Monday, April 30, 2007

Are we asking the right questions?

Spring semester comes to an end, but the struggles continue. Some finals-period reading and sights:

Is hip hop promoting racism and sexism? Or is capitalism promoting racist and sexist music? My favorite (paraphrased) questions from a great piece over on which I think highlights the importance of the questions we pose (and how we pose them) in shaping debate.

Is rap racist?

Don Imus' shocking comments about the Rutger's women's basketball team were problematic enough on their own, but after the shock jock was fired from both of his jobs, the conversation has evolved -- on talk radio, cable TV and water coolers the world over -- into a discussion of hip-hop culture and rap. The I-Man defended himself by saying that rappers "routinely defame and demean women" and slander them "worse than I ever did." So now, a controversy centered around one man's bad judgment has turned into a public debate about the possible harmful effects of rap music, and whether it is to blame for keeping racist and misogynist imagery and language alive in the public sphere.

We surveyed the cultural commentators we most wanted to hear from to answer the question everyone suddenly wants to ask: Is rap music responsible for promoting racist imagery -- and if so, should there be consequences?

Here's what they had to say.

-- David Marchese

And the lovely Lauryn Hill performing "Motives and Thought" on Def Poetry Jam:

Food for thought.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Study-Yourself Department

Dear White Student,

I'm glad to see you taking African American and oh hell, Other People courses (third world/women/queers/class conscious) here at Yale. We welcome you into this strange world of self-reflexivity. We welcome you into historical reformation, to a legacy of revelation that necessitates revolution. We welcome you into the remarkability, yes the miracle that is our continued voices of protests in spite of systematic decimations of our memory of ourselves. Breaking it down, we welcome you into our homes that don't figure on official maps.

You'll encounter the language of our self-definition: what is blackness, who defines it, why do we need define it, what is black leadership, what is the culture of poverty, who determines that a culture of success must oppose blackness, who is the diaspora, who tells our story, and what, in fact, is our story.

Watch our attempts to convert race trauma into literary analyses to contribute to the oft unsung legacy of the Black Intellect. We are leaving trails of resistance and self-assertion for generations to come, the way those before us did. Learn how we do this for our children so they know how to fight a hidden system that we nevertheless know is as real as the gaze of that certain individual when we walk into a classroom, a lab, a library.

But dear White student, when writing that paper or two on Black identity, consider that maybe your studies of blackness are not just a function of your liberal/progressive/leftist/PC/etc capacity to understand race, but consider that your interest is also a function of a system which places our blackness under a limelight while your whiteness remains the illusive norm escaping all notice. Are we a curious, fetishistic foray into the language of race for you? Tell me, what is the function of black studies for you? Don't paternistically presume we enjoy your attention to the styles of speech, styles of dress, struggles of preservation. It does no system of injustice any use when the perpetrators place undue, feverish attention on the survivors without internally reflecting how it has come to be.

When you told me the other day that you felt so much for race struggles, you were going to write another essay on the question of blackness, this time on brothers Fanon and Garvey, I felt this tightening in my chest. How far we've come that you were so willing to emerse yourself in my reality. But I wondered why you never wrote about whiteness, about the fiction that is American identity which many in powerful channels would claim is "everybody's culture". "The great melting pot". Why is your own body never an original point of analysis? What does it mean that Abercrombie & Fitch has a code of hairstyles forbidding dreadlocks/braids? Does that YPU format seem a little more 18th century Europe and a little less Haitian cooperative, what does it mean to teach a New Haven 2nd grader to "speak proper" or teach Malaysian students how to read Shakespeare, why do you play 50 cent's 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' at your parties when you've never read ellison, soyinka, west? is it strange listening to talib kweli as you cross the street when a 13 year old Black boy is riding a bike?
Will you turn your own curious gaze onto yourself? Write the hidden narrative of constructed whiteness and tell yourself the story of how you came to be white, because as much as my blackness is its own end, that blackness you see is in part a function of your persistent gaze.

See you in class.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

bite your tongue!

beloved thinker, activist and friend, camille over at the hippo blog just posted about russell simmons' encouragement of music industry bigwigs to stop using words like "bitch," "ho," and the n-word.

peep her words here and comment while the north star hits a dry spell.

it would seem that during this finals period, all of our blog contributors are remembering why our families and communities sent us to yale in the first place.

ah, yes, to learn.

and then go back.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Whatcha Think Is Gonna Happen Here?" Oh wow, we already know. Dang.

