The (Confederate) Flag and the (Black) Student

Um, this happened:

Byron Thomas is 19, black, a freshman at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and a proud Southerner. He hung a Confederate flag in his dorm room window until the university asked him to take it down because several people had complained about it. (The university later stepped back from the request, saying all students have the right to free speech.)

“I know it’s kinda weird because I’m black,” Thomas said in an iReport he submitted. “When I look at this flag, I just don’t see racism. I see pride, respect. Southern pride, that’s what I see.”

“Ignorance gave that flag a bad name, ignorant people like the KKK,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon.

And this happened:

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Not a Review of The Help

Given the rabid success of 'The Help,' Warner Brothers has announced it will begin filming a Gone with the Wind reboot, opening summer of 2014. Alfre Woodard will play Mammy. Tickets Are Selling Fast! Get yours soon! Support Black Actresses!

“Paternalism defined the involuntary labor of the slaves as a legitimate return to their masters for protection and direction.  But, the masters’ need to see their slaves as acquiescent human beings constituted a moral victory for the slaves themselves.  Paternalism’s insistence upon mutual obligations–duties, responsibilities, and ultimately even rights–implicitly recognized the slaves’ humanity.” 

***

“Wasn’t that the point of the book?  For women to realize, We are just two people.  Not that much separates us.  Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” ~~Kathryn Stockett, “In Her Own Words

The Help is the most disturbing book I’ve read this year.  Skeeter is one of the most annoying “heroines” of 21st century.  Reading it was like eating ice cream with my back against a Woolworths counter while watching hoses slam into black children in the street outside.  Bull Connor is on the corner, motioning for the fire trucks to fill’er’up.**  And somehow, my maid churned and froze this Ice cream herself.***  Of course.

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If You Need Help with ‘The Help’….

Like it or not, ‘The Help’ is the talk of the interwebs.  Some folks love it, many folks hate it, others just don’t know what the big deal is.

In case you have yet to read the Association of Black Women Historian’s beautiful, eloquent and concise statement on why ‘The Help’ is problematic, faux-Civil Rights history, you should check it out here (Zora Walker also posted it to Tumblr, for your reblogging ease and pleasure).  Reblog, repost, re-Facebook the statement EVERYWHERE. They are the experts.  They paid their dues.  They know what they are talking about.

But let’s say you still don’t see what the big deal is–or you loved the book/movie and you just want to be well informed on all perspectives.  Or you just need help understanding the whole history.  Never fear!  Zora Walker has your back.  Click away and get your mind right.  Then decide for yourself how you feel about Stockett’s work.

#MacheteBehavior after the jump:

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SHOTS FIRED: The Association of Black Women Historians has a few things to say about ‘The Help’

SHOTS FIRED:  The Association of Black Women Historians has a few things to say about ‘The Help.’

And they aren’t just talking to white people.  They are talking to all FANS.  And they are telling you to get your mind right (and giving you a reading list to help you).  Statement in full below–bold is my emphasis:

An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help:

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help.   The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion—a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Ida E. Jones is National Director of ABWH and Assistant Curator at Howard University. Daina Ramey Berry, Tiffany M. Gill, and Kali Nicole Gross are Lifetime Members of ABWH and Associate Professors at the University of Texas at Austin. Janice Sumler-Edmond is a Lifetime Member of ABWH and is a Professor at Huston-Tillotson University.

Word Count: 766

Suggested Reading:

Fiction:
Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life, Alice Childress
The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley
The Street by Ann Petry
A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:
Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph
To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter
Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones
Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Any questions, comments, or interview requests can be sent to: ABWHTheHelp@gmail.com

Read it again here.  And REBLOG THIS EVERYWHERE.  These are black women HISTORIANS.  They have lived the history or they are close to someone who has.  And they have paid their muthafrakkin DUES to WRITE the history.  THEY are the experts.  Not some…well, you know who.  THEY ARE BAWSE.

Reblog this hot 16 right here.  Because in the future……

Come Correct or Go Home

“Can you be a good feminist if you have intimate engagements with partners who have diametrically opposed gender politics?

On March 31st, 2011, crunktastic of the Crunk Feminist Collective wrote this post on the politics of black feminist sex:

“How do we change this thinking in our communities that a woman’s behavior is responsible for pushing a man over the edge? That she can ever do something to deserve to be beaten to a pulp? That a man has a right to a violent response simply because he doesn’t like the way he’s being talked to or treated? That violence is a legitimate response to being mistreated?  That any policy other than non-violence  (on all sides) is good for relationships? That men are out-of-control beings around whom we must tread on eggshells?

