garbage

image According to the CBC the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, recently managed to capture on film of city crews dumping a homeless man's possessions into a garbage truck as an onlooker pleaded for them to wait.  He desperately tried to save his friends few meagre possessions by stuffing them into his own cart.  Imagine returning from the bathroom to discover that all of your worldly possessions has been thrown in the garbage.

It seems that the city of Vancouver has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to structures set up on its sidewalks, boulevards, and alleys.  The city is quick however to point out that it offers a five-page list of shelters where individuals can stay and sometimes it makes arrangements for people to keep items in a city storage locker for up to 30 days.

Isn’t that generous, 30 days and when the time is up you are back in the exact same situation.  It seems everywhere I turn we are treating poverty like it is something that should be punished.  Being homeless is not an individual failure it is a cultural/social failure.   There are many living on the streets that have jobs but simply cannot afford the exorbitant rate of rent.   Even with our socialized health care system many end up on the streets because of a vicious treat and release policy for the mentally ill.

In short there are various reasons why someone ends up living on the streets and regardless of the reasons, it should never amount to a complete loss of human dignity.  With our worsening economy, more people than ever risk not having a home to return to at the end of the day.  Instead of further shaming these people, we need to begin to create concrete solutions so that each person has a place to lay their head.  Private property has resulted in some of worst crimes against humanity.

I have been fortunate enough to always had a place to lay my head but I am more than aware that this has much to do with luck and undeserved privilege.  With tent cities sprouting across the western world we much begin to confront the problem rather expecting the homeless to just disappear into the background.   Homelessness is quickly becoming the invisible crises and for women it can be particularly brutal.

  • homeless women are under-housed, under-slept and under-fed;
  • 84% of homeless women reported having at least one serious physical health condition;
  • 33% of homeless women have difficulty walking, a lost limb or some other impairment of mobility;
  • homeless women aged 18–44 are ten times more likely to die than women of the same ages who have homes;
  • more than half (55%) of homeless women have had a mental-health diagnosis;
  • roughly one-third of homeless women reported difficulty with the basics of personal hygiene, such as bathing, using the bathroom obtaining pads and tampons and washing clothes;

As well, homeless women suffer from certain illnesses and health conditions in significantly greater numbers than housed women:

  • 50% of homeless women have arthritis (v. 20% of women in the general population);
  • 20% have heart disease (v. a 4% average);
  • 43% suffer from migraines (v. 15%);
  • 29% have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (v. 1%).

The particular conditions of the far north – the harsh climate, underdeveloped infrastructure, geographic isolation, high cost of living coupled with limited opportunities for employment – only exacerbate the hardships experienced by homeless women in the south:

  • all women in the north are at risk of becoming homeless, according to the North of 60 study, and it is a short slide into homelessness;
  • homeless women in the north have reportedly had to sleep with rotting garbage in order to keep warm in arctic winters, where the temperature can dip to -60° C.

There are an estimated 1,000 homeless women in the north, with 500 Yellowknife alone, 300 in Iqaluit – and a total of 2,000 if the women’s children are added in.

The extremely cold temperatures in the north make sleeping in the street a mortal risk. This results in a preponderance of “invisible” or “hidden” homelessness. These terms denote situations in which women stay with friends or relatives temporarily and/or stay with a man solely to obtain shelter. They may have a roof over their heads, but the have no home of their own. 

The above statistics are chilling and yet we continue to expect the underclass to suffer in silence as though we have not socially failed them through our neglect and privileging of material goods.  We pat ourselves on the back and declare that we are better than the US without understanding that better does not mean good.   Failing to provide shelter in Canada in some instances is tantamount to a  death sentence.  We should not judge ourselves by what others do but by what we are capable of achieving.  We cannot all be born a Weston however, we certainly can attempt to ensure that everyone that needs a home has one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

If You’re Poor In New Mexico It’s A Cheese Sandwich For You

imageThere isn’t a single area of the economy that isn’t currently undergoing budget restraints.  This has lead to many cutbacks at a time when there are more in need of social services than ever.  For children this is often the first harsh introduction to our class based society.  Each day the media reports on the new claims for unemployment insurance as families for the first time have to deal with poverty.   This is not simply felt in a reduction of things like birthday parties, or the end of dining in restaurants.  It is felt in far more painful ways.  In many cases families have seen their incomes cut in half as for the first time one parent is experiencing an extended period of unemployment.  This  is exacerbated in that the male partner is the one most often laid off, forcing families to survive on the income of the wife or mother.  When we factor in that women routinely earn seventy cents for every dollar that a man makes, how can this not be a recipe for disaster?