From Dangerous Minds to Freedom Writers, we're all used to glorified white savior movies. Kids of color who just cannot seem to get their act together until, blinded by the white, they are given a new vision of promise, courage, and success.

Sometimes, I feel as if my white friends blankly nod along when I rage against movies like these. I suspect they don't understand my critique or they feel compelled to hide their secret desire to change the world one Vanilla Ice impersonation at a time. Honestly though, I am not against white helpers. While a white person will not escape my loving critiques when helping out people of color, I will still respect him or her for identifying a need and responding to the call (not anymore than a person of color though; no more white privilege for you!). However, movies like these perpetuate the stereotype that black uplift always needs white strings attached.

It's a shame movies like Akeelah and the Bee are rare events while a film like Freedom Writers is so trite that even MadTV takes advantage of its foolishness. Yet, Freedom almost doubled the box office gross of Akeelah. Like usual, we cannot just point at a black status symbol and be content with some form of progress. The studio system needs to change by hiring more black talent behind the scenes to change the stories that get told. Doug Atchison, the white writer of Akeelah, is great, but we need to share our visions with each other while asserting ourselves and our stories into the dominant framework with the hope that we can becoming an original source of transformative energy for a broken system.

On the side note tip, the Yale community has been subject to some really poor attempts at satire this past year. As a result, a lot of these "humorists" are convinced that people of color don't have a sense of humor or hypocritically indulge in satirical humor privately. I think this sketch is an example of responsible satire, a term I'd define as "explosive with a ready made clean up crew." You've got to be ready to heal the hurt you're about to expose (not necessarily cause, there's a difference). There are devices for this effort, and I think this sketch uses them wisely. Note the African-American woman who fleshes out the problem in her monologue to the "nice white lady." Or even the fact that although she introduces herself, her whiteness is what we are supposed to notice; therefore, it is her title as well. Besides the creepy and lingering domestic violence "joke," the sketch did a good job at presenting the problem and allowing us to laugh at it while not disparaging the students of color or even the white teacher. I had been sleeping on MadTV. Not anymore.

Edit: After Naima wisely tempered my excitment, I'll keep one eye opened, one eye closed. Good lookin' out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

the sins of our fathers

it's good to be a haitian.
there are a few things of which you can be certain, the least of which is knowing you'll be punished two centuries later for having been the first successful establishment of an all-black republic against french supremacy.
for this act of black rebellion by "ungrateful and rebellious Africans", a haitian bonhomme will have the double-honor of paying his white masters for his freedom for over one-hundred years: first in the form of direct enslaving costs to the ravenous french empire, then for economic sanctions which crudely equates a suffering people for american-supported predatory leaders.

and now, now to our struggling diaspora attempting to contribute to the fabric of american culture but can't catch a break on grounds that 101 haitian immigrants attempting to build a life for themselves in the united states will be interchangeable with the word "terrorists". their cuban counterparts though? they will be welcomed into this great, wide land with arms wide-open - to encourage views of cuba as the devil's own land. haitians will be massacred if not by illegal american intervention (1911, 2004), wild insurrectionary armies - if not by these then by starvation which comes from the us govt's refusal to give haiti temporary protected status (TPS). countries such as honduras and nicaragua, more economically established, have been given this blessing.

a haitian-american man in florida (a US army veteran ironically) henri petithomme is saying enough. he's on a hunger strike until the united states department of immigration services releases the refugees from these prisons to their families in the US so that they can meet with law representatives to build a case for self-defense, self-assertion in this land (founded on slashing black esteem).

where did i first get this news? from a korean newspaper. the nytimes article covered this story once, four weeks ago. the local gainsville, florida newspaper is the only paper covering his strike.

so weeks from now when his death is consigned to the infamous moniker, 'here dies another black human on the conscience of US', i'll be praying for the diaspora. for the day our struggle isn't a black blip on someone's radar in korea or gainseville, fl.

ale ale revolutyon-a.
an ale, yon ayiti pou ayisen.*

Bring 'Em Out

Bring who out? All you white people that say nigga when you’re singing along to your favorite hip hop artist. And by favorite artist I mean you can recognize the song when you hear it and know the chorus.

