Tag Archives: gender

Race, Entertainment, and Historical Borrowing: The Case of Lindy Hop

by Guest Contributor Lisa, originally published at Sociological Images

This post is dedicated to Frankie Manning. Frankie died this morning of complications related to pnemonia. He was one month shy of his 95th birthday. I will really miss him.

Frankie is a lindy hop legend. He choreographed the first clip below and is the dancer in the overalls.


In the 1980s, there was a lindy hop revival. Lindy hop is a partner dance invented by African American youth in Harlem dancing to swing music in the early 1930s. Named after the “hopping” of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh Jr., it became wildly popular in the 1930s and ‘40s, traveling from the East to the West Coast and from black to white youth. Since its resurgence, Lindy Hoppers have enjoyed a national scene with websites, workshops, competitions, and city-wide social events that draw national and international crowds.

Though lindy hop was invented by African Americans, lindy hoppers today are primarily white. These contemporary dancers look to old movie clips of famous black dancers as inspiration. And this is where things get interesting: The old clips feature profoundly talented black dancers, but the context in which they are dancing is important. Professional black musicians, choreographers, and dancers had to make the same concessions that other black entertainers at the time made. That is, they were required to capitulate to white producers and directors who presented black people to white audiences. These movies portrayed black people in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, happy-go-lucky, etc.

So what we see in the old clips that contemporary lindy hoppers idolize is not a pure manifestation of lindy hop, but a manifestation of the dance infused by racism. While lindy hoppers today look at those old clips with nothing short of reverance, they are mostly naive to the fact that the dancing they are emulating was a product made to confirm white people’s beliefs about black people. Let’s look at how this plays out.

This clip, from the movie Hellzapoppin’ (1941) is perhaps the most inspirational clip in the contemporary lindy hopper’s arsenal:

By the way, the dancers are in “service” outfits because of the way lindy hop scenes featuring black dancers were included in movies. Typically they would have no relationship to the plot; they would occur out of nowhere and then disappear. This was so that the movie studios could edit out the scene when the movie was going to be shown to those white audiences that were hostile to seeing any positive representation of black people at all. Continue reading

Reflections on Lola [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] (Part 1 of 2)

by Latoya Peterson

*Note – Spoilers and lengthy.*

My mother would never win any awards, believe me. You could call her an absentee parent: if she wasn’t at work she was sleeping and when she was around it seemed all she did was scream and hit. As kids, me and Oscar were more scared of our mother than we were of the dark or el cuco. She would hit us anywhere, in front of anyone, always free with the chanclas and the correa, but now with her cancer there’s not much she can do anymore. The last time she tried to whale on me it was because of my hair, but instead of cringing or running I punched her hand. It was a reflex more than anything, but once it happened, I knew I couldn’t take it back, not ever, and so I just kept my fist clenched, waiting for whatever came next, for her to attack me with her teeth like she did to this one lady in the Pathmark. But she just stood there shaking, in her stupid wig and her stupid bata, with two large foam prostheses in her bra, the smell of burning wig all around us. I almost felt sorry for her. This is how you treat your mother? she cried.

And if I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face, but instead I screamed back, And this is how you treat your daughter?

Things had been bad between us all year. How could they not have been? She was my Old World Dominican mother and I was her only daughter, the one she had raised up herself with the help of nobody, which meant it was her duty to keep me crushed under her heel. I was fourteen and desperate for my own patch of world that had nothing to do with her. I wanted the life that I used to see when I watched Big Blue Marble as a kid, the life that drove me to make pen pals and to take atlases home from school. The life that existed beyond Paterson, beyond my family, beyond Spanish. As soon as she became sick I saw my chance, and I’m not going to pretend or apologize; I saw my chance and eventually, I took it.

If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know then it’s probably better you don’t judge.

You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around – especially the ones that are never around. What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters, she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course, I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I believed her. I was a fea, and I was worthless, I was an idiota.

The Wildwood, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

My eyes drank in every word of Wildwood, the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds. Continue reading

Losing My Religion

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading

Black Women Get Beat by the Police Too

by Guest Contributor Renee Martin, originally published at Womanist Musings

This incident of obvious police violence occurred last Novemeber. On Thursday Deputy Paul Schene pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault in Superior Court. According to the Washington Times,

    “Schene was investigated previously for shooting two people — killing one — in the line of duty in 2002 and 2006. Both times his actions were found to be justified, said Ian Goodhew, prosecutor’s deputy chief of staff.”

