Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gay Teen Whose Prom Was Cancelled Because She Wanted To Bring Her Girlfriend Receives Scholarship On The Ellen Show

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Constance McMillen, the young woman whose prom was cancelled when she contacted her principal about bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tux recently appeared on “Ellen”.   This young woman is clearly very courageous and therefore, it gave me great joy to watch as she received a thirty thousand dollar scholarship from Tonic.com.

This does not make up for the discrimination that she has faced, but it will go along way to helping her to continue to believe and fight in the name of justice.  Not all minds are small minds and this renews ones faith to see that there are organizations that believe in supporting justice. 

I think that Ellen was right when she suggested that McMillen has a wonderful future in front of her.  What she did took great courage, and if she could find that inner strength at the tender age of 18, the sky is the limit.  I just want to personally say good luck to Constance.

Below you will find the video of her on “Ellen”.

 H/T Rod 2.0

Drop It Like It’s Hot

Hello everyone, thanks for another great week of conversation.  Now that March break is over, I will return to a normal posting schedule.  I want to say thanks to those of you who took the time to e-mail me stories of interest.   I also want to take the time to remind everyone that Womanist Musings has an open guest posting policy, and therefore; if you are interested in participating, please send me either a link to your work, or an original piece via e-mail.

The Womanist Musings podcast is taking a break this week because Monica is away giving a speech, but it should return to its regular schedule soon.  In the meantime, you will find links to a few posts that I found interesting this week below.  Please be aware that I did not read the comment sections of this articles, so read them at your own risk.  When you are done showing these bloggers some love, please don’t forget to drop it like it’s hot and leave your link behind in the comment section.

Corporate Contradictions: Making Sense of Dove’s New “Men + Care,” Campaign

Painful vagina? You’re poor husband!

The Power of Words

Cat-Calling, “Bystander Sexism” and How Sexual Harassment Hurts Men

Notes on the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Lying

Free to good home – time for some TMI

Rielle Hunter in GQ; wow, said that they “don’t know if (they) would fully consider her human”?

Michelle’s Got Data on Her Side: Food Deserts are VAST

TRANS MURDER MONITORING PROJECT: 333 cases of reported murders of trans people in the last 2 years

Missing Malcolm

How Dare She Smile?

A Solution Was Always Easier when the Questions Were Posed in Terms of Black and White

Single Mothers Trashed For Not “Choosing” To Marry

Be fruitful and multiple lie

20 de Marzo: Progresista Pero No Hacia Las Mujeres (the article is in English and is about Abortion in Latin America)

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Is This Mural of Black and Latina Women Offensive?

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Sofia Maldonado was commissioned to create a mural in midtown Manhattan by  the Times Square Alliance.  The Mural has caused some consternation and apparently some even protested it.

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imageThese images send a variety of messages.  There are those that would say that because of the race of the women involved it makes these images problematic even though they were created by a  woman of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent.  Others would say that these are reclaiming images  that we have shied away from and that the women depicted have a right to take up space. 

I am going to turn this over to you and ask what do you think of these images?  How do they touch you and do you find them appropriate for public display?

Jesse James and the Fallen Woman

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Jesse James, Sandra Bullocks husband has reportedly cheated with Michelle McGee.  Sandra has moved out of the family home and James has apologized for his actions.  This should be the end of this conversation and yet the shaming of McGee is in full swing.

I like Sandra, from the interviews I have seen with her - she seems like a woman that I would really enjoy sharing a beer with; however, the Madonna/Whore binary that this story is creating in her defence is harmful to ALL women. 

Look, McGee would never have been in the position to sell her story had James not gone out and had an affair with her in the first place.  She acted like an unscrupulous business woman and waited until Bullock had achieved the peek of her career to drop her bombshell.  James should have read the tattoo on her forehead, “pray for us sinners” and taken it as a literal directive.

When Kyra Philips held up McGee’s picture on CNN while reporting on her she called the woman “gross". As usual “The View” ladies had nothing positive to say in their little chat about the affair.  The commentary at People Magazine is also filled with vitriol.

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As usual, when a celebrity man cheats, the slut shaming of the mistress is the result.  McGee is routinely referred to as a skank, ugly, and a ho.  People have attacked not only her behaviour, but her very being by commenting on her tats, as though they are a marker of depravity. Her motherhood has been called into question, thereby; affirming the saintly construction of motherhood which is harmful to women. 

It’s one thing to adore Sandra Bullock, but it is another thing entirely to engage in behaviour that is harmful to all women.  Sandra may be the wronged party but she is human and therefore no saint and the idea that putting her on a pedestal and then demonizing McGee is acceptable, is just harmful to women.  We need to stop disciplining the other woman as all this does is control women bodies and sexual behaviour. 

We need to stop involving ourselves in these celebrity relationships as though we are the wronged party.  At the end of the day, Jesse James may have a lot to answer for, but that issue is between him and Sandra.  Whatever McGee did or did not do, did not cause Jesse James to cheat and making her wear the burden of his infidelity is just one of the ways we make women responsible for the sexual behaviour of men. McGee may not be a saint but is any of us really? And does publicly slut shaming and denigrating her, advance the cause of women in anyway?



It’s Friday and the Question is…..

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I was chatting with my brother this week about television and we both agreed (a true rarity), that much of current television is garbage.  I sometimes find that my favourite part of viewing comes from watching shows that have long since been cancelled.  I will still watch shows like “Frasier”, “The Golden Girls” and “Mash” when I run across them.  This weeks question is, what show do you still watch though it has long since been cancelled and why? 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A survivor of torture in the Philippines: Melissa Roxas speaks

Filipina-American human rights activist Melissa Roxas gave the following talk at a Pagpupugay 2 forum at Service Employees Local 1199 union hall in New York City, Jan. 30.

It is often hard, even up to now, to talk about my experience. But the reason why I tell my story is because it is also the story of many others, and it reflects the experience of many Filipinos who have been abducted and tortured in the Philippines. Not all of them have surfaced, not all of them have survived, and those who did have been afforded very few opportunities to speak about what happened to them.

