By Guest Contributor Brokey McPoverty, cross-posted from PostBourgie
The website un’ruly held a public art exhibit in New York City this weekend entitled “You Can Touch My Hair.” Three black women stood in Union Square with signs that read “You can touch my hair,” welcoming strangers to come and cop a feel. The women had different hair types: dreadlocks, straightened hair, a big, blown-out afro.
My intent was to have a piece on this event written a couple of days ago, but getting my thoughts together has been tougher than I thought. But now that I’ve had a chance to chew on this for a while, I’ve decided that this is either some amazing real life trolling or a misguided attempt at doing something important. Or maybe both.
I’m a woman with big hair who has had many a strange, uninvited hand in her head, and so my entire body and spirit reacted to this event. There is a special kind of violation that comes with someone putting their hands on you — any part of you — without your permission. When you’re at a club and someone puts his hand on your waist or the small of your back to get your attention. Or you’re at a work function and a happy-faced woman in a business suit sticks her hands in my hair. When someone has decided that their desire to touch you is more important than your interest in being touched, you don’t feel very much like a person. And being asked by a stranger for undeserved permission to touch part of me is exceedingly creepy.
In Bitch magazine, Racialicious senior editor Tamara Winfrey Harris weighs in on feminist criticism of singer Beyonce:
Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”
Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”
Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.
Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.
Last week, Jennifer Lopez scandalized Britain with a “raunchy” performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Not only did viewers flock to social media (as you do) to complain about JLo dropping it like it’s hot in a French-cut one piece and thigh-high boots, but British TV regulator OfCom confirmed that it has received complaints about the broadcast and is assessing the matter, but not investigating it.
For helpful context, here is the performance–labeled “disgusting” and “shameful” by some critics–that provoked an “assessment” of whether a competitive reality show violated the bounds of decency.
In my humble opinion, the only thing indecent about that performance was the tepidness of the dancing and the awfulness of the song. (But, hey, maybe it’s not for me. I’m an old–actually the same age as JLo–and I don’t spend much time at the club lately.)
I suspect the assessment of Jennifer Lopez’s performance is influenced by both race, size and age bias. But you know I’m conspiratorial that way, so I asked Andrea, my homegirl and fellow editor at the R to weigh in.
Tami: When I heard all the crowing about this performance, I recalled Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance earlier this year., which also prompted cries of outrage.
Both of these performances seem astonishingly tame in the face of criticism. “Disgusting” is a pretty strong word to describe booty shaking in a body suit. Folk are generally cool with sexy (and sexist) Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl, but Queen Bey causes parents to “shield their kids’ eyes.”
I think the response to these performances is very much influenced by racial bias. Brown and black bodies are routinely sexualized. Latinas bear the weight of the “spicy” and “exotic” stereotypes. And those stereotypes have dogged Lopez throughout her career. The nickname “J. Ho”–a reference to the singer/actress’ alleged promiscuity and mercenary character–even has a spot in the Urban Dictionary. And I should point out, these accused character traits seem to be based on little but the skewed way this culture views Latinas.
Lopez herself told US magazine of the controversy: “I think people are so much raunchier than I am. I feel like I’m so tame. [I] wore it at Billboard and Britain’s Got Talent said they wanted exactly the same. So I thought I’d wear the outfit in black. No one complained at Billboard. I think people just like to talk. It was a bodysuit. A lot of performers wear that these days. It is standard stage clothes. I’m not going to walk down the street like that!”
JLo’s act does not seem markedly different from any other pop spectacle–no different Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2000 VMA’s or what this Britney impersonator did during an audition for…wait for it…“Britain’s Got Talent” in 2011.
Andrea: I agree, especially about the relative tepidness of Lopez’s performance and the non-scandalousness of her outfit.
What I think is at play here is Beyonce and Lopez are doing dance moves that are, whether done with Beyonce’s exuberance or with Lopez’s tepidness, sexy moves that they thought of and/or approved of. In other words, they’re expressing their sexual agency. However, that’s a major no-no in a society steeped in the sexist ethos of “I can touch you, but you can’t touch yourself,” which has a long structural history in the lives of women of color due to slavery and colonization.
And this “what about the children” reasoning as to folks’ disgust with the two women’s performance brings up not only women of color doing that stereotypical thing of ruining people’s sexual “innocence” but also something of–how shall I phrase this?–an unspoken notion of the influence of images not only affecting how a person will be “brought up” to express their own sexuality but also the kind of person their brain will be hard-wired to be attracted to. If the child–and let’s be really real, kids are indeed sexual beings–is connecting their erotic feelings to seeing a woman of color dancing like Lopez and moreso like Beyonce, the parents may be thinking that their child just may act upon that attraction and–gasp!–fall in love and–clutch the pearls!–bring “such a woman” home as a spouse.
Tami: And here’s the other thing: Jennifer Lopez (and Beyonce) are not only women of color, they are also women known for having curvy body types, which are often associated with Latinas and black women and are larger than the current ideal for celebrities. Unrestrained fleshiness and jiggle reads differently than hard and trim; Physical abundance is often mistaken for wantonness.
Media wrote about Lopez’s “bum-baring” performance, but the singer’s booty is covered; her outfit was less revealing than typical beachwear. Could the rub be that JLo’s rear is big and round vs. tiny and tight?
Andrea: I think Lopez herself has pointed out how her body shape get framed in this society: “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous–like running around and bringing men into my hotel room. But it’s just the opposite.” To me, Lopez shouldn’t have had to say such a thing–her body, however it’s shaped, is hers to do with what she wants with nary a comment to the press. However, the burden of the stereotypes about Latinas and Black women keeps us defending our reputations in the public space in order to, as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry says in her book Sister Citizen, keep our bearings in the face of the socially constructed crooked images of ourselves.
