Tag Archives: african-american

The Return of Mona: Race and Friendship (The Sequel)

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Remember my ex-friend “Mona?” I wrote about our “breakup” in a post called “Race and friendship:”

    The social construct we call race is complicated, but there are a few things about it that I know to be true. One thing is that everyone who grows up in this country absorbs some prejudice–everyone, no matter their race. Also, many people have no real relationships with anyone outside of their own culture. Most racial misunderstandings are borne of ignorance not malice. As a woman of color, I try to keep that truth in mind. Nevertheless, last year I lost a good friend. And our parting can be blamed on race–biases that I felt my friend was unwilling to examine and that I was unable to forgive.

    There were other strains on my end of our friendship. My friend, let’s call her Mona, could be overbearing and self-centered, and she possessed a frankness that sometimes crossed the line to rudeness. But to be honest, that was part of her charm. When we met, we were both working for a large public relations agency. I liked Mona the minute I met her. I have a soft spot for misfits, and she didn’t fit in with the agency types–those skinny, stylish girls with their Kate Spade bags and rich daddies. Neither did I. Mona was smart, loud, sassy and a little hippie dippy. She liked to talk about past lives and “bad energy,” and she would rail against the patriarchy and “the man.” While I philosophically talked about politics, she would get in the trenches and volunteer to help Democratic campaigns in other cities. Mona and I became good friends.

    It occurred to me sometimes that my friend’s “power to the people” ideology was somewhat theoretical. I knew she had other friends of color, but I also knew that they were like me–educated and assimilated–friends who could slip easily into the mainstream. But aren’t we all most comfortable with people who share our interests, values and likes? Race was not a precious topic between Mona and I. We discussed it openly. I explained the black women and hair thing. She talked about what it was like as a white woman to date black men. Then something changed. Continue reading

Moving Beyond the Niche

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood

A couple of weeks ago the NY Times ran a piece about the lack of progress of African American directors over the last decade. It seems that African American filmmakers suffer the same issues as women filmmakers — being stuck in a niche and unable to get out. Whether it’s right or not, or desired or not, most African American directors get pigeon holed into creating stories for African American audiences which are still not seen as “mainstream.” Personally, I would rather see a film like The Secret Life of Bees directed by an African American woman like it was, because I would venture to say that Gina Prince-Bythewood (pictured top right) would do a better job than a white woman or white man. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But because women and people of color are seen as “niche audiences” anyone who is in those groups gets stuck. I don’t think the problem is with the audiences. The Secret Life of Bees was a steady earner all through the fall with black and white women. I think the word niche is evil and should be banished. Why aren’t stories like Cadillac Records which boasts an amazing performance from Beyonce (tell me why they couldn’t sell her?) seen as American stories? Once the movie business figures out that they can make money by getting people beyond the “niche” maybe we will see more opportunities for African American directors and women directors.

Some points from the article:

You could now literally count on one hand (using two fingers) the number of black directors who can get their projects made and distributed at a steady rate. One is (Spike) Lee…while the other is Tyler Perry.

Momentum for African-American cinema, it would seem, has been curtailed or at least stalled in part by studio executives’ preconceptions that black films are “niche product” with limited appeal. Yet at the same time black directors and producers still express optimism that they not only can continue to cultivate their black audiences but also can reach out further and wider to the mainstream…

Darnell Martin, the director of Cadillac Record is a cautionary, yet surprisingly typical tale of what happens to women directors:

Ms. Martin places much of the blame for her sporadic career in the feature-film business on the conflicts she had over the promotion of “I Like It Like That.” “They insisted on making me the poster child for the film, the ‘female Spike Lee,’ and I said, ‘Look, I don’t mind that. I’m proud to be a black woman director, and I want that out there.’ But we’d gotten some great reviews, and I felt that was what they should be leading with. If it had been a white director, they would have emphasized the reviews, but instead they were trying to get people to see it only because I was black.

Continue reading

What Does Tyler Perry Really Want From His Audience?

by Guest Contributor Nichole, originally published at PostBourgie

Tyler Perry is set to release a film version of his play, Madea Goes to Jail, which I happened to watch with my family back home in Nashville over the Christmas holiday. TP flicks are best enjoyed as a community, because as you’re responding to your mother’s giggles about Madea’s swinging bosom, you can forget about what appears to be his real message, lurking beneath all that homespun wisdom.

Almost.

(Spoilers ahead.)

