Monthly Archives: February 2012

It’s Bigger than Rihanna and Chris Brown

Y’all really mad at Rhi Rhi for ridin with Chris Brown again?  You think this sets a bad example for our girls, don’t you?

*sighs*  Please, I beg of you, miss me with the opportunistic outrage on this one.

Why?  I’ll tell you why.

Because Chris Brown is no different from any other dude who can’t handle life without fisticuffs.  And because Rihanna is no different from any other grown ass woman entitled to make her own grown ass decisions – without regard to the fickle feelings of the public-at-large.

Instead of lambasting Rihanna about the choices she made for her own life, perhaps we could examine what would make a woman, in general, wanna cozy back up to a dude who mistakes her for a punching bag.  This Chris Brown/Rihanna situation is indeed much bigger, much deeper, and much sadder than the two of them.

Last week on Twitter, the hashtag, #itsbiggerthantooshort, accompanied nearly every article, and every blog post responding to Too Short’s XXL column, where he offers to middle-school boys “fatherly advice” on “how to turn girl’s out.”  Such counsels from Professor Pimp include:  “You push her up against the wall…you take your finger and put a little spit on it and you stick your finger in her underwear and you rub it on there and watch what happens.”  Too Short is a 45 year old man offering this advice to children who probably only met puberty, like, 20 minutes ago.  They’re barely in high school.  But this kind of thing starts early.  And therein lies my point.

Nature versus nurture is always a relevant debate.  In this case, in nature, we exist as men and women – undoubtedly different, but inherently equal.  In nurture, through socialization, we learn our roles, and adjust our psychology to fit the narrative.  In other words, we know that women are born with boundless potential, just like men.  But at some point (usually early in the game), women are supposed to step aside and give way to the supremacy of maleness.  And we’re supposed to do so benevolently, as our duty to mankind.  Pardon me, or don’t.  But fuck that, nonetheless.

Toure’s book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, includes an excerpt from Cornel West which asserts that “When you really get at the Black normative gaze, what you find is that oftentimes the white supremacy inside of Black minds is so deep that the white normative gaze and the Black normative gaze are not that different.”  Substitute “Black” for female, substitute “white” for male, and substitute “white supremacy” for sexism and/or chauvinism.  What you get is what I discussed  my Tyranny of the Majority post earlier this month – a flawed perspective that’s rooted in a narrative which privileges the people who’ve historically controled it.  You get a room full of men testifying before Congress about women’s reproductive rights; you get an old man telling little boys how to sexually assault little girls; you get Jane Smith cross-examining Jane Doe about what she did to John Doe to make him go upside her head.
I remember listening to the Russ Parr Morning Show shortly after the photos of Rihanna’s badly bruised face were released.  It was both disturbing and disheartening to hear just how many women defended Chris Brown’s actions that night.  “I mean, you don’t know what happened; you don’t know what she said to him; I mean, real talk, women can bring that outta you…” were some of the responses.  After Brown won the Grammy for Best R&B Album (what in the entire fuck was that about?!?!?!), it was equally disconcerting to see the number of tweets from women would gladly stand in line to be bitch-slapped by Chris Brown if it meant he’d show them some attention.  The Huffington Post compiled some these tweets for our viewing displeasure:  See ‘Chris Brown Can Beat Me’ tweets.
Howbout instead of outsourcing the dignity of our baby girls to celebrities, we take on that responsibility personally – as parents, family members, friends, mentors, community leaders, etc.  There’s no reason that Rihanna’s decision to be with Chris Brown (either romantically or platonically) should matter so much to anyone who happens not to have a personal, vested interest in either Rihanna or Chris Brown.
But more importantly, why don’t we, as women, cease viewing ourselves through someone else’s normative gaze.  Our perspectives, our power, and our interests are just as important and just as productive as our male counterparts’. We should be drilling this into our girls’ heads from day one that they, alone, are valuable;  they don’t need men to validate them.  And they damn sure don’t need men who express their emotions in jabs and uppercuts within infinity feet of their lives.  Love, attention, and affection aren’t measured in testosterone-induced aggression; love, attention, and affection don’t produce bruises, black eyes, and busted lips.
I’m happy to say that after a sit down with the crazy-dope writer, Dream Hampton, Too Short apologized for his rant.  And he cautions us against judging him incorrectly, insisting that though his music may continue to be filled with misogyny, “I still have morals.”  I’m not so sure he really gets it, but whatever.
I urge women to take ownership of their power.  Run for office; write books and shit; speak up and speak out.  Don’t let your story be written from a flawed perspective, by some guy (and, for sure, not all guys.  But enough guys.) who sees you as a thing to be conquered.  Tamed.  Subdued.  Or who views your femininity, generally, as a weakness.
Be responsible for your own happiness.  Harness your power and live out the full bounty of your potential.  Write your own story and don’t ever negotiate your self-respect or your intelligence, or your well-being for his (or anyone’s) attention.
**”For Girls.” was the first post I ever wrote; it goes about the same subject from a slightly different perspective.  Check me out – it’s like you’re getting a two for one.  🙂