And if I ask my students to question their assumptions and to demand better treatment in their relationships, then what kinds of things must I demand in mine? And does that standard apply to all relationships, romantic and platonic?

Can you be a good feminist if you have intimate engagements with partners who have diametrically opposed gender politics?”

She was concerned about what she believed might be the questionable politics of a lover/homie/friend who supported Chris Brown’s outrageous, unconscionable and violent behavior on the set of Good Morning America [I refuse to feed this man’s ego by linking to it here.  You know where Google is]:

“In a post last year, I lamented the fact that I was meeting men who were rarely physically interested in me and who were always and only intrigued by my mind. Now I’ve met someone worthy of genuine interest, and my brain and my politics are getting in the way again.  But while last time, I was concerned that my brain occupied too much space in my romantic encounters, this time around I’m afraid to check it at the door…

I mean should I withhold sex from dudes with sexist attitudes as an act of solidarity with my sisters?…

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Reading Dolen’s Wench, Part Two

*spoilers ahead*

I am watching Lizzie’s two children and hoping they will be beat.  And I am hoping that Fran, the white mistress who has adopted them (as much as a slave can be adopted by it’s owner), will be the one to do it.  It is a raw and reactionary desire.  I want those children to come to their senses that badly.

I am furious with my own helplessness.  It is the kind of storyline that makes you scream at the book or the screen:  Lizzie is your real mother!  You are a slave!  That bitch is playing you!  She will break your heart!  

It is the kind of history that reminds me why white women and women of color find it so difficult to get along.

In Out of the House of Bondage, Thavolia Glymph writes:

“Not only did white women’s violence, and their ownership and management of slaves make it impossible for black people to see them as ideal models of a “kind and gentle womanhood,” but they resulted in specific practices of resistance…Contrary to most interpretations, violence on the part of white women was integral to the making of slavery, crucial to shaping black and white Women’s understanding of what it meant to be female, and no more defensible than master’s violence.”

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Choreopoems & Word Paintings: Walking THAT History

This post continues a week-long meditation on Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreo-poem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf and Tyler Perry’s 2010 feature film of the same name. For the full series follow the tag sing a black girl song. NOTE: The tag for posts specific to this Nunez Daughter series has changed. Since the movie’s release, the global conversation has deepened by tens and hundreds, all using the for colored girls tag. But the ND series is still tagged for colored girls: click either and join the conversation….

A choreopoem, the Secret Sister Society Network reminded me. Not just a poem, but a choreopoem.

Ah. Yes.

But what does that mean?

***

And this is how it begins.

In the university library. Searching for Shange. A walk down her aisle and titles pop out at me:

ntozake shange. the love space demands
ntozake shange. see no evil
ntozake shange. a daughter’s geography
ntozake shange. ridin’ the moon in texas
ntozake shange. sassafrass, cypress & indigo

I find a book on Black Arts Movement woman poets. And my heart stops. Beside it is:

lisa sánchez gonzález. boricua literature: a literary history of the Puerto Rican diaspora

I am following Library of Congress subject headings:

lester a. neal. ntozake shange: a critical study of the plays

This is what happens when you look.

Arms full of books. I want to eat them all. Especially the ones written by Shange. But I leave three or four. Don’t want to deprive others of the pleasure of her company. After all, I’m not alone.

***

i begin with Cheryl Clarke & i remember what captivated me about the choreopoem’s title in the first place:

“Shange’s for colored girls cleared space for more “colored girls” to tell their stories, as was and remains its (abiding) intent. However, the Broadway production of for colored girls sacrifices the cultural ethics that undergird the California development of this work. The Collier-Macmillan edition shows Shange in moments extending its lessons beyond the specificity of black women…the “sacrifice” is also an accommodation of the Balck Aesthetic, which was embedded in New York Black Theatre—on and off Broadway….” (Clarke, 100)

Colored girl :: Third World woman :: colonized machete sugar cane tobacco growing mountain woman :: indigenous blooded slave born woman :: black & Puerto rican woman :: all around brown bodied hot sex positive feminist woman

i’m a poet who writes in english
come to share the words with you

the movie/play didn’t mention black girls who spoke Spanglish when English is enuf.

i keep reading, digest the history, watch as it repeats and repeats again. i get angry.
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The Third Lives of Black Girls Everywhere

There was something corrupted about her.  Some days she’d joke and laugh, rubbing shoulders with others in the crowd, batting social cues left and right.  But at any point she might turn and stare into space, a smile stretching her lips into a thin corkscrew, a dark humor flushing her cheeks.  

The moment would pass. She would become human again.

But when she drank it returned and the predatory gleam of violence re-infused her face, some malevolence that soiled her eyes, marked her every movement with a curious, rancid energy.  

