Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Skin Is….

For you listening pleasure Four women – Nina Simone

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is wooly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
It's been inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah
My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SIFFRONIA
My name is Siffronia
My skin is tan
My hair's alright, it's fine
My hips invite you
And my lips are like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Well yours if you have some money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing
My skin is brown
And my manner is tough
I'll kill the first mother I see
Cos my life has been too rough
I'm awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My
name
is
PEACHES


H/T Black Looks

Drop Like It’s Hot

Hello everyone, thanks for another interesting week of conversation.  Once again we had a troll infestation.  I really need to ask my mother why I seem to be a troll magnate. LOL  At any rate, I appreciate those of you who have taken the time to report comments that I missed.  These people should not be engaged with; they are not here to argue in good faith.  You should see the spam box for this week alone.

I also would like to take the time to thank those of you who guest posted this week.  Having different voices helps to expand the conversation.  If you are interested in guest posting at Womanist Musings, please send me an e-mail with either a link or an original post.  Womanist Musings has an open guest posting policy.  Also please do not be afraid to submit something for Sunday Shame if you are up to handling it.

Below you will find links to a few posts that I found interesting this week.  Please note that a link does not necessarily mean that I agree with what the author has written in the post in question, or in  any other body of work,  I simply found the argument presented  interesting in some way.  Please show these bloggers some love and check them out.  When you are done, don’t forget to drop it like it’s hot and leave your link behind in the comment section.

Alcoholism: Living With an Alcoholic

Bad Black Mothers

’Precious’ : Racial Stereotypes & The Petite Bourgeoisie  of the Negro Mind

When you get punished for defending yourself, you don’t even want to fight anymore

Adam Lambert and The American Music Awards: suck my kiss

Unemployed? You fail at being Canadian

On living with pain and taking care of one’s self

Going Rogue

Mr. Brown I want to Labour in the next election

It all falls down

What do vampires tell us about who we are?

Creating precious conversation with youth

Stupid things white people do – Use rappers as a frame of reference

Cyber Hate Divide: Contrasting Response to Hate Online

The Abuse of an Asylum Seeker

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Why Not A Black Santa?

Today is the Santa Clause parade and like many local parents, I will be braving the cold so that my kids will have a chance to watch all of the floats and catch a glimpse of Santa.  This year after the parade, they are even having a meet and greet lunch with Santa.  The kids are really looking forward to this.  I expect it will be the same man that has played Santa for many years in the city riding in the parade.  It is this expectation that made me think about the fact that my children have never seen a Black Santa.  In fact, when I think of Santa I can only envision a White man because that is what has most popularly been portrayed. Why can’t Santa look like this:

imageEven when we decide to reference the possibility of a Black Santa, it is filled with the usual negative stereotypes that attach themselves to Black people.

Kwanzaa Klawz(quim) He lives off of bacon fat and resides at the summit of the highest rubbish dump in Compton, CA. Black Santa's workshop is comprised of himself, his wife, Mrs. Black Santa Bitch, and an army of prostitutes (white maids and servants which he calls his Ho-Ho Hoe) dressed as elves. The Black Elf is a rarely considered figure in folklore mythology but is, nonetheless, a Hip-hop reality; particularly in Christmas jungle-porno.

Black Santa is made out of peppermint schnapps, Brown Sugar, Black Liquorice, and Hennessy.

Black Santa is not a kind man that dotes on giving children pleasure.  He is a a figure that is angry, uncouth and  degenerate.  Unlike White Santa, Black Santa takes pride in making children cry.

While I want my child to see a Black Santa because they should grow up seeing images that reflect them, if it is not positive, if the images are encoded with all of the negative stereotypes that are attached to Black people, it will do more harm than good.

So many of the images that are positive in this culture are associated with Whiteness; even when the original legend or story involved a person of color.  Jesus is the prime example of this.  In early Christianity images were truer to what Jesus may have looked like because he was often drawn with darker skin.  There is no way that Jesus was a White man with Blue eyes.  Now we may say that it is not important what color he was because of the message that he came to earth to deliver but that can only be the case if we lived in a color blind world.

Even the myths that we tell children in the form of fairytales often have a White protagonist.  What message does this send children of color?  The super heroes that my children watch on television from superman to spiderman are all White. These are images that children regularly consume without much thought. This is what the media offers us and nowhere in the mix is there room for the idea that we live in a multi racial world.

I would love to watch the parade and see a Black, Asian, Latino or even First Nations Santa.  Santa is a mythical person, who need not be bound specifically in White skin.  Because we have so normalized whiteness as a monolithic representation of humanity, Santa will be White.  In fact, as you walk through the malls happily Christmas shopping, the Santa there will also be White.  Perhaps, if you have a forward thinking employer there might be a an elf of color but otherwise Father Christmas the spirit of one of our happier holidays will uniformly be represented by Whiteness.  Few will pause to recognize the erasure for what it is and just like so many other things in the world a silent message will be sent: people of color are not of the world, we exist solely as peripheral decoration.  Santa will be just one more image that will once again  declare to every child of color that they are “other”. 


Friday, November 27, 2009

Students Participate in “Kick a Jew Day”

Who doesn’t want another holiday to celebrate?  Let’s face it, most of them are a lot of fun.  They usually foster some kind of community through the bringing together of families, or they inspire national pride.  Even the ones that don’t give you an official day off like groundhogs day, can be full of laughs and happy expectation.  Knowing how much we love holidays, is it any wonder that the children of North Naples Middle school decided to create their own?

They could have picked something benign like everyone celebrate how beautiful red is, or even a day regarding school pride, but these kids decided to start Kick a Jew Day.

Eighth grader Ashley Brusca said she saw it happen to lots of kids.

"They came up to you and asked you if you got kicked today and if not, they kicked you," she explained.

Apparently, it was initiated with an e-mail by a single student, but the fact that it so quickly spread and involved so many participants, highlights a distinct breakdown in that community.  Somewhere along the line, both the school and the parents failed these children.    The mere fact, that they believed that this was in the least bit appropriate is evidence of this. 

