All I Want For Christmas Is For Sports Misogynoir to Have A Seat

I woke up this morning with every intention not to write anything today.  Recently, life for me ain’t been no kinds of a crystal stair.  For the past three weeks through a cold, stomach virus, work fatigue and life in general, I’d been reading and writing for finals in both my classes.  After confirming that I scored another 4.0 for the semester, I decided that for the next three days I was on a writing break.  I needed time for my brain to breathe and fingers to relax.  But then I got an email from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists congratulating me on my second paper abstract being accepted for this year’s conference.  Doing the “me” thing, I decided to bend my rules a little and brush up on some of the reading I did for the submission.  Given that my topic is on Black Female Sexuality and its present reception in society, a lot of my readings were based on theory as well as pop culture things like Amber Rose’s SlutWalk and Brelyn Bowman’s purity pledge.  Scouring the internet for more pop culture examples to dissect in my presentation, I happened upon the whole uproar with Gilbert talking shit about the WBNA.  Admittedly, I heard about his comments before, but that was around the time I was in a post-finals/sick fog where I couldn’t lend it the random pop culture intellect I can now (read as: I was far too tired to give a fuck).  But now that I have my second wind and while I’m in the zone of Black feminist/Womanist thought, let’s have a quick chat about how incredibly stupid comments like Gilly’s really are.  

 

While blog site after blog site can tell you numerous ways how asininely sexist the comments were, I want to take a step back for a minute and look at the framework from whence this bullshit came.  The bigger problem with Gilbert’s incredibly fucked-up, sexist comments is that they stem from the long-standing tradition and practice of undermining Black women’s sports acumen by criticizing their appearance.  This isn’t an isolated incident.  We’ve been here before.  

 

We were there in 2000 with Love and Basketball.  Aside from the constant crooning of Maxwell everytime Monica and Quincy were around each other and Zeke keeping his wife’s fine ass in Gucci and gold (such a joy of a quote), one of the subplots in the movie touched on this subject.   While there were no direct comments correlating Monica’s appearance to her basketball ability, one of her constant conflicts throughout the film was the expectation of balancing (or at times outweighing) society’s standard of “being ladylike” against her passion for the sport.  The most compelling scene in the film on this topic was the debate Monica and Quincy had in the car regarding how her “attitude” on the court could cost her being selected for a college team.  When Quincy advises that she should calm down when playing, Monica points out the double standard that women have when playing the sport,

 

Please, you jump in some guy’s face, talk smack and you get a pat on your ass.  But because I’m a female, I get told to calm down and act like a “lady”.  I’m a ballplayer, okay?  

 

While rooted in fiction, this example stems from a serious, real-life quagmire female athletes, particularly Black, find themselves in.  When their ability is top-notch, they are often the targets of ad hominem attacks with their femininity being called into question.

We were there in 2007 with Don Imus.  While most of the public outrage was directed to the fact that Imus referred to the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team as “nappy headed hoes,” what wasn’t discussed as much was the underlying sentiment that the University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball Team won because they were the “prettier” (and not-so-ironically fairer-skinned) team.  Such reasoning feeds into the erroneous assumption that appearance influences ability.  If that were truly the case, there should be a whole rack of people in the NBA, NFL, and whatever else 3 or 4-lettered sports organizations on unemployment because their looks don’t compare to their ability.  

 

We were there in 2012 with Gabby Douglas.  Here we had young Miss Douglas slaying the gymnastics competition in the OLYMPICS, yet there was all this controversy about how she wore her hair.  Of course some people in the pithole of opinion hell aka Twitter went just as far to say that Gabby’s hair was the missing element in her being the quintessential Black female athlete role model.

 

Seriously.  

 

For starters, she is an athlete.  Having gone to an all-girl high school, it really wasn’t an uncommon thing at all for ANY athlete regardless of the sport they played to have a ponytail.  Secondly, she was 16 at the time.  Have any of you people met 16-year-olds?  Their appearances can range from gorge to plain and everything in between.  This includes hairstyle.  When you blend together Gabby’s age and her profession (a profession that she has not even out of high school, mind you), I was neither shocked nor outraged by any of it.  In fact, I expected it.  Watching student athletes in action, who would want to invest time away from practices and working out and money into going to the hairdresser if you’re only going to sweat your hair out hours later?  What was our problem that we were far more concerned with the girl’s snatchback than we were with her snatching gold medals in the name of these United States?

 

My God, when are we NOT there with Serena?  If I listed every, single example of how her appearance undermined her sports skills, I’d most likely still be writing this “short” piece well into 2016.  Her incidents include Tomasz Wiktorowski comparing Agnieszka Radwanska to Serena stating that they keep her small “because first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman, being called arrogant and cocky, to the most bizarre recent pandering that a horse be more deserving of Sports Illustrated’s 2015 SportsPERSON of the year honor.  But again, much of the grievances against Williams harken back to the misogynoir framework that a Black female athlete can’t simply be a good athlete without her appearance being called in for critique as well.   

