Category Archives: The Things We Do to Ourselves

Dating White Vs. Dating Light?

by Guest Contributor Danielle Small

black-couple-holding-handsI always thought relationships would get easier as I got older.

Back when I was in high school, I lived in a small Wisconsin town where white people were 95% of the population. Obviously, my high school boyfriend was white. Every time we went out in public we grew accustomed to the stares, the pointed fingers, the gasps, and the whispers. And that was the every day racism. There were also the not so subtle instances, like when a boy in his high school (we went to different high schools) went out of his way to get Taco Bell’s special Halloween black taco shells and put it in my boyfriend’s locker with a note that said, “Eat this, bitch.”

Needless to say, when I moved to New York for college, I was hopeful at the opportunity to somewhat escape the prominent role of racism in any future relationships.

But life is never that simple.

I’ve been with my current boyfriend for three years. He is mixed race, specifically German and Haitian and has light brown skin and wavy black hair. He identifies as black. I never really thought much of his physiognomy until I saw how other people perceived our relationship. Some of the troubling instances were all too familiar.

The first differences I noticed happened when I would hang out with any dark-skinned black male friend of mine. I noticed that most of the time my friends and I were together in public, someone would come up to us and say, “You’re such a cute couple” or “I can tell you’re in love.” They assumed we were together because we looked like we belonged together.

But when I’m out with my light-skinned wavy-haired man who I’m very much in love with, most people don’t assume we are together (unless we are engaging in hardcore PDA), let alone comment on how in love we are with each other. Unlike the times I was in the company of my dark-skinned male friends, people seemed to think there was a disconnect between our hues. My boyfriend and I did not look like we belonged together.

The most extreme example of people refusing to acknowledge our relationship took place when I lived in my school’s dorms one summer. My boyfriend slept most nights in my room for three straight months and my black suite mates still assumed he was just a friend. I mean, what else could we have done to hint at the contrary? Have sex in the communal kitchen?! Continue reading

Quoted: Chill On Rachel Jeantel, Already!

Rachel JeantelRachel Jeantel is a teenager, a 19-year-old girl who told the world what she heard that fateful February night on the phone with her longtime friend Trayvon. From the news reports produced by the mainstream media, you got the impression that Jeantel was genuine and believable. Of course reporters from outlets like the New York Times, Miami Herald and the AP are not going to feel the need to describe Rachel’s attitude or overuse of black English vernacular, but they will feel compelled to describe the effectiveness of her testimony. And I saw them use words like “transfixed” to describe the all-female, nearly all-white jury’s reaction to what Jeantel was saying. Perhaps if the prosecutors had done too much coaching of their star witness, her genuineness would not have shone through.

I also saw incredibly mean things said about her looks on social media, even seeing her described as “Precious”—referring to the movie character brought to life by Gabby Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the troubled overweight teen. Disturbingly, this has become the go-to moniker for overweight, dark-skinned girls—aided by rapper Kanye West, who leveled that scarily ignorant line in his song “Mercy.”

“Plus my b*tch / make your b*tch look like Precious”

Jeantel had to live through a close friend being murdered, watching his killer walk free for far too long, then sitting in front of the world and recounting the painful night with an intimidating older white man directing questions at her while she’s clearly scared out of her mind.

Now, on top of all that, she has to endure some assholes critiquing her looks?

Really, people? Grow the hell up.

–Nick Chiles, “In Attacking Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel, Black Folks Are Taking It Too Far,” My Brown Baby 6/27/13

Troubled Waters

by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme

Frank Ocean publicly addressed his sexuality recently, with the same deftness, eloquence, and gentleness that is evident in the manner he approaches his music. I was elated at his announcement and at the warm reception he received. I was glad to see that another young man had the strength of character and the purity of spirit to share his true self with the world and to show that queer men of color have been a part of our community and have contributed immensely to our culture. However, I was also pleased for more selfish reasons. I had hoped that if the straight and straight-identified men of hip-hop could openly love and embrace the black men who resided in their hearts and their minds and their beds, that perhaps they could embrace the black women who inhabited those same regions as well. My hopes have been dashed, for I realize that the hatred of black women is so profitable and pervasive and has such a tenacious hold on mainstream hip hop that the men of power and/or influence in hip hop would likely extinguish the culture entirely before relinquishing it.

And yet, strangely, due it its current ubiquitousness, hatred of black women is not a tenet of hip-hop, is not necessary for hip-hop to thrive, nor was it present at its birth. Though the arena was dominated by men, women were given a clear voice in the genre via ladies such as Roxanne Shanté. Hip hop in its earliest days was an even field where men and women of color could have an open dialogue—one that was teasing and playful. The words of black women were considered and sought for inclusion. Black women were not depicted as a monolith and had multiple roles available to them—sister, wife, and lover; trophy, thief, and soldier; adversary and confidant. No, not all of these roles were beneficial. However, there was diversity and choice. That choice is long gone, quietly usurped during the late nineties and aughts with the onset of the commercialization of gangsta rap and its permeation of hip-hop. Continue reading

Chris Brown, Male Violence, And Racist Rants

by Guest Contributor Costa Avgoustinos (Pop Culture and the Third World)

There are two interesting links floating around in regard to Chris Brown’s Grammy win and return to the spotlight/ people’s hearts. One is a great article by Sasha Pesulka entitled I’m Not OK With Chris Brown Performing At The Grammys And I Don’t Know Why You Are Either. The other is 25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions To Chris Brown At The Grammys, a series of screenshots of tweets from women professing  that because Chris Brown is attractive, they would be happy for him to beat them.

