Category Archives: african-american

Race + Tech: Despite ‘Titstare,’ Black Girls Code Does Disrupt Right

By Arturo R. García

While a pair of sophomoric, reckless displays ended up being the calling card for this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt developers’ gathering, let’s not let that take away from the work Black Girls Code put in over the weekend.

As founder Kimberly Bryant told KQED-FM on Monday, she brought a team of three BGC members to the event as part of a partnership between her organization and ThoughtWorks, with their demo, SnackOverflow, providing a guide to each of the organization’s chapters.

The successful appearance at Disrupt came just a couple of weeks after Bryant and her group were profiled on CNN.
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Quoted: The Atlantic on Hollywood’s “Sassy Black Lady” Problem

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Writer Akash Nikolas on the buzz surrounding Oprah Winfrey’s role in The Butler:

A win for her would be deserved—she’s wonderful in the film. But it’d also be the latest example of what seems to be a Hollywood maxim: Black women only get the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress when they play characters who confirm the stereotype of the Sassy Black Lady—bold, sharp-tongued, impertinent.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Oscar for Gone With the Wind, playing house-slave Mammy who was warm and witty with her slave-owners. Half a century later, Whoopi Goldberg won for Ghost by playing Oda Mae Brown, a psychic with no back-story of her own and whose entire purpose was to support a white couple and entertain the audience with sass talk. In recent years, black actresses started winning Best Supporting Actress more frequently. Jennifer Hudson won forDreamgirls by playing Effie White, a diva with too much attitude to remain in a successful pop group and just enough attitude to cover “And I Am Telling You.” Mo’nique won for Precious by playing Mary Lee Johnston, an abusive mother whose sassiness was taken to a monstrous extreme as she terrorized her daughter out of her own fear of being alone and unloved. And Octavia Spencer won for playing The Help’s Minny Jackson, a back-talking maid who fried chicken, cracked jokes, and literally made a racist employer eat shit while her husband beat her.

If Oprah nabs the Oscar, she will have also won by playing sassy, but look closer and you’ll see her role rises above and complicates the stereotype. In her introductory scenes, Gloria is sweet and maternal, and it’s only as the movie progresses that we see her sassiness growing out of resentment—over her husband’s career, over the discord between her son and his father, and over her station in life. In this way, the film actually provides historical context for the sassy black woman, suggesting that she became that way because of decades of inequality. At the same time, the film also offers a modern revision of that role. Gloria feels fleshed-out; she’s not over-the-top, her story is fully explored (and fully her own) and, with the film covering several decades, we get the scope of a complete life lived well into old age.

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Quoted: David J. Leonard On “Frat Rap” And The New White Negro

 

Image via act.mtv.com.

Image via act.mtv.com.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “white Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

While similarly embracing hedonistic pleasures, the idea of frat rap positions these artists apart from those other artists, those of color, who may offer a similar style and performance. Akin to going uptown during the jazz era without having to leave the confines of white spaces, frat rap is nothing new. Whereas the other rap purportedly celebrates violence, sexism, and materialism, and pollutes hearts, frat rap is fun. What happens in college stays in college.

Historically white colleges remain immensely segregated. The growing popularity of frat rap, which has seized upon the power of online technologies and the stigmas associated with (black) hip-hop, continues not just a history of appropriation and the idea that blackness is merely a culture or an aesthetic that can be borrowed or purchased at the local dollar store; it also continues the American tradition of segregation that is a cornerstone of American colleges and Universities.

–From “Frat Rap And The New White Negro,” The Chronicle Of Higher Education: The Conversation” 8/29/13

The Rape of Harriet Tubman

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By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at Ms. Magazine blog

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman. I had the opportunity to celebrate that fact when organizing a special symposium back in March, resulting in some thought-provoking critical papers on her legacy of resistance, which I’m currently guest-editing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism.

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of this event questioned why, on the anniversary of her death, we have yet to experience an epic cinematic treatment of her life.  She certainly qualified for that great Hollywood biopic. Against all odds, as a disabled enslaved woman, she escaped to freedom–having learned of the Underground Railroad network that included support from black and white allies–and once she made it to the other side returned to slavery 17 more times to free countless other slaves.