 

So how do we resolve this conundrum?  For starters, we can continue to serving seats for folks comments, posts, articles, and whatnot that perpetuate this kind of bullshit.  And said seats can be occupied by both men and women (believe me, there were just as many women standing by Arenas as there were men).  But in making this mass purchase order, it will take the effort for both men and women to be vocal about this.   It was great and expected that the WNBA spoke out, and yet we’ve heard next to nothing from the NBA.  Perhaps because deep down, whether they would admit it or not, there is room on the row for them to take a seat as well because they feel the exact same way Arenas does.  As I always say, folks should listen to who speaks and hear who is silent.

 

“Feminism, What’s Good?”: On Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and “The Trouble Between Us”

Nicki Minaj

Before I tell you exactly why I am more than willing to serve Miley Cyrus’s public persona a Four Horseman shot of bleach, cyanide, kerosene, and antifreeze, let me make this clear.  I am a semi-fan of Nicki Minaj, but I am not a Barb.  Never have been, may not ever really be.  I’ve been openly critical about certain aspects of Nicki’s music, message, and the like.  Those are the facts.  Be that as it may, right is right and wrong is wrong.  And when it comes to the Nicki situation, Miley is wrong.  

While the world may have just seen two people having a public disagreement on stage, as a PhD student you tend to see things a little differently.  Yes, I saw the show go from the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards to the late 90s-early 2000s Source Awards in a matter of seconds.  But also considering the sociopolitical implications and constructs that brought about that moment on that stage, I also saw a metaphor for the ever-present issues surrounding the relationship of White feminism and Black women.  

And that’s where I’m irritated as fuck.  

I am a firm believer in the thought of the background always telling the foreground of any person, place, or thing.  So before we dissect what actually took place on the stage, let’s start from the beginning.  The foundation of the Nicki/Miley feud is actually a spinoff from a Twitter-debate (never really saw it as a beef, per se) from Nicki and Taylor Swift. Months later after Taylor and Nicki decided to play nice, Miley gave a pre-VMA interview with the New York Times where she discussed the Twitter situation between Nicki and Taylor.   In fairness, I will say that the blame of this problematic foundation does not just lie with Miley.  Joe Coscarelli from the New York Times is a raindrop in this shit storm as well.  Analyzing at the way Coscarelli framed certain questions to the point of possibly fabricating facts (I’m still looking for the receipts where Nicki exactly said “when a White girl breaks a Vevo record, she gets nominated” that was referenced in the NY Times interview), it makes sense why some aspects of the discussion warranted certain reactions from Miley.  But that is where it stops.  After shying away from leading questions about any direct personal statements Nicki did (or more than likely did not) say about her, Miley went into classic, white’splaining mode stating that one of the reasons she did not accept Nicki’s critique of the industry was because of the tone that she used.  In the interview she said the following key statements,

….People forget that the choices that they make and how they treat people in life affect you in a really big way. If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.  And it’s not anger like, “Guys, I’m frustrated about some things that are a bigger issue.”  You made it about you…

If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself. Say: “This is the reason why I think it’s important to be nominated. There’s girls everywhere with this body type.”

[Coscarelli points out that she did say this]

What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite. I think there’s a way you speak to people with openness and love…I know you can make it seem like, Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star. I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world. But to be honest, I don’t think MTV did that on purpose.  

Let’s pause here and tease this response out.  First off, I’m going to need for everyone to understand (Black, White, or whatever) whenever we talk about race-related issues, you are in for a multitude of responses and reactions.  They can range anywhere from light-hearted, to hurtful, to angry, to depressing, and everything else in between.  The reason for that is because there are a multitude of emotions that go along with race, all ranging from different places.  In the spirit of Kanye when he said, “The art ain’t always going to be polite,” neither will race conversations.  Given that logic, for Miley to say she doesn’t respect or accept someone’s perspective on a race-related issue because it sounded “angry” is dumb.  It is also, albeit, yet another example of a component within White supremacist culture–the policing of every conceivable facet of the lives of people of color including our emotions.   To clarify, I’m not saying Miley is a White supremacist.  But her thinking and reaction to all this (like others, including Taylor’s) is a byproduct of our society living under a White supremacist structure.  The audacity to say that you can negate and discredit someone’s entire argument based on the premise, not of it being untrue, but because it was spoken harshly is part of the construct of privilege only afforded to White people.  

