Kinkosis [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, Special to Racialicious


Hard to believe, but I was born bald. Not cute little peach-fuzz bald. Not skinhead bald with a chance of stubble. No, I was born with a head as bald as a baby’s butt. What’s more unbelievable—I grew up with straight hair. Of course, if you look at me now, the first thing you see is what happens when Ireland and Iran decide to come together to have a baby—curls that put even Shirley Temple to shame.

My hair went curly in early adolescence, right around the time I hit middle school. I was a small, petite tweenster, and instead of fretting about breasts, which were hardly there, or periods, which were nonexistent, I poured my angst and energy into my newfound mop of kinky hair that sprung itself on me almost overnight. My father hated my curly hair. He said it made me look black. This is a problem to some Iranians, who hold a great pride in the purity of the Persian race. Iran is actually Farsi for Aryan. To this day, when people meet me, their first impression isn’t that I look Persian; it’s that I look black. My Arabic first name doesn’t help. It makes people assume that I’m one of “those black people” whose parents named her something from the homeland. Persians have lustrous hair, but usually it’s straight with a slight little wave. Mine is too kinky to scream and dance “Iran!” Even when I met Shirin Neshat, the most famous Iranian artist outside of Iran, who has made a career out of photographing Persian women, it wasn’t apparent. She didn’t realize I was Iranian until I mentioned my last name.

There is a racial element to the picture here—hair that is curly, kinky or even nappy is commonly associated in American culture as “black.” Silky, straight hair, on the other hand is usually seen as “white.” As comedian Paul Mooney put it, “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” Herein lies the paradox of many ethnic women in America, black and otherwise—the pressure we curlyheads feel in assimilating into a dominant image of lustrous, straight hair that will seemingly make us look more well-kept or better-groomed in a culture of brushes, perms and irons designed to give straight hair what we already have. Yes, curly hair is sexy—at times. Usually the sexy sirens with curly hair are actually straight-haired women who know how to use a curling iron. The grass really is greener on the other side.

This ideology is pervasive, to the point that many times, we don’t even realize we’re buying into it. Beauty requires an acknowledged ugliness in something else, so in order to look damn good, someone else has to look like a train wreck. I remember being told as a child that curly hair is really a genetic mutation. I remember thinking I was a freak. When I was in high school, a classmate once told me that race is actually determined by hair type. If your hair is straight, then you’re Asian. If it’s wavy, then you’re white. And curly hair makes you black. I stood there dumb-founded that a straight-haired, freckled white guy was telling me this. The physical contradiction between him and his theory was so obvious. Even with a democratically elected black President, there are people in our country who still think that the American image should still lean towards white. And if you think that’s outdated, just look at this past summer when 11-year-old Malia Obama wore here hair in twists during a trip to Rome. The conservative blog Free Republic called her unfit to represent her country because her hair wasn’t straight. The blog has since pulled that thread from their site. Continue reading

An Everyday Epic Battle: Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes, Israeli Apartheid and Sticking Together

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

I am from Toronto, though I now live in Houston.  I get most of my Toronto community news through Facebook, and I have been watching with disgust and amazement for the past two months as my Facebook feed has filled up with reports about Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes! – a community organization that celebrates black queer and trans history – and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

Long story short: Pride Toronto, which is an internationally famous week-long celebration of queer and trans pride, has made conscious or unconscious attempts to curtail the wholehearted participation of queer and trans folks of colour and their allies in Pride. They have attempted to relocate and shrink black-identified spaces, and they have banned QuAIA from participation in Pride 2010.  This year queer & trans people of colour (QTPOC) and their allies may participate in Pride, but only as long as they check their histories and politics at the door.  Short story long? Hang on to your hats, this is an epic tale.

Blackness Yes!

The first news I heard of this mess was in April, when the Blackness Yes! Blockorama party was asked to move by the Pride Toronto organizing committee for the third time in 4 years.

Blackness Yes! organizer Syrus M. Ware describes Blockorama and Blackness Yes!:

Since 1998 Blockorama has been a party at Pride where black queer and trans folks, their allies, supporters and people who love them came together to say no to homophobia in black communities and no to racism in LGBTQ communities. To say Blackness Yes at Pride – loud and proud…We have built Blockorama out of love, through sweat and toiling. For 12 years, we have claimed space, resisted erasure, found community, shared memories, built bridges, embraced sexuality, and found home. Blockorama is not just a party or a stage at Pride. It is a meeting place for black queer and trans people across North America- Blockorama is the largest space of its kind at any Pride festival on the continent.

Yet Pride Toronto has multiple times tried to move Blockorama further away from the main events, or relocated the party to smaller spaces that will not fit the huge crowds Blockorama draws.  Blockorama is a hugely important part of Pride, not only a black space where queer black folks go to party, but also a space that has always been immensely welcoming to non-black folks of colour.  Pride Toronto’s moves – whether or not they are racist – indicate a lack of sensitivity, care or even basic awareness of the size and meaning of Blockorama.

University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott wrote this letter to the Pride Toronto organizing committee, upon news that Blockorama was to be moved again:

…at the same time that Pride Toronto has moved Blocko three times, Pride Toronto has also taken on the mantle of global human rights as its signature issue.