In Madea Goes to Jail, Sonny, Madea’s nephew, his wife Vanessa, and their infant son, live with the outspoken matriarch. Vanessa is in graduate school, and Sonny works hard at the local jail, pulling extra hours to finance her education. The two have a deal that once she earns her degree, it will be his turn to go back to school. But it soon becomes clear that Vanessa is an ill-mannered, disrespectful, spoiled, ungrateful bitch who doesn’t want to do the right thing by catering to her husband out of gratitude for his hard work and support. She loudly complains about taking care of the baby or performing any other domestic chore, stressing the need to complete her graduate study so she can make something out of herself. She’s so out of pocket that the busybody next door neighbor, Ella, admittedly manless, irons Sonny’s work shirt for Vanessa, as she sings about how to take care of a man and keep him happy. Continue reading

Barack the Magic Negro Song, the GOP, and African-Americans

by Latoya Peterson

From the Washington Post:


Republicans who are vying to lead the national party offered a mix of reactions yesterday to the decision by one candidate for the job to mail out a music CD including the song “Barack the Magic Negro.”

Chip Saltsman defended his actions, telling the Hill newspaper that the song — and others on the CD, which was mailed to party members — was nothing more than a lighthearted parody. But his rivals in the contest to chair the Republican National Committee said it carried an inaccurate message about what the GOP stands for.

My favorite quote:

And former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell defended Saltsman and attacked the media.

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African American elected president,” Blackwell, who is black, said in a statement. Continue reading

A post where I – again – talk about black republicans

Guest Contributor Jamelle, originally published at Postbougie and the U.S. of J

Ericka Andersen:

I continue to hear — from politicians and their constituents — that Republicans must start connecting with voters on a cultural level or they are screwed. It was reiterated again this morning by Saul Anuzis, the Michigan Republican Party Chairman running for Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He had a story for us: On a bus ride, he struck up a conversation with two African-American women who’d just come from a church event in the city. He said they spoke of traditional values and many conservative principles they all shared. When Anuzis asked them what it was like to be black Republicans, they were taken aback. They weren’t Republicans, they said. It was clear to Anuzis that the women possessed principles of the Republican Party but that Party had not reached out to them on a level they related to.

“You can’t ignore groups of people and expect them to vote for you,” he said. Republicans have not done a good job with African-American voters, as we’ve seen. Culture has been put to the side in favor of political agenda but now there is an opportunity to change that.

Frankly, this is (or should be) obvious to anyone who has actually taken the time to analyze African-American political views. The plain fact is that there is – always has been – a natural constituency in the African-American community for conservative ideologies. And I’m not only referencing gay marriage or abortion here. Despite high rates of single motherhood within the African-American community, plenty of black people – I’d say most – are really committed to the idea of two parents and a stable marriage. Indeed, our history almost dictates that we should be; one of the great injustices of slavery was the refusal on part of slave owners to recognize slave marriage vows. What’s more, slave owners purposefully tore slaves apart, sending husbands, wives and children to separate plantations. As such, when the opportunity to marry freely came, blacks cherished it and still do as a community.

It is also worth adding that there is a strain within African-American thought which can be accurately called “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservatism, where “yourself” refers to the black community as a whole. Until the 1930s, blacks (at least those that could vote) were a fairly reliable Republican constituency and in the early 20th century, men like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey had wide followings. Even the “Black Power” movement was focused – mainly – on black empowerment and black self-sufficiency. Hell, the famous Malcolm X image “By Any Means Necessary” could stand as an advertisement for the NRA if you simply replaced Malcolm’s image with a slightly heavy-set white guy. Continue reading

Nappily Ever After? Not Quite…

by Latoya Peterson

*Warning: Strong Language*

Regular readers might remember a piece I wrote a year or so ago, called Hair, Apparently. In the piece I wrote about an incident where I felt like someone had insinuated I was a “house nigga” because my hair was straightened with a chemical relaxer.

The piece sparked an interesting conversation in the comments and I was comforted by the reactions by most of the readers – do you and let it be done. The overwhelming consensus was your hair is your hair and you should be able to do with it what you please. (Should is the operative word, but more on that later.)

However, a lot of time has passed since then. In the interim, I read Tami’s piece (the original version of the piece posted here), started reading Afrobella’s blog regularly, and watched as my friend Spiffany transitioned from chemical relaxers to a beautiful and natural do. I admired what people could do with their naturals, but never felt motivated to do it myself.

Yet, Tami posed a little question in her original piece that always stuck in my mind.

Earlier this year, a fellow blogger very smartly observed that black women may be the only race of women who live their whole lives never knowing what their real hair looks and feels like. Think about that.

I was one of those women. Aside from a happy little puffball photo from the fifth grade* and a couple of shots of me with pressed hair, I had a relaxer for as long as I could remember. And that question stayed with me, for the next six or so months until I had my third Catastrophic Relaxer DisasterTM and found myself bald at my temples and missing a big chunk of hair from the back of my head.

From that day on, I was like “Fuck it – I’m letting it grow.”