In the words leading up to the last paragraph, one could easily don their cape and swoop down to save Miley with the argument of, “Oh but Miley is just a celebrity.  Why should we give thought to what she says about race?”  That would be valid had not Miss Cyrus alluded that she was in some way knowledgeable of the topic stating, “I know you can make it seem like, ‘Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a White pop star.’  I know the statistics.  I know what’s going on in the world.”  Lesson for the class: The minute you purport yourself as having some kind of empirical knowledge on a subject matter, whether it’s good or not, that puts you up as a candidate for critique.  That is just what is happening in this moment right now.  

Furthermore, let’s also consider the source of these statements.  Seriously, who the fuck is Miley Cyrus to have any kind of nerve in policing Nicki’s tone?  In writing this piece, I have gone through the timeline of all of Nicki’s tweets on the situation.  In not a single one did she curse, call anybody out of their name, or whatnot (before you shout, “But Nicki called Miley a bitch at the show,” hang tight, we’ll get to that in a second).  Yet Miley is saying that her tone was too harsh and not spoken out of love hence why her truth is unacceptable?  This is coming from a girl who prides herself in constructing a “not giving a fuck, I stay true” attitude, will flip you off for no reason, and whose basis of all the promo commercials she did leading up to the VMAs was the fact that she curses so much.  This girl wants to apply respectability politics to a situation that didn’t even involve her to begin with?  

*hits the Quinta B step*

I CANNOT!!!!!!!!!

So, now that we have analyzed the background of this case, let’s deconstruct what happened in the foreground at the show.  By now, we pretty much got the gist of what happened.  After that trash ass joke about police brutality from Rebel Wilson (whom is on the list to be dragged at a later time along with Viacom’s overall bullshit for this particular award show), Nicki won for best Hip-Hop video for Anaconda.  The speech started off as light enough, giving props to women and men taking care of themselves.  Now here’s where it gets sociopolitical for me.  After shouting out different folks, Nicki went on to thank her pastor.  At the core of this feud between Nicki and Miley was the issue of the role of Black respectability in responding to social issues.  For Black people (and most White people), there is nothing more respectable than a Black person talking about some good ol’ Christian religion.  For Nicki to talk about her pastor could give her the appearance of being the “respectable” person Miley tried to say she should be when expressing herself  From there, Nicki deviates her attention from her wholesome persona to addressing Miley head-on, “And now back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me in the press the other day.  Miley, what’s good?”  The very second when Nicki said, “And now back…” was a powerful, key moment.  The structure, again, of this entire issue has been the policing and dictating of Black emotions and responses.  When Nicki showed she could talk about “respectable” things in one moment and then square up the next, she resumed ownership in her range of emotion.  Going back to what we mentioned earlier when we examined the background, due in part to the White supremacist structure of our society, people of color are not often afforded that opportunity to express themselves in various ways.  When we are, the results can range from being socially detrimental to physically deadly.  For Nicki to do so publicly knowing the social backlash she will endure (being classified as ghetto, a hoodrat, trashy, classless, etc.) should be acknowledged.   Furthermore, given her possible frustration with such a system (she did make mention to White media and their tactics in the midst of her Twitter feud with Taylor), I can understand why she would come at Miley so hard at that moment.  From the start of the incident stemming with Taylor, people have been very critical of her harsh tone while she did not use any curse words. No matter if her language was profane or pure. she would still carry the burden of the Angry Black Woman label.     It is pretty much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.  

But the sociopolitical applications do not end there.  Miley’s response was a social statement as well.  While Miley did congratulate Nicki on her award, the sincerity is questionable at best.  Miley did so with a dismissive attitude, telling her “Congratufuckinglations,” flipped and twirled her fake dreads around her finger, and offered further condescending indirect chastisement about Nicki’s response.

Considering the subject matter, their physical positioning of where Miley and Nicki were in relation to each other, and the language used reminds me of everything discussed in Winifred Breines’s The Trouble Between Us where Breines talks about the social and personal conviction of checking discrimination and marginalization of one group (women of color) within an ideological movement structured to address discrimination and marginalization of another group (women).  On television you see Nicki standing on one part of the stage and Miley is across from her, with a mosh pit of a couple hundred people between them.  While Nicki is going off on her side, Miley can give this cool, dismissive attitude with her fake dreads because she is in a protected place where Nicki cannot get to her.  No wonder she’s unbothered.  She doesn’t have to be bothered.  Had we removed the mosh pit and there was nothing more than space and opportunity between them, we might have seen a different reaction from both parties.  This can easily be seen as a metaphor for the volatile relationship between White feminism and women of color.  With Nicki being the example of women of color who try to be outspoken against intersectionality issues concerning race and gender and Miley being the example of some White feminists who are dismissive towards those issue, the mosh pit is the barrier of racial privilege that divides the two groups.  It is what protects the Mileys from the Nickis.  It is what allows the Mileys to flick and flip their appropriated, costumed culture around for the world to see much to the outrage of the Nickis.  It speaks to the issue that while womanhood can bring women of all races in one arena, the intersectional issues of race is what keeps us on different stages.  

