All posts by Arturo

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Killer Secrets: An Excerpt From Tamara Winfrey Harris’ New Book

By Arturo R. García

Author and Racialicious alum Tamara Winfrey Harris.

Longtime readers of the blog will remember friend and alumnus Tamara Winfrey Harris: Tami’s voice, which many of us first discovered through her blog What Tami Said, has been essential reading in the POC justice ecosystem for years.

But over the past few years, her reach has expanded, and she’s been published everywhere from The Guardian to Salon to — just last week — The New York Times.

Well, we’re proud and happy today to be able to share with you a part of her most pivotal work yet: The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, in which she takes on the stereotypes regularly used to deride black women in the US — their romantic lives, their mental health, their beauty and more.

“The more Americans face stereotypes about us in media, pop culture and other places, the more they are subconsciously ‘activated’ where real black women are concerned, affecting the way we are seen by potential employers, partners, the government and others,” she writes.

The book will be out on July 7, but is already available for order online; it’s already ranked as the No. 1 new Gender Studies release on Amazon. An excerpt can be seen below.

In 2003, the California Black Women’s Health Project found that only 7 percent of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. And, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health manuscript, a 2008 study of African American women’s perspectives on depression found that many “believed that an individual develops depression due to having a ‘weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.’”

A member of the mental health profession currently working in higher education, Adrianne Traylor says, “I am cognizant of our community being left out of mental health discussions, not having appropriate access to mental health support, the cultural restrictions and barriers that keep us from seeking that support and that there are really not enough competent therapists to deal with situations that are unique to the black experience in America.

Finding a black therapist to refer a client to is extremely difficult. Even when it comes to self-care, I think. ‘Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to refer myself to? Who can I talk to who can really understand what makes my situation unique as a black woman?’ We really lose out in the mental health equation — particularly when it comes to areas of depression, stress, and anxiety.”

Members of the black community often learn that mental health care is something they neither need nor can afford — economically, socially, or culturally. Black folks are encouraged to take it to the Lord in prayer, but Adrianne stresses that many mental health issues cannot be ameliorated by a pastor, friend, or family. Some mental illnesses require intensive therapy or psychotropic drugs, and not getting that treatment can be devastating.

Her own family provided her with a strong example of this cultural challenge. Adrianne says she grew up surrounded by women who exemplified the positive aspects of “black women always being strong and resilient and always being able to carry everything.” But as she grew older, “I saw the [unwillingness to pursue mental health care] weighing more heavily on the women in the family, because it seemed they were the ultimate repositories for sanity and intactness for everyone.”

When she was a teen, the house where Adrianne was born burned down. It was her grandmother’s home and had been the center of many family memories. The loss was devastating to Adrianne. “But I remember watching [my grandmother], who was temporarily living in this itty-bitty house out in the country, and on the one hand admiring her strength. She had lost everything — her physical mementos of her life with her husband — everything. She seemed so strong and seemed on the surface to be coping. But I wondered what happened when she went to bed at night. What did she do then, when no one was looking at her? I started thinking if we were wearing a lot of masks to get through our lives and whether they were helping or hurting us.

“As you become older and more aware of family dysfunction . . . it is an awakening. You’re oblivious to things as a kid and then your eyes open. You realize that the things that seemed like such strength could have really been someone doing what they could to hold things together.”

Thirty-five-year-old Vivian St. Claire* is a high-achiever, perfectionist, and inveterate “good girl.” She earned a PhD before she was thirty “because I was bored.” Vivian also suffers from clinical depression. And three years ago, she had a nervous breakdown, driven in part by her relentless drive to meet societal expectations.

Despite her academic and professional success, Vivian couldn’t shake the notion that she was a failure as a woman. A late bloomer in affairs of the heart, who was always more confident in intellectual pursuits than romantic ones, Vivian was childless and single, having just broken up with the man she once thought she would marry. “I never wanted to be the single black woman, and I think that fear created that whole pressure.”