But we’re not only defending our reputations that folks assume comes with our bodies; we also need to defend our bodies, literally, as seen by the clip of Beyonce whipping around and firmly telling a white-appearing concertgoer in Denmark that she’d have him removed because he smacked her butt–and this happened last week!
This brings me back to what you said about our bodies being routinely sexualized. It’s not just that bodies of color are routinely sexualized; it’s that our bodies are furthermore seen–still–as public sexual property to be discussed and publicly contested to be the figures that people shouldn’t aspire to desire sexually, though I’ve heard quite a few non-Black and non-Latin@s say that Beyonce and Lopez inspired them to “love their curves” and/or “embrace their booties” in light of the contested reality that Beyonce’s and Lopez’s curves are seen as a physical and sexual ideal.
Tami: Lastly, I think age is a factor in this discussion as well. Western culture worships youth. Women past a certain age aren’t supposed to sexy; we are supposed to cover up. Madonna is routinely told to put it away. And, to hear some folks tell it, Janet Jackson’s biggest sin wasn’t showing booby on primetime television, but showing over-40 booby. Sexy dressing may be fine for the 20-somethings, but for women north of 40, it is unseemly.
Andrea: *Sigh* I think part of this is the association of age and motherhood. Lopez and Beyonce are both mothers. Forty-something women especially (Bey is in her 30s) are cast as matronly–whether or not we have children–and being sexually attracted to a woman of that age is seen as MILFing, which, as the phrase states, is all about desiring a woman old enough to be (some)one’s mom, who are always constructed as non-sexual beings in this society. (Thus, the porned-out “shock” of the attraction.)
No, it’s pop goddesses who are so deeply degraded when they aren’t meeting the physical ideals of youth, like, well, getting older. And it’s Black and Latina pop goddesses–like Beyonce, Jackson, and Lopez, who’s still fondly remembered as one of the Fly Girls for In Living Color–who are degraded so roundly and so publicly.
“So you’re going to twerk right?” was a common question my sorority sisters and I got when we entered a dance competition this year at our school.
Not too long ago, the university I attend welcomed its first historically black Greek-letter organization. I had the privilege of becoming a member of this sorority and was curious to see how the students of a predominately white university in a wealthy area would receive a historically black organization on its campus.
The university was widely accepting of the sorority; however, as we became more visible on the campus, we experienced much cultural insensitivity.
This year, for the first time, we participated in a sorority dance competition that raises money for charity. During the week leading up to the dance-off, several people approached us asking if we were going to twerk — as if twerking is the only style of dance a black woman can do.
I want to keep rooting for Wayne Brady. But while (rightly) defending himself against Bill Maher’s lazy accusations on Monday on HuffPost Liveon Monday, Brady chose to travel an equally low road. Continue reading →
I find it interesting what people think is completely normal to share publicly over the Internet.
I find it interesting what I think is completely normal to share publicly over the Internet. For some reason, in 2009, I thought it was completely fine to post several pictures of myself on Facebook rolling around a luxury hotel bed in a short, terry cloth robe.
The web is a hub for over-sharing nowadays, whether its racy pictures or racist statements. Lately, more and more people, famous or not, get called out for the things they say. This is where Public Shaming comes in.
Public shaming on the Internet is now more popular than ever. The boom in the usage of social media has heightened the way people express themselves, whether it’s asking their followers to help them choose a new pair of sunglasses, photographing what they ordered for dinner, or relating their thoughts on a current news story or hot-button issue. The unspoken etiquette of social media is loosening, and what results sometimes are some eye-opening statements; these statements feed off of each other and have a tendency to escalate into unsavory situations. Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook have played a role in every big news story so far this year, but they also have aided in rampant misinformation.
In addition to the comments of the misinformed, the insensitive, rude, and racist things people say have been plucked from the Internet and spotlighted by sites like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, and even Time. But, is pointing out the bigotry of others in this way helpful, or is it harmful, town crier-esque entertainment?
With all of this in mind, I sat down for a chat with the creator of the aptly named Public Shaming, a blog whose sole purpose is to find problematic tweets and post them publicly for Internet posterity.
Screenshots of offensive tweets are under the cut. They all come with a **TRIGGER WARNING.**
If you’ve watched by now (which you should, it’s a pretty awesome four minutes) you could imagine that this stirring piece, well, stirred a lot of people. Since this viral video’s posting on YouTube it’s started an ongoing discussion- not only of representation of people of color in media, but PoC representation in her piece as well.
For Rostad’s video response to the comments on her poem, continue under the cut.
Brown Girls Burlesque performs at the New York Burlesque Festival in 2010. Image by CreatixTiara/Flickr
Perle Noire takes the stage at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Her costume: brilliant orange silk against brown skin. She glides, shimmies, and beams. To the sound of an urgent drum beat, her skirt falls, revealing silvery fringe swinging across a bared bottom. Horns. She thrusts and dances. A turned back. Full breasts and glittering pasties. The crowd whoops as she leaps and cartwheels. She beams: the performance is magnetic and joyous. It is burlesque.
A variety performance traditionally featuring striptease, burlesque has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last two decades. A bared shoulder or the shake of a hip can be sexy, sensual, and funny. But the art form is also a means of resistance. Undulating bodies can uncover histories, challenge biases and defy stereotypes. And when politicized bodies move this way–bodies still straining under the weight of racial stereotypes that stretch back to the era of slavery–it is even more insubordinate.