It is clear evidence of Anti-Semitism, which is something far too many people believe to be a thing of the past.   Anti-Semitism is often taught in terms of the Holocaust and while this is a good message of what can happen when hate is allowed to control a society, it also sends the message that this is something the allies brought to an end with their victory at the end of WWII. 

Anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past.  People regularly deny the holocaust and question the right of the Jews to have a home state.  While there are certainly issues with Israel’s criminal treatment of the Palestinians, to deny the right of a Jewish home state, is certainly a desire to reduce the possibility of any form of power and or security. 

We need not stay in the Middle East to see hate directed at Jewish people.  Neo-Nazis continue to thrive on Anti-Semitism.  On Nov 8, a synagogue was defaced in Dresden, Germany, with swastikas.  Considering that this happened one night before the anniversary of Kristallnacht  (the night of broken glass), it is clear that these criminals were sending a very direct message. 

On November 16, someone sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti in two southwest Calgary neighbourhoods.  They even went as far as to deface mailboxes, signs at several synagogues and even a war memorial in honour of Holocaust survivors with swastikas. The messages read "six million more."

These are not isolated incidents.  A simple google search on defaced synagogues brings up hundreds of hits.  Unfortunately, Anti-Semitism is alive and well despite the known cost of such hatred.  To openly promote or celebrate something as terrible as the holocaust, speaks to a total denial of the humanity of Jewish people.

When these students decided to participate in Kick a Jew Day, they may have just thought of it as a harmless prank, but when placed inside of a culture that has decidedly made clear an intolerance and deep seated hatred of Jewish people clear; it is extremely problematic. 

Rather than reacting with shame and a vow to educate their children in the cost of hateful behaviour, a grandparnet chose to treat this incident carelessly.

But one grandparent said he just chalks it up to kids being kids.

"Personally I think it's a non issue," said Raymond Brusca.

 

The students received an in class  day suspension, but this hardly reveals to them the seriousness of their behaviour.  When a child commits an obvious hate act, they need to be taught in no uncertain terms, that not only is their behaviour completely unacceptable, but of the consequences of their actions.  People die when we ignore hatred and do really need another message like the holocaust to teach us that?



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Couple Crashes Obama’s First State Dinner

Michaele and Tareq Salahi decided to throw on their finest and crash the first state dinner of the Obama presidency.   They went through check points to assure that they were not armed, however; the fact that they were not on the guest list certainly reveals that the secret service needs to work harder to keep the first African American president safe.  After the event, the couple posted pictures of themselves with highly placed government officials on facebook.

Was it really a surprise when it was announced that the duo are seeking reality television star fame?  Apparently, she is a rumoured contender for the upcoming DC edition of Bravo's hope-squelching "Real Housewives" series. Gee, it worked so well for the balloon family, why not try and be even more outrageous.

According to Gawker the couple blended right in:

Like most good party crashers, the Salahis flitted around like they owned the place, mugging for the camera with celebs and politicians for pictures Michaele would later upload to her Facebook profile (status update: "Honored to have attended the state dinner at the White House in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady.")—basically stopping just short of pushing Obama aside to deliver the opening toast themselves, blisteringly drunk, complimenting the Indian prime minister on his "funny hat" before trying to goad the Obamas into a quad-kiss.

Michaele and Tareq were able to slip by the secret service because they looked the part.  Imagine for a moment, a poor working class couple in jeans and a t-shirt deciding that they would like to have dinner with the president,  would the secret service assume that they deserved to be there? As much as this incident proves that the secret service needs to be more aware, it also serves as a commentary on class divisions.

The trappings of wealth often allow access to opportunities denied someone who is working or under class.  Even in our pop culture the phenomenon has been recognized.  Consider the movie The Wedding Crashers, where a pair of men are routinely able to attend weddings because they show up in what are considered to be the proper attire.  Wealth or the perception of wealth speaks loudly about power and community.  It is further troubling that they perpetuated this scam to seek wealth.  I wonder how they planned to cash in, considering that their actions constitute a potential felony?

Many Americans live with the delusion of a classless society and therefore; the barriers to access are often invisible until we must confront them.  This couple was not on the guest list and yet because they looked like they belonged they did.  The secret service may blame the chaos of three hundred invited guests all arriving at the same time, however; like all who attended the party, they did not see the outsider status of these two.  We make assumptions continually based on the appearance of ascribed or achieved status and quite often a reflection is enough to pass for the reality and this why the two were able to walk with confidence.  Anyone remember the scene in Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts first attempts to buy clothing and is quickly ushered out of the store despite having the money to purchase items in the store?

Our clothing, jewellery and speech, are often used as measuring sticks to determine our class position.  Regardless of how kind, or generous you are, if you don’t meet the guidelines for a particular community, an outsider status is immediately applied, which is quickly followed by some form of social discipline.  When waiters and waitresses wear uniforms at events like this, it is to clearly mark their status as different from guests; it immediately tells the viewer that their role is servitude. Without the obvious trappings of the other Michaele and Tareq Salahi  were invisible, thus hiding in plain site.  Their attendance marks a form of profiling, though it will not be seen as such.  Profiling occurs when gatekeepers either act or in this instance fail to act because of a social construction surrounding the body in question.

We do not see people of class privilege as existing with any form of threat.  Most are taught to be afraid of the anonymous robber wearing a ski mask.  Crime is specifically understood to be a desperate and or lazy measure embarked upon by the lowest of the social strata.  Even when we read reports of men like Madoff, who have have committed the equivalent of economic homicide, the notion of threat fails to attach itself.  Not only were Michaele and Tareq Salahi  perceived as belonging, to enter this event the secret service had to reasonably believe that they posed no threat to the other invited guests. 