Let’s make this clear right now. It’s not okay for white people to say the word nigga. Will I try to fight you if I hear you say it while you’re attempting to rap along with the song? No. Mostly because I would rather not sully my record over some dummy’s ignorance. So when TI comes and performs on campus I’m sure I will hear nigga slip from a few belligerent white mouths. And though I may give you the evil eye, I will most likely not address you nor let your dumbass ruin my experience. Singing along and saying the word nigga does not make you a racist. It just means you lack common sense.

There is no white colloquialism that compares to the way black people, myself included, use the word nigga. But for the sake of argument let’s say black people up and decide to enslave, demean, deny political power to, and rape white people for a few hundred years. You know…all that stuff that would in no way affect your cultural identity or hinder a race for years to come. And in the midst of this favor…because that’s what slavery was…a favor. Oh, this wouldn’t be a favor? Oh…it’s only a favor if you’re taken from a derelict continent like Africa…because Africa was in no way running things. It wasn’t like Africans were providing Europeans with a bunch of stuff they needed in exchange for clothes and what not to make them look fly. And that is in no way somewhat parallel to black people today. Point being black people started calling white people crackers during this hypothetical slavery period. Leading to this:


If this happened, I would not call white people crackas. Even if it was in a song I absolutely loved to sing because it’s by this really really hot white guy. Like, oh my God. So do us all a favor and self censor. I don't buy that whole I was drunk, I didn't know bull. If you're drinking to a point that you can't control yourself then I'm going to go with something way out on a limb here...way out there...something no one could ever imagine doing...I mean insane. Stop drinking so damn much stupid.

I am not interested in arguing with anyone about the appropriateness of this word, its uses, or any of that. I say nigga. White people can’t. Period.

And I’m talking about nigga. Not nigger. Don’t get it twisted.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In a Time of Tragedy, President Levin Essentializes and Dehumanizes

This was the letter first sent by President Levin to the President of Virginia Tech, a campus now in a state of shock and despair after yesterday's shooting tragedy, and later forwarded to the entire Yale community:

Dear President Steger:

The entire world looks on with compassion for the terrible ordeal that your campus suffered today. Those of us in universities feel most especially the fragility of our communities, and their vulnerability to those who do not live by our values of civility and respect for others. I send you personally my warmest sympathy, and I hasten to offer any help that I or Yale University might provide.

With deepest condolences for those you have lost,

Rick Levin
President, Yale University

Thank you for employing such neo-con rhetoric, President Levin - that same type of distorted Manichean language that has allowed for intellectual defenses of horrific, historic crimes against the Other (colonization, invasion of Iraq). Certainly, it is "our values" - unique to the rest of the World - that lead us to condemn murder so strongly.

Thank you also for dehumanizing an individual who obviously had some sort of problem. Here, we have a man whose daily interactions with people must have made him felt as if he were not of this world, and, even in his death, you feel the need to posit him as an aberration to all that is decent. As no culture condones the slaughter of innocent people, such comments are really necessary...

This attack should tell us nothing other than that a crazed foreigner went on a rampage. It is certainly not indicative of the need for gun regulation. Clearly, it is not symptomatic of a culture that glorifies violent masculinity. After all, the gunment isn't like "us"; he's not human. Only with such disgusting logic would it be acceptable for the New York Times, which yesterday was stating 33 people had been killed, to write that 32 people and the gunman had been killed . A human life lost, but, inexplicably, to the New York Times and President Levin, it is as if he were not a victim.

Monday, April 16, 2007

smashing white liberal delusions

as e st v and i sit jamming to rage against the machine in a computer cluster on old campus (with three other black people... we're just waiting for someone to arrive and ask to see our IDs), we have decided to start a series of TNS posts about white leftist culture at yale and white liberalism in this nation at large.

after a conversation with a fellow activist, e st v found herself wondering what it must mean to be white and said, "maybe white people do have it hard. because this man is struggling."

and so we will be writing a series of posts contemplating everything from the irony of the rhetoric of white privilege to why anarchy just won't ever work for people of color.

we do not call these posts "internal critique" because that term implies that these leftist circles/social movements constitute true community for black folk... which has yet to be determined. as malcolm x said in his 1963 "message to the grass roots":

"time will tell."

our peeps in SJN and The Women's Center may not be too keen on these critiques that are sure to be painful.
we only say these things because we believe in change.