Tubman used all sorts of wit and trickery to enable her dangerous journey in this secretive network, and even believed in her divine right and power to engage in liberation. She collaborated with John Brown on the raid at Harper’s Ferry, recruiting slaves for the project, but her illness at the time prevented her from taking part in the uprising. During the Civil War, she served as a Union army spy, nurse and soldier, and in 1863, she led a successful military campaign on Combahee River in South Carolina, resulting in the liberation of 750 slaves.

In short, she’s the stuff of legend–for black history, women’s history, American history. The fictional Django from Django Unchained ain’t got nothing on her!

But on the year of her centennial anniversary, what does Tubman get instead of the great Hollywood biopic? She gets a “sex tape.”

You read that correctly. Recently, in an internet launch of his new YouTube channel, All Def Digital, rap media mogul Russell Simmons featured a failed comedic video titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape–the first in the line-up of this new series. It didn’t take long for black audiences on social media to utterly denounce this video and petition against it. Within 24 hours, Simmons removed the video from his channel and issued this apology:

My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of the actors said in the video, that 162 years later there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset.

It is amazing that Simmons could not have predicted the outrage upon seeing such a video–which infers that, in order to build an Underground Railroad network to free the slaves, Tubman basically used blackmail against her white slaveowner by conniving with a fellow male slave to create a “sex tape” of their sexual encounter that she could later use as “leverage.” Then again, this is what porn culture will do to one’s perspective–something Simmons has perpetuated in his decades-long involvement with sexist rap music and culture.

Just reading the video’s premise was enough to make my blood boil, but sometimes, especially when you do media analysis as part of your scholarship, you just have to be a witness. So I viewed the video, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that, on this centennial anniversary, Harriet Tubman got raped.

Most of Tubman’s biographers have argued that there is no documentation that Tubman experienced sexual abuse while enslaved.  She was definitely physically abused–routinely beaten, and at one point as an adolescent suffered a head injury caused by an overseer who threw a two-pound weight against her head, breaking her skull and nearly killing her. The injury impacted her throughout her 91 years of life, as she was often given to sleeping spells (which Tubman claimed brought on various dreams and prophetic visions).

Slavery was “hell,” Tubman described in her narrative, dictated to Sarah Bradford since she could neither read nor write. She experienced a great deal of trauma while enslaved, but if there were any experiences with rape–which marked the experiences of far too many enslaved women–Tubman remained silent on the issue. It’s still also possible that, as hellish as her experience might have been, she was spared from a deeper hell that sexual violence brings to the picture. Which is why Simmons’ “sex tape” adds insult to injury.

It’s a hell of a sobering reality to realize that, 100 years after Tubman’s passing, our porn culture–intertwined inextricably with rape culture–would produce such a demeaning narrative about one of our great American heroes. It happened not because there is any basis in history for such an imagined scenario (Tubman simply would not engage in sexual leverage–it’s not part of the essence of who she was) but because our culture continues to trivialize rape (which is what we must categorize any unequal encounter between a slaveowner and slave, regardless of “consent”) and debase women’s experiences.  Ironically, the horrendous truth about sex tapes is that they tend to be used as leverage not against men but against women! It is women who are often blackmailed or demeaned when sex tapes are made available on the Internet. Women are the ones who have everything to lose, considering the slut-shaming that still clings to female sexuality. Sure, some celebrities might parlay such “porn” videos into a career, but the intention of sex tapes is public humiliation.

The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape publicly humiliates one of our great icons, and if she–whom many believe is inviolable, sacred, untouchable–can be debased, then not one of us is safe.

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Am I Black Enough, Woman Enough, Trans Enough?

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By Guest Contributor Koko Jones; originally published at Koko Jones

There are several places where my multiple identities intersect; Black/African American, Native American, Musician, trans woman, trans woman of color. My blog is an attempt to address these issues for myself and where I land in the maze of multiple identities.