It is very hard for survivors to speak out in the Philippines because most are still harassed by the Philippine military and police and threatened with death and harm to themselves and their families. Because of this, many incidents of torture have not been officially even reported.

Torture survivors, like me, also find it very hard because every time I talk about the experience it is like reliving it again. Even the mere mention of torture brings back memories. But because many more have been silenced and because one of the main objectives of torture is to silence and create fear, and to debilitate people, it is important to speak about it.

The Philippines, this group of islands in Asia, can mean different things to different people. For some it may be just a tourist destination, or just an island in Asia, a spot on the map that may have been in the news a couple times on television. People may have heard about the human rights situation in the Philippines. Or if they are aware, they may know that not enough is being done to stop these gross human rights violations.

For us who live here in the United States, the issue of torture and our own government’s involvement in torture, whether directly in places like Guantanamo, or indirectly through the training and funding of the military in countries that are guilty of human rights violations, like the Philippines, are a reality that we can no longer continue to deny, be ignorant of and choose to be indifferent about.

The real Philippines

For Filipinos the Philippines is a place they may call their homeland. Or if you are a recent Filipino immigrant, or have been in the U.S. for years, or grew up in the U.S., or were born in the U.S., the Philippines may be a place that you know intimately, or only a little bit, or maybe not at all. Or like me, a naturalized U.S. citizen, who grew up most of my life in the United States, all that is true at different stages of my life. And what I discovered, even before the Philippine military physically put blindfolds on me, is that I had been blindfolded during the early part of my life and kept from the truth about my history as a Filipino, the real reasons why my family had to immigrate to the U.S., and I was kept from the truth about what is happening in the Philippines.

Even at a young age I always felt passionate about helping the poor and the disadvantaged and realized I wanted to dedicate my life to that mission. Doing volunteer work for various organizations and different communities in San Diego and Los Angeles, I came to realize that I actually knew very little about my own heritage and the country that I had came from. And it wasn’t until I was exposed to the reality of life in the Philippines, when I visited after college, that I really understood why those inequalities exist in the world.

Before, when I used to just visit with my family, they would take me only to the malls and the nice parts of the country, the tourist destinations. But I didn’t want to ignore the beggars in the streets, the children and the slums that you have to pass through to get to the “nice” part of town. I wanted to see the real Philippines, the reality that the majority of Filipinos face every day, so, as they say, I went back to my roots.

I went back to the Philippines and lived with the working-class communities, the urban poor, the farmers and indigenous peoples, and discovered the reality of the poverty, inequality and exploitation of the majority of Filipinos. It was no longer the image in the brochures the government wanted me to see or the reality of the Philippines that many families, like mine, in their journey to what they believed would be a better life abroad, wanted to leave behind and sometimes forget. Those early blindfolds were off.

After that, when I returned to the U.S., I was able to understand better and became more active in the local Filipino community where I lived in Los Angeles. I traveled back and forth to the Philippines since 2005 to volunteer my time with the poor and marginalized communities there. And because of the human rights violations that were escalating at an alarming rate, I also participated in various human rights missions to the Philippines to investigate and expose human rights violations.

Killings, abductions and torture

There were countless incidents of killings, abductions and torture of Filipino citizens, mostly those who were active in protesting the government’s oppressive policies. These were peasants who were advocating for their right to their land; these were workers who were striking for better wages at a factory; these were students, professionals and church people; these were women who wanted better living conditions and education for their children.

These were children who were dying of preventable diseases and malnutrition. These were indigenous communities that are asserting their rights to their ancestral land and their rights for self-determination. These were human rights workers investigating and exposing the Philippine military’s human rights violations. This was Diosdado Fortuna; this was Eden Marcellana, Ronel Raguing and Julito Quirante; this was 13-year-old Mylene and 6-year-old Raymund Golloso; and many others. For this they have been killed, harassed and their communities militarized.

And so for the past two and a half years, my life in the Philippines was dedicated to human rights work and working with these various communities of peasants, workers, fishers, indigenous, women and children in the Central Luzon area. And because I was also a writer, I was writing about their conditions and about human rights in the Philippines.

And although I was aware of the human rights situation in the Philippines, I never thought that I would be targeted and become a victim myself. But one of the most brutal and alarming characteristics of the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency campaign, Oplan Bantay Laya, is that the government considers as suspect and subversive anyone who helps and is on the side of the poor; those who support the Filipino people’s right to actively participate in and decide about their own communities; people who are human rights advocates and those who advocate for truth and justice.

And apparently the Philippine government considers as a threat health care missions in the community because it was during such a mission that I, along with my two companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc, was abducted. We were conducting health care surveys in La Paz, Tarlac, to plan for a future medical mission on May 19, 2009, when we were abducted by unidentified armed men who were members of the Philippine military.

My kidnapping and captivity

We were illegally held incommunicado in a place that I believed to be inside the military camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, home of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army [AFP].

For six days I was blindfolded and handcuffed, interrogated and physically and psychologically tortured while I was held in captivity. They also took all my possessions, including two years’ worth of writings that I was preparing for a manuscript. Despite my constant demands for a lawyer, I was deprived of my right to legal counsel. They told me that they “got me clean” and that nobody knew where I was, that nobody was looking for me, and that they could do whatever they wanted with me there.

One of them told me that it was the Special Operations Group that tortured me. They told me I was in the government’s “Order of Battle” and accused me of being a New People’s Army [NPA] rebel, and tried to force me to sign a document admitting this, which I refused even as I was being tortured. They even had someone who identified himself as a pastor talk with me and told me they were only doing God’s will and that it was God’s will that I was tortured. My interrogators told me it was “people like me” who are the ones making it difficult for the government. They threatened to kill me, but told me that before they kill anyone, they make them pee and shit from the pain.

Surprisingly on May 25, I was released by my captors near my family’s house in Quezon City. I was warned that something bad would happen to me and my family if I talked to anyone about the incident. They also threatened me and told me not to talk to Karapatan. I feared for my life and also for the safety of my family. I left shortly for the United States, but before leaving the Philippines, going against what the Philippine military told me, I decided to contact Karapatan.