It is in fact the discrepancy between Pride Toronto’s treatment of local black communities participation in pride events and its attempt to position itself as a global player in the LGBTQ global rights movement that I find particularly offensive, disrespectful and unmindful of the very communities residing here that Pride Toronto would seek to champion overseas.

How can this be? How could it be that Pride Toronto did not see this ethical dilemma before it? Is it because Blocko is the last non-commercial space at pride? Is it because like much else in this country Pride Toronto too believes that black people as a constituency can be ignored? These are genuine questions, not accusations.

…We will not as black people here and globally stand to be exploited by white folks who now want it to appear that all is well at home, but not elsewhere.

On April 13 Blackness Yes! held a community meeting to protest these moves.  Deviant Productions, an alternative youth media collective, made a video of the meeting:

You can read a transcript of the video here.

In many ways this community mobilisation was successful.  3 days after the meeting, Pride Toronto agreed not to relocate Blockorama to a smaller venue for this year, and agreed to work with Blockorama, starting in July, to put a stop to the yearly migrations and find a permanent home for Blocko at Pride.

However negotiations are stalled around the matter of a dancefloor. This is a queer dance party, after all.

Continue reading

Race + Comics Notes: Black Panther & DC Comics Update

By Site Lead Arturo R. García

ryan1

DC Comics went back to the racial well this week in an interview with Comic Book Resources, which featured this exchange between CBR News Editor Kiel Phiegly and DC co-publisher Dan Didio:

CBR: There’s been a lot of discussion – and a lot of angry discussion, I’d say – coming out of some of the recent DCU storylines, specifically the death of Ryan Choi in the “Titans” Brightest Day launch…

Didio: And if I could jump in here for a second, I’d ask “What past that?” There seems to be a concern about us pulling back in diversity, and we identify Ryan Choi, but we don’t identify what more than that. If you’re talking about a single character, we can’t run backwards from the way we act and behave with our characters because we’re afraid of addressing characters of different race or putting them in stories that are bigger or more exciting, I’m sorry to say. This is an interesting thing to me, because since I’ve been here, we’ve been extraordinarily aggressive in trying to bring racial diversity and diversifying our cast of characters as much as possible. That’s been part of our agenda for the last five to eight years since I’ve been here. We’re talking about a single character with Ryan Choi, but I’d love to know about examples past that, because at the same time that we’ve got Ryan Choi, we’ve got a Great Ten series running. If you look at every team book and everything we’re doing, we go to extraordinary lengths to diversify the casts and show our audience in our books.

Continue reading

links for 2010-06-22

  • During the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico, over 1/3rd of all women were sterilized.  And, today, still, Puerto Rican women in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. have “one of the highest documented rates of sterilization in the world.”  Two-thirds of these women are sterilized before the age of 30. Lopez finds that 44% of the women would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better.  They wanted, but simply could not afford more children.
  • The Equal Justice Initiative just released a report about racial bias in jury selection, particularly in the South. I first heard about it on NPR. Racial discrimination in jury selection is illegal, but evidence suggests it’s still quite common, particularly through the use of peremptory challenges (the ability of attorneys to exclude a certain number of potential jurors without having to say why or justify it).  The results are striking; for instance, “…in Houston County, Alabama, 80% of African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors in death penalty cases” (p. 4 of the report).
  • Israel's separation wall, twice the height of the former Berlin Wall and more than 750km-long, is a much hated barrier in the Palestinian West Bank. Now, a restaurant owner in the occupied Palestinian West Bank has come up with a unique way to please World Cup fans: he has been showing every match of the tournament on a section of the wall, transforming it into a giant screen.
  • "The girl punched in the face by an officer in Seattle has apologized. One of the frustrating things about how incidents like this play out is how rarely anyone in the situation apologizes, or has anything explained to them. Many people operate under misunderstandings on how policing works, and it’s pretty rare for anyone to explain the law to a defendant. It’s rarer that an officer would apologize, since departments believe that would open them to civil liability."

So, What’s Going to Happen to Racialicious? [State of the Blog]

by Latoya Peterson

work station

A month ago, Carmen promised I would have news for you about the future of the Racialicious blog. Now that New Demographic has dissolved, a lot of things changed. We are in the process of making a lot of decisions about what Racialicious is, what we do, and where we will focus our future efforts, but I can give you a little peek at what is in store.

This Year

Redesign of Racialicious Site

We are looking at ways to make the site more user friendly, and fix some existing flaws. We are also going to make sure we have a mobile ready site (m.racialicious.com) and make all of our archives easier to navigate. We’re adding a staff page, a media page, an FAQ page, and a recommended reading page.

Racialicious mobile apps

These are still in development, but there will be one for iPhone, one for Android. The easiest way is to make these just RSS apps, but some of our friends have told us we could do something a lot cooler. Not sure how these will look yet, will let you know when we have some solid ideas to play with. Continue reading

ROCK OF ASIAN: Girl Bands To The Rescue

By Guest Contributor Diana, originally published at Disgrasian

It took me a full day to believe that this headline was real and not just something Tila Tequila got mixed up on her blog:

It refers to South Korea’s plan to use songs and videos from groups like Wonder Girls and Girls Generation to infiltrate and ultimately beat down North Korea.