It’s interesting to compare society’s reaction to celebrity attacks on women to celebrity attacks on racial minorities. As Pesulka maps out in her article above, when Chris Brown assaulted girlfriend Rihanna society’s reaction was mixed–a lot of people came to Brown’s defence, a lot of people demonised Rihanna, a lot of people thought it was a private matter so blame shouldn’t be placed publicly and, after all that, a lot of people welcomed Brown’s return to the spotlight. In contrast, when Michael Richards went on a racist rant using the N-word, or Mel Gibson went on a racist rant (or, I guess, several rants) against Jews, society’s reaction was a lot more uniform: ‘You’re a jerk, we’re putting your career in the toilet, and that’s where it will stay forever.’  Why is Chris Brown allowed a come back, but Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are not?

I don’t make the comparison to try and rank racism against sexism or to argue gender-based violence is in some way more or less acceptable that race-based violence. That would be useless and stupid. Nor do I think the issue is one of ‘Sticks and Stones’ versus ‘Names That Hurt Me’–that is, that Richards and Gibson deserve less grief simply because, unlike Brown, they themselves didn’t cause physical harm. Again, stupid. But I think something can be learned from comparing our reactions.

Several commentators have pointed out a divide between how White mainstream media and Black media have approached the Chris Brown incident. White, mainstream media, from Jezebel to Good Morning America, has been pretty much anti-Brown since all of this happened. Black media, from NewsOne to Bossip, has been more reserved and seems more willing to forgive and move on. I would wager that this is in part due to Black media being uncomfortable participating in the perpetuation of the ‘violent Black man’ cliché, and the witchhunt that often ensues by the mainstream media with a bit too much eagerness. Or perhaps, as Dr Oliver Williams, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, has stated, perhaps it is because ‘communities find it easier to focus on oppression that comes from outside than on what (they) do to (them)selves.’ Continue reading

Some Notes On Rape Culture

I happened to catch a tweet from Karnythia yesterday that turned my blood cold.

#rapeculture hurts everyone. The same rhetoric VSB spouted is used in court to make sure less than 20% of all rapists do time.

Say what?

Turns out, Damon (a.k.a. The Champ) decided to create a really flip response to Zerlina Maxwell’s Ebony.com piece “Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped.” Despite Maxwell writing lines like these:

Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.

How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so.

Damon still decided to write his piece, essentially asking this question:

But, why can’t both genders be educated on how to act responsibility around each other? What’s stopping us from steadfastly instilling “No always means no!” in the minds of all men and boys and educating women how not to put themselves in certain situations? Of course men shouldn’t attempt to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to say no, but what’s wrong with reminding women that if you’re 5’1 and 110 pounds, it’s probably not the best idea to take eight shots of Patron while on the first, second, or thirteenth date? Yes, sober women definitely get raped too, but being sober and aware does decrease the likelihood that harm may come your way, and that’s true for each gender.

It seems as if the considerable push back again victim-blaming has pushed all the way past prudence and levelheadedness, making anyone who suggests that “women can actually be taught how to behave too” insensitive or a “rape enabler.” And, while the sentiment in Maxwell’s article suggests that victim-blaming is dangerous, I think it’s even more dangerous to neglect to remind young women that, while it’s never their fault if they happen to get sexually assaulted, they shouldn’t thumb their noses to common sense either.

Damon’s already (somewhat) apologized and been raked over the coals by folks on his site, Twitter, and Tumblr.

So my goal in writing this piece isn’t to hold him accountable–that’s already gone on. My goal in writing this is to answer his question. And since I recently gave a talk at Swarthmore on rape culture, I just so happen to have a bunch of examples and facts right at my fingertips.

Continue reading

Exploring the Problematic and Subversive Shit People Say [Meme-ology]

So all this started with “Shit Girls Say,” which now has over 11 million views:

Created by Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey (and boosted by the star power of Juliette Lewis), “Shit Girls Say” went viral by taking a male perspective on common things “women” do and presenting it as humor. Internet forums filled with comments like “Omigod, all my friends do that” or “that is so me.” The sketch proved to be so popular, there are now three episodes, probably with more in the pipeline.