Scrath a Lie, Find a Thief

This day, and the previous week for that matter, could not pass without commemorating one of the most famous triumphs in all of American history. “On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.” Enough with the fables, Aesop. Major news outlets across the country have been reinforcing the mythological throne upon which Jackie Robinson sits. Robinson’s achievement was paramount, indeed. And given mainstream society’s love affair with “firsts,” (Ernie Davis, Tony Dungy, etc.) his praise comes as no surprise and, rightfully so, without contention. America loves it icons. From Bob Dylan to Matt Dillon. From Ronald McDonald to Ronald Reagan. But, Jackie Robinson, he sits in a special place. No singular figure in sports is more talked about than Jackie Robinson (remove Michael’s ad contracts and he does not even compare). Not in black history, not in white history, not in anything. Some may consider Babe Ruth the best baseball player ever, but the guy doesn’t have his number retired throughout an entire professional league. Put that into perspective for a minute. Let that marinate. No, really. Let it.

Ok. Let’s continue.

So what’s the problem with this, then? White people have already voted Jackie Robinson first team All-Jesus, right up there with Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson. So everything is fine and dandy, right? However, this is where the fairy tales end. Put the children to bed. And the old folks too. I will allow one moment (via the reading of this sentence) for the covering of virgin eyes. It has been precisely one moment, and as promised, I will resume. The problem with the immortalization of Robinson is that while a politically and morally conservative figure is worshipped, there are tantamount, I would argue even greater, black sports heroes who receive little to no recognition. This phenomenon is based solely on the political and social affiliation of the respective athletes. This is evidence of mainstream society and certain white-controlled institutions selectively choosing to attach themselves to a less-liberal, less-revolutionary figure: case and point being our national dialogue about Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson.

For any ESPN program to give the same respect and due recognition to Paul Robeson’s contributions to not only the sports world but to this country would be too much like…well…justice. Unlike Robinson, he was not the “rally ‘round the flag” supporter of America’s involvement in the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War, which took innocent lives all over the world. Unlike Robinson, he was not a critic of Bayard Rustin’s, a homosexual, involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, despite Rustin being one of Robeson’s biggest critics. Unlike Robinson, he was not forever tied to an institution (MLB) which severely limited the free speech of its black athletes and also held the bulk of his fan base.

But oddly enough, there are no special stories, or dates, or anything at all which praise how Robeson, at Rutgers University from 1915-1919, earned15 varsity letters (most players now are lucky to get 4), was a first team All-American in football, yet also finished atop his graduating class at Rutgers, was Phi Beta Kappa, and later graduated from Columbia Law School, while playing professional football on the weekends to subsidize the cost. Yale’s own Walter Camp, the founder of football, even described him as “the greatest to ever trot the gridiron.” It is truly a remarkable story that a black man in that given time period, or any time period for that matter, could overcome so many societal and institutional barriers to achieve so much. His contributions to the early formation of sports are undeniable, yet his achievements and efforts are overlooked year after year, documentary after documentary, and his legacy wanes in comparison to Robinson’s.

So that begs the question, why is there no ESPN Sunday conversation about Robeson today? Why in third grade do we always have to learn Jackie Robinson’s mother’s maiden name, but never hear as little as a whisper of Paul Robeson, who did just as great if not greater things in his time? Why is the emphasis on the man who in 1949 testified in front the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for the sole purpose of summoning Robeson to have him questioned about his relationship with the Communist Party? Or better yet, why don’t we, as a country, glorify the man who stood for freedom and sovereignty in all third world countries? And why don’t we have celebrations for the man who recognized the global plight of people of color? Why is there not a celebratory day throughout sports which commemorate a man who was compassionate enough to visit the Kremlin during the Cold War crisis, not in treachery, but in love?

The answers are numerous, yet obvious. Robeson went abroad and not only expressed sympathies for other oppressed peoples but also was not shy with his opinion of the present condition of black people in America. Robeson was willing to bring the cause for black liberation to a world stage, whereas Robinson never strayed too far from the plantation. It is much easier to tell the story of the black man who first valiantly served his country, and then persisted through the ubiquitous racism of the sports industry and waited patiently until the ever so gracious Branch Rickey kindly pulled him up from the slums of the Negro Leagues to the prominence which he still holds to this day. Finally, it all makes sense. I mean, really, how could Robeson’s story be woven into the American narrative? The government stripped him of his passport, forbade him to travel, and as such he lost the right to perform and earn a living. They literally ended his career, violated his privacy and had him bugged for the better half of his life (let’s pour out a lil liquor for my man J. Edgar Hoover). Wait, what chapter would all this go in again? Oh, oh, that’s right. I forgot. There is no chapter about that. What was I expecting, righteousness? Guess I’m in the wrong country for all that. Damnit. I had my mind all ready for some justice, yet am left with anything but. I thought this was the land of the free, no?