Karapatan provides support

After my ordeal, faced with such evil, you know what is good. And as harrowing as my ordeal was, it just convinced me even more that the work I was doing, working with organizations and people advocating for and defending people’s rights, could never be wrong. I will never be on the side of people who torture; I will never condone or justify the use of torture; and I will never side with what is evil and what is designed to take away our humanity for the interests of the few, for power or for profit.

Karapatan is the human rights organization in the Philippines that provided me with the support needed to file the petition for the writ of amparo and helped with all the technical aspects of filing at no charge to me. More than the actual filing of the case, Karapatan was very important in providing me with the immediate care that I needed, which included moral support and immediate medical and psychological attention.

After I was dropped off at my house, I was still very much terrified because the military was still harassing me. I still did not feel safe at my uncle’s house and would not even leave my room, eat much or talk to many people. I was also still very weak from my wounds from the torture.

The military told me that nobody would believe my story and that they could take me again and hurt me and my family. The first step out of that cycle of fear was publicly filing the petition and making my ordeal public. It was Karapatan that helped me in the first steps and helped me feel supported, which was helpful in overcoming the feeling of helplessness that the torturers had wanted to instill in me. I think if it were not for this, I would have [had to deal] with a worse type of debilitating fear and feeling of helplessness.

I had already returned to the United States when prior hearings at the Court of Appeals were held [in the Philippines]. The lawyers of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, representing the Philippine government, argued that my abduction was stage-managed and that my injuries were self-inflicted, that I was an NPA member and was kidnapped by the NPA themselves. The AFP also continued to deny that its officers and soldiers were involved in my torture.

It is always a “blame-the-victim” mentality, and instead of investigating the perpetrators, the victim is often the one who is scrutinized and investigated. It was most absurd to imply that I could have done or would do this to myself. And the medical report conducted after I surfaced is consistent with evidence of abduction and torture. The Philippine government and military also often label people working in legal and democratic organizations advocating for their rights as communists and NPA rebels to justify illegal detention and even torture in their counterinsurgency campaigns.

In my case, I was being forced to admit I was an NPA rebel, and I had consistently denied that I was a member of the NPA and told them I was a writer and activist. But under any circumstance, illegal detention and torture is ALWAYS WRONG no matter who the person is who is detained or tortured. NPA or not. Torture is against all the international laws on human rights and covenants. Any society that uses and condones the use of torture rejects the basic principles of human rights and human dignity. It is also not a true democracy nor what we would even consider a civilized society. You can never justify the use of torture. It dehumanizes the torturers, it dehumanizes the tortured, and it dehumanizes a whole society that is witness to it and chooses not to do anything about it. You can never justify the use of torture.

Taking the torturers to court

The Court of Appeals where I filed the petition for the writ of amparo required that I affirm my testimony in person in the Philippines or the petition would be archived. Although it was a difficult decision to return to the Philippines because of safety concerns, I decided to return to testify before the Court of Appeals and other investigative bodies to obtain justice and tell the public what happened to me, because it is also the stories of many others who are abducted and tortured, and because until now, there still has not been any justice for the countless number of victims of human rights violations.

I also did not want to give the Philippine government the chance of archiving the case and not be accountable for what they did, just as they had with so many other cases.

In September, the Court of Appeals decided in my favour for the writ of amparo and habeas data, which granted me and my family protection, and for the expulsion and destruction of all records that violate my right to privacy. The court upheld that my abduction and torture did take place and that the Philippine government’s argument that the incident was stage-managed was baseless and therefore rejected.

However, the decision by the court was only a partial victory and still far from the justice that I seek because it failed to identify state-security forces as responsible for my abduction and torture, even though there was sufficient evidence presented pointing to the Philippine military. And they did not grant the request for the further investigation of my case, including an inspection of places, and return of all my things that were taken from me.

The Philippine judicial system is still very much flawed, and judges and lawyers are still heavily influenced, intimidated and controlled by the Philippine government. In certain instances, judges and lawyers are also threatened and harassed to make sure they do not make decisions that are unfavourable to the government.

My experience with the Philippine judicial system is not unique. And like many other survivors and families whose loved ones have been killed, disappeared or tortured, justice still remains elusive.

I have submitted my case to the State Department of the United States and have written to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It remains to be seen if they will take action to investigate my case of abduction and torture. It is disturbing to me that the White House has been quiet about the human rights situation in the Philippines, and Mrs. Clinton’s recent visit to the Philippines did not really address the current human rights violations and instead she expressed her solid support for the Philippine government and the military.

Strength from solidarity

One important reason why my case of abduction and torture was widely publicized in the Philippines, and why the Philippine government could not easily ignore my case, was because of the support from the various organizations in the Philippines such as Bayan, Desaparecidos, Hustisya and Karapatan, along with the help of Congresspersons in the Philippines such as Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza and Erin Tanada.

The Commission on Human Rights headed by Leila de Lima [not to be confused with the Presidential Human Rights Committee], an independent investigative body, also helped with investigating the case. There was also support from international groups and individuals from the United States like NYCHRP, BAYAN USA and church groups like the United Methodist Church and others.

This experience showed me that public pressure and people caring, making noise and taking action makes a difference. And I hope that here in the United States we can do more. Because MORE awareness and more actions need to be done to stop these rampant human rights violations.

There is a culture of impunity in the Philippines. And even with international condemnation of these human rights violations from the United Nations Human Rights Council, recognized organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, until now, no one has been prosecuted for human rights violations, and the Philippine government continues its brutal policy unabated.

What we need is the voice of everyone in this room, the voice of everyone in the U.S., to say no to torture, to say no to human rights violations.

What should also be especially disturbing to us here in the United States is that our tax-payer money is being used to fund and train the Philippine military and police who are guilty of committing human rights violations. Again, I ask, where is the outrage? Who is really making the decisions for the people, and where is our tax money going?

In 2008, following a hearing in the United States Senate on the human rights situation in the Philippines convened by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in California, the U.S. Congress voted to impose, as a condition for the release of the full amount of 2009 military aid, the Philippine government’s compliance with three human rights conditions. Boxer did this because her constituents raised their voices against human rights violations; so it shows that the letters, the visits to her office, the campaigning had an impact.

