Category Archives: women of color

Victory in California!

Photo courtesy of ctrouper on Flickr

Photo courtesy of ctrouper on Flickr

By Guest Contributor Black Women for Wellness and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice

As the rest of the country is busy restricting safe and legal access to abortion with mandatory waiting periods, costly clinic restrictions and by targeting doctors, California has become a beacon for reproductive justice and health.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 154, legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which now authorizes trained Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) and Physician Assistants (PAs) to provide first-trimester abortions under the terms of their licenses (these same providers can already offer abortion with medications).  The governor also signed AB 980, which allows abortion facilities to meet the same standards as primary care clinics. With nearly half of California counties lacking an accessible abortion provider, these new laws will help alleviate challenges that many women in our communities face when trying to access abortion services.

Women in rural areas often have to travel long distances to obtain care. This can mean taking extra time off work and finding extended childcare. At the same time, community clinics in urban areas (particularly communities of color) are overburdened, with as many as 1 provider to 2,000 patients in some areas. Women who need an abortion might have to wait a week or longer to get an appointment and then still might spend all day waiting to be seen. Again, this means taking more time off work or studies. Delays can complicate risk and second trimester procedures can be more cost-prohibitive for many poor and uninsured Black women and Latin@s.

And while there’s still a common misconception that abortion is a white woman’s issue, these new laws are particularly important wins for communities of color.

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The Ordway Still Doesn’t Get Sexism and Racism (The Problem with Miss Saigon)

 

"Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition's 'Our Truth' Tumblr project slide show was projected in front of the Ordway Theater during the protest of the opening night of Miss Saigon.  October 8th, 2013.  Photo by Bao Phi."

Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition’s ‘Our Truth’ Tumblr project slide show was projected in front of the Ordway Theater during the protest of the opening night of Miss Saigon. October 8th, 2013. Photo by Bao Phi.

 

By Guest Contributor Mai Neng Moua

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we are again.  Miss Saigon, the musical about a Vietnamese prostitute falling in love with a white soldier during the Vietnam War, then killing MissSaigonLies-logoherself when he ultimately rejects her, was back onstage at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul (MN), until the show closed this past Sunday.  This musical, like any good zombie, just won’t stay dead. Along with it, the racism and sexism inherent in the play have been resurrected.  Really, as the mom of two girls under six and the spouse of a candidate running for office, I don’t have time to get involved – again – in the protest against Miss Saigon.  I protested this back in 1994.  Plenty of good people (Don’t Buy MISS SAIGON Coalition) are already working on it.  More articulate writers (David Mura) have written about it.

However, when one of my African American friends said, “No one has said why it’s offensive and I’m unfamiliar with the show, so I can’t relate,” I decided to follow my advice to my husband Blong, who had originally refused to answer the question of a white man: “What does the Trayvon Martin case have to do with civil rights?” Responses to these questions take time and energy. But as I told Blong, “Plenty of people don’t know, so while it is tiresome, you have to answer the question.”

So, why is Miss Saigon sexist, racist and generally offensive?

The above-referenced Vietnamese prostitute is portrayed as a tragic figure whose only hope is being rescued by the white soldier.  Since the Vietnamese men in the production are portrayed as morally offensive and undesirable, this white guy is the only choice.  The only hero of the musical is a white man.  It’s bad enough that the woman at the center of the musical needs a man to rescue her from her life. The fact that this can only happen at the hands of a white man makes it sexist and racist.  I am Hmong, not Vietnamese, so why do I care?  Unfortunately, people can’t tell the difference.  They’ve mistaken me for Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.  Kim, the Vietnamese prostitute, is me.  I am her.

In Miss Saigon, the only image of Asian women is “prostitute”– not that I am condemning sex workers.  But not all Asian women during the Vietnam War were prostitutes.  When stereotypes are the only images people see, it is necessary to correct the record.  This play is telling me and my young daughters that essentially, we, Asian women, exist to serve and please white men.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  My truth about the Asian women I know who lived during the Vietnam War is far different.  The women I know were resourceful, strong, and fearless.  For example, my mother took care of my two brothers and I after my father died at the tail end of the Vietnam War.  After the Americans pulled out of Laos, the Hmong were targeted for extermination for our role in helping the Americans.  With my mother as the head of our household, we escaped Laos and survived the refugee camps in Thailand.  In America, she navigated the social service system so that we had a roof over our heads, had food in our stomachs, and graduated from high school and college.