According to Yahoo news,Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy," serving the alternative meals to children whose parents are supposed to be able to pay for some or all of their regular meals but fail to pick up the tab.”  The Chicago Tribune also reports that School districts in Chula Vista, Calif.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Lynnwood, Wash. have similar policies.

Some Albuquerque parents have pleaded with school board members to stop singling out their children because they're poor, while others are thanking the district for a policy that demands parental responsibility.

This is not about responsibility.  We have individualized poverty even though our economic structure has been set up to promote an increasingly large gap between rich and poor.  CEO’s are rewarded with multi million dollar deals for failing to maintain a company's profits and yet the individual worker is sentenced to starvation and homelessness for any possible dereliction of duty.  It is the worker that is sacrificed for the sake of capitol, with no thought about the fact that all of the essential needs in life have been commodified.  If a parent is laid off because the company that they work for is going bankrupt how are they irresponsible?

When the cold cheese sandwich policy was instituted was instituted in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006.   It would seem then from the reduction in debt that  the shame the children policy was a success.  What no one stopped consider is where the  money came from to eradicate individual familial debt.  What other essential needs did these kids go without to avoid the social stigma of poverty?  Their parents were openly referred to as deadbeats by the media and some children reportedly hid in the washroom to avoid the shame of being forced to eat the symbol of their poverty in the presence of their peer group.

In a time of financial retraction it is those that already already live on the margins that will be most keenly suffer.  The pro birth movement continually pushes women to give birth with no regard to the circumstances that children live with.   We claim to respect motherhood and children but in truth we do not.  If we can sentence children to public shaming because of the poverty of their parents, this speaks loudly to how much we value a child.

Though we do not have an official school lunch program in Canada, I can report that just for milk and pizza Friday that I spend close to fifty dollars a month.  The one month I considered forgoing this needless expense, I was informed by my son that there was only one child that went without and that was because he was poor.  Though he did not ask for the continuation of his pizza it was quite clear that he did not want to be shamed in front of his friends. 

If there must be a cutback then everyone should be subject to a retraction.  No one should feel ridiculed because of poverty.  Childhood is a particularly difficult time in life and the self-esteem that we develop can largely affect how we come to view ourselves in our adult lives. 

By instituting this policy the state is forcing the poor to carry a responsibility that is not of their own making.  If the economy continues to worsen this is but one of the many attacks that we will see waged upon the poor by the elite in an effort to maintain its already unfair market share.   You cannot make bricks from straw and the sooner that we realize that we need to institute a more humane method of distribution of assets, the closer we will be to having an equal society.  Socialism is not an evil, it simply means choosing to value the weakest amongst us instead of praising the false idol of money.

Now Porn Comes Calling For Nadaya Suleman

image Nadaya Suleman is easily the most vilified mother in recent history.  She became famous for giving birth to eight children using invitro fertilization in January.  The media have stopped at nothing to portray her as an irresponsible nitwit too crazy to know what is in her own best interests.

It would be far too much to look at the cultural treatment of motherhood or the fact that we have long since socially abdicated responsibility for our children.  We are for more focused on forcing women to give birth to children that they do not want, than caring for the current children in existence.  Oh dear, someone might have to donate some of their tax dollars to helping a child when they  would be  so much better spent on fat pensions for bureaucrats who don’t serve the public need, foreign wars of aggression that have left untold numbers dead and damaged,  and bailing out companies like AIG who are once again begging for a new handout (private jet anyone?).   Let’s not talk about our social responsibilities, or our skewed sense of values, oh no lets persecute a poor woman for choosing to exercise her biological imperatives.

Finally when I thought I could not get anymore disgusted with the news stories surrounding this poor woman, the porn industry has reared its ugly exploitative head. Vivid Entertainment has offered her one million dollars to star in a porn movie.  Nadya is in deep financial trouble, the home that she lives in is about to be foreclosed on and the hospital has threatened to refuse to release her children to her.  The website that she created to give people the opportunity to help her struggling family has been ridiculed and all avenues of support have been radically slammed in her face. 