And so it has. Today, I’ve been relaxer free for more than a year. My hair is fully natural – I cut out the last of the chemically straightened hair six months ago and haven’t really looked back. I love my hair now, love everything it does, how it looks, all that.

But it occurs to me that this was strange journey for me. Navigating transitioning my hair out was never really about my hair – it was about notions of societal influence, beauty, intra-group standards, cultural conditioning, and asserting my own personality. It was about my hair as a political battleground – where people read the pattern of my stands like tea leaves, trying to divine my personality and political views. It was about everything except what I actually wanted to do – which was stop relaxing my hair and wear a new style.

While I scoured all the pro-natural sites on the net for advice, all I learned were new styles. No one told me how to cope with the transition itself. Everyone cuts to the happy – “You’ll love yourself! You’re free from chemicals!” speech, but no one really talks about how tough that road is to walk. So, let’s look at a few of the things we tend to gloss over when we talk about natural hair.


The Influence of Men and the Perception of Attractiveness

Let’s start with the outside influence aspect of things. About two weeks out from the Catastrophic Relaxer Disaster,TM I was hanging out with my friend KJ, the natural haired friend I referred to in the first piece. Artfully rocking a cap and a long bang to cover my bald spot, I excitedly told her my decision – I was switching to natural hair.

She stopped fumbling through earrings and looked up at me, face locked in a hesitant expression.

“What did your boyfriend say?” she asked carefully. Continue reading

Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published on What Tami Said*

My hair is nappy. It is coarse and thick. It grows in pencil-sized spirals and tiny crinkles. My hair grows out, not down. It springs from my head like a corona. My hair is like wool. You can’t run your fingers through it, nor a comb. It is impenetrable. My hair is rebellious. It resists being smoothed into a neat bun or pony tail. It puffs. Strands escape; they won’t be tamed. My hair is nappy. And I love it.

Growing up, I learned to covet silky, straight hair; “bouncing and behaving” hair; Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley hair. But as a young black girl, my appearance was far from the American ideal. Making my hair behave meant hours wriggling between my grandmother’s knees as she manipulated a hot comb through my thick, kinky mane. The process stretched my tight curls into hair I could toss and run my fingers through, something closer to the “white girl hair” that so many black girls admired and longed to possess.

My beautiful, straightened hair came at a price. It meant ears burned by slipped hot combs and scars from harsh chemicals. It meant avoiding active play and swimming pools, lest dreaded moisture make my hair “go back.” It meant having a relaxer eat away at the back of my long hair until barely an inch was left. It meant subtly learning that my natural physical attributes were unacceptable.

I was not alone in my pathology. Pressing combs, relaxers, weaves and the quest to hide the naps are part of the fabric of black beauty culture. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of black women straighten their hair. In the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps write: “Before a black child is even born, relatives speculate over the texture of hair that will cover the baby’s head, and the loaded adjectives “good” and “bad” are already in the air.” In the same book, a New York City dancer named Joicelyn explains: “Good hair is that silky black shit that them Indian girls be havin’…Good hair is anything that’s not crazy-ass woolly, lookin’ like some pickaninny out the bush.” Too often, black women find their hair hatred supported by media, men and the rest of the mainstream. Continue reading

On Being American and African Black

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

The first time I saw “Roots” I was in puberty, but since my birth the groundbreaking miniseries has been a running joke among my maternal relatives.

My mother is a black American, raised Baptist in Tennessee. My father is a Muslim from Nigeria. More specifically, for those in the know, he’s Yoruba.

When I was a baby my American relatives, all natives of small-town Tennessee and wholly unfamiliar with Africans, took to holding me up in the air and anointing me Kunta Kinte, like the character in “Roots.” Although the gesture annoyed my mother to no end, her family members found it hilarious.

Africans, you see, are hilarious. If there is one stereotype about Africans that has lingered throughout my life it is this. Perhaps because of this stereotype, before my birth my maternal grandmother envisioned that I would look less like a baby and more like an offensive cartoon character. She warned my mother to expect me to have coal black skin and bright red lips like Little Sambo. In expressing her fears, my grandmother ignored the reality of my father, who is dark-skinned but not especially so. In fact, he is a shade or two lighter than my mother is. Because Africans are an “exotic other,” however, my grandmother adopted a white supremacist gaze in connection to my father.

She’s far from the only black American to adopt that stance in relation to Africans. In Chicago, where my parents met and lived, my mother recalled being approached by a black woman curious to know if I cried in “African.” Now, I was born in the late1970s, before Akon dominated music charts or Hakeem Olajuwon (a fellow Yoruba) dominated basketball courts. Still, it’s somewhat shocking to note that some of the African Americans in my midst then viewed me as an entirely different entity from themselves. Continue reading