The conditions include the implementation of the recommendations of Philip Alston, the U.N. rapporteur on human rights; the investigation and prosecution of military officials credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights violations; and that violence and intimidation of legal organizations should not form part of the Armed Forces’ policy.

In 2009 the United States government did withhold $2 million in military aid to the Philippines because it failed to meet these three conditions. [Philippine President Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo’s only response in addressing the human rights violations was to hire lobbyists in Congress to take out these conditions and make sure that the Philippine military got even more funding. What is $2 million anyway if they are still going to get the rest of the $30 million in military aid?

Stop U.S. support for Philippine torture

In fact, the proposed U.S. budget for 2010 military aid to the Philippines has increased to $33 million. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo also said that the Obama administration recently requested, upon submission of its 2010 budget request, the deletion of conditions on the $2 million security assistance in the 2009 appropriations act in recognition of significant progress made by the Philippines in addressing human rights concerns. I repeat — in recognition of the significant progress made by the Philippines in addressing human rights concerns.

And WHAT may I ask is the basis for saying that the Philippines has made progress in addressing human rights? Only a criminal president like Arroyo would say that it was progress when the political killings in the Philippines were reduced from once every other day in 2006 to once a week in 2007 and 2008, and that enforced disappearances occurred twice a month in 2007 compared to the six cases per month in 2006.

And for the United States government to take President Arroyo’s word for it and recognize this “progress” is an outrage. People are still dying — specifically, being killed, being abducted, tortured, arrested and harassed.

If this is what the United States considers progress, again I ask, where is the outrage? We have to start asking the hard questions. Are these the type of policies that really reflect the values of the majority of the people in the United States? And if not, why are we letting our government make these decisions for us?

We here in the United States can do something to stop human rights abuses. We need to start asking the hard questions. Ignorance or indifference should not be an option. We need to act to stop human rights violations in the Philippines.

Never stop fighting for justice

The Philippine military wanted to permanently keep the blindfolds on me so that they could unsee what I’ve seen, unlearn what I’ve learned, to try to silence my voice and destroy my humanity. And even eight months after my ordeal, I still bear the physical scars and marks of that torture, and every time I see those marks on my body, feel the pain in my shoulder, I am reminded of what happened in that dark corner of the world that I had known during those six days in May where dying came so slowly and where men are not men and women are not women.

And even as the physical scars heal, and the invincible ones stay and I will probably have to live my whole life with those memories, I refuse to be intimidated, and I refuse to be silenced. Just like the many families of the people who were killed and disappeared, who refuse to stop fighting for justice, and like the Filipinos who continue to stand up and oppose a repressive regime, it is all of them who give me the strength.

Mrs. Edith Burgos, whose son Jonas Burgos has been missing since 2006, once replied to the question of whether or not she had hope that her son is still alive. She said that “There is no proof that Jonas is dead, and there is no proof that he is alive, but I choose to believe he is alive.” And she has never stopped looking for Jonas. Just as Lolita Robinos has never stopped looking for her missing son Romulo, or Ipe Soco looking for his mother Gloria.

There are many more stories that need to be heard. Let us listen to them. We need to oppose impunity and stand in solidarity with the millions of people in the Philippines who are fighting for truth and justice. There is much work that needs to be done. Let us keep these stories alive. Let us always choose to be on the side of the truth. Let us continue to fight for justice.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

It seems that Naked Women are Props for Robert Pattinson

Nothing like disembodied women to make a man look manly.

imageDid you pick up on the catchy little title?  “The Remasculation of the American Man.”   Wow.  Since when is masculinity or patriarchy actually threatened?  When did White men of class privilege stop being the top of the pyramid? 

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The above images are for the March edition of “Details” magazine.  It seems that what real men do is sit front and center while women function as a prop to make them more manly.  A woman is not a prop and though Pattinson is “allergic to vagina” the mere fact that he was willing to participate in a photo shoot in which women were exploited, is reflective of his willingness to trade in on his patriarchal privilege.

Photo shoots like this are common place.  Even when they make no sense, men like Adam Lambert have been more than willing to pose with women to present an image of masculinity that is always dominant to womanhood. 

The women in the above images have no personhood, they are simply objects and that is the way that women are routinely framed in the media.  Is it really any wonder that women continue to lag behind in every social sphere, when our existence is only deemed necessary, when it serves the purpose of maintaining and uplifting patriarchy?

I don’t want to hear about agency, or the fact that women chose to pose for these images because quite frankly, on a daily basis marginalized bodies act in ways that support the oppressor because they deem it necessary to navigate the world.   Their individual choices do not in any way take away from the objectification of female bodies.  One can always point to a marginalized body to justify any behaviour, if avoiding culpability is the objective.  Republicans have a gold medal in such behaviour, with their promotion of sell-outs like Michael Steele, and Jesse Lee Peterson.

Images like this are important because they tell a story.  Encoded within the images is a message regarding which bodies are valued and which bodies are understood as disposable.  Because the media is an agent of socialization, not only does it present the current norm, it plays a large role in informing our youth of the manner in which gender is culturally understood, and therefore; there is more at risk than the individual agency of the models who posed for the above pictures.  Supporting women does not mean validating all of their choices; however, it certainly means questioning the ways in which we are all impacted by the decisions of the individual.

H/T Sociological Images

 


Man Arrested For Intentionally Spreading HIV

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Above is the face of a possible murderer and his name is Quacy L. Francis.  He is currently sitting in jail on a 1 million dollar bond for allegedly have sex with both men and women while knowingly being infected with HIV since 1996.  That’s 14 years.  He allegedly used several different alias.

This story struck an immediate chord with me.   Though I have been in a stable monogamous relationship for almost twenty years, I worry about what the future holds for my children.   Many of the conversations that I have seen regarding safe sex revolve around the idea of preventing pregnancy and yet pregnancy is the least of our worries today.  HIV/AIDS is a killer. 

It occurs to me that we need to prepare our children with the knowledge that there are predators out there.   When I was a child, HIV/AIDS was something that was discussed quite often but today it seems in part because people are living longer with the disease, that we do not see it as the great threat that it is.  Due to advances in medicine, people will live longer with HIV/AIDS but make no mistake about it, it will kill you.