Black History Month

After I came across this pathetic Brigham Young University (BYU) video, I felt compelled to offer, as a Black History Month gift to y’all, a little perspective.

Black history month? Why? What for? There’s no white history month?

I trust that you’re not the one saying this right now. But if this happens to be your first line of reasoning about Black history, then the answer to “why” is “because of people like you.”

***

Why is history ever important? Because we can always do and be better. We acknowledge our shortcomings and learn from our mistakes. If we know history, we can recognize the patterns and adjust the course of action. If we know history, we can create a future that’s better than our past.

Why Black history? In a word, slavery. I don’t think folks really grasp the depth of that damage. It would ensnare generations of Black Americans over hundreds of years in struggle: for identity and dignity, acceptance and inclusion. As a result, the question remains how and where do we fit into American history? And also, how do we cement the idea that Black history is American history?

You ever seen the scramble that precedes Black people singing happy birthday to Black people? The first step usually is to decide which version we gon’ do, Stevie Wonder’s or the old tried and true. This decision, although harmless, represents what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘double consciousness.’ Specifically, DuBois said:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

I mean, if we choose to go the traditional route, nobody’s being “torn asunder” or nothing. It’s just that something so simple also embodies the inherent “two-ness” that is almost impossible to escape.

I consider myself pretty fair-minded when it comes to issues of race in that I don’t run screaming that every juxtaposition of Black and white is innately racist. Rather, I can accept that we’re still figuring each other out. And in that quest, there’s gotta be some room to ask questions without fear of judgment or scorn.

Nonetheless, I’m sensitive about our disconnectedness from Blackness (by using this term, i don’t mean to imply that there exists a universal and comprehensive approach to Black culture. However, for many of us, we can call it when we see or feel it, even if we can’t settle on intellectual definition or description of it.). It simply isn’t enough to pay homage to Black history by using some baritone-voiced brotha to narrate McDonald’s commercials. Or by using PSA-type interludes between shows to proudly announce that NBC or whoever “celebrates Black History Month.” Celebrate how? By saying the words? The major networks don’t even play Roots anymore.

I hate that the cats – Black folks included – at BYU “turn to BET” or watch the commercials to honor Black History Month in January, March, or April “or something like that”. I hate that Martin Luther King, Jr. is oftentimes the only luminary of Black history that ever comes to mind for folks. Malcolm X gets a little play, but he was “like, um, bad.” And that’s about the extent of it. A couple of years ago, I was discussing one of my Black Politics courses with an American immigration attorney who seemed well-versed in matters of European and Latin American history and culture. Met with Black Politics though, she said: “Black Politics? What is that, like, Martin Luther King?”

-___-

I’m offended by the lack of reverence for Black culture – from my own folks, and from others. Even as a Black man (he’s biracial, yes. But judging by his Al Green skills, culturally, he Black) presides over the United States of America, and the free world, folks know little to nothing about Black history and culture. For example, the dude doing the interviewing in the BYU video is doing it in Black face makeup. But more importantly, of all the students he interviewed, only 3 recognized that something wasn’t right about homie’s face. It’s not ok to be this oblivious, but it is possible because the students don’t have to know any better. Not that they don’t know any better; they don’t even have to.

In the last two years, I’ve taught several courses at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and my students’ insistence on running as far away from Blackness or Black history never ceases to amaze me. They want desperately to assert their individuality (which is cool), but do so by ignoring and even trivializing their ancestral history. While enrolled Howard University, a premier predominantly Black college, these lil cats wanna convince themselves that living while Black plays little to no significant role in their lives. Ok.