Wealth is understood in almost every instance to obscures a pathology of dysfunction.  Would Obama have been less safe in a working class crowd?  Why is it that only a certain class of people are deemed worthy to share a meal with their commander in chief?  We have naturalized these distinctions but they are based on nothing more that supporting our capitalist system.  At the next state dinner the secret service will tighten their procedures and in so doing further cement the class divisions that we have constructed to determine in groups and out groups.


What Are We Really Giving Thanks For

I wanted to take the opportunity to wish all who are celebrating a Happy Thanksgiving.  I originally wrote this post last year, but I thought that it would be appropriate to repost it today.

Today families are going to gather across the nation to share a meal. (At least those who can afford to participate.) They will brave long lines, security at the airports, and lots of traffic to ensure that they are able to re-enact the national fable that we have come to understand as Thanksgiving Day. As the mashed potatoes and turkey are doled out, a few will stop to consider their bounty. Other than the 4th of July, could there be another day that is filled with more tradition, and pure Americana?

Hours of labour will have gone into preparing the feast. The stress of the travel will be forgotten as people begin to gorge themselves. It will be a day that will reach its climax when finally every stomach is filled beyond tolerance, and each face holds a smile. Satiated and relaxed, the family will retire to their respective couches to reflect upon a good time had by all.

Yes, it seems like a wonderful day of light hearted mirth and family bonding, until we begin to speak about the unmentionable; the suffering of the Indigenous community. The national myth includes happy compliant Native Americans, with no mention of the near genocide that occurred that makes them nearly invisible to this day in the social hierarchy.

We are further meant to believe that the pilgrims as people of God, held no prejudice, or ambition in their hearts. We are continually reminded of their persecution, as though that absolves them of the pleasure that they took in the near destruction of Native peoples. Only the truly God-fearing and tolerant kind, find happiness in small pox decimating a population.

John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the plague "miraculous." To a friend in England in 1634, he wrote:

"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect."

This is not the only declaration that Winthrop would make. The thanksgiving that we partake in today is nothing more than the re-enactment of a celebration over the murder of over 700 Pequot people.

'Thanksgiving' did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the 'pilgrim' survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial 'Thanksgiving' meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of 'pilgrims' led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out! Officially, the holiday we know as 'Thanksgiving' actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony's men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to 'give thanks' for their great 'victory'....

The unspoken thanks for the near-genocide of a people is what we will all fail to reflect upon. In this way we are able to maintain a colonization that has gone on since Plymouth Rock landed on the Indigenous Peoples.

The lie is maintained from generation to generation. We use children's cartoons to inform the young that they are entitled to this privilege born of bloodshed. Schools use thanksgiving pageants, where the children are dressed as Pilgrims and Indians to re-enforce the national myth.

Though the Indigenous community has complained, time and time again about the obvious appropriation of culture, many refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the offense. They hold tightly to the idea that they have the right to their traditions. (Warning: Comment section is extremely offensive.)
In the name of tradition the colonization, exploitation, and marginalization continues. One would believe that after the breaking of over 350 treaties, the trail of tears, and the slaughter of untold millions, that we could socially decide that a tradition that is based in this is worth changing.

It is the denial of racial privilege to believe that one group has the right to so forcefully express their power in this manner. Though the Indigenous community represents the vanquished historically speaking, they are still a vibrant part of our society. The annual celebration of such cruelty is macabre to say the least.

If we must have a day when we gather together, it should not be in the celebration of a near genocide. There is nothing that evokes warmth and love about an earth that is filled with the blood of so many innocent people.

Today as the turkey and the ham are passed around, perhaps instead of the laughter and camaraderie, a moment of silence could be devoted to the cultures that have been forcibly destroyed, the languages lost, and the untold suffering of millions. The Indigenous Peoples of the Americas deserve at least that. If we can pause on Remembrance Day for a war that lasted four years; perhaps we can take a moments pause for a colonization that has lasted centuries.



When the Love of Twilight Goes to Far

The things you run across on the internet.

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Apparently, it has been updated to maintain temperatures so if you put it in  the freezer, you can have the “authentic” Edward love making experience. 

I read twilight and I admit that I  really enjoyed the books, but seriously there has to be a limit.  Seriously, forty dollars for this?

I really think that anyone that purchases this needs an intervention.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Lawn Jockeys in 2009

It was a beautiful day yesterday, so we decided to walk home from Destruction’s hockey game.  We were laughing and talking when the unhusband noticed a black jockey proudly displayed on someone’s lawn.  I distracted the children because I did not want them to see it.  Seriously, in 2009 people are still openly displaying their racism like that.  Why don’t they just tattoo racist on their foreheads. 

Unfortunately, the camera phone on my cell phone is broken and so I could not take a picture of this statue.  I decided to look online for images resembling said jockey when I came across this.

imageAt first I thought it was a hideous statue from the past, only discover that it is new.  It seems that this disgustingly racist statue is currently being manufactured.   For a mere one hundred and twenty dollars you can have this symbol of racism on your front lawn.  It is too heavy to ship, so you have to pick it up from the manufacturer. 

Of course, property rights believers will defend the right to have this openly displayed.  This is not a harmless image.  It is a hate structure.  It only exists to reduce Blacks to ridiculous caricatures.   Simply seeing this is enough to remind the Black viewer that despite the gains of the civil rights movement and a Black president, we are still considered second class citizens. 

The fact that these horrible statues continue to be produced is a reflection of just how far we fall short of equality.  No similar structures exist to demean Whiteness.   These lawn decorations are considered quaint references to Americana…but in actuality it is the assertion of  racism and a reflection that the humanity of people of color has yet to be recognized.  One hundred and twenty dollars is the price that this company has chosen to place on the dignity of another human being. 


So in Style Dolls of Color are a Big Hit for Mattel

This is a guest post from Genmaspeaks. This blog is about all things that speak to Genma Holmes'heart. My wonderful children and the challenges of motherhood.My business ventures from pest control owner to writing and publishing to continuing to work in the ...

image For the last several years, this time of year have me flopping around in my Ms. Santa suit and busy with nonstop gift wrapping and delivering of gifts to my little friends at Grace Eaton Child Care. It is not an official program but Grace Eaton is a long time customer of Holmes Pest Control and it is our way of having fun serving others and saying thank you to a customer who provides quality child care to low wealth families in the community. We love the families that have we have met over the years.