Those that are low income in the U.S. do not have access to the kind of medical care of someone like Magic Johnson, furthermore; he was in peak physical condition when he was diagnosed.   He should never be used as a barometer for what is possible.

According to women’s health.gov, “AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25-34. African American women are over 21 times as likely to die from HIV/AIDS as non-Hispanic white women.”  African American women also account for 60% of all new HIV cases. This disease is ravaging our communities. “While African Americans represent 13% of the United States population, they account for approximately 46% of new HIV infections and 50% of reported AIDS cases”.

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“Although African American teens (ages 13–19) represent only 15% of U.S. teenagers, they accounted for 66% of new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2003.13 A similar impact can be seen among African American children.”

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In post-racial America, just like many things, HIV/AIDS is attacking the Black community at record rates.   We cannot afford to ignore these numbers and what it means to the African-American community.   Everything is not equal if we are dying in such disproportionate numbers.

As a parent, these figures scare me because this is the world that my child will be walking into.   When I see information regarding reducing access to good sex education, it is clear that more is at risk than simply controlling women’s bodies.  HIV/AIDS  equals death and when we allow others to control this message, this is what we are sentencing our community to. 

Quacy L. Francis is just one key in a horrifying phenomenon. He is simply one of amongst many who have intentionally intended to infect others; however, his alleged actions are not representative of the ways in which Blacks contract this terrible disease.  Publicly the face of the movement to fight HIV/AIDS is White; however, the statistics prove that this is very much a problem within the African-American community.

You don’t need to be an intravenous drug user (this is not to say that dirty needles is not a problem), or even promiscuous to contract AIDS, you simply need to have unprotected sex once with an infected person.  The face of HIV/AIDS is overwhelmingly Black and when we speak about the ways in which racial disparity manifests, it needs to be at the top of the list of concerns. 

When Tavis Smiley holds his conference about the Black agenda next week, if HIV/AIDS is not among the top concerns listed, as a community we need to come together to make sure that it is recognized as one of the most pressing issues that we currently face. We are dying in record numbers from a disease that is largely preventable and if that does not remind you of the history of genocide that Blacks have faced, nothing will.

 



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get Your Black Irish On Happy Paddy’s Day

Because I love the little Black leprechaun and the comments  that this post gave rise to last year, I have decided to repost it.

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Did you think that you would come to a womanist blog and find a Black leprechaun wising you happy St. Patrick's Day?  It seems kind of weird doesn’t it? What could the Irish and blacks have in common?  Have you people never heard of the Black Irish?

The Black Irish are a group of people who have features like dark brown or black hair and dark brown eyes.  Some believe that the Black Irish are descendants of a people from the Iberian peninsula who migrated to both Ireland and Britain over 2500 years ago. Recent genetic research has supported this claim.

Today Whiteness includes groups that were not always uniformly understood as Caucasian.  Some to this day still refer to the Irish as the Blacks of Europe.  In North America, the gradations in Whiteness meant that for quite sometime the Irish were treated little better than Blacks. Signs advertising a job often came with the tag line that no Irish need apply.

 As the Irish looked around and realized that they did not have the same benefits as so-called White society, they began to inter-marry and form associations with African-Americans.  I have always found it fascinating that when choices are reduced that people that normally would have a tendency to favour certain behaviour patterns seem to have no problem adjusting to ensure that their physiological and biological needs are met.  The existence of the Métis stand as an example of Whiteness ignoring its privilege, in order to fulfill its biological imperatives.

Whiteness of course cannot allow the dilution of its power in any manner.  As the Irish and African-Americans began to intermarry and form associations, a slow social shift began to happen.  The category of what was considered White slowly image began to grow.   Suddenly the carrot of Whiteness was offered to our Irish brothers in the struggle as an attempt to disable the growing solidarity. 

The Irish had the choice that African- Americans were never offered: the ability to claim a white identity and be considered part of the dominant group, or remain as second class citizens marginalized by social construction.  You can guess what happened right?  They followed the rainbow to the end and picked up the White label instead of a pot of gold.  The luck of the Irish would ultimately mean that they would learn to overvalue Whiteness and allow its worship to separate them from their revolutionary behaviour.

When famine descendants like Hannity proudly announce the ways in which their ancestors overcame oppression, there is always a failure to recognize that social inclusivity was only possible because of an overvaluation of Whiteness.  No matter what skills an immigrant of color has, they will always be viewed as less than by dominant White culture in a desire to maintain our hierarchy of bodies and this translates into less opportunities, and sometimes open hatred and aggression.  Today there is much vitriol thrown at the Latin@ community who seek to emigrate to the US for the an opportunity at a financially more stable life. Though resisters speak about protecting American jobs, encoded in their resistance is a desire to maintain Whiteness as the populations dominant race both in numbers and in power. 

The Irish were useful because they can/could be constructed as white, and therefore maintain the artificial construction of Whiteness as somehow  inherently better than the brown/black bodies that it seeks to capitalize on.  When you get your green on today, think about how things might have been different had the Black Irish really been Black. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Does Five Dollars Mean to Black Women?

I have a new post up at MS

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What can you buy for five dollars?  What if five dollars was all that stood between you and hunger and homelessness?   Five dollars is not a safety net; it’s barely a bag of chips.  Yet according to a study reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it is the median net worth of single Black women.

Single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600. That’s still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts, but married or cohabiting Black women are lower still, with a net worth of $31,500.

In other words, Black women continue to exist in a perilous economic state whether they are cohabitating or single. Instead of fixating on the marital status of Black women–a common media topic–we need to focus on the way that sexism and racism combine to form the basis of oppression.

Black men have a history of suggesting gender conformity, in the guise of racial uplift, that serves to oppress Black women. For example, comedian Steve Harvey wrote Act like a Lady and Think like a Man last year in the hopes of teaching Black women how to repair and hold onto relationships.  The book is dependent upon many essentialist notions regarding gender to sell its point.