Well, clearly this woman is in need of some serious need,  and the porn industry just loves a vulnerable woman.  They have always been there to “extend aid” as long as a woman is willing to take off her clothes and become nothing more than a glory hole for men to fuck with wild abandon.  While I agree that some women actively choose this, when there is an issue of clear exploitation, porn and I clearly part ways.  How much is this media company going to make on this movie? Already the media is playing with potential titles for a movie that she has not even agreed to star in. 

Suleman has never stared in any porn movie and obviously with the pressing state of financial concerns and public rejection, she may have to take this offer to stave off financial ruin for her large family.  Should this woman who has been repeatedly judged decide that this is what she needs to do to support her family, one can certainly rest assured that this will be yet another opportunity for society to rip her shreds and shame her for not being the “perfect mommy”.  No one wants to help her but if she takes the only avenue available to her, she will be  by default a terrible person. 

This issue is so much larger than Nadya and her 14 children.  This is about the right of women to have autonomy over their bodies and our social obligation to care for all children.  This is about women not being forced to make “choices”
that are harmful to them to ensure the subsistence of their families.  Suleman is a vulnerable woman and if we look closely we can all see a little bit of ourselves reflected in her.

American Idol Is A Singing Competition Right?

I actually like watching American Idol because I like the idea of someone coming from nowhere to become a success.  Since we do not live in a meritocracy, true rags to riches stories are actually quite rare.

As I watched the line up of disasters desperately clinging to their dreams of fame, the commentary from the judges kept causing the bile to rise from my stomach.  Is there really any reason we need to notice how long or beautiful a womans legs are?  I thought that the point was to listen to her sing to decide whether or not she has any talent. 

Interspersed with commentary regarding the quality of performances, Randy and Simon could not stop discussing the bodies of the female contestants.  Year after year they chide contestants for not taking the competition seriously enough, but how can they when it is clearly nothing more than a meat competition put to song?

image As I became increasingly more agitated, I could not decide whether I more pissed off at the commentary, or the silence from Paula and Kara DioGuardi.  Not only did they not bother to put these men in check for their sexist commentary, they made sure to tell each contestant how beautiful they were.   There was not a single terse word, or even a dirty look in the response to the continual devaluation women contestants.

Simon also clearly has a problem when it comes to age.  Continually telling people that they sound old as an insult needs to stop.  What does a 50 year old sound like?  Why is sounding 50 necessarily a bad thing?  The man has absolutely zero couth and this platform has been nothing more than a stage for him to assault the world with his ignorance.  I will grant him that he has an ear for selecting talent however, he seems to have little success at being a decent human being.

I am trying really hard to hang on to Idol in spite of the obvious weekly display of privilege because deep down, even though I know how false the rags to riches story is, if even for a few hours a week I would like to believe in the impossible. I know that this is just a dumb reality show but the commentary from the judges being tacitly approved week after week in a small way symbolizes how far we still have to go.  If this is going to be about dreams and talent then how someone looks, or how old they sound, is simply not relevant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Watermelons At The Whitehouse And Republican Racism


image Dean Grose the Mayor of Los Alamitos sent out an e-mail entitled No Easter Egg Hunt At The White House This Year.   Yep us coloured folk sure do loves us some watermelon.  I am surprised he didn’t have chickens running through the watermelon patch to complete the picture. This story might never have been made public had the e-mail not been received by Keyanus Price.  She was rightfully offended and demanded a public apology.

"I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes," Price told The Associated Press. "I honestly don't even understand where he was coming from, sending this to me. As a black person receiving something like this from the city-freakin'-mayor—come on."

Beyond just the offense of sending this piece of racist garbage to a black woman, what was an elected official doing creating this racist piece of trash in the first place?  Isn’t it nice that we live in this wonderful post racial world where people can be demeaned on a daily basis so that whiteness can continue in its hegemony?

Of course Grose didn’t intend to offend.  How was he to know that putting watermelons on the white house lawn could possible be offensive to blacks?  That poor, poor man.  In his emailed apology according to Mecury News he pleaded ignorance of the racialized nature of his offence.

"Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn't see this in the same light that she did," Grose told the AP. "I'm sorry. It wasn't sent to offend her personally—or anyone—from the standpoint of the African-American race."

I suppose we are to believe that it was just accidental that he chose watermelons instead of say pumpkins on the lawn.  It just happened to coincide with the election of the first black president.  Anyone have swampland for sale because this man is clearly pitching bullshit?  If he didn’t know of the racist connection of African Americans and watermelons why did he choose to create this e-mail in the first place?