Shopping for the children begin several months in advance. My Ms. Santa duties have made me famous at flea markets, close out stores, and discount retailers looking for the most requested items, Black Barbie dolls and bikes. My hunt for the elusive Black Barbie doll has made me an expert with the Mattel folks. I keep up with the coming and goings of all things Barbie with my ears perked to hear any word in Toyland about the newest craze. Imagine my surprise when one of the most eccentric doll collectors I know dropped the news in my inbox at the beginning of the year that Mattel was launching a line of Barbie Dolls designed by a woman of color and that the dolls would be based on strong influences from the African American community. Shut your mouth I thought, God has heard my cry!

imageEnter Stacey McBride-Irby and her line of dolls called “So in Style”, SIS. McBride-Irby, a fashion designer who designed adult and children clothing before joining Mattel, inquired about a job working for the toy powerhouse twelve years ago. She was hired as an assistant to an African American designer. McBride-Irby love of her Barbie dolls from her childhood inspired her to become a fashion designer years later. She played with her dolls until she was 13 years old. After putting down her dolls, she started drawing and designing fashion for people.

What an inspirational story! The community of color should have Ms. McBride-Irby speaking at every pre-teen adolescent event in the country and every Mom should read about Ms. McBride-Irby and ignore the cell phones request from their pre teen daughters. Give them a doll is my new motto! I could not wait to get my hands on the SIS line of dolls for the young girls at Grace Eaton. Imagine my disappointment when my eccentric doll collector friend sent me an email a few months back asking my thoughts about the controversy over the SIS dolls. “What controversy”, I asked in my reply. Never asked a doll collector a question about doll news, you will regret it. I was sent several links questioning the ethnic looks of the doll. My immediately thoughts were folks are crazy. Why are folks wasting energy on a non controversial event for the sake of controversy? Don’t we have enough issues in the world than to examine the “fullness” of a doll’s lips or the texture of a doll’s hair? If I was not serious, I would be laughing.

A woman of color works in a field that very few are highlighted for their creativity or contributions to the marketplace, designs a line of dolls that represent positive aspirations for young girls of any color and we judge them. We find fault in a woman achieving her dreams in life the old fashion way…working hard and using her God given talents to encourage other women to do the same. Please give me a break. I refuse to participate in the self-made oki doke.

For years, I have searched for the dolls of color. Trust me they are hard to come by. Hermitage area retailers know me by sight. My dolls search starts in August looking for the upcoming Holiday Barbie. I have gone into the stores late at night and helped workers check the back docks looking for dolls for Grace Eaton children. I would wait patiently as they searched through boxes of Mattel packages and hand me four dolls out of forty.

The idea that Mattel has addressed the ethnic heritage of one culture means they are listening to their customers and will soon have lines that represent other ethnic groups of people as well. The variety creates more interest and more interest in Mattel products means more dollar spent. The more money means more profit for the company. A profitable company reinvests in its people and new product lines. There are many young designers taking note of Ms. McBride-Irby success and will start to work harder and smarter to imitate her work ethics. These are all good things no matter what color you are. And people of color are not the only ones buying the SIS line of dolls. Hallelujah for that!

As for the beautiful dolls, I bought several dolls in the past from Mattel that were inspired and designed by Ms. McBride-Irby. When the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority celebrated their 100th Anniversary, I gave several retired AKAs in the community a Mattel doll designed by Ms. McBride-Irby. All the women were leaders who served the community faithfully for years but do not spend as much time in the spotlight in their latter years. They continue to help me raise money for non-profits without the pressure. They use their checkbooks and influence to get things done behind the scenes. None have ever asked for recognition and I believed the dolls were the perfect gifts instead of the traditional trophy organizations give to say thank you to volunteers. The dolls were a big hit. I had each doll put in a doll case with their name engraved on the case. The response to this small gesture left me speeches when one recipient of the dolls sent me a check for $5,000 to “help” me out! I love those women who wear their pearls and “help” me out! (Note to self…send Ms. Mack another doll this year, I need “help” for my toy drive.)

Everything about the “So in Style”(SIS) dolls show love and dedication of ones craft, an appreciation of culture and an attention to details that fashion divas like me adore. When I picked up several dolls last week, each were accompanied by a little sister. I knew right away that the designer was showing the importance of mentoring in our community. Each box comes with the description of the dolls’ personalities, the fashion style, and what subjects they liked in school. Wow, nothing left to chance including making sure young girls of color understand the value of getting an education and not just playing with your doll that looks similar to you. Ms. McBride-Irby is someone I am proud of; a woman, an entrepreneur, a designer, and a role model. And she loves Twitter. She tweets too! You can follow her online at www.twitter.com/StaceyMcirby. You can also check out Stacey McBride-Irby on the web at http://www.barbie.com/activities/friends/soinstyle/. As you can see, there is no controversy here; just pure talent, inspiration, and a love of community that cannot be disputed.

Now that you know more about Black Barbie dolls and the “So in Style” line designed by Ms. McBride-Irby, please stop by the toy department this Friday and load you basket with toys and extra dolls for me. I am going to need all the help I can get making sure that the children at Grace Eaton have a wonderful Christmas! Be safe and have a great week.


Photo credits: Stacey McBride-Irby and Alpha Kappa Alpha dolls Mattel
Photo of me in my Ms. Santa suit with bad lighting...my son, Franz.


Wednesday What’s Up?

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For those of us not living in the U.S. today is officially hump day.  After today, the worst of the week is definitely over.  Those of you that are American have a great long weekend to look forward to filled with turkey and family, fun times for some, and abject horror for others.  

Please use this thread to chat about whatever is on your mind.  Are you reading a good book, have you seen a great movie?  This is the place to share.  You can even use this thread to chat about your thanksgiving plans. 