I would step back from her then, unnerved.  She’d be fine in the morning but at night I watched as pretense drained away, as she became a being who walked a language-restrained, whose voice, to everyone so smooth and sweet, was the voice of a woman in bondage, whose painful, silent, unconscious battle re-emerged in charmless, hollowed out encounters against the very people she loved and needed most. It made the tiny hairs on my neck recoil in alarm.

That the world existed to destroy her–well, there was no question. But that a swollen cheek or tear-stained chin became orgasmic was the other part of the story–and not the most interesting part besides.

~Kismet Nuñez, Untitled/Unfinished Book Project, September 2010

Some of the hardest battles we fight are the battles over own souls. Our sanity. It is real work to keep our love unsoiled by the pressures of a world that wants to deny our existence–that, at times, is mobilized in a concerted effort to exterminate us. A world that does not acknowledge that we are human, that we are women, that our blackness & brownness has meaning in our lives and therefore is relevant and real and beautiful, that our right to passion and to the fullness of our being is a right we deserve to fight for and kill for unto the end of our days.

It is a battle that isn’t won once. It is labor we do over and over, from the moment we wake up in the morning. Our inability to love ourselves fully is insidious and sneaky and before we know it, the damage is done. We open our eyes and the sun is shining but our love is a twisted, dark and dangerous thing, a weapon we deploy against others–often women as brown and black as we are–to keep them in line. A whip against those who are struggling and deserve our support, our help, but whose road to brilliance is a light that illuminates the self hatred in our lives.

Before we know it, we are on the way to making ourselves better by manifesting the breadth and depth of a toxic inhumanity and justifying the same with the long arm of Church, State & Politics.

It is what happens when black girls are forced into closets.

It is what happens when brown girls are told by mothers and fathers and priests that the God they love is judging them by criteria ranging from the color of their hair to the color of their hymen.

It is what happens when academic institutions construct esoteric parameters for tenure that, in their very structure, deny the legitimacy of research & writing specific to bodies of color.

It is what happens when we drink the water and let settle, deep inside us, the silt and muddy wetness of a hatred that knows no bounds, that is deadly serious, that would see us destroyed to justify itself, so that instead of waiting for the dark to come we do the work of execution all on our own.

“I’m talking to you, Brownfield,” said Grange, “and most of what I’m saying is you got to hold tight a place in you where they can’t come.” ~Alice Walker, Third Life of Grange Copeland, 1970

This morning I finished The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker (courtesy of @booksfree). And I spent last night fielding a series of crisis calls from friends in need, sistren grappling with the reality of their lives, yearning to love themselves against institutions with paradigms that deny them even a language to understand their world.

After each conversation, I forced myself to focus, because in their words I also heard myself; fighting for life, fighting not to drown under the weight of rules and regulations that do not fit the actuality of our lives. My struggle was their struggle, is my sister’s struggle, my mother’s struggle, my abuela’s….

…and it is more than just breathing. It is a daily battle to breathe and stay human, to avoid becoming as twisted and gnarled and wrong as they’d like us to, as they imagine we are, because that is what they see when they look at their own reflection.

But how the hell do you give birth to yourself–and keep that self alive?

That is part of the excitement over Willow Smith’s video. And the general hub-bub over the Sesame Street “I Love My Hair” video (and the mash-up). And the importance of wearing purple on Oct. 20th and advocating against homophobia on a daily basis.

Because this is a little girl not only breathing but manifesting every innocent and fabulous part of herself, sharing it with the world, demanding that we be “warriorettes” and “warriors” right along with her.

Because little girls are here and around the world are going to watch Willow, are going to watch the “I Love My Hair” muppet (who Puff is right–needs a name) and dance, unconsciously or consciously mapping new terrain in the way they are allowed/able/affirmed/admonished to understand themselves. And growing up in a world of social media, they may even be able to start making their own language to understand themselves, troubling the edges of what we all believe to be true or untrue, appropriate or inappropriate, manifesting a love that isn’t wrong or right but at least free–and therefore all their own.

Because if we do not find ways to fight against the terrain of hatred that we’ve sown, willingly or unwillingly, in our lives and in our society, what we can expect is many more little girls, little boys, and children who fall somewhere in between, hurting themselves, killing themselves, or killing others because they are doing with their bodies and their hands what society is doing to them.

Be a Warrioriette/Warrior

Day 30: A Beautiful Brown Work in Progress

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): What I learned in the last 30 days

Well family–all caught up.  I even got some decent two paragraph responses in.