I am tired of white people continually being racist and making half hearted apologies after the fact.  If he was man enough to send the e-mail, he should have been man enough to own up to the racist nature of what he did.  It is only after his racism was made public that he had a  moments pause.   When I have said that blacks are more than aware of the conversations white people have in regard to race when there is not a POC present I was called paranoid.  Had he not messed up and sent this to a black women, his white associates would have been more than happy to dismiss this and make no public commentary about it.  This is exactly how racism is maintained.  People need to know in every single circumstance that racism is not tolerated.  If you allow someone to say or do something racist in your presence and you say nothing  even if you are in disagreement with their actions, you have just validated their bigotry and acted as a cog to maintain our racialized hierarchy.  Racism can never be brought to an end until all people seek to root it out equally.

Update:  You can e-mail Grose directly at [email protected] to let him know what you think of his little watermelon on the white house lawn picture.

H/T Electronic Village

Justin Timberlake and Beyonce Parody Single Lady

Okay you can say boo later. I am so sorry I have a single lady addiction and I am going to share it with you.

H/T Jack and Jill Politics

Did Kathryn Johnston Really Get Justice?

image  92 year old Kathryn Johnston met her end when Georgia police carried out a no knock warrant based on spurious information on her premises looking for drugs and in the process shooting her 6 times.  Can you imagine peacefully sitting in your home of 17 years only to have police come crashing through your front door dressed in paramilitary clothing, pointing weapons at you?  The so-called war on drugs has actually been the legal basis for the police to go to war on blacks.  It is racist in its  implementation; from who gets targeted, to the sentencing in the criminal justice system. Blacks have been the subject of the war on drugs started by Ronald Reagan.   Kathryn Johnston is just one of many people who have had their lives either prematurely ended or found themselves unfairly incarcerated.

In what is a common chain of events, the police upon realizing that they had committed murder attempted to cover up their actions.  They falsely placed drugs on the premises and falsified events.  

“It is my fervent hope the Atlanta Police Department will take to heart what has happened here,” U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes said. After conducting an emotional two-day hearing, Carnes sentenced former officers Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith and Arthur Bruce Tesler to between five and 10 years in prison.

Ten years for planting evidence, lying under oath, obtaining a warrant under false pretences, and murdering Kathryn Johnston, does this really seem like justice to you?  We are told that it is and I suppose if we consider that it is a rarity for a white man to be convicted of violence against a black woman we should feel some sort of relief however, I believe that Johnston was worth more than that.   Note that ten years is the maximum sentence and not all defendants will have to serve that; in fact because there is no parole system in the federal court system it is possible that these men will serve 15% less time if they perform “good behaviour” in prison. 

What is the life of a black woman really worth?   These men had no compunction when they spread marijuana throughout her home because they trusted in their status as authority figures and their race and gender to protect them.  Though they were convicted, I cannot help but wonder what the difference would have been if these had been black police officers and the woman that was shot was an elderly white grandmother.   It is already clear from sentencing differentials that blacks get longer sentences for the same crimes committed by whites.   To the criminal justice system Kathryn Jonhston was worth not more than 10 years in prison and the reimbursement of the 8100 dollars that it cost to bury her. 

White men have a history of particularly brutal violence against black women.  Our multiple skin tones to this day bear evidence of the brutality that has been our lifes lot.  We are the ultimate ‘unwoman’; our bodies are deemed unrapeable and therefore we are not considered to exist with the ability to be violated.  The realities of the intersection of race, class and gender play out in our lives leaving us at the bottom of all social hierarchies. 

We cannot claim justice in the name of Kathryn Johnston because these men did not receive a true punishment for their actions.  We cannot claim justice in the name of Kathryn Johnston because 3 years after her death the status of black women in our society has not changed.  We have a black first lady for the  first time and yet she is still subject to the same racist, sexist commentary as all black women, proving that perceived status does not erase our dedication to demeaning black women.  We will know justice when we are no longer raped, murdered, exploited and abused. 

Women Step Out of the Closet of Shame & Start Talking Openly About Periods

This is a guest post from Holly of Menstrual Poetry.

 image Most women remember their first periods and no matter what emotion or range of emotions they experienced on that day, they can still look back on it many years later and smile--for one reason or another.  No matter what a woman thinks about her period, the bottom line is that it is with us for the long haul.  It is one of our long-term relationships and even if we love it or hate it, it is with us for the majority of our lives; and if we live with our periods for the majority of our lives, why do women (in general) constantly feel shamed by it?