Miley was dead ass wrong and tried it speaking out of turn in regulating somebody’s reaction.  While Nicki certainly could have addressed the issue another way, I will not condemn her for doing what she saw fit. Having people constantly police your presentation before they get to your point (if they are even willing to hear it) is infuriating.  This is especially frustrating from someone who supposedly calls herself a feminist so you would think she would get it.  But how do we fix this problem?  Right now, I ain’t got the answers, Sway.  But I think having these kinds of conversations is critical.  Acknowledging that there is a problem from both white feminists and women of color instead of being dismissive is key *coughs Facebook*.    It is what could lead us to cultivate solutions to simultaneously eradicate sexism and racism.  

Feminism, what’s good?

A Colored Girl Considering Womanism When Feminism Doesn’t Seem To Be Enough

feminist womanist black

(This isn’t every Black woman’s story; this is my story)

So I have this thing.  Whenever someone is talking to me about a subject that requires a bit of thought, I’ll always think of a particular song lyric that applies to the question as I’m thinking of an answer.  For instance, let’s say somebody asks me, “Are you a feminist?”  While searching the brain for a statement, I think of Mya:

I’mmmm so confused/I don’t know what to dooooooo

No matter if I knew the person was going to ask or not, I’m always confused whenever this question is asked.  I’m not confused in the sense that I don’t have an answer.  I have one, but it is not as direct or simple as the question.

Growing up watching countless hours of television, switching channels from BET, MTV, and VH1 (this was the 90s before they became the holy ratchet television trinity), I had only understood feminism to be three things:  White, angry, and mostly gay.  I watched scores of White women on a field wearing sundresses and combat boots holding hands with other White women wearing buzz cuts and flannel shirts, all swaying to the spellbinding sounds of the Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, and Melissa Etheridge at Lilith Fair.  In the basement far from the watch of my mother or my grandparents, I listened as Meredith Brooks told the world how she was a bitch, a lover, a child, and a mother.  News reports showed hundreds of White college coed girls taking to their campuses with megaphones, candles, and makeshift signs in an effort to “take back the night.”  All these sounds and images were bonded together in my pre-adolescent understanding by one word: feminism.  From hearing that word tossed around at interviews and news reports of the aforementioned events, I developed an associative understanding of feminism.  But based on how I rarely saw similar faces in these spaces that looked like mine, I didn’t think that feminism was a “thing” for a little black girl like me.  Sure, every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of artists like Tracy Chapman or Meshell Ndegeocello on MTV or VH1, but I was more in awe of their blackness on a predominately White music network than their feminism.  It would not be until my sophomore year of college where my mind would change…sort of.

As she had pretty much done for my entire life, my aunt gave me a book as part of the plethora of Christmas gifts she gave me each year.  The Christmas that I was in the 10th grade, I received Kevin Powell’s Step Into A World anthology.  I skimmed through the book a time or two, but hadn’t really read it until I was in my dorm room one boring snowy Saturday.  With a glass full of apple juice and a large bag of M&Ms, cracked open the book to give my eyes something to do besides look at nothing on television.  Flipping through the writings of Robin D.G. Kelly, Imani Tolliver, Ras Baraka, and dream hampton, I happened upon an essay by a writer named Joan Morgan.  In about 5 pages, I was introduced to a concept called hip-hop feminism.  When reflecting on the treatment of women during the Million Man March with Farrakhan banishing us from the National Mall to our kitchens to “cook for our warriors” as noted by Kristal Brent-Zooks, Morgan cites the need for a new kind of feminism that is relevant to Black women of the present 20th Century (the essay was written in 1999).  She understood that not too many Black women were checking for “the f-word” due to the deep-seeded racism from White women.  But honestly, that wasn’t the part I was checking for.  What drew me was the idea of being a “hip hop feminist.”  Despite my knowing all the words to Bittersweet Symphony, You Oughta Know, Criminal, and Kiss From A Rose (yes, by Seal) thanks to my binge-watching of videos on MTV and VH1, I’m still an avid Rap and Hip Hop fan.  At any given time heading to or from class, I was pumping A Tribe Called Quest, DMX, The Roots, or Missy Elliot in my ears.  I can intelligently discuss the Roxanne Wars, the Bridge Wars and how the Biggie/Tupac beef fucked all that up.  I could tell you about the Zulu Nation and the significance of Afrika Bambaataa.  So to discuss a concept that puts hip hop with anything I was already interested.  But as a young Black woman, I was slightly conflicted.  This was around the time when the sisters at Spelman protested against Nelly’s appearance on their campus in light of the infamous Tip Drill video, one of many menageries of misogyny seen in rap videos at the time.  Yes, I applauded those sisters for standing up against the hypersexual male bravado that flooded our radio stations on a daily basis, but as a lover of rap and hip-hop was I even allowed to do such a thing?  True, I wasn’t constantly checking for songs that had the repetitive message that Black women were nothing more than ass and titties wrapped in a quick weave.  Sure, I was more apt to listen to uplifting and educated rap from Kanye West, Common, or Slum Village.  But I won’t lie and pretend that my bitty booty doesn’t automatically get ready to twerk a lil’ sumthin’ when I hear that Cash Money is taking over for the 99 and the 2000.  Joan Morgan let me know that I was not alone.  That there was a space (or there needed to be) where this kind of thing intersected.  We needed a kind of feminism that “was brave enough to fuck with the grays”  (Morgan, 1999, 59)   We needed a feminism that understands how “truth can’t be found in the voice of any one rapper, but in the juxtaposition of many…they lie at the magical intersection where those contrary voices meet–the juncture where ‘truth’ is no longer black and white, but subtle, intriguing shades of gray” (62).  As part of my quest to find such a feminism, I use a good portion of my refund check to order books from Amazon about Black feminism including Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks.  I perused through essays from Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Barbara Smith.  I read studies on the feminist writings of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston.