Idealize This! | Feminism

This is a guest post by Catherine who is a blogger for Hyphen Magazine. She recently graduated from Arizona State University and will soon join Ms. Magazine as an editorial intern.

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For most of my life, I've acted the part of the fiery feminist activist. At age 10 (before I even knew "feminist" as a word) my surprisingly cogent defense of biblical Eve moved my evangelical father into surrendering his argument that women are the root of all evil. At age 16 (when I only knew "feminist" as a term of derision) I scandalized my Filipino teachers by conducting an (albeit amateurish) study charting gender discrimination within Republic Central high schools. And by age 19 (when I proudly donned my first signature "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt) my transformation seemed complete. In those enlightened times, I was fond of telling people, "You're probably a feminist -- you just don't know it yet."

So thrilled was I to have found a word -- an ideology, a movement! -- which embodied my long-standing belief system that I didn't realize until much later the foolishness of such a proclamation; feminism isn't, after all, defined by one's inherent, unarticulated views on gender (however progressive those may be), but is rather a conscious, political choice one makes after considering and asserting those views.

These days, a much more educated, experienced, and cynical me teeters on the fence. Some days, I hear feminism derided by an ignoramus with a beer and the beast inside rears its rosy head in indignation. Other days, my oft-broken heart smarts at the memory of old friends and activists whose feminist ideals didn't stand in the way of their marginalizing a person of color, or objectifying another woman, or even downplaying the sexual assault of a friend. Most of the time, my commitment to social justice advocacy doesn't feel as though it requires a label so I have the room to vacillate.

However, my indecision peaks about every six months.

Every six months, you see -- almost by the minute hand -- a media storm about "the death of feminism" inexplicably erupts. Ten months out of the year, feminism is a dormant issue, old hat, a moot point, insignificant in both the grand scheme of world news and the narrow sights of newsmakers. But every six months, respectable news magazines and mainstream newspapers alike dedicate valuable column inches to 1) redundant and irrelevant assertions that feminism is, in fact, dead and 2) rebuttals that, in 2000 pretty words, re-tell the "forgotten" history of feminism while claiming that feminism is still thriving -- if nowhere else than online. Sometimes the catalyst is a particularly well-timed article, while other times it's a Hillary Clinton sound byte. This month, it's a combination of Sarah Palin fever and the recent release of women-themed books by Gail Collins, and Leslie Sanchez.

The agitators are different each round, but the debate is always the same and so, accordingly, is my response: mild enthusiasm at a subject that interests me, with a zesty pinch of irritation at the tediousness of this cycle. But both sentiments are quickly overshadowed by disappointment, because, in almost every case, this tiresome debate about the death of feminism is a debate between white women (and the occasional white man) who are defining feminism according to their own experience. I suppose there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with writing about one’s own experience (I do it all the time), but the problem is that when these circular debates roll around, that unacknowledged white feminist experience becomes the only visible feminist experience.

Among these dozens of mediocre articles, a few have stood out because of their beautiful composition and thoughtful arguments...but even those few leave me wanting something more, prolonging my indecision rather than resolving it. Last spring, my favorite "Is feminism dead?" piece was an American Prospect article called "The End of the Women’s Movement" which argued very eloquently that there will not, and ought not, be a singular women’s movement in this country today because such a movement could not adequately represent the growing diversity of communities, beliefs, and women in this country. Great point. Except that the point is built on the notion that a time actually existed when a singular women's movement did adequately represent the diversity of women in this country -- and that's simply not true.

One of American feminism's greatest failures is the exclusion of women of color, of poor women, of women without privilege. To paraphrase bell hooks, who do you think took care of the middle class white woman's children when she became too empowered to just be a housewife? 2009 isn't the first time our country has entertained a vast diversity of communities, beliefs, and women -- there has always been diversity here, though the smiling white faces at the forefront of the last US women's movement might have us believe otherwise. Asserting the present need for diversity within feminism without recalling the marked exclusion of women of color from past feminist waves isn't a step forward so much as a whitewashing of feminist history. And that makes me wonder where I fit within this paradigm.

Fast-forward to this month, and I'm both fawning over and wincing at the beautifully-composed New Yorker piece written by Ariel Levy (of whom I am a huge fan), which argues that identity politics gets in the way of real progress because it is primarily concerned with representation: 

[Identity politics are] a version of the old spoils system: align yourself with other members of a group -- Irish, Italian, women, or whatever -- and try to get a bigger slice of the resources that are being allocated.

Such a narrow view of "identity politics" fails to consider the critical role they play in engaging people of color in feminist (or any other kind of) activism, and assumes that "representation" is a relatively straight-forward idea. For many second and third generation citizens, for example, representation isn’t as simple as sex and skin color, but entails the confrontation of colonial histories and racial and cultural hierarchies that have followed us across generations.

I know many second and third generation Filipina Americans who retain a colonial mentality with regard to our mother country that prevents them from undertaking Filipina-specific feminist work -- despite the admittedly profound need for such work. Melinda L. De Jesus addresses this in the preface to her book, Pinay Power: Peminist Critical Theory, discussing the ways in which "a heritage of dual colonization … coupled with American cultural imperialism, has left an indelible mark on the Filipino American psyche," causing them to regard their cultural heritage as inherently inferior to that of the United States. She reflects on some of the experiences that informed her own colonization experience as a second generation Filipina American:

The arrogant white feminist professor chiding me that I shouldn't "ghettoize" myself and my academic training by "just doing Asian American Studies." My parents telling me that "Filipinos had no culture before the Spanish came." […] I learn to forget that my parents have accents, that they speak a language I don't know -- a language they did not teach me. I learn than it’s better to be "here" than "back home," that bad stuff happened during "the war." And because my parents have so many dreams for my American future, I learn to distance myself from my history. When asked, I say, "My parents are from the Philippines, but I was born here." So this is the American dream -- living in the perpetual present, moving through life without a past, swallowed whole, invisible, but unable to deny the lingering ache of absence…

De Jesus's experience is not unique among second and third generation Filipina Americans in the Diaspora; many of the contributors to Pinay Power describe similar feelings of inferiority, alienation, and invisibility, which prevented them from connecting to, and activating around, their heritage. One contributor argues that the only antidote to the "alienation of the colonized self" is a reclamation of the ethnic self, while another asserts that “the project of decolonization hinges on identity politics.”