A great deal of women will give you an odd, 'what planet are you from' look if you ask them to tell you about their first periods.  Many women (and especially men) will visibly become bothered if you dare speak its name during a conversation.  Most men downright refuse to go on late-night or after work runs to the store to pick up a box of pads or tampons and all of these situations deal with the shame that is associated with menstruation.  Sure, our lack of openness can be chalked up to menstruation happening to be an awkward subject, but it goes deeper than that, especially considering that it doesn't have to be and it only is because our society has let itself become a woman-shaming society.

I have always been very open about my body, my sexuality, and the miracles that the body of a woman can perform in her lifetime.  I honestly did not know where this openness came from, being raised by a single father, but I always had strong female role models in my life, one of which was my father's girlfriend who became my mother-figure throughout my childhood.  She taught me that the anatomy of a woman is beautiful and despite the abuse I had endured as a child from my mother (and the reason why my mother has not been in my life for more than a decade) there is nothing to feel ashamed about when it comes to your own body because it is yours and no one else's and no one can tell you that you are not beautiful and that your body is in any way something to be looked at as vulgar or disgusting; including menstruation.  For a while I thought that perhaps my natural-born feminism was something instilled in me from my upbringing, but from running this website (and hello, have you noticed the name of  my website) as well as paying special attention to the women who come from my generation, I am noticing that there are a great deal of women who are coming out of the shame closet; who are demanding that the awkwardness associated with the bodies and bodily functions of women are what is truly shameful and that the period is something that should be spoken about openly and honestly.  That is exactly what Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, a young woman of 18, did when she started asking women to tell her about their first periods.

Nalebuff realized with her own first period and hearing the story of her Aunt's first period that she had kept a secret for over 50 years, that people needed to start talking about this and the other events that happen in a young woman's life that people are simply refusing to talk about openly.  Something needs to be done in this society that would let this silence continue for so long and keep so many women captive in its process of women-shaming.  And so she started collecting stories from women and girls all over the world about their first periods and now presents us with an absolute gem, My Little Red Book, for women and girls of all ages who are either just about to get their periods, just got it and feel awkward about it, or for women who remember their first periods vividly and celebrate the right of passage that we as women have to talk openly about it.

There are 90 short stories in all and several names we've come to know through their own books and activism work make appearances in this book, including Jennifer Baumgardner, Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, and Gloria Steinem's 1978 essay, 'If Men Could Menstruate' which originally had appeared in Ms. Magazine also appears in this book.  There are stories of how many women thought themselves to be dying when noticing the small stain in their panties, women who "faked" their periods when knowing that their friends had gotten their periods before them, and my favourite is a story about a mother who when her daughter first got her period and felt awkward about it, she had to do something to mark the day and so she bought her daughter a vase full of red roses and in another story, her daughter talks about how special those roses were to here and how she had kept the vase for years after that first period.  Another one of my favourite parts of this book is that so many women talk about the Judy Blume book, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret a book that you would think comes with all little girls at birth due to how widely-read and coveted it is, albeit a bit out of date for those of us who have never seen these menstrual pad belts Margaret speaks of. My Little Red Book is a must for all women who have ever felt shamed or awkward about their period and also for every girl's first period kit.

All of the proceeds of this book are being donated to charity because there is a lot to be done as far as making the bodily functions of women something that can be widely spoken about.  There is also a great need for activism in countries like Africa, where because of the lack of menstrual supplies, a young girl will not receive the education that she is entitled to because one week out of every month will be spent out of school due to her period.

In the back of My Little Red Book, there is a section of books to read about periods including, yes, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and there is also a Do More section where your support for organizations like Planned Parenthood, who are the largest provider of sexual education and health services in the United States, as well as Choice USA, a youth-led organization that seeks to protect women's reproductive rights, can tremendously help girls receive the sexual education that they too are entitled to.  A company that I would like to add, is Lunapads.  Lunapads are based in Canada and make reusable, cloth and fleece pads.  Not only do they make a transition from disposables to reusable pads easy, their pads are completely harmless, unlike disposables that contain bleach and synthetic fibers.  Lunapads also does great work for girls in Africa by giving them their Pads4Girls Kit and each pad has a lifespan of 5 years or more that will help African girls attend school when they have their periods.