Watching the Melissa Harris-Perry show this morning I wanted to join the conversation on Race and Identities. On the show there was a white woman who is raising two black children and a white woman who is the mother of two interracial children. It made my mind wander a bit as well as wonder a bit about my own duality and identities. There has been a theme this week with conversations about identity and labels (i.e.: B. Scott).

I grew up knowing I was a black child; I knew nothing else. All of my friends were black, my neighbors were black, my uncles, aunts, cousins were black, the only grandparents I knew were definitely black. We ate typical southern black cuisine in our house; neck bones & cabbage, collard greens with ham hocks, pig’s feet, fish and grits, the list goes on. The music we listened to and what I remember from childhood was all basically black music; from Mahalia Jackson to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Jimi Hendrix was considered a Rock God in our house.

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However, my mother looked incredibly like a white woman despite the skin color of her father. My brothers and sisters; six of us in total all had relatively the same pigment of skin. It has been a bone of contention in our family for years; what are we really? I am a child of many ancestors. Some of those ancestors are black; some are white and some are Native American (Cherokee and Choctaw). I knew nothing of the culture of Native Americans growing up and knew nothing of the culture of white people. I was often teased as a child about my skin color and sometimes I still am by some of my closest friends in jest. Terms like “Light Bright” or “Injun Joe” have been used by some of good friends and I laugh at along with them.

So it’s natural for me to identify as “Black”. Not to give up my age but for context I will.  I was born in 1959 and grew up during the civil rights movement of the 60s. My mother joined the fight to integrate the Englewood Public School system in the 60s, which I vaguely remember. While growing up in my little New Jersey suburb in Englewood, neighborhoods were segregated. Just over the town line from us in Teaneck there was a white neighborhood we called “Crackatown”. The houses were nicer; the streets were smoother and kept much better. It was those nicely-paved streets, excellent for bike riding, that attracted the kids from my neighborhood. One day a group of friends and I went riding in “Crackatown” when we were attacked with water balloons by a group of white kids. A water balloon hit me in my head and I went flying off my bike. That was followed by the hurling of racial slurs: “You niggas get out of our neighborhood!” That neighborhood has long since become integrated. But the memory still remains. It didn’t matter to them how light-skinned I was, I got the smack because I was still black.

Despite this, there were times when I first started to go to public school where I felt a strange awkwardness when my mother picked me up from school. I remember kids asking me, “Yo, is your mother white?” I would answer, “No, she’s black. She’s just really light-skinned.” It was if I had to prove somehow that I was totally black.

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As the years went on it was well established that I was black, but in a certain way I always felt that perhaps I had to prove my blackness. Could this be the reason why I chose to play congas and African drums?

Yet and still, there was another search for my identity in terms of gender. As one who transitioned relatively late, I had to deal with (and still deal with) people questioning my gender as well. There are those inside and outside the trans community that sometimes question whether I am trans enough. After all, I play a very physical instrument: the drums. I play like I’m supposed to play. To me there is only one way to play the congas and that is the way that I was taught. I carry my instruments from the car to the venue without asking for any help from anyone. This is the way of the drum. Max Roach used to tell me, “Learn to carry your instrument.” It’s just a part of the learning process and the oneness of you and your instrument. It doesn’t make me more ‘butch’ or less ‘fem’. I’m just an artist doing my art, my craft that I have honed for 44 years.

In my years it has taken a lot of growth to accept myself the way I am without a ton of surgery or having the ability to transition early in life. It takes a lot to love your self when there are so many standards set for women in society. I believe myself to be a beautiful woman. But there are times when I feel eyes upon me. I often use the example of going into the ladies restroom in the Port Authority in New York and getting stares–or at least what I feel are stares. Sometimes I feel it so fiercely that I want to ask them, “Do you want to see my female realness card? Can I see yours?”

So the question is: What is “realness”? Is it being what the status quo believes or is it created by our own perceptions based upon our experiences?