Her undiagnosed clinical depression began to spiral out of control as Vivian grappled with fears about her personal life, her weight, and other issues. She began taking Ambien to cure the insomnia it caused — Ambien, red wine, and occasionally marijuana.

“I would black out,” she says. “It was just all this very unhealthy mix of me trying to hide from a lot of different things. I know I was all over the place.

“Another part of my depression is I had a pact with myself: if I wasn’t married by thirty-five, I was going to kill myself. I very much planned everything out for my life. At thirty-five, my plans ran out,” she says.

“That came out when I had my breakdown. My parents were in the room. While I was being evaluated, my mom was just sitting there silently crying.

“I would like to be more open with my struggle with depression — let close friends and things know,” says Vivian. But she admits her openness is tempered with the realities of being an academic hoping for tenure and a desire not to “embarrass” her parents. Although they were there during her breakdown, they still have not processed her mental illness.

“My mom is fine with it for other people, but not her children— even though her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic.”

As her parents helped her complete paperwork that would commit her to the hospital, Vivian was surprised to hear her father answer in the affirmative when asked about mental illness on his side of the family.

“‘Oh, yeah, your Auntie So-and-So has this. Your uncle is paranoid schizophrenic and whatever.’”

Black families often keep mental health histories under wraps, treating suffering members like guilty secrets. Quoting author Nalo Hopkinson in the book Brown Girl in the Ring, Vivian points out, “We as a people — our secrets are killing us.”

It was a hard road back to mental health. Healing required that Vivian learn to be gentle with herself, to practice physical and mental self-care, to let go of her perfectionism, and to refuse to see her mental illness as a stigma.

“Today, I would say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been — mentally and physically. I’ve come to a peace with myself. Yoga, therapy, being open about my mental illness and my medication, having coping mechanisms, and staying healthy — they are just part of my life now.”

Her voice catches as she describes her pride at making it through: “At this point, every day it’s a blessing that I’m happy, that I’m content with myself, and that I’m okay. I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud every day, because at least I keep holding on. It’s not so much of a struggle for me anymore.

“Putting other people’s pressure on me almost killed me. I’ve had to become comfortable with the uncomfortability of not being perfect. I’m amazed at the woman that I have become. . . . Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional, but it’s been hard. It’s been very hard. But I’ve earned a life beyond thirty-five years.”

Learn more about Tamara Winfrey Harris and The Sisters Are Alright at www.tamarawinfreyharris.com.

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Web of Spider-Men: Will Marvel Use Miles Morales To Stick It To Sony?

By Arturo R. García

As of Wednesday morning, the mantle of Spider-Man has changed hands in both the comic-book and movie realms. And while Marvel Comics scored a win on the diversity front, it’s fair to wonder if the move could pay dividends in another realm.

Because while it’s notable enough to see Miles Morales, the Black Latino character introduced in an alternate comics universe nearly four years ago, named as the protagonist in Marvel’s new Spider-Man title, it will be particularly interesting to see how the company handles both him and his predecessor, Peter Parker, after a series of moves de-emphasizing characters who, like Peter, are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

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Revenge Of The Blerd: The Racialicious Review of Dope

By Arturo R. García

What’s supposed to be a romantic moment in Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope ends up being one of its more problematic: we see the protagonist, Malcolm, tell his love interest Nakia, “Don’t sell yourself short” when she explains that, should she get her GED, she plans to attend a community college before, hopefully, moving on to Cal State Fullerton or a school in that system.

Malcolm’s remark is meant to be encouraging, to spur her on to defying expectations. But there’s also a touch of unwitting condescension, of classism in play in that response. And the vexing thing about Dope is that it’s a coming-of-age tale that won’t let him see that other side even as it insists he’s maturing before our eyes.