You can find out even more about this book and even share your own first period story at

Is Jermaine Jakes Really Gay?

T.D Jakes the father of Jermaine Jakes, is famous for his homophobic statements.  When his son was arrested for soliciting gay sex many felt that this was a case of chickens coming home to roost for the less than good reverend.  After referring to “homosexuality as a brokenness” and openly declaring that he would not hire anyone who is gay, Jakes stand on homosexuality cannot be doubted. It is no secret as well, that many in the black church have made  a point of  painting  homosexuality as a sin against God. 

I understand the desire to declare Jermaine a gay man as it would be a particular affront to everything his father stands for however, I feel that the rush to judgment needs to stop.  He has not declared that he is gay and it is wrong for us to attach a label to him that he has not owned himself.

I cannot help but notice that no one is even bothering to assume that Jermaine might be bisexual.  In our zeal to use the son to mock the father, we have forgotten that sexuality is experienced on a spectrum.  We continually return to the gay/straight binary as though this is the only way that sexuality expresses itself.  Even though we live in a clearly heterosexist world, reifying binaries only reaffirms an artificial difference.  It is just as wrong to assume that Jermaine is gay as it is to socially assume that most people are heterosexual, the simple fact of the matter is that we do not know either way.

What Jermaine needs is time and space to figure out how he wants to deal with his recent arrest.  Rushing to label him gay because we cannot stand what his father has to say is not helping him in any way.  If we want people to be able to express their sexuality freely and openly, we cannot force labels upon them which may make them uncomfortable or are inaccurate.  If he is indeed gay, what he needs is support from the gay community and its allies; he certainly does not need to be treated like a tool to punish his homophobic father. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back To The Slums For Slumdog Millionaire Kids

Hollywood did much back patting on Sunday when it awarded Slumdog millionaire 8 awards.  The approval of not only the movie but the actors took on a fetishistic veneer as the night rolled on.

The media made sure to point out that this evening was filled with many firsts for the young actors; the first time on a plane, first time in a limo, first time in a hotel with room service…yes how wonderful.  Isn’t it kind of the media to lift these children out of poverty and obscurity to show them a taste of the good life? 

What no one bothered to comment about was the fact that after the glitz and glamour of the evening came to an end, these children were returned to the poverty from which they were plucked.  They will enjoy a few weeks, perhaps months of fame and in no short order their names will be forgotten.   They will blend right back into the slums in which they were born.

Hollywood is famous for its feel good projects that lead to no real substantial change for those involved.  On Oscar night, Ryan Seacrest could not even be bothered to learn how to pronounce their names.   The media was more excited that the producers of  this movie were kind enough to fly the kids in, even though they had not been nominated for an award.

Everything involving this movie was rife with western paternalism.  So great was the desire to wallow in the white mans burden not a single person bothered to think about how they could actually help these children rather than exploiting them.  Imagine the culture shock they must have experienced as their benefactors paraded them on the red carpet as though they were pet dogs in a kennel show.

The producers wanted to show the reality of abject poverty and this is why slumdog millionaire was shot completely on location.  The problem with pointing out inequality is that once you have knowledge of it, you must do something to combat it.   It is a well known fact that education is the key to uplift and therefore the producers could have ensured that these children received the best education possible.  How hard would it have been to ensure that these kids had a good home to return to?  With the exchange between rupees and American dollars it would have been less than was spent on this ridiculous night of waste.

I wonder how they felt waking up in their beds far from the glitter of diamonds and fancy dresses?  Though it must have been nice to be surrounded by the familiar once again, I cannot help but wonder what it felt like  to know that their time in the sun had come to an end? To wake up sure in the knowledge that the poverty which had become a way of life since birth would once again embrace them, must have been hurtful.   If we truly want to celebrate slumdog millionaire, the children that stared in that movie should be given every opportunity to follow their dreams.  We cannot save all the deserving children on this planet but at least we can stop exploiting them to prove how advanced we are as western peoples.

The Phelps Family: Speech and Slippery Slopes

I have a new article up at Global Comment

We live in a heterosexist society that largely creates homosexuality as deviant to maintain its undeserved privilege. All of the agents of socialization are dedicated to promoting this imbalance of power on a systemic level. This translates to discrimination in housing, employment, marital rights, medical coverage, and can lead to acts of violence. This kind of bias is socially constructed and is maintained by language. We have a tendency to underestimate the value of language but in truth what we choose to communicate forms discourse and this maintains our disharmony in worth and value.