Just the fact that someone feels like they don’t belong to any group for whatever reason, can be very traumatizing. I remember standing out in front of the legendary club, the Grapevine, in the early 80s and getting “read” by a trans woman there. She said to me, “You tryin’ to be a woman with that face?” Of course, I was questioning at that time and I hadn’t truly started my transition. But the fact remains that there are still those in our community that judge one another based solely on looks.

Being judged on several levels is a tough thing to take at times. I have lost jobs; no I have lost a career based upon judgment and looks. It is only through my resilience and tenacity that I still continue to pursue my music career. Just a couple of years back I lost a really good job with a band that I worked with on a pretty regular basis. I will never forget those emails and the letter that was written to me by the manager and owner of the entertainment company I was employed by, explaining the reasons that they were letting me go. I will paraphrase: “I know I have been a chicken about approaching you about this and I’m sorry. Although you are unbelievably talented, it is because of the complaints of our clients that we are unable to book you for future gigs.” A range of feelings from sadness, to self pity, to anger permeated my being at that time. But self doubt about who I am seemed to creep into my soul. It was just one more trauma I had to endure. Certainly it is painful to see my good friends and colleagues in the music field continue to work and further their careers. However, I was fully aware that this would take place before I transitioned physically from male to female.

It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to fight those feelings of self-deprecation with tools that I have learned in my study at Hunter College. Coping skills are extremely important for “Girl Like Us” for we face such a wide variety of challenges. I am hoping to be able to teach these skills that have been helpful to me to others. I have a long way to go but we can only keep what we have by giving it away. Of course I am a teacher, too, so teaching comes so natural to me. I am not giving up on society for I believe that everyone has goodness inherent in their lives. But we can start by discontinuing the propensity for us to judge one another.

An Open Letter To Kal Penn On Stop And Frisk

"The Time Machine" PremiereBy Guest Contributor Bridget Todd

Dear Kalpen Suresh Modi,

I’ve been a big fan of yours for some time.

Even though I don’t know you, you always struck me as someone who was thoughtful about race.

When I heard your stage name Kal Penn really came from your wanting to see if white casting directors would be more responsive to “Kal” than to “Kalpeen,” I found it was so hilariously insightful that I couldn’t help but become a fan.

For whatever reason, I assumed you and I were similar. But on Tuesday when you tweeted that you were supportive of Stop and Frisk, I knew we weren’t as similar as I once assumed.

We had a brief back and forth about the policy on twitter, and while I appreciated you taking the time to share your thoughts, 140 characters isn’t enough space to adequately tell you misinformed you really are on Stop and Frisk.

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Roundup: Reactions to Stop and Frisk Ruling

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Yesterday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department violate the constitutional rights of the city’s residents. (Read the full opinion.) While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have cited stop-and-frisk as a key factor in decreasing NYC’s murder and major crime rates, data tells a different story and the tactic has long been criticized for its focus on black and Latino residents. What follows is a roundup of reactions to the ruling. Share more in comments.

The New York Times compiled a video of reactions to the judge’s ruling, featuring residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Says one young man, identified as Darnell Rose:

“It’s definitely a good thing. Definitely. Because I don’t have to walk and look over my shoulder and worry about, you know, undercovers running up on me, jacking me up, harassing me…I could be coming from the store, minding my own business or getting off of work and they just look at me and feel like, ‘Yeah, let’s get this guy right here.’ Like, hey buddy, what’s the problem? It’s uncalled for.”

I. Bennett Capers, wrote in a Times editorial:

MY husband and I are about the same age and build, wear the same clothes and share the same gender, but I am far more likely to be stopped by the police. This isn’t because I have a criminal record or engage in furtive movements. Nor is my husband a choirboy. Statistically speaking, it’s because I’m black and he’s white. [...] even if these practices were constitutional, they’re still a bad idea. Of course, one wouldn’t know that listening to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other true believers, who insist that aggressive stop-and-frisks have reduced violent crime. But they’re wrong.