Following in Harvey’s footsteps, Jimi Izrael, a columnist for The Root, released his book The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find a Good Black Man this February. At The Root, Izrael wrote the following:

Eligible Black men, we think, can have their pick of educated Black women (assuming they even date Black women), as if merely having a job, an education and a pulse makes a woman ‘wife material.’ While there may be a lot of women available to Black men, MOST are not women you would want to spend your life with. I’m twice divorced, currently single and not taking applications because no qualified applicants have come down the pike. They are mostly variations on a few themes.

Responding to the report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Black Lunatic had this to say:

There is a notation that the median income for a married woman, or co-habitating woman, is about $31,000, so that’s proof that stable relationships improve finances. All I can offer is the idea that first step has to be increasing the number of folks getting and staying married.

It is hardly surprising that Black men would use this study as yet another excuse to inform Black women that marriage is what’s best, when they have invested so much time and effort in publicly supporting the institution in their recent writings.  Of course, the fact that marriage increases the work load of women is not factored into their benevolent suggestions.  This is hardly an unbiased suggestion.  If we were to settle and be understanding, in the manner that Black men have suggested, we would be in an even more precarious position.

Finish reading here

The Slut Shaming Of Rielle Hunter, John Edwards Mistress

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Yesterday Rielle’s GQ interview made the rounds on twitter and the blogosphere.   It even became a hot topic on “The View”.   For almost a solid 15 minutes, the ladies engaged in some of the worst slut shaming that I have seen in quite sometime.   Though they dedicated a vast amount of time to it yesterday, Elizabeth could not let it go and today quipped, “put some pants on, something decent,” in reference to the above picture.  Rielle has deemed the photos to be repulsive and apparently “cried for two hours after seeing the photos”.

The Black Snob, Danielle Belton had this to say regarding this photo:

This woman is completely delusional. And in the worst, mind-numbing, narcissistic way. She posing with NO PANTS ON while sitting with her legs apart on her daughters bed surrounded by Barney, Kermit, Dora the Explorer and one petrified looking pink pillow with googly eyes. But she didn't know those pictures without her pants on would come across as SO TACKY! She had no clue, y'all! Even though it was for GQ and SHE DIDN'T HAVE ON PANTS!!!

I personally did not read the interview in question because I have little interest in John Edwards and even less interest in his relationship with Rielle.  The only reason I am mentioning this at all, is the propensity to slut shame in this situation.  Rielle had sex with a married man and has thus become the modern day scarlet woman.  She made no promises to Elizabeth Edwards and in fact had no relationship with Ms. Edwards, therefore; it puzzles me why she is being shamed alongside John Edwards.

If he had truly wanted to stay faithful to his wife, nothing that Rielle did could have caused him to sway.  Edwards made an active choice to be unfaithful and therefore; if we are going to judge or blame (though I feel we should do neither) it should be him. Edwards was the one that was deceitful.

People have latched onto the photos of Rielle to justify the slut shaming.  Attacking how a woman chooses to dress and then making a correlation to sexual behaviour, is one of the most obvious ways in which patriarchy works to eliminate female agency.  What disturbs me most, is watching women jump on their high horse to finger wag, completely oblivious to the fact that they are supporting their own oppression.

I honestly hope that this is the last that we are going to hear about Rielle Hunter and John Edwards, because  it is a non story and only our obsession with sexism, sex, and sexual fidelity keeps this story on the frontline.  Like it or not, infidelity is common everyday behaviour and no amount of shaming or discipline, is going to stop it from happening.  Instead of seeing this as an absolute fact, we often choose to blame the adulteress, thus seizing upon the opportunity to reify some of the most destructive social memes.  Rielle Hunter had sex and this is something women across the globe engage in and therefore; before we start to judge, we should consider why it is important for society to decide when a woman may be intimate with another.  Slut shaming always serves a higher purpose.


A Spark of Wisdom: The Danger of a Single Story

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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.

Anyone who has seen my LJ now and then has probably seen that I often poke at how gays are portrayed in the media and - especially - in books in light of various dramas around the m/m genre. I have been active in my thoughts, criticisms and frustrated ranting about the various ways gay men are portrayed in the predominantly female lead m/m genre.

There’s a lot I can say on the subject, many many ways I can rant and rave. But that would take at least a month of columns and has probably been said elsewhere and far better.

Instead, I’m going to say why it’s important - not just important for gay men who are having our stories appropriated (not something I find NECESSARILY bad, albeit rather problematic) but for all marginalised people who find they are the “other” in another’s story.

This is one of the major problems - in fact, I’d say it is either the major problem of a major element of the problems we see throughout portrayals of marginalised people. Whether it’s writing the other respectfully, appropriating marginalised groups, arrogantly presuming to tell a marginalised group’s story or perpetuating stereotypes and tropes - ultimately the problem is caused or exacerbated by the paucity and narrowness of stories out there. Or, as Chimamanda Adichie said in this great speech (it’s long but well worth it) the danger of the single story.

This inspired a comment I put in response to a thread during the many discussions about appropriation in literature, which sums up a lot of my thinking on this.

As I’ve said before, I am an avid reader. Sitting in my study, I am surrounded by book shelves. Our bedrooms and hallways have bookshelves rammed wherever I can fit them. My loft is filled with boxes of books I have no room for, my computer is rapidly filling with e-books, even though it’s not my preferred format. I read a lot and I own a lot of books. Second only to my book collection is my collection of DVD box sets - I am terrible at remembering to watch a series on television - so if I see something I like I buy the box set. Usually the cheesier the better. I love me some cheese.

Well, I look at my library and I wonder - how many straight, white, cis-gendered, able bodied men are their portrayed? And I can’t even begin to count. In fact, I can’t actually think of a single book or DVD on my shelves that DOESN’T have a straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied man in it somewhere.

I cannot say the same about marginalised bodies. I would say almost half of my books and dvds contain NO marginalised people at all - at least in anything more than the tiniest cameo. Of the rest the role is almost invariably secondary, a supporting character, a bit part, the sidekick, the adjutant, the hanger on. Often exacerbated further by being a terrible stereotype or cast away, sacrificial character.