SPOILERS under the cut
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A Quick Guide To Five Of The Cambodian Artists Featured In Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten

By Arturo R. Garcia

While a lot of rock documentaries focus on the “rise and fall” or coming and going of a particular artist or genre, John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll largely fulfills a more daunting — and ultimately more haunting — assignment: chronicling the blossoming and annihilation of Cambodia’s entire musical identity, all within a 15-year period.

Pirozzi himself is invisible throughout the proceedings; instead, artists and officials who survived the period narrate the tale oral history-style, with film footage and recordings filling in the blanks and showing how vibrant the country’s musical scene became as it adapted not just North American rock but Afro-Cuban influences with its own traditions.

Under the cut, we’ll take a look at some of the more notable acts spotlighted in the documentary.
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In His Own Words: B.B. King (1925-2015)

Compiled by Arturo R. García

I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer.
The Telegraph, 2009

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Why History Supports The #DiversifyAgentCarter Campaign

By Arturo R. García

It’s telling that, within minutes of ABC quelling weeks of suspense and announcing that Marvel’s Agent Carter was getting a second season, many of the well-wishes were mixed with a call for the show to introduce more characters who weren’t cis-white hetero, a campaign that quickly gained traction under the tag #DiversifyAgentCarter.

It’s also telling that “fans” of Marvel Entertainment and/or the show quickly rolled out the same tired, insidious arguments against it becoming more diverse: that it would be “diversity for diversity’s sake;” or even worse, that it would be “historically inaccurate.”

We say “fans” because, even if you don’t question their enthusiasm for the show or for star Hayley Atwell, you have to wonder what kind of fandom they inhabit when they insist that people of color would be “unrealistic” in what Anna Cabe rightfully described last week as a show that was originated by the fight between a chemically-enhanced US serviceman and a German antagonist with his own altered skull exposed to the world.

You also have to wonder about their particular worldview when they argue that seeing of people of color would be “unrealistic” in New York City at any point in recorded history — let alone the period following post-World War II.
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New Netflix Documentary Could Have Nina Simone Fans Feelin’ Good

By Arturo R. García

Nina Simone fans who are leery of the Zoe Saldana biopic Nina take heart: Netflix quietly posted the trailer for What Happened, Miss Simone?, a documentary that has the support of the singer’s estate and features her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly.

“People think that when she went out on stage, she became Nina Simone,” Kelly says. “My mother was Nina Simone 24-7. And that’s where it became a problem.”

Directed by Oscar nominee Liz Garbus, the film — which is coming off an appearance at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — promises to feature rare and never-before-seen footage and tapes as part of a comprehensive look at not only Simone’s professional life, but her activism.

“I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself,” Simone says, amid chillingly-timely footage of police brutality and Black activists marching. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”

The trailer, as posted late last week, can be seen below.

[h/t Paper]

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‘Hey Adam … Let’s Talk': The #NotYourHollywoodIndian Q&A

By Arturo R. García

Earlier this week we covered the burgeoning campaign against Adam Sandler, Netflix, and their Ridiculous 6 project.

During our coverage, we caught up to Megan Red-Shirt Shaw, who devised the #NotYourHollywoodIndian tag in the wake of the mass walkout by a group of Native American performers, and talked about how the tag came together, how she feels about the defense of the film as “satire,” and where the campaign goes from here.

Let’s start at the beginning: describe, if you would, the moments when you first heard about the actors walking off the Sandler set. How did you go from there to getting the tag together?

Megan Red-Shirt Shaw: I was definitely upset, but also empowered by their decision to take a stand. It’s really difficult to hear that people within our communities are being dishonored – especially in ways that seem like “vintage” issues — the old Western and “Cowboys and Indians” films we’ve come to know really well. I went on Twitter to see what different voices were talking about and realized there wasn’t a hashtag consolidating the ideas. I looked through the original article by Vince Schilling and saw the quotation by Allie Young about being a “Hollywood Indian.” I knew that was what we had to get trending.
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