Diasporic Filipinas with their erased histories and dual alienation, ought to engage in identity politics to the extent that doing so can help them place themselves within a social, political, historical, and cultural context that reconnects them with their heritage while attuning them to the oppression they experience as a marginalized community in the United States.

….But where is that in the mainstream feminism represented in the media -- or even in our women’s studies classes where we learn about women in popular culture and body image while remaining ignorant of the transnational issues that are shaping the whole wide world? Southeast Asia is chock full of feminist scholars and activists who are still agitating at the front lines even as the articles we read in our favourite publications tell us that contemporary feminist work=blogging.

And so I remain on the fence -- heartened, definitely, by the work of those transnational activists who call themselves feminists even in the face of their under-representation -- but daunted, nevertheless, by the feminism I read about here, in US papers and see on the American screen.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Muppets Sing Bohemian Rhapsody

Every once and awhile you just need to watch something silly.  This made me smile and so of course I had to share.

H/T Shakesville

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys Review

This a guest post from everyone’s favourite Gus, Allison McCarthy.

 

Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer, a co-host of the BlogTalk Radio podcast Womanist Musings, and a columnist for "The Intersectional Feminist" at the group blog, Girl with Pen.

 

image Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a self-described collection of "short memoirs, rants, confessions, nightmares, journalism, and poetry covering life, love, work, family, and yes, sex."  I was lucky enough to attend a reading of the book at Busboys and Poets earlier this month and the experience has lingered with me. 

The collection seeks to express a diverse range of experiences and reflections on sex work.  From sex educators and artists like Nina Hartley and Annie Sprinkle comes a round of entertaining essays which ruminate on the sex-positive aspects of the industry.  Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore writes about hustling in New York hotels with a poet's wit and razor-like edge.  And Dr. Carol Queen breaks down the art of "oral clairsentience" (I'll leave you to figure out what that means...). 

What makes the authors so readable is their ability to shed light on the unseen aspects of sex work.  Shawna Kenney, author of the memoir I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, describes a run-in with a male stripper at a co-worker's bachelor party in "Seven Minutes with Stripper #2."   With a sage sense of humor, Kenney reveals her brief encounter with the second of two male dancers hired for the hotel party as they share a matter-of-fact laugh over "knowing the magician's tricks."  In a reading that brought down the house at Busboys and Poets, Sterry's rendition of "I Was a Birthday Present for an Eighty-Two-Year-Old Grandmother" was both incredibly funny and a fascinating anti-ageist commentary on the things we're all afraid to ask for (namely, women asking for oral sex).  Renee has written about women, oral sex and reciprocity before and as I sat in the audience, enraptured by Sterry's uncanny vocal impressions and gesticulating, I thought about how unbelievably awful it must feel to never be able to ask for something so, in the words of Sterry, "basic."

(His enormously entertaining reading has also left  me feverish with desperation to get my hot little hands on a copy of his best-selling memoir, Chicken: Love for Sale on the Streets of Hollywood.

The book unflinchingly represents the voices of those who have harder stories to grapple with: survivors of pimping, rape, abuse, and other violent atrocities thrust upon those who are forced into the sex industry.  What makes the book so compelling is editor David Henry Sterry's refusal to "grind a political axe."  His work with the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Standing Against Global Exploitation Project (SAGE) is highlighted at the end of the book, as stories of commercial sexual exploitation of children and adults are searingly rendered.  Yet Sterry bears witness to their testimony and he has successfully etched out a safe space for these survivors' sharp, sensitive prose. 

With short essays on a wide range of sex worker lives, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a must-read for anyone who wants to get beyond "the glitter and stiletto heels, the myths, prejudices, and misperceptions" and experience first-hand the voices of contemporary sex workers.


Seth Macfarlane Attacks Trans Women On The Cleveland Show

The Cleveland show continues to be a hot mess.  Week after week it targets the most vulnerable members of our society.  MacFarlane has no witty repartee for the reduction of White, cisgender males of class privilege. Apparently men that look like him are above ridicule.  Often the defence of his actions is that he picks on everyone, however; that is far from the case.  The omission of White cisgender males of class privilege, speaks to who he values and whose power he is attempting to maintain.  

This week MacFarlane decided to play with gender.

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At first it seemed that he was taking a page out of Tyler Perry’s play book.  The character Auntie Mama, is quite reminiscent of Madea. She is loud, abrasive and quite foul, taking pleasure in screaming outrageous as she farts loudly. Of course, Auntie Mama is revered by her family.  It seems that despite his Whiteness, MacFarlane believes he knows the characteristics of the Black family.

Then the shift occurs, Cleveland discovers that Auntie Mama has a penis and immediately declares her a man.  Auntie Mama clearly presents as a woman and lives her life as such and therefore; declaring her a man is highly transphobic. Rather than just admitting that trans people make the decisions that they do because their bodies are not aligned with their gender, Auntie Mama claims to have made the decision to live as woman after the death of Donna’s mother to give her feminine role models.

Cleveland then decides to corner Auntie Momma and demand that she declare that she is a man.  Immediately Auntie Momma’s voice deepens and the rest of the episode is spent making jokes about her gender presentation.  It was written as though she was deceiving those around her.  This meme is particularly dangerous.  The deceptive trans woman construction has lead repeatedly to murder and yet MacFarlane decided that this was just pure humour.

image Of course, the deceptive trans woman then goes on to seduce a straight cisgender male.  When Auntie Momma is outed by Cleveland, his father  proceeds to vomit copiously and expresses shame for having in engaged in sex with Auntie Momma.  It is absolutely not Cleveland's place to out someone?  In the real world, such an action often ends in violence.  Why is it necessarily shameful that a cisgender man engaged in sex with a trans woman?  The response of Cleveland’s father is based squarely in the trans panic and homophobia.  Isn’t MacFarlane great; two marginalizations for the price of one.