But it’s not just prevalence that is the issue - it’s also the diversity of the stories told. I look at how straight, white, cis-gendered, able bodied men are portrayed in my library...

They’re the hero, they’re the villain. They’re good, they’re bad, they’re honest, they’re liars, they’re brave, they’re cowards. They’re smart, they’re foolish, they’re funny, they’re boring. They’re saints and they are sinners. They’re sexy and dull, they’re promiscuous and they’re chaste, they’re noble and they’re repellent. They’re soldiers and priests and wizards and bankers and lawyers and strippers, they’re singers and traders. They drive space ships and ride horses, they play games and fight wars, they colonise and are enslaved, they rule and they rebel, they lead and they follow

They’re everywhere and they do everything. Their story is not only told a thousand times, but it’s told in a thousand different ways. When someone adds another story about them it just adds to a huge diversity that is already out there – every characterisation is just one of a huge body of characterisations.

When marginalised people are portrayed, we don’t get the same diversity of storytelling. Marginalised people aren’t found in every book and when they are they are so often adjutants to the main character – sidekicks and love interests, foils and friends, bit parts and walk-ons, advisors and followers. Their story isn’t told – they’re a part of someone else’s story.

And in the few cases where our story is told - usually in passing, usually as a side note - we do the same thing every time, we walk the same path every time, we’re the same personality every time. The same stereotype, the same tropes, the same inevitable paths. We have a single story, the same narrow path, the same well trodden tropes.

And worse - these narrow stories mean that is how we are seen in the real world.  No-one looks at the portrayal – or even the real life actions – of a straight, white, able bodied, cis-gendered man and says “all of them act that way.” No-one looks at the stereotype and says “all whites are like that. All straights are like that.” Because one of the aspects of privilege is being granted status as a PERSON. Not an issue, not a thing, not an ‘other’ not as a group representative. Being privileged means being treated like an individual - because being privileged means having a thousand stories, a thousand experiences, a thousand portrayals. Being privileged means people see you as anything, as everything - because they have seen you as everything and anything.

This is why writing the Other can be dangerous and harmful. Because we cannot be everything and anything - media, literature, the world around us tell us very firmly the few, narrow things we are allowed to be.

Is your portrayal of another gay couple that die young and tragically harmful? Probably not inherently - but when it piles up with all of the gazillion other dead gays then it’s problematic - because you’re further echoing the single story. Are there no Middle Eastern terrorists? Yes, of course – but that story has already been told to the point of nausea. Are there no woman who need rescuing? Of course there are - but there’s more to women than helpless damsels in distress. But their story is eclipsed by endless women rescued by men - and every new repetition of the same old story further banishes those other stories and shouts the stereotypes in ever greater volume.

And that volume reaches our real lives, our real experiences and how people treat us. It becomes how we see ourselves, how our young grow up seeing themselves and how society views us, treats us and judges us.

It’s not ‘just’ fiction. It’s not ‘just’ a story. These are the stories about us - and how you tell them dictates if we’re going to become those narrow, single stories again, or whether we’re allowed to be more.

Tune in Tuesday: Soul II Soul Back To Life

Okay, I am totally going old school this week with this selection.  I was thinking a lot about my teenage years (no guessing my age) this week and I found myself humming this song.  I remember walking with my fake limp  and my horrible bright harem pants that had the crotch just past my knee thinking I was the shit.  Thank goodness no pictures survive from this terrible time.  With the exception of my pretty cool taste in music, my fashion taste was hurting.  At least I can honestly say that I never took wearing my clothing backwards like certain people.  Chris Cross I was not. 

At any rate feel free to get your grove on and share any memories you have of this song.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yep, Lesbians Do Go To Prom

I am sure by now we are all aware that a Mississippi school board has cancelled the prom, rather than allowing Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba to wear a tux and have a woman as a date.  Imagine the distraction, lions and tigers and bears oh my!  Clearly this amounts to discrimination.  In support of Constance, Autostraddle has decided to protest by requesting that lesbians send in pictures of themselves at prom for them to post on their website.  The collection is awesome and is a great way to show just how visible and therefore normal it is to bring a same sex date to a prom.

 

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 imageI love the project of queering the prom as an act of support.  Go check out the site for more amazing pictures.  Somehow these young women managed to attend prom and  have a good time without the world coming to an end.  Let’s hope that  Constance McMillen will be able to have the same experience. 

H/T Feministing

Xenophobia, Sexism, and Islamophobia, let’s take a World Tour

What makes a city sexy?  In these troubled times many areas are attempting to increase tourism, as other formerly dominant industries falter.  MSN has a new article up discussing what cities are sexy, thus encouraging travel.   As usual it is filled with problematic messages.

Beirut

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Stroll past its countless outdoor cafés in the evening, and you'll notice how the inhabitants of Beirut love talking, eating and table-dancing - preferably all at once. The city's religious mix - Lebanon has by far the largest Christian population of any Arab country - also makes it one of the most tolerant in the region. (emphasis mine)"Like me, the city is unsure whether it's east or west, Christian or Muslim, Arab or European, serene or troubled, traditional or modern," says the celebrated Lebanese writer Rabih Alameddine.

Notice how it is the Christian population that makes Beirut so appealing.  The fact that that there is no dominant Arab, or Muslim culture is what makes Beirut a key stop.  I am the first to admit that some Muslim countries have issues; however, continually setting up the binary of Christian good and Muslim bad, is simply engaging in Islamophobia.  So-called Christian nations are not exempt from having many problematic elements in their societies and perhaps we would all be better served, if we would simply look beyond this reductive binary.

Sydney

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The beautiful people flock to Finger Wharf, with its marina, buzzy bars and Blue Sydney, a showstopper hotel in the crazily named neighbourhood of Woolloomooloo Bay. Babes in strappy dresses schmooze in Tank nightclub, in the city centre; you can dine in style nearby at the famed Est restaurant.

