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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In the Future, We Kill Our Attackers: Rihanna’s “Man Down” as Afrofuturist Text


Rihanna’s video for “Man Down”  dropped last week and set the web on fire.  The way justice and rape, innocence and violence work in the video–and the non-sensical responses to it–have already been outlined by better writers than me.

I’m writing this post to take the video to its logical conclusion:

In the future, do we kill our attackers?

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How Do You Draw a Rape?

“From sugar, to investment in planter-dominated banks, to, of course, the trade in slaves itself, the whole plantation complex stank of the arousal of rape.”

~Edward E. Baptist, “”Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States,” American Historical Review 106 (December 2001), 1619-1650.

I am #nowreading Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende.  It’s like watching a car accident, a collision of metal, glass and soft, meaty human bodies, in slow motion.  Into the blender, hit mix, tear flesh from bone, coat the glass red, hemoglobin run a muck under the relentless pressure of some outside violence, ignore the scream of the gears, the turning blades as bone matter resists, but, no, push through, taking, tearing, plunging forward simply because you have the power to do so.  Rip apart, swirl together, then call it pacification, christianization, civilization, natural order of Man.

I’ve spent almost a week sitting in the heart of slavery.  Above and beyond my usual scholarship, teaching and service, I attended the Middle Passages: Histories and Poetics conference at CUNY-Graduate Center.  The conference was curated by (or dj-ed, or conjured as different participants noted at different times) by Herman Bennett, professor of history at CUNY, who specializes in early Latin American history.  The conference, which included keynote speeches by Eve Troutt Powell and Saidiya Hartman, tackled the complex relationship between histories of slavery and literatures of slavery, a relationship that in reality is wrapped up in the credo that “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”

For me, one of the most intense manifestations of the legacy of slavery is the acute vulnerability of black women (re: “any and all African descent”) to the permutations of global economies, political regimes and everyday caprice.  It is a vulnerability that is so old (re: slavery began in the 15th century) that violence enacted on the bodies and selves of women of African descent is so commonplace as to be hardly worth mentioning.

So that when I picked up Island Beneath the Sea on Monday, I knew that reading it would be a difficult experience.  I didn’t realize how much.  If only it were simply a matter of dealing with Zarité, the slave woman born of a rape, subjected to rape, all of her incredible mental and spiritual energies consigned to the limits imposed upon her by a heteropatriarchal slave regime–then perhaps I could digest it.  It sounds amazing, but years of practice consuming the politics of power and resistance at slavery’s core has imbued me with a willful sadomasochism.  That is to say, as a survivor of slavery (yes, these hundreds of years later), I attack the history with the zeal, empathy, passion and fury that…well, that only a rape-crisis counselor could understand.

But it is not just that.

Because the Island Beneath the Sea is set in the context of the Haitian Revolution.  So it is not only about a woman (after all, was she ever a child?) struggling to be a woman in a world that will not recognize her.  It is also about a world that will not recognize an entire people (re: slaves) and their aspirations for freedom…and a people that will not recognize the festering, decomposing core which the logic of slavery relies on.  It is about the contradiction at the heart of the making of the modern world.

How to digest that?  How to write that?  How do you draw a rape?