The most obvious reason is the brute numbers. For every 100 individuals stopped and frisked, only about 6 are arrested, often for minor offenses like marijuana possession. The success rate for finding a gun borders on the nonexistent: 1 in every 1,000 stops. In fact, purely random stops have produced better results. [...]

And there is a more important argument that isn’t captured by the numbers. Aggressive stop-and-frisks sow community distrust of the police and actually inhibit crime control, creating a generation of disaffected minority youths who believe that cops are racists. Read more…

In an insightful conversation on Branch, participants debated the merits of the ruling, with Al Jazeera producer Osman Norr offering:

“I think, taken together with Holder’s comments on mandatory minimums, the DoJ is starting to carve out a distinct position.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates recommends readers revisit the This American Life piece, “Is that a Tape Recorder in your Pocket or are you Just Unhappy to See Me,” about Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who secretly recorded his supervisors telling officers to manipulate crime statistics and make illegal arrests:

 

 

Ira Glass: Adrian Schoolcraft says he isn’t exactly sure when, but at some point he had decided that it was important to document the orders that he was given that he thought were out of line. He recorded roll calls where officers were constantly being told to do more stop-and-frisks, even though it’s illegal to stop a random person on the street and frisk them without reasonable suspicion. In December 2008, a sergeant tells officers to stop-and-frisk quote, “anybody walking around, no matter what the explanation is.” He recorded Stephen Mauriello, the commander the 81st precinct– and the person Adrian Schoolcraft says really brought the hammer down for higher numbers– ordering the officers to arrest everyone they see. This happens in a couple of recordings, like this one from Halloween 2008.

Stephen Mauriello: Any roving bands– you hear me– roving bands more than two or three people–

Ira Glass: He’s saying “any roving bands of more than two or three people”– he’s talking about just people going around on Halloween night–

Stephen Mauriello: I want them stopped–

Ira Glass: I want them stopped–

Stephen Mauriello: –cuffed–

Ira Glass: –cuffed–

Stephen Mauriello: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Ira Glass: –throw them in here, run some warrants.

Stephen Mauriello: You’re on a foot post? [BLEEP] it. Take the first guy you’ve got and lock them all up. Boom.

Ira Glass: You’re on a foot post? F it. Take the first guy you’ve got, lock them all up. Boom.

Stephen Mauriello: We’re going to go back out and process them later on, I’ve got no problems–

Ira Glass: –go back out and then we’ll come back in and process them later on.”

Adrian Schoolcraft: Yes. Yeah, what he’s saying is, arrest people simply for the purpose of clearing the streets.

 

The blog Civilly Minded wondered whether law enforcement should have their own version of the physicians Hippocratic Oath:

The physician’s oath — ‘First Do No Harm’ — is well known.1 It is also well conceived. A human being is a complex organism.  A physical intervention can have unintended consequences.  In the worst cases, the results of the intervention can be irreparable and even deadly.

The Hippocratic Oath is said to encourage rigor, honesty, and integrity among physicians, and helps ensure the minimization and justification of any adverse effects their work may have on people. Perhaps the police should swear to a Hippocratic Oath of their own. Read more…

 

Image Credit: The Guardian

Quoted: Colorlines on being ‘masculine of center’ while black

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The weekend after the George Zimmerman verdict came down, Erica Woodland of Oakland stayed close to home. She could identify with the righteous anger expressed at the protests. But rather than join in, she canceled plans with family, postponed a trip to the laundromat and limited outings to work and the grocery store.

“I decided for my own safety, I need to stay in the house,” Woodland recalls”I knew I could be putting myself at risk for anything.”

The possibility of being targeted by police or by a fearful, overzealous civilian on account of her race was one consideration for Woodland, who is black. But so was gender. She describes herself as masculine of center, which means that her way of expressing herself – clothes, mannerisms – falls toward that side of the spectrum. It also means that like many of the black men and boys at the center of the recent conversation advanced by everyone from President Obama to Questlove, she’s been profiled as criminal or suspicious.

“We walk through the world and some of us pass as male,” Woodland, 33, says. “We get left out of this conversation.”  Read more…