It is telling that Schene did not want the video released because his lawyers felt that it would be prejudicial. Apparently in this instance a picture does not equal a thousand words. Continue reading

Quoted: Tricia Rose on Fighting Sexism in a Community Assaulted by Racism

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson

The pressure young black women feel to defend black men against racist attacks, even at their own expense, is a new variation on the centuries old standard for black women’s race loyalty. This community wide standard – which asks women to take the hit (metaphorically and literally), to be content with dynamics in which they sacrifice themselves and care for others’ interests over their own – mimics the terms of an abusive relationship. As bell hooks has pointedly reminded us, although we should avoid demonizing black males “[b]lack females must not be duped into supporting shit that hurts us under the guise of standing beside our men. If black men are betraying us through acts of male violence, we save ourselves and the race by resisting.”

—Tricia Rose, The Hip Hop Wars, p. 127

Latoya’s Note: I’ve been thinking about these ideas a lot lately, in various conversations of feminism, on threads about Chris Brown and Rihanna, and looking over some of the conversation threads here. So I wanted to open this up to the floor. Other women of color, I encourage you all to participate and talk about how the dynamic described plays out (or does not play out) in your experiences. Men of color, I want you to listen first. You can feel free to comment, but I notice on a lot of threads men tend to become extremely defensive when women want to talk about things that are literally killing us.

Tricia Rose on The Hip-Hop Wars, Race, and Culture – Part 1

by Latoya Peterson

In the Noir Issue of Bitch Magazine, I interviewed Tricia Rose about her new book The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop.

My interview assignment was 2,000 words. The transcribed interview came back as 6,000.

This is the overflow.

Latoya Peterson: You’ve had other works published, including Black Noise, which was a very influential book discussing music and culture and how that plays out in the black community. So why do you choose to work with music to explore both black culture and youth culture?

Tricia Rose: The category of youth culture to me tends to be racialized youth culture. From my vantage point, when you’re looking at African-American history and cultural expression, music is of extraordinary importance to that history. It is disproportionately rich and complex and dynamic and influential and innovative. And I say “disproportionately” to say that not everyone has such a rich, modern musical legacy. Some ethnic and racial and religious and national groups have literary or dance or film legacies, but when it comes to music in the modern world, people of African descent in the Diaspora in particular have an enormous contribution….if you are thinking twentieth century alone there are not too many American musics that have not been directly influenced or are in fact constituted as an African American tradition. Jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, hip-hop, even dance music – techno and the like.

It’s just an incredibly rich tradition. It also has a profound connection to a history of culture in oral traditions of social commentary. […] In African American music and culture, you find not just good music, but music that plays a role in commenting on and creating critical consciousness about one’s social world.

LP: In your book, you write, “gangsta rap music is a post-industrial black culture industry with job openings and a chance for upward mobility. This is a fascinating way to frame the discussion because so much of hip-hop has become about the business side of it. Some have argued that it has come to step in for the industrial [labor market] void we have. So, instead of having progressive job growth in inner cities, other industries have come and filled in that gap of losing jobs to off-shorting, like the hip-hop industry or underground industries like the drug game. Can you comment more on the idea of rap music being an industry and providing people with upward mobility?

TR: Beginning in the twentieth century, when industrialization begins to flourish, you develop industrialized music cultures, in that you develop products, right? Music became something you could buy and sell. And once that happens, the record industry begins to take hold, and then [music] begins to be an industry for artists that was not the case before. […] For post-industrial, isolated, urban black youth, rap music, and to a lesser extent athletics, have become an alternative form of upward mobility, a way to get of the hood. What makes rap music problematic in this way is that it is not just an industry that creates opportunity, but a form of opportunity creation that is also a trap.

It creates a trap for it’s followers because of the icons it celebrates. So rap as a “way out” has become attached to the tail of a street economy, that “gangster” rap has been defined by. So it’s not just rap music and the industry that’s a problem, but the fact that what we are selling is profitable. And what is profitable, what makes it an industry, is its constant sale of pimps, hos, gangsters, hustlers, drug dealers, criminals. It’s a grab bag of what we would call in the old days the red light district – it’s that underground economy. Continue reading

African-American Transgender History-50’s Style

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally published at TransGriot

One of the beauties of surfing the Net is that from time to time, you’ll stumble across a nugget of history or some photo that you weren’t even aware existed.

I’ve mentioned that JET, EBONY and the now defunct HUE magazines when they first started back in the day served as historical chroniclers of the Black experience in America. Google just negotiated a deal in which they will be digitizing pre-1960’s EBONY and JET magazines so that you can access their content on the Net.

One of the things I discovered to my delight is that in order to fulfill their mission of documenting the Black experience, EBONY and JET also covered events and discussed Black GLBT issues.

In addition to asking pointed questions about the Black GLBT experience, they also covered the New York and Chicago drag balls as well. 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.


(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