From such fine-dining establishments to sand-between-your-toes cafés, Sydney is renowned as a place to satisfy your culinary lusts. The sleek set tuck into seafood at Guillaume at Bennelong, overlooking Circular Quay. At Bill's, in Darlinghurst, the celebrity chef Bill Granger is credited with creating so-called Aussie brekkie chic, with his tantalising corn fritter brunches. In Sydney, hedonism comes sizzling on a plate. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? Hedonism is what is to be celebrated in Sydney.  Why is it that a Middle Eastern country needs to be validated with the presence of Christianity, but in Sydney, one can embrace hedonism?  Surely there is no culture bias at play here is there?

Cartagena

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 In shambolic salsa bars such as Donde Fidel (in between De los Coches Square and Aduana Square), the girls shake their booty like Shakira, the second most celebrated Colombian export. Moving upmarket, Santa Clara convent, in the San Diego district, was the film set for Márquez's steamy love story. Behind the severe walls lie enchanted cloisters, preening parrots and the coolest bar in town (complete with a ghost in the crypt).

Ah Columbia…why celebrate the history and the culture when we can take in the girls shaking their booty.  Surely there isn’t a history of sexualizing Latina women?  I suppose Shakira has no talent either, so why celebrate her as an artist,when we can  oh and ah over her booty? Furthermore, that women can be considered a national export suggests that Columbian women have no value other than what profit they can bring their country of origin because of their sexuality. I suppose constructing women as a commodity is par for the course.

Istanbul

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Istanbul's mosques are among the most beautiful in the world. Haunt the harem of the Topkapi Palace, the shimmering Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the biggest cathedral in the world a millennium ago. Yet, for all that, the city has a secular, sophisticated feel. It bedazzles with its east-meets-west aura, the frisson of straddling two continents. (emphasis mine) The Nobel prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk speaks of his hometown's "moody evocations", from the harsh cry of the seagulls to "the sirens of the boats to the waves of the Bosphorus hitting the quays".

Here we go again…It’s the east reaching out to meet the west that gives Istanbul it’s aura.  No one could possibly want to travel to a place where they cannot recognize their culture and so it seems important to emphasize the Western nature of the city.  It’s  Turkey and it has a secular government yeah!!! Let’s conveniently forget to mention the large Muslim population because that would make westerners nervous right? Best to just focus on the good.

Barcelona

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Even the city's touristy main drag, Las Ramblas, damned by some as having sold out, often resembles an Almodóvar movie, with its parade of mime artists, drag queens, and general preeners, hustlers and misfits.

Oh yeah we get to see the freaks, what more needs to be said on this fail? Honestly, are they attempting to increase tourism or to simply piss people off with their obvious biases? What better way to let your inner freak out, than by displaying it far from home?  Yes Barcelona, where no one knows your name.

What I learned taking this world tour, is that xenophobia reigns supreme.  When it supports Western constructs to paint a region as exotic and therefore exciting, MSN is more than happy to oblige.  Yes, slip away from the every day and release every voyeuristic tendency that you have buried deep inside you. Don’t worry about getting into too much trouble, because there is enough Christian influence in the truly risky areas to keep you safe. 

Go on, let out your inner heathen.  Think of the exotic women that are just within your grasp.  I am sure it is not at all accidental that most of the images accompanying this little tour are of women.  Why bother to show a picture of the opera house which people instantly associate with Sydney, when you can post a picture of a woman with a surf board. 

This world tour turned out to be the ultimate combination of sexism, Islamphobia, racism and lovely little sprinkling of cisgender privilege just to keep things spicy.  Perhaps the title should have been Watch us fail around the Globe, or even world wide privilege to dazzle the eye.  One thing is certain,  I am thankful that know I enough about the areas mentioned to avoid depending on MSN’s descriptions. 

H/T MJ Shah via e-mail


Weight Loss Companies Target Gabourey Sidibe

image Academy award nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe has been talked about as much for her role in “Precious”, as for her weight.  Hollywood is no stranger when it comes to reminding women how imperfect our bodies are; however, in the case of Sidibe, it has gone into overdrive because she dares to be fat and female.  Women like her are expected to disappear into their home with only the company ten cats for the sin of not conforming to social norms.  

Last week, Howard Stern attacked Sidibe and suggested that she would not have a career because of her weight.  It seems many are willing to over look the fact that Sidibe is not only extremely talented, she is happy and beautiful.   These attributes are ignored because they do not come in a size 2  dress. 

This week, a weight loss company has targeted Gabourey, offering a year of their product for free, if she loses weight.  As usual, they justify this by claiming to be concerned about her weight, because everyone knows that fat equals having the grim reaper as your constant shadow.

After viewing the recent pictures taken of you strolling around Santa Monica earlier this week, we at AcaiSupply.com have decided we can no longer sit back and keep our mouth’s shut! Obesity is a major epidemic in the United States, and we would like to help you rid yourself of this terrible affliction. Life doesn’t have to be this way.

So there Gabourey was, living her life, when AcaiSupply decided that her mere existence is horrible.  How could she possibly be happy, when she has this “terrible affliction”? It is specifically because we have demonized fat, that they can even make the suggestion that she lose weight.

Rather than questioning the help of this so-called weight loss aid, some of the commenter's at TMZ joined in on the fat hatred.

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It is far easier for them to continue to attack Gabourey, than look at the product that AcaiSupply is peddling.  Last year Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz and the Illinois attorney general, sued over 40 of these companies. 

Dr. Oz had this to say:

Many Americans have seen images of me, and Oprah and others supporting, it would appear, products that actually don't work in the ways that are described.

Here’s the bottom line, people are making assumptions on Sidibe’s health based on her size, but unless they have had access to her medical file, it is simply conjecture.  Sidibe seems happy and that is what should be the main concern.  She does not need  people to point out that she is fat every where she goes, because I am quite sure that not only does the woman own a mirror, she is very aware of what her body looks like.  This so-called concern on the part of AcaiSupply, seems to be nothing more than an attempt to gain attention using Gabourey’s fame, and therefore is not in the least bit unbiased.

I fear that for as long as Sidibe leads a public life, this is the sort of treatment that she will receive.  Fat hatred is a normalized part of western society and many feel it is within their right to not only make false assumptions, but publicly shame a person. Fame and success will not help to mitigate fat hatred in the way that it does other marginalizations, because it will only serve to make her that much more visible and therefore that much easier to attack.