Based on that, feminism and I had formed a relationship situationship.  It was a situationship instead of a relationship is because to be in a relationship means that you relate to the other party that is involved.  Therein was my problem.  I could appreciate learning about Black feminism; but I still couldn’t seem to shake the idea of how White it was, perhaps from the lasting first impression of it from my childhood.  While Morgan, Guy-Sheftall, Smith, hooks, and Collins helped show me myself in the mirror of feminism, its reflection was still a little fuzzy to me.  So I found myself in a situation where I was in search of an ideology that I could relate to.  In not knowing of anything else at the time, I reluctantly linked up with feminism.  I was with it but I wasn’t WITH it, per se.  As with most situationships, there were no labels.  But reading more about the history of feminism, I understood my apathy.  In my historical research prior to joining my sorority, I learned that the founders of Delta Sigma Theta were regulated to march in the back of the processional because of their race during the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March (Paula Giddings, In Search of Sisterhood, 1988, 55-56).  When doing a paper on the history of Black women voting, I learned that the rift in the alliance between Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony was caused with the decision to either support voting rights for Black men or White women (E. Susan Barber, “100 Years Towards Suffrage: An Overview,” 1998).  I learned that while I wasn’t really checking to fully claim feminism, historically it wasn’t really checking for me, either.  The situationship lasted for the remainder of my undergraduate tenure up until my second year of doctoral school when I met Womanism.

While I would love to say that I found out about Womanism on my own, props must go to my Black Political Theory professor for putting me on.  In a discussion with him about the things I wanted to study regarding Black women, he suggested that I check out Dr. Clenora Hudson Weems’s 1993 classic Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves.  Looking at the book was like looking in a mirror, but only this time my reflection was clearer.  Here was an ideal whose founding roots were rooted in me, a woman of African descent in America.  It was something I could relate to, therefore form a relationship with.  I had heard about Womanism through readings of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.  But with her saying that feminism and womanism were one in the same, I wasn’t really feeling it.  After reading its sordid history, I dreamed a “feminism” that didn’t just merely acknowledge the racist roots of feminism that continue to subliminally grow, but called it out on its bullshit.  Dr. Weems did just that in her definition of Africana Womanism:

 

Africana Womanism is a term I coined and defined in 1987 after nearly two years of publicly debating the importance of self-naming for Africana woman.  Why the term “Africana Womanism?”  Upon concluding that the term “Black Womanism” was not quite the terminology to include the total meaning desired for this concept, I decided that “Africana Womanism,” a natural evolution in naming, was the ideal terminology for two basic reasons.  The first part of the coinage, Africana, identifies the ethnicity of the woman being considered, and this reference to her ethnicity, establishing her cultural identity, relates directly to her ancestry and land base–Africa.  The second part of the term, Womanism, recalls Sojourner Truth’s powerful impromptu speech “Ain’t I A Woman,” one in which she battles with the dominant alienating forces in her life as a struggling Africana woman, questioning the accepted idea of womanhood.  Without question, she is the flip side of the coin, the co-partner in the struggle for her people, one who, unlike the White woman, has received no special privileges in American society (22-23)

As good as feminism could be, there are still subtleties of racism that cannot and should not be ignored.  Case in point, this whole minimum wage thing.  While there is an uproar about White women making less than men, very little is mentioned about Black women making less than White women.  In the scholarly world, that’s called intersectionality where you have two or more minority issues intersecting at the same time (in this instance, race and gender).  Feminism still hasn’t done the best job in addressing it.  There are even books about the issue, like The Trouble Between Us by Wini Breines.

