Category Archives: The Things We Do to Ourselves

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

Tyrese Mansplains To ‘Too Independent’ Women

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

For the past few weeks, as part of my project exploring black women, relationships and marriage, I’ve been immersing myself in books, films, blog posts and other media on the subject. Last week I read Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man and am still trying to wash off the film and stink of patriarchy. I told my husband over the weekend that I am unbelievably proud of black women. As a group we are able to hold our heads high in the face of the relentless narrative that there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed; that, for us, admirable qualities like independence, only make us more unlovable–a narrative not only championed by the mainstream, but, too often, by members of our own communities.

So, singer, actor and (God help us) author Tyrese decided to drop a little wisdom on the black lady folk during a recent interview with NecoleBitchie.com. (above) He warns us about being “too independent.”
Continue reading

Yelling to the Sky: Beautifully Stereotypical

by Guest Contributor Tracy M. Adams, originally published at Monday’s Baby

 

On Thursday, June 9, I attended a Gen-Art sponsored screening of Victoria Mahoney’s independent feature Yelling to the Sky in Manhattan. Starring Zöe Kravitz and co-starring Gabourey Sidibe, this film has had significant buzz. It made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival and was workshopped via Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Lab. Based on synopses I read prior to the screening, I was curious to see if the portrayal of black women(hood) would be complex and fresh (as it was in Ava Duvernay’s wonderful I Will Follow) or if it would stick to the usual, shopworn portrayals that sometimes plague even independent feature films. I was especially interested to see whether Sidibe’s character would be similar to the one she played in Precious or if that image would be turned inside out (Sidibe was actually cast as Latonya Williams in Yelling before being slated to play Precious Jones).

In Yelling, Kravitz plays Sweetness O’Hara, a biracial high school student coming of age in New York City while managing a difficult home life. Quiet (at least for the first part of the film), sensitive, introspective, and intelligent, Sweetness has to contend with an alcoholic father, a mother with emotional (and possibly mental) issues, an older sister coping with young motherhood, bullies at school, and urban poverty. Zöe Kravitz did a great job with the script she was given; her performance was nuanced and quite believable. Actually, most of the actors in the movie were strong (including Tariq Trotter, better known as Black Thought of The Roots). However, despite the actors’ efforts, they could not overcome the disjointed storytelling nor the director’s inability to avoid well-worn tropes of the “coming of age in the ‘hood” drama. And whether intentionally or not, the director played into common cinematic (and real-life) racial memes. There were four that stood out.

Dark(er)-skinned black people are mean and like to victimize light(er)-skinned black people. The opening scene of Yelling involves Sweetness, accompanied by a friend of similar complexion, riding her bicycle right into a group of kids from her high school who in short order take her bike and beat her down in the street. Gabourey Sidibe’s character Latonya is the ringleader of this group, initiating the bullying and fighting, and ultimately ordering her boyfriend to viciously finish the job. The assault only stops when Sweetness’ sister Ola, who like Sweetness is very fair, brutally assaults her sister’s male attacker. While the director may not have intended for this scene to evoke intraracial stereotypes and conflict about skin color, it certainly looked that way on screen. Also, while Sidibe’s character was well put together (her hair was laid and her makeup was popping), she was still an (physically) intimidating bully. Continue reading

Of Spanking and State Violence

[TRIGGER WARNING. This is a very frank post on violence.]

So, last week Jill at Feministe has a post up on the first real-time spanking study.

Time Magazine reports:

[I]n the course of analyzing the data collected from 37 families — 36 mothers and one father, all of whom recorded up to 36 hours of audio in six days of study — researchers heard the sharp cracks and dull thuds of spanking, followed in some cases by minutes of crying. They’d inadvertently captured evidence of corporal punishment, as well as the tense moments before and the resolution after, leading researchers to believe they’d amassed the first-ever cache of real-time spanking data. [...]

The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.

Researchers broke down the data, detailing each spanking or slapping incident, what led up to it, what type of punishment was used and how much, how a child reacted immediately and then several minutes later.

“The idea is this data will provide a unique glimpse into what really goes on in families that hasn’t been available through traditional methods of self-report,” says Holden.

About a year ago, I got a request to talk about spanking on Racialicious, from the perspective of a black parent wondering why other black parents were so quick to put their hands on their children.