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International Politics and the First African American Flight Attendants

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, Ph.D.; originally published at Sociological Images

“Next to being a Hollywood movie star, nothing was more glamorous.” This breathless statement, quoted in Femininity in Flight, was uttered by a flight attendant in 1945.  At the time being a stewardess was quite glamorous.  Like motion pictures do today, airlines trafficked in “the business of female spectacle.”  They hired only women who they believed to represent ideal femininity. Chosen for their beauty and poise, and only from among the educated, and slender, they were as much of an icon as Miss America.  And they were almost all White.

Victoria Vantoch tells the story of the first African American flight attendants in a chapter of her new book, The Jet Sex.  Patricia Banks was one of the first Black women to sue an airline for racial discrimination.  She graduated from flight attendant training school at the top of her class and applied to several airlines.  But it was 1956 and the U.S. airlines had never hired a Black woman.  After 10 months of trying, an airline recruiter pulled her aside and admitted that it was because of her race.  Which, of course, it was; airlines disqualified any applicants that had broad noses, full lips, coarse hair, or a “hook nose” (to weed out Jews).

Banks sued. After four years of litigation, Capital Airlines was forced to hire her.  She postponed her marriage and took the job (airlines only hired single women as flight attendants). When she put on her uniform for the first time, she said:

After all I had gone through, I couldn’t believe I was finally wearing the uniform. I had made it. I was going to fly. It was such an accomplishment.

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Individual women weren’t the only ones pushing to integrate the flight attendants corps.   International surveys showed that citizens of other countries knew that America had a “race problem” and this was a problem for then-President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.  They needed to do something flashy and they turned to flight attendants to do it.  If they could make Black women the face of such an iconic and high-profile occupation, they thought, it would help restore America’s reputation.  According to Vantoch, Johnson “made stewardess integration his personal cause.”

That was 1961; in 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act mandating equal treatment in the workplace.  The following year, in response to even more lawsuits, approximately 50 Black women were hired by airlines.  This would make them 0.33% of the workforce.

Patricia  Banks and her fellow first African American flight attendants, including Mary Tillerand Marlene White, would continue to face racism, now from co-workers, passengers, and supervisors.  Banks would quit after one year, citing exhaustion in the face of emotionally draining feminine work and a constant onslaught of racism.  She was a great flight attendant, though, and proud to show the world that a Black woman could shine in the occupation.

Here’s Patricia Banks, telling the story in her own words at Black History in Aviation. It’s worth a watch; she’s amazing:

Cross-posted at VitaminW.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.

Rick Owens sends a bevy of thick, black women down the runway. Progress?

Image from Rick Owens spring 2014 presentation, courtesy of New York magazine.

Image from Rick Owens spring 2014 presentation, courtesy of New York magazine.

 

The lack of racial diversity in the fashion industry has been a hot topic of late. So too, fashion’s celebration of bodies that few women–even models–can realistically obtain. So, Rick Owens’ spring 2014 presentation in Paris (see a slideshow of images at the link), which featured snarling, mostly-black members of a step team (Howard University’s Zeta Phi Beta sorority), with thick thighs and curvy middles, should have been a breath of fresh air–a blow against homogeneity.

Or not.

Kinitra Brooks, pop culture professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, helped me put my feelings in perspective when she said, “I had a mixed reaction. I found the theme of Vicious and the hyperbolic mean-mugging highly problematic. Particularly in regards to the stigma types of strong and angry black women. And then, I was hypnotized by their beautiful shades of skin against those earth tones and their legs, my God their legs! They were so muscular and full of purpose and supported their bodies as they performed all types of physical feats. I read an article that spoke of the women as blessing the audience with their awesomeness and then exiting in such a way that said, ‘Bye now! We are way too cool for this place.’”

As happy as I am to see fresh faces on the runway, unfortunately, I can’t fully appreciate these women, as my friend did, because of how the Owens show was steeped in racial and gendered stereotype. The models’ aggressive expressions and movements seem designed to play into old myths of black women as bestial and hard. I would have appreciated it if Owens had presented those models sans theatrics. As it is, the show seems not a celebration of diverse beauty, but as if the designer thought, “Hey, what’s the opposite of the ethereal and beautiful white women who typically line catwalks? Thick, angry black chicks. Edgy!”