But that’s not to say I’m now in deep, passionate, theoretical love with Womanism either.  We have our beef, too.  First, it’s the sense of exclusiveness even among Black women the concept seems to have.  In reading about other Womanist works, there is a strong emphasis on spirituality and religion.  As a self-identified Christian, I get it.  As a student of political science, I’m bothered by it.  By centering the concept around a particular religious belief, we are pretty much guilty of the same crime we accuse White feminists of committing: leaving folks out.  I’m reminded of the approach Malcolm X proposed in his speech, The Ballot or the Bullet.  Regardless of our backgrounds, we must all come together to realize that we are catching the same two kinds of hell in America constantly: being Black and being a woman.  With that understood, we cannot afford to ostracize anybody from our cause.  Whether she is Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Rastafarian, straight, lesbian, bisexual, upper class, middle class, working class, educated by the schools, educated by the streets, every type of Black woman is key in this issue.   It makes no sense that we as Black women vote at the highest rate of all voters (Black or White; men or women), yet our social progress is still among the lowest.

The problems surrounding Black women are in way too critical of a condition to shut out anyone or force them into a situationship with feminism because they do not feel completely embraced or welcomed by Womanism.  There is strength in solidarity.

Second, I take issue with Womanism being is moreso a belief than an ideology.  Yes, there is an actual difference between the two.  A belief is based on faith or perspective.  It is what a person thinks or perceives.  An ideology, as noted by Karl Mannehiem, is a vehicle used to mobilize a belief (Ideology and Utopia, 1936).  Let’s take a look at feminism to break down what I’m saying.  From its early origins in the Suffrage Movement, feminism has always had a vehicle to move its belief in the form of organizations such as National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Those organizations have the ability to create and move an agenda based on the beliefs of these feminists.  And as history has tells us, they have done a pretty decent job thus far.  It can be considered a national fact that there is hell to be paid in FULL when feminists, mostly white with some Black sprinkled, get mad at something or someone.  Africana Womanism, to me, has not yet reached that level of influence yet, mainly because there is no vehicle to move our agenda which has yet to be created.  When setting our agenda, we need to do so on our own terms, and it would be better done if we did not always look to organizations built on the backs of Black men to champion those ideas for us.  We should be our own champions.  This would require us to move from the trajectory of margin to center (ironically, that’s a quote from by bell hooks, a Black feminist).

So, back to the initial question at hand.  Am I a Black feminist?  Yes and no.  Am I a Womanist?  Yes and no.  I guess I’m like Morgan, in a sense.  I have a need.  I need a Womanism that encompasses the spirit and passion of Black feminism.  I need a Black feminism that doesn’t just acknowledge that there is racism in feminism, but calls it out as part of its advocacy with the understanding that Black women are quick to get lost in the shuffle of other issues.  I need a blend of both, I suppose.

Now playing in my mind, Come Together by The Beatles.

We Still Slinging Knowledge….

Recently, a few scholar friends and myself got together and created a collective book discussing issues of race, gender, education, mental health, and media.  The catch?  We’re discussing scholarly issues using non-scholarly language.  So within the same book you’re likely to see a reference to bell hooks AND Bobby Schmurda.  Or Bayard Rustin AND Trindad James.  No kidding.  To purchase a copy for $15.00, please send an email to ignorantintellectual@gmail.com.  We also have cool buttons too we’re selling for $5.00.  Get into it and #getignant

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“I Know Why The Baltimore Girl Scowls”: Street Harassment in Retrospect

Jada Pinkett Face

It’s amazing how the undergraduate experience in college can reveal so much of yourself.  Most of my freshman year we would have various programs around campus designed to “bring the Bowie women together.”  They were pretty good efforts, even better because most of them involved food.  One day when I missed dinner in the cafe because a nap after class seemed way more important, I decided to hit up one of these events to grab some free pizza.  It was the typical girl talk kind of session, bringing girls from Philly, New York, Baltimore, D.C., Prince George’s County, Jersey and other places together to discuss their first year cheers and jeers.  While doing a balancing act of three slices of pizza, a cupcake, chips, and a Sprite, a girl from P.G. asked a question that I didn’t realize would eventually be so poignant.

“I have a question for the Baltimore girls.  Whenever I see ya’ll walking across campus, ya’ll always have such a mad look on your face.  Why do Baltimore girls scowl like that?”  Without any hesitation or thought, a fellow Baltimore student answered the inquiry, “To keep people from bothering us.”  The other girls from Baltimore, both freshmen and upper classmen, agreed with the response, sharing their own experiences of when they wear the scowl.

This was eleven years ago.  Let’s flash forward to today.

Recently, the internet has been abuzz with a recent video released by an anti-street harassment group called Hollaback.  The one minute video documents a young woman walking down the streets of New York for 10 hours and her various encounters with men on the street.  Some of them call out to her.  Some of them are really close in her space.  Two walked along side of her for a few blocks.  The video sparked a debate from both men and women regarding the realness of street harassment, if anything should be done about it, or were women just overreacting?