This phenomenon is not at all unique to sports. One could go on for days listing similar instances where the face chosen by white America to represent “the struggle” (yes, the infamous struggle in which at some point all black people were included) has always been the more conservative and less threatening individual based on national political agenda: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois, later Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, and of course MLK and Malcolm X. I love how the names can switch places over time too. That’s that shit. But seriously. Our collective national history of a public figure like Paul Robeson is embarrassing and shameful. And I could have written the same article about Jim Brown, and how the Heisman was stolen from him in 1956 and given to Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, the first and only time the winner played for a losing team. Not to take anything away from the man, but there are many national tragedies which are more egregious than those which Robinson experienced. Yet it is convenient for those in power to erase such tragedies from our national memory with the goal of protecting American hegemony and stability.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Obama/Imus Timeline: breaking out of the white storyteller and black storylistener existence

After reading Andom's post yesterday, I was pretty sure Senator Obama's quotes were taken out of context. In the original article, the question was not reported. In the other two, his comment about rap was an answer to the question of what inspired him. Ridiculous, I thought. It just didn't make sense.

After some investigation, here is one account from Charleston's The Post and Courier that provides a lot more context:

The only time the topic drifted away from education came when a young man asked Obama about what inspires him. Obama replied that he was inspired by God and past civil rights leaders, and then he talked a little about what doesn't inspire him.

"We've been focusing on Don Imus lately," Obama said, referring to the New York shock jock fired Thursday for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

"I've got two young daughters, both of them tall, and I hope they get basketball scholarships. ... I don't need somebody on a radio station degrading that," Obama said, "but I think it's fair to say that there are a whole bunch of young rappers who look like us, who use the words that Don Imus does, who are on our radio stations. ... That doesn't inspire me.

"That does go back to education," he said. "Part of our best is instilling in our young people that you should be pursuing excellence and having high standards."


This is very different from the original quote where Obama is portrayed as randomly attacking black rappers. In fact, Senator Obama's comment does not differ that much from some of our comments on the original post. The problem I have (and I think others do too) is with white storytellers who record and frame everything Obama has to say. I think of the media as an incentive based system, not a teller of truths. The incentive for the media in misreporting this story is to set up a war between Obama and popular rappers. Think of the headlines, interviews, and white fascination with it all. I think that's why we're seeing entire articles based solely on an answer to one question as opposed to anything substantive that tries to pull together a timeline of Obama's reactions throughout this Imus controversy. I understand that we shouldn't rally around Senator Obama just because he's black. But we also can't call him a traitor to his race without realizing that, perhaps, a largely corrupt media system wants us to think exactly that. I hope the following timeline illuminates our discussion and gives us a resource to sidestep the media's heavy focus on the AP article. Instead, let's wrestle with what seems to be our central question: how does a public black figure not contribute to pathologic arguments of black failure but still hold the people who fail accountable in a way that focuses on transforming them and our community?

How can we write our own stories?