To be sure, one can transcend race. But for how long? And how much of your soul and consciousness must you sign over in order to be post-racial? How much of your history are you willing to forget or let slide? How much shit are you willing to swallow? Let’s go back to this BYU video for a second. The interviewer asks, “would you rather date a Black guy who acts like a white guy? Or a white guy who acts like a Black guy” The question itself is ridiculous, but that’s neither here nor there because the folks answered it. And answered confidently. One girl responds, “white guys that act like Black guys are kinda tools…” But a Black guy that acts a like a white guy? “…is good. Classy.”

Just so we’re clear, guys “acting like Black guys” = bad. Guys “acting like white guys” = “good.” There’s a song by Big Bill Broonzy that goes:

If you is white, you’s alright,
if you’s brown, stick around,
but if you’s black, hmm, hmm, brother,
get back, get back, get back

yeah…

But it’s not just “them” who perpetuate narratives of inferiority as they relate to Black Americans. It’s “us” too; we still celebrate the fortuitousness of being born with lighter skin and “gooder” hair. Appreciating natural hair and dark skin required effort, an almost-movement. And I mean, preference is preference, but Black folks’ complexion obsession (the contemporary manifestation of field- and house-slave tensions) still has the power to divide and devalue. And still does. See the Dark Girls documentary if you think this race stuff remains much ado about nothing.

So what next? What do we do?

Stop revising history. Stop whitewashing it. Stop dismissing it as something old, and therefore irrelevant.

Stop pretending like slavery didn’t institutionalize and inculcate (to a certain extent) racism. Stop pretending that Black Americans with their ancestry firmly rooted in America don’t have some legitimate beefs and a legitimate ax to grind with America. It is a complicated relationship imbued with egregious and protracted acts of disregard and denials of human dignity which were codified by policy.

Policy — what we stand for; what we value; who we value.

It was hard to escape Blackness this weekend, as Whitney Houston’s home going celebration seemed to be broadcast everywhere. As resistant as I am to religion, I can’t escape the enormous gravitational pull of the Black church. That music, that spirit, that connection between the ancestors and the living, and the spirit of God. It penetrates the soul, and soothes it. It is fortifying. It is uniquely ours – Black Americans’, and the world got a glimpse into what is, perhaps, as a culture, our greatest source of strength.

So what now? What next? We must celebrate Black history – and all folks’ histories – by being honest about them, and embracing the entire spectrum; the good, the bad, the ugly, the shameful. Don’t change the narrative to make it more palatable, or to make historical aggressors seem less fucked up. Tell it like it was and let us create the tools to work our way through it.

We have to acknowledge our differences and embrace the role they play, have played, or will play in our lives.

Moreover, the solution lies first in Black folks loving being Black, and all that it implies and encompasses. We have to love the triumphs and trials – Barack Obama and Flavor Flav. And our non-Black brethren gotta know that our group has room for both, and yet, is not solely defined
by either. Just as the best and worst among your group, doesn’t comprehensively tell your story.

In other words, see us like we see you. Acknowledge and respect our culture like we must also do for you.

I LOVE being Black. The history and cultural traditions are so rich, and so empowering. I wouldn’t trade it for all the good credit and enunciated r’s in the world. While I celebrate Blackness at every opportunity, you, technically, only have to do it for a month – and for the shortest month at that. Try this: take Black History Month as an opportunity to get to know us, collectively. If you do and someone ever asks how you celebrated Black History Month, you’ll have more to say than “I have a Black friend; I watched BET; I listened to 50 Cent.”

Ignorance is a disease, friends. Let us arm ourselves accordingly.


Love

...or it should be.

They say it doesn’t anger or boast; it isn’t selfish or spiteful.

They say all human interaction is driven by one of two emotions – love or fear.

Today we celebrate the former.  Even if you happen not to have live-in-lovin pseudo-scheduled at your crib tonight, chances are someone loves you nonetheless.  Your friends do; your family does.  We can celebrate love how ever it presents itself, no? And we can be fortified by it no matter who gives it, right?

bell hooks said love is an act of will:  “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  Love is action, selfless action.  It takes work and commitment to interact with folks from a position of love, as the act of loving is often tested and challenged and stretched.  But if it’s real, then it’s resilient.  And, like a good spanx, love snaps back.

