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January 26, 2011 / VC

REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF

Hi,

As of today, my blog will be at a new location:

www.nomartyr.wordpress.com

This name change is something i’ve been thinking of doing for a minute and now it’s happening. You can expect pretty much the same things.. talks about race, politics, music, culture, whatever else I feel like. As a matter of fact, I’m throwing up my first blog over there now about this documentary I saw and whiteness and hiphop and privilege and… you get it.

This blog’ll stick around for a bit I guess until I feel like the trickling is done. I will miss it very dearly but I’m older now and I know more than I did before.

October 29, 2010 / VC

What Clarence Thomas Can Teach Us About Black Feminism

Posted at PostBourgie.

It would be tough to say Clarence Thomas was ever a popular figure, at least among non-conservative americans. He had relatively little experience (two years as a federal judge) when GHBush nominated him to Supreme Court in 1991, was anti-affirmative action, and proudly undecided on abortion because, according to him, he had never discussed reproductive rights with anyone. At most, he was a fill-in for retiring civil rights advocate and first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. He maintained the racial make-up of the Court while tipping the scale quite significantly to the right.

It was only apt that when Thomas was having enough trouble getting nominated (the Senate Judiciary Committee split its confirmation vote seven-seven which moved the nomination to the floor of the Senate), a former employee of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission where he had worked said she had been sexually harassed by him. Anita Hill, a black female law professor at the University of Oklahoma at the time, responded to the Senate’s investigation with claims that Thomas had made repeated and unwanted explicit remarks about sex acts and pornographic films while she was working for him. There was no viable way for people to belittle her testimony via suggestions of moral deficiency or aspirations to be famous–distractions which are typically based on a person’s occupation, legal record, or upbringing. She appeared to be credible, both personally and professionally, which in theory, made it her word versus Thomas’s.

In reality, it ended up being Anita Hill v. male solidarity, as Ms. Hill had to defend herself against the doubts and questions of white male Senators whose determination to undermine her testimony was predicated on an unwavering faith in men’s rights to power (and therefore men’s truths) and what was likely a complementary disdain for women’s rights – particularly as they relate to their bodies. What we saw was the common routine of a woman brave enough to face the unbelievably difficult task of speaking about sexual harassment being punished for having a voice. Senators and witnesses said Hill was scapegoating Thomas for her own insecurities derived from not feeling attractive; aspiring to be “the Rosa Parks of sexual harassment;” and engaging in “transference,” a psychological condition with which you transfer your feelings from one person to another. Basically, she was a crazy woman.

Within some circles, the Thomas-Hill controversy was seen as a catalyst for the revitalization of feminism. Women came together across color lines to support Anita Hill, labeled by some an accidental hero. And indeed, although the gains have dwindled over time, 1992 did see women running for and winning public office at record numbers. It was a moment within which people who had experienced a lull since second-wave feminism could find a popular cause.

And then, Clarence Thomas went and did all that he knew how to do. He called the hearings a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Or, in other words: Y’all stay trying to keep the black man down. From what we know about lynching, it was a heinous and inhuman act executed by white men in america largely against black men, often in public spaces. And Thomas is invoking this painful part of history to regain his footing in a sexual harassment case involving him and a black woman? And it worked?

Essentially, what Thomas did was assert the black masculinist narrative that guides our conventional conception of blackness and some people’s aspirations to attain “equality”. By invoking the extremely violent and male-specific associations of lynching, he assumes victim status and thereby casts Anita Hill as an antagonist, asking the general public to defend him. She is now not only an assault on male power but also on black masculinity. Her blackness somehow becomes less than his, and she is effectively transformed into an anti-black figure (SEE All women are white, all blacks are men). Through the shift of public support, we see the conditions under which black women will be protected in public space: 1. If they are silent and 2. If they follow male leadership. And because of the naturalness with which we consent to patriarchy, this was okay.

One thing to take away from this case is that solidarity does not mean homogeneity. When women come together to support an issue, it is important not to cloak it as a “women’s issue” at the expense of acknowledging the other factors that are at play such as race, class, or education. Feminists needed to reflect on the fact that Anita Hill was indeed a black woman, and that issues of turning race-traitor, black masculinity, and respectability were likely to arise. This is in some ways an age-old lesson of cross-racial struggles: to not let specific and independent causes be subsumed into dominant discourses. Black feminism bares the responsibility of both acknowledging the oppression shared by all women and illuminating the struggles which are specific to black women. The Thomas-Hill case was in some ways an upset in the latter, but hopefully also a prelude to the day when more people will identify with black women’s rights than with patriarchy.