Before I get into my view about the whole thing, I will admit early that this “social experiment” does have its flaws.  I’m not feeling the narrative of this lone, seemingly non-Black girl going through the streets of New York while being pounced upon by mostly men of color. It definitely gives you that Birth of a Nation vibe, further perpetuating the Brute stereotype that has plagued our Black men for centuries.  Furthermore, street harassment goes beyond the urban settings this video focuses on.  I would have been interested to see an uncut full-length video of the walker going to other places as well (if she did).

But with all that aside, the video does have a bigger point that gave me flashbacks.

I first developed my scowl when I entered the 9th grade.  The summer before school started, all incoming freshmen were required to attend an introductory program for a few weeks to prepare them for their first year at Western.  With my mother working on the Westside all summer long teaching college courses, that meant I had to hit the bus circuit.  It wasn’t an uncommon thing, as this is what most kids attending Baltimore City Public School did.  Once I got on the bus or the subway, I was safe.  It was getting there that was the challenge.

It started with the cars honking.  Me being obliviously new to this kind of attention at all of 12 years old, I didn’t know what was going on.   At first I thought it was just angry drivers signaling to others to get out of their way.  I didn’t start to catch on that something was different until I noticed I would always hear the honks whenever I walked down the street.  Observing the drivers, they mostly came from adult men who would smile with the cheesiest and creepiest looks on their faces.  I honestly had no idea what to make of it (as I wouldn’t think any 12 year old would or should know).  Feeling confused as to maybe it was something I was doing wrong to warrant this kind of attention, I started to be more cognizant of what I was wearing.  In the dead of summer heat, I would walk down the street in a sweatshirt or loose fitting t-shirt in hopes of solving my problem.  Unfortunately, the cars kept honking anyways.

The catcalls followed the honking, particularly on the days when I had to meet my mother at her job at Coppin State College (now University).  Walking from the station or getting off at the bus in front of the school, I would feel the stares of groups of guys looking my young body up and down.  I would hear the whispers of “Damn, girl” as I hurried to the door, hoping it would shut behind me fast enough before they said the sexualized “Hello.”  Some of these guys looked around my age; some of them were not.

This went on for a few weeks up until school started.  I really didn’t tell my mother that all this was happening mainly because I didn’t know it was an option.  Listening to similar accounts from the other rising 9th graders at school, this was a common thing we just had to deal with.  A twisted rites of passage, I guess.  Some liked the attention, others didn’t.  But it was from those experiences where I learned the only weapon we had to get through the day on our daily journeys throughout the city: the scowl.  The scowl is a quintessential piece of Baltimore Black girl bravado at its finest.  It’s a slight scrunching of the eyebrows to match the glaring, cold stare of narrowed eyes, a tightness of the lips emitting all vibes that you are not to be fucked with on that day. For the most part, men would respect the scowl.  You did have your select few that would request you to “smile” or still try to violate your personal space.  The scowl still didn’t stop them from checking you out, but it did give a sense of protection no matter how false.

Coupling my personal experience with the overall experience of this video leaves me with many mixed emotions, mostly because I see the situation through different perspectives.  As the little Black girl in Baltimore going to high school, I feel empathy.  I understand the struggle of women in city streets all too well.  While yes, I am very familiar with what the statistics say regarding women and rape in that 51% of the reported perpetrators were intimate partners as opposed to 13% being strangers, that still does not relieve the anxiety I feel walking down the street wondering if this will be the day I become part of that 13%.  Needless to say it does not help to have known people and to hear on the news about the bad experiences of catcalling resulting in women being berated extremely, physically assaulted, or murdered by men whose advances they rejected.  My empathy then leads to frustration as a grown woman living in D.C..  Why should I have to live my life with this kind of anxiety on an almost daily basis?  Why can’t it be understood that the root of the problem is not in all “hellos” from men, but the ones with heavy sexualized overtones? (Note: Yes, there is a difference and more often than not, the signs are clear.  Your sentiments can speak louder than your words, guys).  Why is it when we discuss these kinds of issues the conversation is never around the need for a society that stops objectifying women but rather the need for women to conform to an objectifying society (Which really doesn’t make a difference no matter what you are told to do or wear)? As a scholar studying Black Politics, I feel skeptical.  Why is this particular issue a thing right now?  It’s interesting how there is now attention to such issues in the age of gentrification when such problems existed in these same areas heavily populated with Black and Brown girls and women facing the same issues.  As articles have reported, both Black and Latina women are most likely to endure street harassment at higher rates than any other race of women. Growing up in this environment, this really wasn’t breaking news.  But where was the uproar and outcry for us?  Where was the help for us to feel more empowered and to know that we had a right to walk down the street unbothered?  Where were those organizations to arm us with more than a cold stare and a shoulder?  Why do we care now?  Such questions will probably never be answered, but all I can do now is ask.