Girl bands are the new Weapon X? Badass!

From The Chosun Ilbo:

An official in charge of psy ops at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said no decision has been made so far. “It will take months to set up the big screens to use in psychological warfare operations and a wide range of contents will be shown,” the official said. “I don’t know whether songs by girl groups will be included, but there is that chance since pop songs were used in the past.” But he added the content of propaganda broadcasts will not be limited to girl bands.

Oh, the propoganda broadcasts won’t be made ENTIRELY of girl band materials? Well that’s dumb.

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Racialicious Presents…The True Blood Roundtable

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Andrea Plaid, and Latoya Peterson

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

We proudly (or shamefully?) present the True Blood roundtable.  And don’t worry, if the Racialicious Roundtable hex gets True Blood canceled, we promise to never roundtable another TV show again. And now, let us begin with True Blood Season 3, Episode 2: Beautifully Broken.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Black Family Dynamics

Thea: So the first thing that popped out to me about this episode was Alfre Woddard as Lafayette’s mom…and of course the fourth member of this family would be institutionalised*, homophobic, xenophobic, racist and full of general hatred. Now, I don’t expect some kind of Cosby Show happy black family, but it continues to rankle me that the only family of colour on True Blood is so messed up. Or perhaps it’s not that they’re messed up, but that they’re messed up in a very flat, monochrome way, while the other families (if you think of Eric and Pam, Bill and Jessica, and Sookie and Jason as all families) seem to have much more fleshed out, good-and-bad dynamics.

And sidebar: There’s not much love or compassion for the mad people’s/people with disabilities movement on True Blood either…Lord, I hate it when TV shows use mental health institutions (I officially stopped watching House over their representation of an “asylum”). At least Meadowlands looked like a nice enough place.

Tami: Can we get a functional, true-to-life black person on True Blood? Just one? See here’s my problem with the “diversity” on TB: It’s like Alan Ball realized he had to do better than Charlaine Harris’ whitewashed Sookieverse (Harris wrote the books on which the HBO show is based.), but his solution was just to toss some stereotypical, one-dimensional characters into the town. Sassy, tough-talking, angry black chick? Check. Bible-thumping, “Oh, lawd!” hollering mama? Check. Large, stern black woman in public service profession? Check. Drug-dealing black man who frequently calls women “bitches” and “hookers?” Check. Ex-con who winds up with bullet in his brain. Checkitty check check. You know I love me some Lafayette as much as the next TB fan. His bon mots are my favorite. And I have been thankful that they have allowed him some depth and humanity. Nevertheless, when I look at Lafayette together with all the other black folks in fictional Bon Temps, I get a little queasy at how “typical” and uninspired the show’s portrayal of my people is.

Andrea: ::Stumbles in from watching all of the episodes in a week:: True Blood newbie joining the discussion here. So….those dysfunctional Negroes. I agree with you, Tami with every critique you have about Tara’s family. I also think a far more sinister message is getting played out via Tara’s fam: if Black folks don’t let go of their -isms and -phobias, they will be locked up in sanitariums. Bill having slaves? Groovy, because he’s renounced his evil ways and is trying to mainstream. Eric being a Nazi? Well, Eric *is* a vampire. Jason having all sorts of -isms and -phobias? Well, that’s aight because he’s, well, young, dumb, and full of cum. Arlene? Well, she’s coded as “poor white trash,” and, by extension, not having the educated sophistication to realize how “ignorant” she is. But none of the white characters suffer from debilitating mental illness because they’re holding on to bigoted views. They’re just quirky, lovable them. (/snark)

Latoya: I take a different view on this one . To me, the revelation that Tara’s family has a history of mental illness provided some much needed context and backstory to characters who were in danger of being sidelined. A lot of Tara’s development and characterization have been around how she has coped with her childhood – showing how her family has a history of mental illness provides even more depth to her mother’s struggle with alcohol, Tara’s own struggle, and why she and Lafayette can be so cold and secretive. They are doing it to protect themselves and hide their background. And considering mental illness in the black community gets so little attention (see here for some studies and discussions) I was glad to see it receive a frank discussion. These scenes weren’t played for laughs until Lafayette made that crack about the sexy attendant.

And while I will second Tami’s call for “a functional, true-to-life black person,” I have to say that any remotely functional, clear thinking person would have gotten the hell out of Bon Temps before the end of the first season.

Nazis and Political Subtexts

Thea: So, is True Blood taking inspiration from Twilight? Oh just kidding. Werewolves! Nazi werewolves! If vampire narratives are always about sex, what are werewolf narratives about?

Continue reading

Two Moms Fight to Stay Together

By Guest  Contributor Madhuri, originally posted at Restore Fairness

Two Moms Fight to Stay Together from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Shirley Tan came from the Philippines decades ago, and built a life with her partner Jay, giving birth to twin boys and becoming a full-time mom. But Shirley faced the biggest challenge of her life as she fought to stay on in the United States, crippled by laws that do not allow gay and lesbian couples to sponsor their partners.