Renina has written about this in the broader context of policing masculinity with violence. She said:

In this video I just watched today a Black Uncle whoops his presumably 13 or 14 year old nephew with a belt for “Fake Thugging” on Facebook. He then forced the young man to put the video on Facebook. #triggerwarning.

I have long been reluctant to talk publicly about Black parents beating Black children, however, it needs to be done. Honestly, its one of the things that I have been scared to write about and I don’t scare easily.

bell hooks has said Black feminist’s lack of writing about how some Black parents, spank, whoop and beat their children is one of the ways in which Black Feminist have failed Black families. We analyze domination between men and women and Black folks and White folks and even global violence but we don’t closely analyze how parents dominate children.

Conversations around spanking, particularly in progressive spaces, take a very hard line around corporal punishment. Renee, of Womanist Musings, has written dozens of posts about why spanking is wrong. Some of the commenters on Jill’s post (somewhere back in the 100s) brought up differences in what is considered culturally acceptable. Most of Jill’s commenters came to an agreement dominating the thread – there is never, ever a reason to discipline your child physically. But most of these conversations assume certain things. That these are interactions solely between adult and child, and that generally, the household is in an atmosphere of peace. What isn’t raised is the reality of raising children in environments where random street violence or drug use is commonplace. Continue reading

Dark Girls: A Review of a Preview [Culturelicious]

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

**TRIGGER WARNING**

I recognize the women in this preview: these women were me when I was growing up. The kids at my mostly black Catholic school called me just about every black-related perjorative ever since 3rd grade, letting me know and telling others within my earshot that I was physically inferior solely because I was dark-skinned. I even remember a boy in my 7th grade class drew a picture of me being nothing more than a solid black square. Even though the same kids voted me 8th grade class president…I was still considered in their estimation an ugly (vis-a-vis my skin tone) girl. Even had the only boy who was my boyfriend (we were in 8th grade) dump me for a lighter-skinned and younger girl, to the mocking laughter of the lighter-skinned students.

My mom—a dark-skinned African American herself—told me something that didn’t make any sense through my woundedness: “You know those light-skinned girls people think are pretty in school? Wait ‘til you’re grown and see where you’re at and where they’re at.” Added to this was my mom’s constant admonition to “get an education.” Well, sure enough, what my mom said came to pass. I’ve had photographers approach me and ask to photograph me. I had lovers of various hues—even had a husband. (He was white.) And women of various hues, races, and ethnicities have given me love on the streets, at the job, and at workshops.

I’m not sure how—or even if—some of the women in the clip worked through the pain some black people have inflicted on them. But, instead of the usual devolving, derailing, and erasing conversations of “that’s happened to me, too, though I’m a lighter-skinned black person!” (that’s a thread for another post) or “it wasn’t me! I’m a down black person!” (will be met with an exasperated eyeroll)…it would be a really good thing to simply listen to these women’s truths, as uncomfortable–sometimes, as implicating–as they may be.

Transcript after the jump.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

Continue reading

Where Is The Proof That It Gets Better? Queer POC and the Solidarity Gap

by Latoya Peterson

Last week, the internet was in a tizzy over Aliya S. King’s article for Vibe. The piece, titled the Mean Girls of Morehouse, explored how Morehouse’s change in dress code was really a reaction to a small group of genderqueer students on campus.  The article dove into the lives of these students on campus.  Vibe and King were both blasted for attacking Morehouse, a bastion of the black community, and a video was quickly uploaded to the internet showing a spirited discussion at Morehouse around the content of the article, exploring everything from lack of queer perspective to the representation of Morehouse.

However, through this whole debate, two things have stood out to me:

1. We aren’t hearing very much from those profiled.
2. Most of the conversation has swirled around representation – but what about solidarity? Particularly among groups of color? Continue reading

Kinkosis [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, Special to Racialicious


Hard to believe, but I was born bald. Not cute little peach-fuzz bald. Not skinhead bald with a chance of stubble. No, I was born with a head as bald as a baby’s butt. What’s more unbelievable—I grew up with straight hair. Of course, if you look at me now, the first thing you see is what happens when Ireland and Iran decide to come together to have a baby—curls that put even Shirley Temple to shame.