When we use phrases like that’s so gay, we are necessarily attributing negativity to homosexuality and yet many continue to understand such common colloquialisms as not necessarily prejudicial. Calling gay and lesbian relationships “lifestyle choices” while continually using language that sets heterosexuality as the norm reifies difference.

There are those that are not content to employ what have become universal standards of “othering” in reference to homosexuality. The Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church are renowned for their vicious hatred of gays and lesbians. They proudly bare placards with the words “God hates fags,” and have gone as far as to claim that the Iraq war is a punishment bestowed upon America for its tolerance of homosexuality. In the United States this kind of language us protected as it is deemed free speech.

Finish Reading here

Sure Let’s Honour A Homophobe and An Admitted Ablest : Epic Oscars Fail

The Oscars were filled with many, many lows last Sunday.  For me one that I simply could not avoid writing about was the award given to Jerry Lewis for his work infantilizing the disabled.  This apparently merited the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. It is further ironic that on a show where Milk was give two awards, that a raving homophobe would receive any acclaim

imageWhen I complained about the standing ovation that he received via twitter I was amazed to learn that many did not have knowledge of his statements.  I have decided to take the time to help raise awareness as to why celebrating this man is at the very least problematic.

While speaking with a journalist from Channel Ten News, in October of 2008 Lewis was asked “What do you think of cricket?” His response was, “Oh cricket is a fag’s game!” Lewis then proceeded to flounce about, using camp, effeminate gestures, pretending to hold a bat with a limp wrist, squealing in a high pitched voice “Ah! The ball is coming towards me!” H/T QueersUnited.

Jerry Lewis Criticized For Homophobic Remark During Telethon
(New York City) Jerry Lewis dropped an anti-gay slur - the same one that got Isaiah Washington of "Grey's Anatomy" in trouble - during the 18th hour of his annual Labor Day telethon.
He apologized Tuesday for a "bad choice of words."
The 81-year-old showman - prowling about the stage during the live telecast Monday in Las Vegas - was goofing around and dodging his cameraman, then went into a ramble about imaginary family members.
"Oh, your family has come to see you," he said, speaking to the camera and gesturing toward thin air.
"You remember Bart, your older son," he said, and motioning toward another unseen character, "Jesse, the illiterate f-----.

When we combine this with his negative treatment of the differently abled who he claims to be helping, this is a man that should not be celebrated.

Jerry Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity as a fundraising strategy. Disabled people want RESPECT and RIGHTS, not pity and charity.
In 1990, Lewis wrote that if he had muscular dystrophy and had to use a wheelchair, he would "just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person." During the 1992 Telethon, he said that people with MD, whom he always insists on calling "my kids," "cannot go into the workplace. There's nothing they can do." Comments like these have led disability activists and our allies to protest against Jerry Lewis, and against the Telethon. We've argued that the Telethon promotes pity, a counterproductive emotion which undermines our social equality. Here's how Lewis responded to the Telethon protesters during a 2001 television interview: "Pity? You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!" H/T Wheelie Catholic

Only in a world in which we are determined that we should have a hierarchy of beings could a man like Jerry Lewis be rewarded for anything.  This is not an ends justifies the means case.  If you are going to be an ally of the disabled, it should behove you to speak about them with respect and consult them on what their actual needs are.

When I saw him stand on stage, smug in his appreciation from his peers, I found myself feeling ill.  By publicly praising him, we are not celebrating the work of true activism, rather we cementing the idea that not all people deserve equal respect.  He has spent a lifetime reifying difference and making sure that the disabled and gays and lesbians are thought of as lesser than.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dustin Black Accepts Oscar For Milk

BLACK: When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. […]

Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.

The other great moment of the night came form Sean Penn when he accepted his award for best actor in the role of Harvey Milk.

Best line of the night, "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns."

Terrence Howard Is Ebonys Renaissance Man

This month Ebony decided to put baby wipes Terrence Howard on the cover.

ebony-thowardIn this little spread we were meant to wonder at his ability to immerse himself in a vast array of interests, from carpentry to science.    He took great care to make sure everyone learned exactly how humble he is and his willingness to embrace his fans in all settings.  I wonder if he signed in autographs in jail?

imageEbony if you are going to make a point of uplifting a black man, how about you choose one that was not arrested for physically assaulting a woman? 