Indeed, Owens called the show his “fuck-you to conventional beauty.” And there we have it. The Owens show is less an expression that women of diverse races and body types can be beautiful, than a designer using brown bodies to present what he believes is anti-beauty to flip the fashion script. I think, this is not so much progress as business as usual.

Abused Goddesses, Orientalism and the Glamorization of Gender-Based Violence

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By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta; originally published at Feminist Wire

The Abused Goddesses of India. The advertisements, created by Mumbai-based ad firm Taproot India, have been making the rounds – not only of my Facebook friends’ walls, but of many a feminist and progressive site including Bust, Ultraviolet, V-Day and MediaWatch, usually along with reactions like “powerful” and “heartbreaking.”

The images are unusual in their aesthetic appeal. After all, it’s not every day that you see the Hindu Goddesses Laxshmi, Saraswati or Durga made to appear as if they have been subject to gender-based violence – with tear stained faces, open cuts and battered cheekbones. But even despite (or because of?) the bruising around those divine eyes, the images are breathtaking – recreations of ancient Hindu paintings accurate to their last bejeweled crown and luscious lotus leaf.

I’ll admit it, I too was entranced by these ads when I first saw them. Having grown up in the heart of the American Midwest at a time when no one in the media looked even remotely like brown-skinned and dark haired me, I have a particular soft spot for images of glamorous Indian women. After childhood and teenage years believing that no one who wasn’t a blonde, blue-eyed Christie Brinkley look-alike could be deemed ‘beautiful,’ I’m still a complete sucker for images of traditional Indian beauty.

Yet, no matter how appealing, these ads are also deeply problematic. The reasons are multiple:

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Quoted: On America’s Reaction to Miss America, Nina Davuluri

‘How the f--k does a foreigner win miss America?’ One man tweets after Nina Davuluri’s historic win.

The former Miss New York and Miss America crowning Miss. New York as the new Miss America, via NY Daily News

Keyboards just have a way of bringing out the racist in everyone. Gotta love America.

But a harsh reality is that Miss America, would never be Miss India.  They’re about as messed up when it comes to colorism as other people are.  A former coworker always discussed how her darker Indian family members were discriminated against, and even her own mother warned her to keep her daughter out of the sun so she wouldn’t get dark.  She also used to joke about the Fair & Lovely skin lightening commercials that permeate the airwaves in India.  Coincidentally, Fair & Lovely is a product of Unilever, who also makes Dove.

As Lakshmi Chaudhry, sarcastically but truthfully, wrote on First Post, “That gorgeous chocolate may play as exotic in the West, but in India, we prefer our beauty queens strictly vanilla — preferably accessorised with blue contact lenses.”

-”An Indian-American Was Crowned Miss America & The Racists Reared Their Ugly Racist Heads” by Yesha Calahan via Clutch Magazine

#POC4culturalenrichment: The Racialicious Interview

By Arturo R. García

All tweets posted with permission of Suey Park.

Colorado State University graduate student Suey Park opened up another welcome Twitter discussion into diversity and race relations over the weekend when she coined the tag #POC4culturalenrichment, which picked up steam within a day of her beginning to recount her own experiences. But rather than try to sum up the story, we contacted Park — who has also blogged about the #KeepVeronicaHome campaign — to get her account of what led her to delve into the topic, and where it led her.

AG: From what I could tell — and please, correct me if I’m mistaken — the tweet above was your first tweet that used the tag. But let’s talk about what led you to coin it and begin to elaborate on your experiences.

SP: It’s been building up for a while, honestly. It seems I’m only allowed to talk about racism if I center my world around the feelings, power, and learning of white people. I have consistently been reprimanded from both people of power who have progressed within a white heteopatriachal system and white folks that the pathway to success is playing your cards the right way. That is, acting like the focus of racial justice should be centering our work around developing white allies and reinforcing hurtful power dynamics. It also means shifting from focusing on baseline survival of people of color to the self-improvement of white folks who want to challenge biases to feel less guilty. This doesn’t actually fix the situation, it gives white people a free pass for letting racism continue by letting them point to and identify something might be racist, why deflecting any personal responsibility. And although it’s cliche to say, people totally think people of color should still pull themselves up by their bootstraps to some extent. Even the first lady and President talking about the “personal responsibility” of people of color to improve their situations, but we never talk about the personal responsibility of white folks to do something very simple: to educate themselves.

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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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