October 22, 2010 / VC

Obama: It Gets Better

October 18, 2010 / VC

Friends Don’t Let Friends Whip Their Hair

Is it coincidental that certain hair types don’t “whip,” or am I being crotchety? Maybe as a child I got made fun of because my hair didn’t whip or blow in the wind. Am I too busy being a black girl with thick hair to enjoy a joke? Someone clue me in already. I get it but I kinda don’t!!! I miss the good old fashioned Sesame Street version of “I Love My Hair” =(

Oh, while I’m at it

#parentsagainstthewhippingofhair (via Anthony Kelley)

October 15, 2010 / VC

Sesame Street Puppet Loves Her Hair

POC (puppets of color) unite.

September 14, 2010 / VC

Thoughts?

September 3, 2010 / VC

On White People and the Blues

In an attempt to summarize a dining experience I had that didn’t exactly rub me the right way, I explained to a friend: “You know how white people will come home after work and turn on the blues? … It was kind of like that.”

Music for me can be a touchy and emotionally charged subject, and – for the most part – I try to avoid discussions that are driven by the sole need to essentialize genres according to race. While it is clear to me that certain music has origins in circumstances in which race was an unequivocal factor, I’ve grown into an understanding that much musical development occurred within an environment of cross-racial, -cultural, often transatlantic influences. Borrowing has happened, sometimes even mutually.

Still, there is such a thing as black music: music that is derived from or inspired by black people and culture. Among this music is the blues and soul – both of which have picked up a lot of momentum amongst white listeners – be they punks, hipsters, or music junkies.

My issue/criticism/complaint is that this music is often not understood within its cultural, historical, and emotional context. This music comes from someplace, and is part of the experiences – the pain, joy, struggles and historical memories of black folk. There is something assuming, unsettling, and comfortably privileged about a white person throwing on a Bessie Smith record they found at Salvation Army at a dinner party. In thinking specifically about the blues, it was birthed from the realities of being black and without resources. Rhythms were created with feet, hands, and mouths. Similar to how some jazz musicians used instruments discarded from the Civil War, the blues was born from the specific situation of not having: a situation which has been commonly entangled with being of color in the U.S.

What is it about white people getting off up under black music that is so troubling? Perhaps it is the romanticization of black experiences that accompanies the thoughtless enjoyment of the culture that is born from them? Or is it the consumption of black pain as product? There is something disturbing about being confronted with music that for me is significant, evocative, and tied to an actual feeling in a space such as a hip restaurant in Brooklyn. I’m here to eat brunch (first mistake) and you have Otis Redding muted on the TV (presumably) singing and jumping around on stage, and – as though to say “AHA!” – you are also playing a completely different album by him on the sound system. At first, I offered the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, considering that perhaps this was the decision of a black owner who, like me, loves southern soul. But, there was something distinctly white about this. Aside from its offensively conspicuous “down-home” New Orleans theme and obviously new location in gentrify hot-spot Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, the ease with which black expression was on display as a backdrop just reeked of the detached, uninformed consumerist indifference that is fed by commodity culture. It was like an exhibit of southern black feeling that most of the “mixed crowd” patrons probably could not have related to on any personal level but could rather mindlessly neglect while eating barbecued shrimp and grit cakes. Anyway, taken completely out of context, Otis became 30-something inches of energetic sweaty black man, invoked to rouse a fake nostalgia for a time that most white people would, quite frankly, rather forget.

In being white and, to an extent, in being a part of sub- and counter-cultures which value history and the creation of things, one is faced with an abundance of options for musical cultures that are available to be listened to, researched, experienced, and enjoyed. (Take for example the fact that being a rock n’ roll fan might lead you to the unavoidable fact that many artists, including The Rolling Stones and that Elvis guy drew directly (and in some cases stole) from blues influences, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson.) There are endless musical cultures to be discovered, particularly when you aren’t exposed to certain genres in your childhood. But it is important to consider the stories, histories, pain, and oppression that such music has been inevitably steeped in, and to seek to really understand what it means, and where it comes from – culturally, historically, emotionally – as opposed to appropriating whichever part of its aesthetic seems useful. Everything is not simply for your listening pleasure or dining experience.

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