The Imus/Obama Timeline

4/4/07 Imus says "nappy headed hos."
4/6/07 Imus apologizes.
4/7/07 Sharpton calls for Imus to be fired.
4/11/07 The Boston Globe writes a piece about Obama's silence on the issue thus far. Sharpton, who has not endorsed any Presidential candidate, is interviewed.
4/11/07 Obama is interviewed by ABC and is the first presidential candidate to demand Imus' firing.
4/11/07 Obama appears on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room. He condemns Imus without mentioning rap.
4/11/07 Imus is fired from MSNBC.
4/12/07 Imus is fired from CBS.
4/13/07 Obama speaks at Florence High School in Florence, South Carolina. His speech is about education. He answers one question about what inspires him. After saying God and former Civil Rights leaders, he said Don Imus does not inspire him then acknowledged neither do rappers who use the same language.
4/13/07 Obama's comments start to go viral and the preface of Don Imus not inspiring him is dropped from most reports leaving a seemingly harsh and out of place critique of rap.
4/13/07 The second article Andom linked to provides a context of misogyny in rap but not a context of Obama's speech.
4/13/07 6:56pm "Obama Compares Rappers to Imus" The definitive AP article that has limited context and the widest readership comes out and is reproduced in hundreds of publications.
4/13/07 A gala event occurs that is not covered by mainstream press. At this event, Obama receives a standing ovation from the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus after saying about Imus' comments, “That’s not funny, it’s not amusing, it shouldn’t be tolerated. But we’ve got to admit to ourselves it’s not the first time we heard the word ‘ho'....[It's] the same language we’ve been permitting in our homes and schools and iPod....If it’s not good for Don Imus, I don’t know why it’s good for us.” The State covers it.
4/14/07 An article claims Obama "launched an outspoken attack on rap singers" with his comment from the 4/13 AP article that has limited context.
4/14/07 Article with context comes out revealing that Friday's AP article entirely left out Obama's critique of Imus. It also shows that Obama disapproval of rappers who use the word "ho" was a truthful conceit to the audience. This article does not mention the gala event.
4/15/07 "Black Candidate's Burden" The editorial asks why "should Barack Obama be more outraged than anyone else...?"

the one that should've been a post: don imus & snoop

so what's a woman who thinks, well i do remember hearing

You can't turn a Ho into a house wife
Hos don't act right
There's Ho's on a mission and there's Ho's on a crack pipe
Hey Ho, How you doin' Where you been?

-luda, "youz a hoooooo"

and my favorite:

Look here bitch, don't ask me shit
Did I interupt you while [*slurping noises*] you was sucking my ----, beyotch?
I don't need the stress, besides talkin' back to a pimp would get yo ass slapped.
I learned a whole lot from these bitches of my past
A bitch with no class is worse than a bitch with no ass
And you wonder why I'm from The Pound?
Shiiiit, if a bitch can't swim, nigga, she bound to drown, nigga.

-snoop, "it's all on a hoe"

there's also snoop dog's interesting response to being compared to don imus, which is problematic in its own right, but an interesting comment nonetheless:

"These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha-----as say we in the same league as him."

interesting. several questions which i'd like to debate:
if one ought to take care and consider the nature of media representations when discussing internal injustice, how does one proceed to create interior justice if not in the public sphere, if not in bringing to light these cultural internalizations of systemic oppression? where is this so-called private, black-only sphere where black identity can heal itself from colonial assumptions of heteronormativity?
and do we not paternalistically presume that our community is too weak to acknowledge internal discrepancies and then to proceed with an equally public movement away from misogyny, an example of progress?

it's a testament of our capacity to represent blackness not as a stringent category of identification, to demonstrate its capacity for morphing, for evolution. perhaps the question is not whether specificity of viewpoints in the black community contribute to division, but rather how do we develop a rhetoric that uncategorically demonstrates us as unified against white supremacy and at the same time, incontestably human in our capacity to express viewpoints that alternate from brother to brother, sister to sister. we are not a political party with one ideology to which we march (though perhaps some might argue we ought to be), we are a people, in the multivarious forms that the word "people" takes.

is it also not possible to reject don imus and his like while also stating, 'we categorically reject hip hop's perpetuation of misogyny which sustains heteronormativity, a system of power upon which white supremacy often rests?'

it would be a shame to shy from this discussion and alienate our women from our identity on grounds that race as it relates to our relationship to the white public takes precedence over gender discourse within the community.

what's more, i am accutely sensitive to the historical legacy of white colonialism (in its wondrous, multivarious forms) use of women's positions in other cultures to attack these communities as primitive, backwards etc., a reason to mutilate cultures. i think the discourse of feminism in the Middle East currently testifies directly to this.

but i am concerned that this awareness of how these cultural critiques from the "enlightened" eurocentric lead us to great susceptibility to 1. perpetually imbue female bodies with the role of cultural representatives such that these discussions about race necessarily occur through our bodies, once more encouraging the silencing of women as mere bodily representors of idealism - does she or doesn't she wear a veil, does she or doesn't she wear her culture's garb, does she or doesn't she cook X food, doesn't she or doesn’t she use birth control, is she or isn't she raising our children in this way, etc (has any one heard black female view points? maybe i've missed this but it appears as though men are once more speaking in the place of women) 2. accentuate one form of injustice over another.