This entire episode was devoted to promoting transphobia and homophobia.  It is particularly galling that this episode was aired right after the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates all those who have died because of trans hate in the previous year.  When trans people are reduced in this way it leads to violence, which is hardly a laughing matter.  Could MacFarlane stand at the graves of Ebony Whittaker, LaTeisha Green, or Taysia Elzy and justify his comedy as ironic?  Could he look into the eyes of their grieving family members and even for one moment pretend that they had not suffered a terrible loss? 

Not only is violence against trans women extremely common, it is even more so for trans women of color. Some would even declare this ongoing violence a war.  In this battle MacFarlane has clearly chosen sides. To ensure that there was no mistaking his intent, he had the character Cleveland, call Auntie Momma a tranny repeatedly.  MacFarlane was not giving some kind of ironic commentary regarding the lives of trans women, he was acting to maintain cis supremacy.

There will be those that will continue to defend such hatred as comedy, blind to the fact that the media is an agent of socialization. The media not only reflects common beliefs, it informs them through its active selection of how different bodies are constructed.  I could turn off the television and avoid the barrage of offensive images, however; that would not protect me from the people that continually consume this kind of media uncritically.  When undeserved privilege is routinely affirmed, it encourages the perpetuation of othering. 

We know that othering leads to discrimination, poverty and in some cases violence.  With this knowledge, how can we possibly declare sitcoms like The Cleveland show to be harmless?  It is particularly galling that this episode played just days after the Transgender day of Remembrance, which commemorates all of those who died because of trans hatred each year.    Despite all of the violence the trans community must endure, it was not until this year that someone was finally convicted of a hate crime in death of a trans woman.  It took this long because we have demeaned and reduced their humanity.   It takes extreme arrogance to laugh in the face of blood and violence. How many death notices do we need detailing the murder  trans women to understand that such mockery devalues their lives? MacFarlane will not pay the cost for his actions because he is cisgender, white and male; it can be certain that a vulnerable woman will pay the for his hatred.



Tune Tuesday: Billy Ocean Caribbean Queen

I know that I am dating myself by admitting this, but I had my first kiss to this song.  He was far more experienced than I was, but it did not set off the fireworks that I had expected.  So much for butterflies.

This song came to mind as I was talking about first dates with Sparky last night. He was curious about how the unhusband and I met.  In actuality, the unhusband is very lucky that he got a second date out of me.  The very first time that we met he moved in for a kiss very quickly and then took me out for ice cream.  In his defence, it was a very hot day in June. 

For our second date I decided that I wanted to go for a long drive in the country.  I find that relaxing.  Eventually we got hungry and started looking for lunch.  You would think that because this was his first official date with me, that he would look for a nice place, but ooooooh no.  The unhusband took me to McDonalds and then told me that I could order whatever I wanted off of the menu.  Can you smell the generosity?  I decided to give him a second chance and he did redeem himself by taking me to a nice restaurant for our second date together. 

Please share any memories you have associated with this song, or any memories you have of first dates. 

A Spark of Wisdom: Why media matters

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This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

One of my pet rambles is media depictions - especially of marginalised bodies. In fact, I have rambled about it for such length that a (no doubt exasperated) straight friend asked me why it mattered.

Of course, the first instinct is to roll my eyes, take out my Privilege-Hammer and start smiting. Predicting that his imminent future may include concussions he qualified - why is it IMPORTANT compared to the other crap that abounds?

Which makes me think. In a world where basic rights are denied and bodies beaten and killed due to prejudice - surely whether or not gay TV presenters are all over the top caricatures is not worth the thinking time - and certainly not the anger.

But I think it does matter. Partly because the small things are the foundation (ooooh, mental note: Small Things as Foundation Post) but also because of 3 facts.

1) I exist and am not a freak or oddity.

2) I am a person

3) I am important.

And the media - in all its myriad forms and in all its myriad purposes - often gets these wrong. And that is very damaging both to ourselves and how the dominant society treats us.

 I exist and am not a freak or oddity

One of the perennial problems is the complete invisibility of marginalised people. How many TV programmes are there without a single marginalised body? How many disabled or trans people do you see on TV? How many lesbians are there in TV programmes that aren't expressly about lesbians?

And related to that, when marginalised people are shown - how often are they the only one? The oh-so-obvious token insert.  The one black colleague, the one woman co-worker, the gay best friend. The oddity, the one who is so clearly out of place, the one who has been so obviously shoe horned into the show so they writers can claims diversity cookies. Hmmm diversity cookies, taste that patronising flavour!

I exist. I am not invisible. I am not negligible. I am not a fake insert. I am not an obligatory token. I am not the weird one to pander to. I am not the one who doesn't belong or doesn't fit. I am not the awkward other to try and jam into "normal" people's lives. I deserve to be seen. I deserve to be acknowledged. I deserve to be represented. I deserve to turn on the TV, pick up a book, play a game and see me there and see me as part of the story, as part of life.

I am a person

How many times do we see a marginalised person on TV and they could have been cut from the same mould? How many times do we see the SAME character played in a 100 different shows by a 100 different actors - but it's the same character. The angry Black cop, the loud Black woman, the academic Asian, the religious middle easterner, the whiney disabled person or the disabled person who bravely endures, the camp gay hairdresser, the supportive gay best friend. The sexy lesbian (there for heterosexual men to drool over), the sex mad bisexual.

I could probably go on for hours - in fact, since I don't watch a whole lot of TV, I'm sure you can supply more of the same tired clichés. These characters are not people. They're a lazy (and often offensive) collection of assumptions and stereotypes

And, relating to that - how many times do you see a marginalised person on TV and EVERY plot line about them has to be related to their marginalisation? I once joked that in the history of TV no gay man has ever worried about credit card debt. It has to be relationship worries or AIDS or homophobia. Yes, these are all important issues and should be represented on screen - but there is MORE to a gay man's life than being gay. And the same applies across the board - people aren't walking representation of their marginalisation. They are people - they are more than just a collection of (often poorly understood) issues and stereotypes.