Just last weekend, I celebrated my birthday with a group of folks who, at one time or another (including now), couldn’t be gathered in the same room together.  But time and love heals.  And as a result, I was treated with the best rendition of the Black version of Happy Birthday I’ve ever heard.  Thank y’all for that.  🙂

I’m convinced that if you lead with love, you’ll get it back.  Treat each other right, and love one another.  Because, yeah, karma can be a bitch.  But she can also be the homie who shows up to your party with good liquor and barbecued brisket.  It all depends on where your heart’s at.


Oh, Whitney.

Surreal is really the only way to describe my feelings about Whitney Houston’s death.  For me, the words just don’t stick.  It doesn’t make sense.

Pardon me if I refer to her like I know her, but I feel like I do.  Whitney’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ video was the first music video I ever saw.  And her version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ made me wish, with all my Middle School heart,  that I knew someone I’d always love.

Whitney Houston was dubbed ‘The Voice’ because she’d so handily, so irrefutably earned the moniker.  Nobody could tear the walls down like Whitney, and no one could make it look so effortless.

I know we’re all cynical about everything now, but do you remember when you first heard Whitney Houston sing the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV?

She murdered the game.  Songstresses have been trying to catch up ever since.

And remember The Bodyguard soundtrack?  I was a fan of ‘I Will Always Love You,’ but ‘I Have Nothing,’ and ‘Run to You’ were absolutely everything to me.   I once gave myself a headache trying to conjure from thin air the talent Whitney Houston breathed like thin air.  She was so gifted.  Her voice was so powerful, so undeniably superior to her contemporaries.

Someone referred to us mourning the loss of “Auntie Whitney” on twitter yesterday.  And yeah, it’s kinda like that.  Music is like family in the sense that it’s always there.  Those voices are woven into the tapestry of our lives.  They are inextricably linked to us.  The moments we remember are that much more special when you can hear the song, and are immediately transported back in time.  You close your eyes, and you can see that memory, smell it, and feel it all over again.

I once saw Whitney and Bobby Brown at Lenox Square in Atlanta.  That was surreal too, because Whitney looked crazy.  It was during that real rough phase, where Whitney’s public image began to shift, and her personal battles began to show through the veneer.  It was tough watching her fall from grace.  But I was proud of her unending resilience.  Whitney fell hard — several times — but never stopped getting back up, or wanting to.  It’s tragic that her life ended this way.  Every tribute tugs at my heartstrings, and seems so out of place.

I was okay knowing that Whitney’s voice would never again be what it was through the 80s and 90s, if it meant that she’d, for once and for all, gotten that monkey off her back (whatever it was).  I guess that wasn’t in the cards this time around.

It just sucks.  Whitney Houston was a classic; her voice was one for an age.  A light like Whitney Houston is supposed to shine well into the twilight.  This feels unfair.  She was taken way too soon.

I wanna remember her like I first saw her:  full of promise, and full of life.

I pray Auntie Whitney rests in peace.


Tyranny of the Majority: Correcting the Narrative

Know why diversity’s so important? It’s about more than just adding another feminine, Black, or gay face at the table, you know.

There are those proverbs that talk about the victor having the spoils, and about history being the victor’s nonobjective story — HIStory. And there was an African proverb I ran across yesterday that read: Until the lion has a chance to tell its story, the hunter will be glorified.

My purpose here isn’t to shade victory. It is survival of the fittest out this mug. Our very existence is predicated on the theory that only the strong survive. What I mean to suggest, then, is that one of the privileges of winning, nay, the best privilege of winning is controlling the narrative. And thus, controlling, massaging, and/or revising the truth. Because “the truth” and one’s perception of it aren’t always the same.

Take 3 recent examples: President Obama vs. Religious Freedom, Roland Martin sticking his foot in his mouth on behalf of “real bruhs,” and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kicking discrimination in the nuts by clipping Proposition H8’s wings.

In the middle of January, the Health and Human Services Department mandated that, under President Obama’s Healthcare Affordability Act, all employers and organizations who provide healthcare insurance must also cover contraceptive care, aka birth control pills, for example, as part of that package. The phony furor that’s erupted over the last week has to do with religious organizations (particularly the Catholic church) being “forced” to indirectly participate in a practice to which it is principally opposed — the prevention of pregnancy.

