Category Archives: culture

The Evolution Of Hula: Traditional, Contemporary, And Hotel

By Guest Contributor Sarah Neal, cross-posted from Sociological Images

Earlier on SocImages, Lisa Wade drew attention to the tourism industry’s commodification of Polynesian women and their dancing. She mentioned, briefly, how the hula was made more tourist-friendly (what most tourists see when they attend one of the many hotel-based luaus throughout the islands is not traditional hula).  In this post, I want to offer more details on the history and the differences between the tourist and the traditional hula.

First, Wade states that, while female dancers take center stage for tourists, the traditional hula was “mostly” a men’s dance.  While it has not been determined for certain if women were ever proscribed from performing the hula during the time of the Ali’i (chiefs), it seems unlikely that women would have been prevented from performing the hula when the deity associated with the hula is Pele, a goddess. Furthermore, there is evidence that women were performing the dance at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.

Continue reading

The Web Series: Where are our Black Queer Women On Screen?

By Guest Contributor Spoken Pandora; originally published at Elixher

In a three-part weeklong series, ELIXHER examines the Black lesbian web series phenomenon. 

It’s human nature to long for reflections of ourselves in our surroundings. Our ability to connect with people, places, and objects is based on a feeling of familiarity. Without this component, the connection is lost. That’s why it didn’t surprise me that I was uninterested in a recent film’s sad attempt to depict a lesbian relationship.

The acting wasn’t bad; nor were the women unattractive. It was more about my inability to connect with the characters. I saw very little of myself within them. I didn’t leave nor did I ask the movie attendant for my money back; instead I sat there purging myself on over-buttered popcorn and large doses of caffeine. I left feeling unsatisfied, as if I have shared the bed of an inexperienced lover.

It has been days and the junk food has left my system. However, I find myself insatiably hungry. My spirit will no longer allow me to be pacified by lesbian-inspired films and television dramas with women who have no resemblance to myself. As a queer woman of color, I long to see my beautiful sisters playing roles that reveal our truth.

What I do not want is to see unstable relationships, the come-save-a-lez male character insertion, or the downward spiral of our brown skin queer women due to their inability to deal with life’s issues. I’m not asking for perfection because I find beauty in imperfection. I am, however, asking to see our truth receive just as much exposure in mainstream media as some of the well-known lesbian flicks that chose to exclude women of our shade.

In my quest, I sent out a call to speak with queer African American women that had been involved in web series.  I asked them why they felt that we have shows that meet our standards popping up all over the Internet but not in mainstream media.

My first interview was with Milanda who appeared in the first season of Come Take a Walk with Me with me directed and written by Mina Monshá. Come Take a Walk with Me is a coming out story that focuses on lesbian relationships during the characters’ college years. The cast is comprised of an eclectic blend of queer women of color. This alone had me at hello.

I spoke with Milanda for hours discussing a wide array of topics that included our responsibility as brown skin queer women to educate the masses of our existence, the reason why we may get a bisexual cameo here and there, and why we find it easier to showcase our talents on the web versus television or the movie screen.

The truth is that we have a responsibility to each other to ask for what we want and when we get it, to show up. Often times we hear the cries for something better but when something better presents itself, we don’t always show our support. We will always be stronger in numbers. We must also look at the fact that more often than not, we create the labels and boxes that society tries to stuff us in. Because of this it is our responsibility to educate our heterosexual counterparts about who we are.

We both agreed that it seems to be easier for those outside of our space to tolerate our truth when we wrap it in a bisexual package. It seems that by including a man at some point of the story allows men to continue the fantasy of possibilities; possibly they can have us, possibly they can change us, possibly they can save us. But we don’t need saving. Black women have worn capes since the dawn of time and know how to make a steak out of a honey sandwich. After my conversation with Milanda my head was in a tailspin and that is when I realized that we are a strong force with the power to create change.

Shortly after our discussion, the opportunity to speak with the cast of Lez-B-Honest fell into my lap. This web series was birthed from the minds of its producers Dacia Mitchell, Shannon Todd, and Tonica Freeman and is filmed out of Palm Beach, FL. The show tackles various issues that go on within our relationships and community. Yes there is drama, cheating, and sex, but there is also true love, spirituality, the journey to finding self, and the battle with creating one’s own positive self-image.

These women brave the stigma that we have been imprisoned to and show how life really happens for some of us. After the first five minutes of watching one of the shows my soul felt quenched. And with over 6 million views combined at the end of their second season, it is obvious that I am not alone in my thinking.

I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to talk with these women, but what I received was a true representation of the queer family unit compiled of intelligent and grinding women.

In my interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with the characters Reese, Tye, Portia, Renee, Alex, and Shawna. All of the women came to the show for different reasons but after coming together found a bond that connected their spirits. I was able to learn a lot from our conversation. The most important thing I learned is that we all want the same thing.

They too would like to see more of us in mainstream media, outside of the stereotypical labels and preconceived notions. They feel that we have the power to make this change. They also expressed the importance of queer women supporting one another in their ventures and educating each other about the resources that are available in order for us to produce more of our brand of work.

See here is the thing: queer women of color come in as many types as we do shades and hair textures. To limit our ability is to kill the spirit that makes us who we are. When we invest in the next big movie or television series, we should invest not only our time and money but our hearts into media outlets that represent us in all of the forms we come in. We, as a unit, must come together because it’s time the revolution be televised.

It’s long overdue.

What’s your go-to Black lesbian web series? Make a commitment to supporting our own! Share your favorite episode on social media, advertise your business on their website or purchase their merch.