My hair went curly in early adolescence, right around the time I hit middle school. I was a small, petite tweenster, and instead of fretting about breasts, which were hardly there, or periods, which were nonexistent, I poured my angst and energy into my newfound mop of kinky hair that sprung itself on me almost overnight. My father hated my curly hair. He said it made me look black. This is a problem to some Iranians, who hold a great pride in the purity of the Persian race. Iran is actually Farsi for Aryan. To this day, when people meet me, their first impression isn’t that I look Persian; it’s that I look black. My Arabic first name doesn’t help. It makes people assume that I’m one of “those black people” whose parents named her something from the homeland. Persians have lustrous hair, but usually it’s straight with a slight little wave. Mine is too kinky to scream and dance “Iran!” Even when I met Shirin Neshat, the most famous Iranian artist outside of Iran, who has made a career out of photographing Persian women, it wasn’t apparent. She didn’t realize I was Iranian until I mentioned my last name.

There is a racial element to the picture here—hair that is curly, kinky or even nappy is commonly associated in American culture as “black.” Silky, straight hair, on the other hand is usually seen as “white.” As comedian Paul Mooney put it, “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” Herein lies the paradox of many ethnic women in America, black and otherwise—the pressure we curlyheads feel in assimilating into a dominant image of lustrous, straight hair that will seemingly make us look more well-kept or better-groomed in a culture of brushes, perms and irons designed to give straight hair what we already have. Yes, curly hair is sexy—at times. Usually the sexy sirens with curly hair are actually straight-haired women who know how to use a curling iron. The grass really is greener on the other side.

This ideology is pervasive, to the point that many times, we don’t even realize we’re buying into it. Beauty requires an acknowledged ugliness in something else, so in order to look damn good, someone else has to look like a train wreck. I remember being told as a child that curly hair is really a genetic mutation. I remember thinking I was a freak. When I was in high school, a classmate once told me that race is actually determined by hair type. If your hair is straight, then you’re Asian. If it’s wavy, then you’re white. And curly hair makes you black. I stood there dumb-founded that a straight-haired, freckled white guy was telling me this. The physical contradiction between him and his theory was so obvious. Even with a democratically elected black President, there are people in our country who still think that the American image should still lean towards white. And if you think that’s outdated, just look at this past summer when 11-year-old Malia Obama wore here hair in twists during a trip to Rome. The conservative blog Free Republic called her unfit to represent her country because her hair wasn’t straight. The blog has since pulled that thread from their site. Continue reading

Props: William Hung

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at the Star-Tribune’s Your Voices

William Hung

Let me tell you, I have an almost supernatural (some would say neurotic) capacity for remembering the most embarrassing moments in my life.  Walking into a women’s bathroom by mistake when I was about 7 years old and lost at the mall, crying for mommy. Bursting into tears of hunger at Taste of Minnesota when I was 10.  In 4th grade I sat next to one of the few other Asians I saw at a class assembly because I thought she was so friendly, cool, and cute – then being told I couldn’t sit there because it was for student council members only.  I can’t remember my own parents’ birthdays, or which days to put out the recycling.  But that time I walked face-first into a brick pillar in broad daylight on a busy shopping day?  Yep.

My extreme discomfort towards public embarrassment is why I avoid reality television like the plague.  I don’t get any pleasure or joy from watching humiliating public spectacle, even when it doesn’t involve me.  Shame is something I have in spades, but is not something I enjoy.

Shows like American Idol are horrifying to me.  Because if someone embarrasses themselves or does poorly, I feel terrible for them.  However, I’ve been watching the pop phenomenon in recent years because my partner, who doesn’t enjoy reality television either, happens to enjoy watching American Idol: not to laugh at people, but because there’s always a chance that someone unique, and with genuine talent (hello Adam Lambert) will make it on the show.  I’ve been trying to watch it with her.  It’s only fair.  If I ask her to watch trash like Ninja Assassin and Iron Man, I can suffer through some bad singers and mangled songs with her.

Someone I always think about when I watch American Idol is William Hung.  A Berkeley student, Hung auditioned in 2004 with a pretty terrible rendition of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. Even though I wasn’t watching much television at all during that time, I couldn’t escape the notoriety of this pop culture disaster. Continue reading