I’d like to thank @Latinegro for setting up the blog challenge.  This man is the kind of consistent and thoughtful blogger I aspire to be.  I look forward to engaging in the afro-latino/Latinegr@ blogosphere he is damn near single-handedly creating.  Giving brown people a voice on the internet is difficult for a number reasons but we need to make sure our voices are heard.  The debate is going to continue with or without us and not for our benefit.  #leggo

Back to the prompt:

The last thirty days have been something else.  In the real world and the digitalone.  This blog is about autobiography, archive and insurgency but I don’t even know where to start.  Short answer is easiest.

First, I’ve learned that I love blogging. I love writing.  New media is a fun and exciting place for me.  And I need to go with those feelings.  This blog, joining the @FreshXpress blog network, finding a “Kismet” voice, splicing black girl identity and making new connections–all of this gives me life.  And more foolishness is in store.

Second, back in the real world and over the last year, the stereotypical parts of my Latina have receded a bit–food, music, pop culture.  I had a hard time answering those prompts, and not just because I did half of them last minute.  My location makes it difficult to remain as close to the community as I’d like to be–although, as a trade off, since I live in an area where multi-racial encounters are fairly common, making my black & Puerto Rican-ness much less “interesting” to the average white person.  Or black person.

But part of it is that my political identity is shifting.  My Latina has been manifesting in ways that are more Afro-diasporic (Yoruba, slavery research, solidarity with Haiti).  And my black has grown more diasporic as well (trips to West Africa, starting to loc my hair).  It will be interesting for me to see how I answer this challenge in another year–and with more disciplined commitment.

And that is the final thing I learned, and not just here in my blogging life.  Discipline is key.  Shall we bring Ralphie back?:

Yuh.

Happy Latina/o and Latin American Heritage Month. Love you.  Go forth.  Commit (black & brown) politics. Make social justice babies.  Come back and visit the Kis.

Kim Kardashian. Saartje Baartman. Black Women & their Bums

Because this deserved more than just a Retweet:

To anyone remotely familiar with women’s sexual history, Kardashian’s W photo (see image above) no doubt evokes the Hottentot Venus. Kardashian’s positioning, her behind as the main attraction, and her from-the-neck-down platinum airbrushing–perhap used to invoke a racially ambiguous signal–visually recollects the imaging and dressing of Sarah Baatman, a Khoisan young woman exhibited around 19th century European as a freak show….

Although Kardashian holds friendships with Black female stars in their own rights, the reality star’s attention seems to upstage her social set– and most certainly her backside does. Still the question begs itself, Is Kardashian’s somehow performing Black femaleness with her toting exaggerated behind? Does she somehow appropriate the deconstructed parts of Black females the world fancies, juxtaposing her fair skin, and long hair, creating some unmatched sexualized package the modern world has yet to see?…

Thank you to Geneva Thomas, author of the piece, for going there and giving us the skeleton–or a ghost?  a reminder?–from which we can start discussing the fraught relationship between mainstream society and black women’s bodies, between the butt in general and the Ass as a signifier of larger, more complicated & colonial histories.

Just for some context:

Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus Digital ID: 1107949. New York Public Library

Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus Digital ID: 1107949. New York Public Library

The caption reads:  “Sartjee, The Hottentot Venus.  Shown in London in 1811.  Sartjee is 22 years old is 4 feet 10 inches high, and has (for an Hotentot) a good repacity.  She lived in the occupation of a cook at the Cape of Good Hope.–Her country is situated not less than 600 miles from the Cape.  The inhabitants of which are rich in cattle and sell them by barter for a mere trifle, a bottle of brand or small roll of tobacco will furnish several sheep–Their principal trade is in cattle skins & tallow–Beyond their Nation is an other, of small stature, very subtle & fierce; the Dutch could not bring them under subjugation; and shot them wherever they found them.  9th, Fairholt 1811”

Image Credit:  F. W. Fairholt, Tobacco, Its History and Associations: including and acount of the plant and its manufacture; with its modes of use in all ages and countries (London, 1859), plate 146 [pdf without illustrations available here] Courtesy of Digital NYPL

and:

Courtesy of Krista A. Thompson, Emory University

The caption reads: Several prints dating from the early nineteenth century illustrate the sensation generated by the spectacle of “The Hottentot Venus.” A French print entitled “La Belle Hottentot,” for example, depicts the Khosian woman standing with her buttocks exposed on a box-like pedestal. Several figures bend straining for a better look, while a male figure at the far right of the image even holds his seeing-eye glass up to better behold the woman’s body. The European observers remark on the woman’s body: “Oh! God Damn what roast beef!” and “Ah! how comical is nature.”

The spectacle & the gaze.

For more information, go ask my Politics.  They call her Zora Walker.  (Search tag: #saartje)