As a result, the airwaves are awash with characterizations of the Obama Administration as anti-religion, anti-First Amendment, anti-freedom, and anti-American! If I jumped the gun on the last two, I merely jumped the gun. I suspect this phase of the game will show its pasty face sooner or later. There’s no harm in being ready for it.

At any rate, Rachel Maddow was excellent last night in providing a different perspective on this issue: the woman’s perspective — based in real female behavior, and not religious proscriptions for female behavior. Maddow pointed out that something like 99% of women who have sex use birth control. And something like 98% of Catholic women use birth control. Moreover, nearly 6 in 10 Catholics recently polled agreed that “all employers should be required to provide their employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. ”

What this says to me is that churches might want women to bear litters of children like they did a century ago. But seeing as though Mrs. Duggar appears to be the only sista signed up for baby factory duty, then the HHS decision doesn’t, in fact, trample on religious “freedom.” Instead, it protects reproductive freedom from religious dictates that aren’t based in reality. Granted, this probably wasn’t the fight to pick in an election year because it requires some critical analysis, and we know Americans aren’t very comfortable with nuance and context. It was a ballsy move though. And the right one.

Also not based in reality are Roland Martin’s attempts to clean up his uncompromisingly lame joke (at best) and homophobic (at worst) tweets from Superbowl Sunday. Martin tweeted that “real bruhs” wouldn’t rush to H&M to buy some underroos based on an advertisement featuring a half-naked David Beckham. The implication here is that “real bruhs” are heterosexual men, and thus, gay men (who might also not be interested in buying men’s underwear just because a presumably attractive man is wearing them, might I add) aren’t “real” men. I had the pleasure of meeting a woman a few months ago who recently penned a piece on this issue that hits the nail squarely on its head. Take a look: An Open Letter to Roland Martin by Ms. Samantha Master.

Only from within the bubble of majority privilege and story-telling can one not see the danger of advocating that “real bruhs” should “smack the ish” out of he who exhibits what Roland Martin has arbitrarily decided is unacceptable “real” man behavior. Folks were right to call Martin out for his remarks. And, just to be messy, can a brother wearing a paisley Ascot really talk shit about what is and isn’t considered manly?

I mean, really. Find a fucking seat, dude.

Finally, yesterday the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a considerable blow to a 21st century tyranny of the majority when it declared California’s ban on same-sex marriage (known as Proposition 8) un-fucking-constitutional. Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the opinion, asserting that Prop 8:

…serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.

In America, we’ve ascribed to the institution of marriage more than religious and cultural traditions. The special bond between individuals in the modern world is socially recognized and legitimized by the tradition of marriage. In the modern world, sure you still sit in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. But quiet as it’s kept, love, marriage, and baby carriage are all a toss-up as to which comes first. It appears “traditional” marriage had begun to change course well before Adam and Steve decided to make it official.

The prevailing narrative is that society is based in the tradition of one man, one woman “marriage.” And defining “marriage” as something other than that destroys the bedrock foundation of society. This is preposterous. Yes, preposterous. I would argue that the foundations of society are its various incarnations of family and cooperation. “Tribal” and “civilized” societies alike have toyed with what family looks like — polygamous, nuclear, extended, polyamorous. But what they’ve had in common is the notion that whether I’m your only wife or your third of three wives, my commitment is to helping our family prosper; my commitment is to raising well-adjusted children with diverse perspectives and unique stories who will grow into productive members of a global society, and pass on a legacy of respect for difference, and optimism for cooperation — based on the values we, as human beings, share.

When Civil Rights legislation hung in the balance during the 1950s and 60s, the overwhelming majority opposed equality then too. The ratio was something like 3 to 1. This is the exact same fight … because I know you know Civil Rights aren’t synonymous with Black people rights…I don’t have to tell you that, right? The majority was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

As a Black woman with a gorgeous girlfriend whom I plan to marry, I’m grateful for “activist” judges who understand that just because many people agree doesn’t mean they’re all “right.” I’m grateful that judicial activism exists to rescue us from a tyranny of the majority. As Maddow put it, speaking about the contraception issue, ” I realize that a lot of 60-something male pundits look at this issue and think, ‘hmm…bad politics for the democrats on the catholic side.’ There is another way to look at it.”

That’s what I mean by correcting the narrative.