At 29 years old, when I think of my scowl I am reminded of the poem “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The scowl is our mask.  It is designed to protect us from the situations where the subtlest hellos could led to the most brutal of rapes (or so we think).  Aside from silent prayers that we would make it to and from our destinations in one piece and unharmed, it is one of our defense mechanisms.  I guess if I were to remix the poem to fit this situation, it would go a little something like this:

she wears the scowl

because it knows

it matters not

the clothes she chose

her makeup, her hair

her shoes, her rings

on the street, she’s not a person or place,

but a thing

the coldness of her stare

the tightness of her lips

she silently must remind herself

she’s more than between her hips

she hopes to be unbothered

with a bothered look on her face

so she can journey peacefully

and they won’t disturb her space

she battles through lust-filled energies

creepy glares, honks, and howls

a daily struggle to which i know

why the Baltimore girl scowls

Sit Down, MotherFather

A few blog posts ago I commented on how American Feminism begat Fuckboyism in our society.  In said post, I mentioned in the last paragraph, “And how about single motherhood?  Yes, that too can be considered a bi-product of feminism begetting fuckboyism.  Shouting to the mountaintops how we can do bad all by ourselves will leave us doing just that” (February 2014).  On Father’s Day, I want to tease that little piece out for a minute.  And it’s not just the holiday that is bringing on this discussion.  While minding my business in the grocery store, I happened upon this little gem in the card section:Image

Two things must be recognized before I break how I break.  1) This card is very real.  I actually was in the Giant and saw the card with my own two eyes and 2) This is not the first time a card like this has been printed.  In fact, I went off about this same shit last year on IG:

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(Yes, I charged my phone after I took this screenshot)

But based on the way the internet is going nuts this ‘go round about this old issue all over again, apparently “y’all ain’t hear me though.”  I’ve read post after post from both sides who are either for the card or against the card.  While I understand what the card may have been attempting to do, I’m still not here for it.  The thing is when card companies (especially Hallmark since they are like the holy grail of holiday validity) make these kinds of cards, they are quietly sending messages about the state of our society.  The message I’m getting from the Mother’s Day card on Father’s Day leaves me with a few questions.  The first pertains the idea that this is a unique issue in the Black community.  If you were to look anywhere else in the card section, you would only find this kind of card under the Mahogany brand.  Okay, Hallmark, we get it.  We get that we have a painfully publicized history of absentee fathers within our community.  But guess what, there are other races that have the same problem as well.  It may not be as sensationalized and publicized, but it is still a problem nonetheless.  Haven’t you been watching Teen Mom 234 lately?  Where is their card?  The second question is what is the ultimate point we are trying to make with these kinds of cards?  Cards on holidays are meant for celebrations.  What exactly are we celebrating in this case?  The fact that Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of what you don’t have?  Are we celebrating brokeness?  Looking at these same cards in this same section for Mother’s Day, I did not see not one card that was a Father’s Day card for Mother’s Day.  With that being said, I’m STILL confused as hell as to why we are doing this.  Thirdly, while I get that having a card like this may be a type of moral alarm clock meant to “wake up” people about the issue of fatherlesness in the Black community, are we aware that this can also be a snooze button of sorts as well?  This is where the feminism part kicks in with “normalizing fuckboy behavior” (The Read, Break Babies, 2014).  To me, making a grand declaration that you are “playing both roles” with the feminist idea of “women can do it all” won’t inspire men (who probably ain’t worth shit anyways if we have to have this conversation in the first place) to step up, but moreso continue to step to the side.  As a man, why should I even bother to try to take my place if you’re clearly already taking it for me?  Furthermore, I think it sends a fucked up message to our kids as well.  For little boys, it increases the likelihood that when they get older and have children for them not to be present in their lives as well.  This stems from the idea that “Well, if my momma played the mother and the father, so can shawty.”  For little girls, it further perpetuates the myth single parenthood is the only parenthood.

 

In closing, before you single mothers out there hit me with the, “you don’t know what it’s like” and all the bitter baby momma bullshit, allow me to clarify.  I am not saying that single mothers should not be praised for their efforts and sacrifices.  I am the product of a single mother.  But in doing so, they should be praised JUST as single mothers on days designated for them (i.e.- Mother’s Day).  Growing up, my mother made it very clear to me that while she was a single mother, I still had some fatherly figures I could look to if I so chose.  She didn’t come at my with that “I’m your mother and your father” bullshit ever. Looking back now 21 years ago when my parents divorced, I can understand why and am appreciative that she didn’t do that to me or my sister.  Am I totally free of daddy issues?  Absolutely not.  But where I am thankful is that I did have some semblance of father throughout my life.  Even now.  So with that being said, I celebrate and salute all the men who step up as fathers and assume fatherly roles.