so perhaps someone can answer for me where this private sphere for black judgment occurs? and why we can't reclaim justice as a heterogenous community rather than one that presents a monolithic front; in short, why in at once condemning don imus' racist comments, there can't be a more nuanced and yes, public critique that acknowledges hip hop's perpetuation of gender injustice and equally problematic, race inequality by so vividly and so often reflecting the rhetoric of white heteronormativity (though perhaps in a more verbose manner than white sexism's great capacity to be insidious)? why when we critique hip hop's gender injustice we cannot also publicly denounce the *continued* unequal pay of women across the US, the many unjust applications of rape laws, the eroding access a woman has to birth control let alone abortion, the absence of day care to ensure women's actual capacity to enter the work force, the appalling number of women tenured as professors despite the steadfast, growing number of females graduating university compared to their male peers.

it's not right, i concede, that the black community both bears the brunt of racism as well as be the solutions to these inequitudes. but i am deeply concerned when one form of injustice and its resolution take precedence over another because we find ourselves in the public and often oppositionary eye of the other. i am beginning to understand the dangerous cost of this double consciousness, this perpetual acknowledgment of the white perspective on blackness.

it’s our difficult task to take hold of rhetoric and call internal critique of blackness (which will always be in the public) not an instance of division but a representation of another assault on whiteness, where we refuse to perpetuate power structures which have and will continue to uphold racial, gender oppression so long as we choose to not tear down the both simultaneously.

we are fortunate enough to historically know how women have been sidelined in and for race politics ( – let’s not make the same mistake twice.

so be equally insulted that black women were referred not only in racially derogatory terms, but at the absurdity of reducing our amorphous and profound sexuality to an apparatus for lust.

i won’t choose to be more upset as a woman or a black person in these comments. i’ll thunder that i’m made to choose, as though sexism and racism weren't cut from the same cloth. so snoop can talk from his soul as much as he wants and don imus can reveal his true colors, but neither’s masculinity or blackness is enough a shield to protect him.

**and may i just add that these moments of internal critique should be buffered with the role of the media which gives gratuitous press coverage to misogynistic rap while giving little to no play to rappers like lupe, dead prez, talib, roots, and so many others who have returned to rap's original *revolutionary* role as a voice of dissent and uplift. there's a reason why hip hop has taken root around the world, from senegal with the amazing didier awadi rapping against neocolonialism to the banlieus of paris countering france's hypocritical reputation as race-heaven to palestinians against the israeli occupation to female middle eastern MCs rapping about american cultural hegemony:

"The New Cowboys"

Tche tche Tche tche
Sometimes life is like a stray bullet
in the modern system where
the individual drowns.
To stay clear headed
he used to drink Brandy
From now on we bring forward TVs
and white lines.
Where white is the
magnificent ride.
But always against the light,
it's far less heroic.
In the world of dreams,
we end it with a happy-ending.
Is this the case in what
we call "The New Western" ?
-MC Solaar, Prose Combat

so i say: rap is beautiful.
let's bring it back home.

ps black law feminist kimberle crenshaw has written on this not-so-new issue. y'all should check out her article:

pps tns doing loving internal critique…

Saturday, April 14, 2007

White Supremacy and Patriarchy in the Capitalist Media/ STOP Snitchin Barack

Finally, JUSTICE! Well, let's say a step towards justice for the firing of Don Imus . While American society has capitalized on negative portrayals of black female bodies for centuries, finally, someone is being held accountable for the constant perpetration of these offensive representations. Now, let's not be euphemistic, New York Times, for intolerant speech of the racist and misogynistic variety does not translate to "racial remarks" . Calling a group of women "nappy-headed hos" is both racist and misogynistic, and the fact that a nationally syndicated radio host would even think that such terrible words could somehow be heard as acceptable demonstrates that the white supremacist commodification of the black female body is a legacy of slavery that has transformed itself, under the auspices of capitalism and satire, into a cultural mainstay that proudly links us to glorious times of the past. At least, CBS deemed this incident objectionable enough that it severed ties with Don Imus. Don Imus, himself, isn't the problem, though; it is a society that willingly tolerates the negative images of human beings that are propagated for mass consumption.

Even worse, when these images are black ones, for, unlike much of the rest of America, our representations in society only encompass a fraction of a spectrum created and supported by exploitative white supremacy and patriarchy. There is no authentic self in this spectrum, for it is too constrained; as a result, we are degraded in our exoticization and exoticized in our degradedness.