Spoken Pandora considers herself a gypsy that has traveled worlds through the literature she writes. Currently she resides in North Carolina with her daughter and partner. When she is not writing, she publicly speaks at LGBTQ events on sexual related topics. Her work can be found on her website.

Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency

100 Questions About Indian Americans

Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.

One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.

When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.

I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”

“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”

I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”

The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”

The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.

–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13

Open Thread: What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Youth Issues?

Image by Timberland Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons.

Latoya and Arturo had a conversation last night that started from this story about 33 high school students in California getting suspended for their involvement in a music video that involved twerking.

Besides the discussion on twerking itself–and it becoming popular in a majority-white space–two facts stuck out: a) the video was shot on school property, with school equipment, under the pretense of being an assignment (it was not), and b) many of the seniors involved have to petition to win back their rights to be part of their prom and graduation ceremonies, based on the school’s “zero tolerance” policy:

At Scripps Ranch High school there is zero tolerance for students who cause major disruptions at school or school activities. Any student who causes a major disruption will receive a five (5) day suspension, a possible new school placement and may be arrested.

But at the same time, it’s fair to ask: how are schools doing when it comes to teaching students not just how to use tech, but the implications and ethics associated with that? What happens when your image is in the public eye for some video or something you said on Twitter?

And considering that the video in question was shot with school equipment that somebody, presumably, was in charge of, how liable is the school for not being able to sniff out the problem beforehand? How well are younger people and their educators prepared to deal with  (Trigger Warning for upcoming link) a World Star world, and the consequences it can have on not just your educational career, but your professional prospects?

So let’s consider that a call for your thoughts, and your submissions–on not just that issue, but on the kinds of things that most directly affect our younger Racializens. What’s on the mind of the generation coming up?

[Image by Timberlake Regional Library via Flickr Creative Commons]

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Suheir Hammad

By Andrea Plaid

Since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s talk about one of my favorite poets: Suheir Hammad.

Of course, Hammad speaks quite a few women of color’s truth with her classic piece, “Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic”:

Continue reading

The Problematics Of The Fake Harlem Shake

[Editor's note: We know...we know...enough with the Harlem Shake! This dissection by Sezin Koehler was just too good not to share. Consider this a coda to our discussion of the controversy.]

by Guest Contributor Sezin Koehler; originally published at Sociological Images

1

 The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s.  Here is what it looks like:

In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.  For example:

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being whitewashed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon. Personally, I’ve been “video-bombing” anyone I see incorrectly referring to the new version as the Harlem Shake with this:

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America–one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority–and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars, and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm-flailing and hip-thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, FL.

Keeping Tabs On The Social Justice Blogosphere In The Age Of Google Reader

By Guest Contributor David Zhou

Forgive me for anthropomorphizing a website.

The announcement that Google Reader would be shutting down hit me like the loss of an old friend with whom I had lately fallen out of touch–softly at first, then more powerfully. It’s easy to think as tech consumers that things die because of our neglect or disinterest. The biggest cliché that I acknowledge here is that Google Reader was more than a website, and whatever we neglected was more than a RSS aggregator. Still, Google Reader supported a blogging culture in which I have participated more infrequently over the years. Perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a wistful moment to reflect on how things have changed and what we do now.

I think I started using Reader in 2006 or 2007. I started by following some TV fan blogs that I wanted to keep up with. (I was really into Lost at the time.) When I got a handle of finding RSS feeds, I began to add everything. Blogs for cooking, news, tech, music, of college administrators and advisors, and even calendars and events. I must have cleared hundreds of items a day, reading post titles in fractions of a second. (The Trends feature in Google Reader tells me opaquely I have read 300,000+ items since 2009; apparently, it can’t fully count how many items I have read.)

In the summer of 2007, I started a blog with a close friend for our campus Asian American student organization. In the process of gathering things to write about in the world at large, I started a folder in Reader called “asian americana”, and then set out to find all the Asian American blogs there existed. There weren’t that many. Into “asian americana” went Angry Asian Man, of course. Hyphen magazine had a blog, too. Reappropriate was refreshing. Sepia Mutiny was still alive. Disgrasian was just a new upstart. If I missed any, my sincerest apologies; I read you all.

Continue reading

New Blackness And The Post-Soul Aesthetic: An Interview With Mark Anthony Neal

By Guest Contributor Lamont Lilly

Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of five books including Soul Babies (2002), New Black Man (2005) and the forthcoming Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013). He is also co-editor of That’s the Joint! (2011) and is host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. After sitting-in on one of his classes, we paused for a few questions. Read along as Neal speaks quite insightfully on Spike Lee, Nas, Black feminism, and the n-word.

Lamont Lilly: Dr. Neal, in your book New Black Man, you describe how you were first tagged a “Black male feminist” on the BET Tonight Show. Being that you embrace this tag, can you share with us the meaning of a Black male feminist?

Mark Anthony Neal: (Laughing) Well, when I first began graduate school I was introduced to something called Feminist Theory, a body of work that attempted to intervene in both political discourse and everyday realities regarding the notions of equity between men and women. The idea that men inherited a certain amount of privilege from their maleness was a privilege even more complicated when factoring race into the equation. I was taking classes in the English Department and became curious to the question, “Where are all the Black women writing about this?” There I was, reading Barbara Christian and Barbara Smith, and on my own I began to seek out sisters like bell hooks.

I remember purchasing my first bell hooks reading on me and my wife’s first wedding anniversary. It was my first attempt at critically engaging that type of material. Hooks is one of the most important figures out there on studies of gender, sexuality, and race in the last 20 years. She’s written 15 or so books and none of them with footnotes. She was taking this high theoretical language and writing it in a way that was both applicable and accessible to everyday folks. It was under this context that I was introduced to not just feminism, but Black feminism.

Continue reading