I am a person. I have a rich full life. I am not a stereotype. I am not a collection of tired clichés. I do not think the same, speak the same, act the same or live the same as everyone else who shares my marginalisation. I am a person, not an Avatar of the gayness. There is more to my life than gay issues and gay worried and gay concerns. You do not know me just because you know I am gay. You cannot label or describe me just because you know what my marginalisation is. We're not a homogenous body. We're not a collection of issues.

We are characters, not caricatures.

I am Important

We see some marginalised people onscreen, in books etc, more and more. But how many of them are the leading character? How many are the major protagonists?

How many are sidekicks? Advisors? The bad guys? How many are friends, the victims, the romantic interest?

How often are marginalised people the stars of their own stories? Compared to straight, white, able bodied cis-gendered men, how often do marginalised people get to be the hero?

How many times do we see women as the victims or love interests? How many times are gay people the best friend? How many times are black people the sidekick? How many times are Asian people the sage advisor or guru? How many times are Middle-easterners the bad guys?

How many times do marginalised people play supporting cast to a straight, white, TAB, cis man?

My story is worth telling. My life has value. My experiences are important. That means, yes, we can be the hero. Yes the story can be about us. Yes we can be the leading role, the star character, centre stage.  It shouldn't be unique, it shouldn't be an oddity. We do not exist for the greater reflected glory of the non-marginalised. We are not bit players in someone else's story.

We have are own stories to tell and our own lives to lead. And they are important and worth telling.

And this matters

Ye gods it does. Think about how much time the people around you spend reading, watching TV, playing computer games. You can't tell me that something that makes up, what, almost half (or more!) of some people's lives is not going to affect their perceptions, their beliefs and their prejudices.

People absorb these messages. I've said it a thousand times before, prejudice and hate doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens because in a thousand ways, society says it's ok. In a thousand ways, society says that marginalised people are worth less than privileged people. That is a poisonous and dangerous message.

It's naive to believe that the media isn't a major part of that message - reinforcing it, spreading it and cheerleading it. 

Further - the media is pervasive. It's everywhere - and that means marginalised people are absorbing these messages as well. How damaging is it to people - especially young people - when there are so few realistic, positive portrayals out there? How damaging is it to them and their sense of self-worth, their sense of being a part of society, their sense of what they can achieve? We are fed a constant message that we are the supporting cast, the ones backstage, the other, the awkward and the invisible.

There is no way that cannot be harmful, there's no way that doesn't erode us, hurt us and reduce us - especially our young people. We cannot move through a world that blares this message and not be touched by it or shaped by it.

So, yes, it matters. If we want society to be better, safer and more equal - and if we want our young to grow up knowing they are good, important and worthy - then it matters.


People’s Sexiest Men Alive: Do You Agree?

Well it is the time of year for abject sexualization.  I won’t pretend that this post is anything other than that.  So now that I have said this up front, perhaps those of you who feel the urge to finger wag, can move on to the next post.

imageI cannot argue with choice of Johnny Depp for the #1 slot. The man is the definition of hot. The following are the other nine men.

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image They were followed by:  John Cho, Chris Daughtry, Jerry O’Connell, John Legend, Robert Pattinson

Notable mentions that didn’t make the 16: Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Lenny Kravitz, Daniel Dae Kim, Matt Bomer, LL Cool J, Mehcad Brooks

On the wtf meter: Alec Baldwin (major douche)

I will say that People made some interesting choices.  I don’t agree with all of them  but the pages were steamy enough to be worth my hard earned dollars.  Who do you think is missing from the list and Johnny deserve the #1 slot?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adam Lambert Brings His Sexuality To The AMA’s

From the moment Adam Lambert graced the stage on American Idol, he was destined to be a star.  Not only is the man incredibly talented, he knows exactly how to work a stage.  Last night at the AMA’s he held nothing back and this of course brought the homophobes out in full force.

We all know and love Adam Lambert and accepts him just as he is but tell my why does he have to throw his sexuality in our faces? It seems that he’s more uncomfortable about is own sexuality than we are. His performance tonight may have been a great performance we really couldn’t tell because all the grinding a guy’s face into his crotch and shoving another guys’ tongue down his throat over shadowed his great vocals.

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What did Adam do on that stage that we do not see nightly in prime time?   Somehow simulated sex acts between the opposite sex is not problematic but a little crotch grinding and a kiss is enough to set people right off, if it involves a gay man.  When Adam first entered the spotlight, many of teen fans speculated that he might be bisexual, rather than face the fact that they were looking at adult gay male sexuality straight in the face.  Well people, this is what it looks like and if you can tolerate  simulated straight sex, you can damn well tolerate what Adam did last night.

Adam is not leading a gay lifestyle, he is living his life. Period.  He is not shoving it in anyone's face by following his natural inclinations.  Many performers have gotten caught up in the moment and gone with their instincts and no one had a thing to say.   The fact that people are homophobic in no way makes him responsible to lead a closeted life for anyone.  Of course when the uber straight Kate Perry kisses a girl and liked it, it’s fine, but not so for a man.  Does anyone see the hypocrisy here?

If watching Adam last night made you uncomfortable, it is a reflection of your bigotry and not his actions.   Gay people have every right to express themselves in the same manner that straight people do without censure or ridicule.  Sex is raunchy (well good sex anyway) and if we claim to be sexually liberated, the expression of passion should be acceptable.  How many years has Madonna spent grabbing her crotch and swivelling her hips?   How many songs have been written about heterosexual desire?  Anyone remember Prince’s Cream? Get over it.  This is homophobia pure and simple and to waste time even having to defend this evidences just how far we have to go, to be a tolerant equal society.