However, everyone wasn’t laughing at “Shit Girls Say.” Quite a few people noticed that the “girls” referred to in the top video were a certain type of woman, an experience that was not shared by all. Others noted that the humor that made the video funny was actually rooted in sexist stereotypes. Over at Feministing, Samhita explains:

While, I usually applaud men in drag, I can’t help but be critical of these characterizations of women. Are some of these stereotypes uncannily true? I’m sure they can be. But that’s the problem with stereotypes, it’s not about whether they are true or not, it’s that they are used to disempower people or deny them certain privileges. And I get that it is comedy, but it’s like the most boring and lazy comedy possible. You know, let’s make fun of girls cuz we already know everyone thinks they are dumb and annoying tee hee. These videos might as well be beer ads.

And Lynn Crosbie, writing for the Globe and Mail, notes:

Girls, or young women, who already speak largely in the interrogative and treat the world of men as another, completely inscrutable species, have enough on their minds already. They are already sexualized to the maximum. Must their every word be a potential joke?

Girls speak casually about inane things. Girls speak, too, about sexual violence and quantum physics. They talk about fear and art, children, murder and opera; philosophy, blood, sex and mathematics.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing is also some stuff a girl said.

Continue reading

From Risk to Harm and from Harm to Suicide

by Guest Contributor Louise Tam, originally published at Hyphen Magazine

In September, I wrote a piece describing my perspective as a disabled woman of color and psychiatric survivor. I explored how race-specific self-killings are differentially represented by the media to demonstrate how public perceptions of suicide depend on social and political contexts. My intention was to de-sensationalize model minority suicide in order to draw attention to how particular non-white bodies are often presumed to be volatile and violent.

This month, I look more closely at clinical explanations of ethnic minority suicide and respond by citing current non-clinical and community-based anti-racist reflections on the significance of emotional pain and anger.

Before I proceed, I would like to draw attention to how the term suicide is invoked by the viewer rather than the subject of suicide: the neighbor who calls 911 rather than the person exhibiting suspicious behavior. This can have negative repercussions on the “allegedly suicidal” that we don’t often think about. In fact, daily we are surrounded by public campaigns that encourage us to report at-risk behavior with the intention of saving lives: we believe it is our civic duty to do so. This is especially true in communal living environments such as campus residences.

The “peril of help” arises in (1) how we, as the public, determine what is suspicious or at-risk behavior and (2) how our social infrastructure then deals with the people we “call out.” Behavior can be “cut out” of context, of an individual’s life history, when it does not make sense to onlookers, including family, friends, and employers. Behavior might not make sense and alarm us because an individual’s actions are inconsistent with social rules and, furthermore, associated with narratives of harm we are taught to recognize daily by institutions around us. For example cutting is strongly associated with suicide. Seen in the absence of context, most of us would be compelled to stop this action and probably call on professional expertise to intervene and solve what we identify as a threat. Continue reading

Didn’t You Forget Me? A Queer Black Feminist’s Analysis of the Black Marriage Debate

by Guest Contributor Taja Lindley, originally published at Nicole Clark’s Blog

By now we are all too familiar with the preoccupation with the unmarried Black woman in the media. The question that keeps getting raised is: “Why can’t a Black woman understand, find and keep a man?”
Fundamentally I don’t have a problem with conversations about love and relationships. I have them all the time. What’s unfair about this question, and the conversation that follows, is what’s at stake because when single white women search for love, they get an HBO series (Sex and the City). But when unmarried Black women are approaching, at, or over the age of 30: it’s a crisis, it’s a catastrophe with severe consequences for the ENTIRE Black community, warranting late night specials on major television networks and talk shows dedicating entire segments to finding us a man.The conversation always becomes “what’s wrong with Black women? “ and we get demonized as: unlovable, broken, undesirable, domineering, angry, aggressive, incompatible, uncompromising, too compromising, (in the words of Tyrese) too independent, possessing unrealistic expectations…and the list goes on.Then here come Black-male-entertainers-turned-experts on their horses with shining armor to save the Black woman from herself! To save her from her own pathological destruction so she can do a better job of successfully creating and preserving the Black family. (Damn, that must be a lot of responsibility.)

Conversations like these put Black women on the defensive where now we need to explain what we think, how we act, and for what reasons so that these so-called experts can give us paternalistic and patriarchal prescriptions for solving the so-called crisis of the unmarried Black woman.

Academic professor and researcher Ralph Richard Banks, recent author of Is Marriage for White People?, administers the latest advice for us. He enters the conversation on the assumption that has gone unchecked: that all Black women are successful, and all Black men are victims of America…as if heterosexual Black women seeking marriage aren’t in poverty with a net wealth of $5, suffering from wage discrimination, or also dealing with escalating rates of incarceration. But setting those facts aside, he advises that Black women consider interracial marriage for the purposes of bolstering the Black family and better serving our race. (No, I’m not making this up, see for yourself.)

So clearly what’s at stake here is the Black family. Not Black women’s happiness, not our ability to learn and grow as lovers and partners in a relationship or in marriage. What’s at stake is the responsibility that consistently gets laid on our back about the success or failure of the ENTIRE Black community. As if single parent families headed by women are the root cause for disparities and inequality. (Sound familiar? Yup, kind of like the Moynihan Report.) Continue reading