Police and court records show that the Hustle & Flow star, who backtracked last week on initially supportive remarks he made about Brown's situation, was arrested in 2001 in Pennsylvania on suspicion of assaulting his wife, Lori McCommas. (View the report.)

The duo had been estranged for more than two years when Howard, fuming after a contentious phone conversation, broke down the front door of McCommas' house, states a Whitemarsh Police Department report dated Sept. 17, 2001.

Per the report, Howard told McCommas at the end of their argument, "Don't disrespect me by hanging up on me or I'll come over and hurt you." She called 911 and, while she was talking to the dispatcher, Howard arrived and tried to get in.

He "broke the front door down and ran through the screen door in the kitchen. Howard then grabbed the victim's left arm and punched her twice with a closed fist in the left side of the face," the report states.

When confronted by police, he confessed to hitting her, according to the report, which was first obtained by The Smoking Gun.

Howard, who, according to police confessed at the scene to breaking the door and hitting his wife, was booked on suspicion of simple assault, making terroristic threats, harassment and stalking, and disorderly conduct.

He was freed from custody after posting $20,000 bail and pleaded guilty in 2002 to disorderly conduct.

This is not the kind of man that needs to be held up as a role model to anyone.  Is it any wonder that when Chris Brown allegedly beat Rihanna there were scores of people asking what she did to deserve a beating?  When are we going to decide that black women matter?   I am tired of seeing us sacrifice so that black men can get ahead, only to witness black men use patriarchy to discipline women every opportunity they get. 

This man decided that it was acceptable to punch a woman twice in the face because his feelings were hurt.  What kind of message did this send his daughters and the young females that flock to see him in his films? I don’t give a shit that he can use power tools, or install a new kitchen, but I do very much care about the fact that his elevation only reifies the fact that it is acceptable to physically abuse black women when they are deemed unsuitably submissive.

This magazine went  to print after baby wipes made his statement in support of Chris Brown however, the domestic violence incident happened in 2001.  When we combine this with his history of sexist commentary directed at women, his elevation to the cover of Ebony is an insult to black women.   If you are going to speak on behalf of black people, that should include all black people. 

Often when we begin to think about uplifting black people the conversation centres on how to improve the life chances of males.   Let’s just be honest, we have associated progression with the emulation of white male patriarchy even though this form of social organization is particularly harmful to women.   Black women are emotionally, and physically targeted if we even dare to suggest that such that this model is counter to our best interests.  Our allegiance to the race is questioned. 

We are expected to ignore that even though we both must deal with racism in specifically genderized ways, a black man may still return home at the end of the day and physically abuse his black wife.  The social construction of the angry black woman is just as upheld in the black community as it is in the larger society.  We are the eternal harridan, thus placing black women at the bottom of the race and class hierarchy. 

Whiteness has always been able to offer hierarchy to blind us to the ways in which we are participating in our own marginalization.  We do not focus on our issues in a communal fashion, rather black men seek to assert power coercively against black women causing us to achieve negative growth.  Demanding that black women ignore the ways in which gender plays a pivotal role in our existence is asking us to choose whether we are more exploited by race or gender; effectively splitting our identities. 

When the domestic violence incident became public knowledge instead of making a solid statement of solidarity many asked what Rihanaa had done to trigger this kind of rage in Chris Brown.  This kind of victim blaming is only possible in a world wherein we have falsely elevated masculinity.  No word that she could utter could possibly legitimize such treatment.  If a black man was beaten in this fashion by the police we would be culturally enraged and yet the beating of black woman is subject to question.  There is never any excuse for a man to be physically abusive with a woman. 

Using brute force to restrain a woman from speaking her mind freely and demanding respect is counter to our freedom.  Baby Wipes legitimized his assault on his wife because her words hurt him.  WORDS.  While I don’t want to minimize the pain that emotional abuse can have on a person, this certainly cannot stand as justification for the elevation of the conflict by resorting to physical violence.   Unlike his wife, Howard had the option to end the encounter when he felt the situation had become to much for him to handle.  Choosing to lash out physically as a result of his pain, symbolized Howards belief that masculinity is ultimately endowed with the right to lead no matter the cost.

Shame on you Ebony.  This is not a man that we should sing the praises of.  He is not a positive example of our community.  Black women deserve better than to view a man with a history of violence on the cover of a national magazine portrayed as a hero  with the tagline of renaissance man.  The rise of black people should not and cannot occur on the backs of black women.