So, Barack Obama, don't turn this into an issue about rappers because their misogynistic comments are not tantamount to those of Don Imus. Because of our monolithic representations in society, black social problems are usually seen as the detrimental outgrowth of cultural deficiencies associated with our racial essence. Oh, Barack Obama, you traitor, our community is more diverse than your ethnic makeup! You cannot criticize hip-hop culture to those who do not understand this crucial fact, for, to them, you are really just censuring blackness. Culture is constitutive of race, but certainly not everything to it. When culture is so narrowly represented for a minority group, the two become entangled in knots of oppressive cultural hegemony. Hip-Hop is not all to blackness, America, but, since many of you see it as so, I hope the exotic beauty of black femininity enslaves you with a paralyzing erection, so that, in our natural rush to rhyme, we will have the time to find the perfect beat that will fight your verses of racism. And as we do this, we criticize our own, lamenting the misogyny and homophobia that goes on within our own communities. But, oppressor America, even in this age of gentrification, I hope you don't hear it. For this conversation, this discourse, goes on and will continue to go on behind the same ghetto walls of oppression that you whipped us to erect.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

women of color of the world unite!

let us take a cue from shakira and beyonce who show us in their latest collabo that black and latina women can come together for the common purpose of self objectification.

full body convulsions aside, what is most disturbing about this video is the way shakira and beyonce seem to morph into each other, indistinguishable forms, possessing the same thinned bodies and long, blond locks.

it is amazing the homogeneity we find when we anglicize ourselves.

keep doing it up for barranquilla and houston, women: if we're going to commodify our sexualities, we might as well do it collectively.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

photos: the problem with signifying africa

is now so cut off from the rest of the country that everything is flown in by plane: bottled water, panes of glass, cookies, cucumbers, even gasoline.

i post this to point out the discrepancy in reporting about africa. see how the sideline description is in reference to the geographical isolation of the town to other urban areas and how the picture shows nothing of the kind. to correspond with isolation, a photograph of the actual border in relation to cut-off roads or maybe at least an aerial shot would have actually corroborated this statement. instead, the idea of isolation is materialized in a picture of a congolese woman and her child - which is no evidence of isolation. by associating this image with economic/material deficiency, we are to assume that an african woman holding her child set in a vaguely dilapidated background is to mean just that. it is inaccurate to show a photo that does not relate directly to the subject being described- it presumes that if i as a reporter want to show poverty, i will choose out of an abundance of random congolese women who seem to be wearing a sad expression to illustrate the well-known fact of african degradation.

we are aware that the africa of public imagination is not nuanced. she usually appears as one of abject poverty and misery, devoid of cultural richesse and private/habitual life experiences (ie love, social life) and is, instead, besotted with economic/political trouble. whether that is in fact the case in congo, journalism and esp. photojournalism which has the weighty task of assigning image to language (solidifying our definition of what a place is), should take to specify as much as possible, to avoid leaving assumptions to do the thinking for us.

in this series of photographs about the congo, the nytimes for the most part accurately associated the subject of the photograph with the corresponding description but this slip above is, to me, demonstrative of how typified ideas of africa enter into 'objective' journalism. and without conscious recognition of these slippages, these views don't remain the subjective opinions that they are but become inseparable from definitions of africa.

the sad fact is i don't know how to effectively articulate what this appropriate or desirable depiction of congolese life ought to be. it should be honest, no doubt, but there are many ways to show the truth and in the spirit of artistic liberty and licence, i'm not interested in dictating the process. perhaps though, one step is to call for more diverse subject matter and photographers too (some from the country depicted itself who'd most likely have better access than unfamiliar traveler).

but then again this critique is probably borne out of my personal frustration with staring at several pictures of little african children at koffee2 which appear to be the most benign of photos. after one-too-many photo exhibits of yale students' passively-pleasant cultural experience of the third world and the gratuitous representations of little smiling black/brown faces, i'm apt to be a little sensitive.

i am posting a photograph i took when i was in ghana. maybe it can be a sound off for how to fairly (re)present lives which are not our own...? :

Saturday, April 7, 2007

the colored museum

i am floored and moved; uplifted.

The Yale Heritage Theater Ensemble put up a production of George C. Wolfe's the colored museum at the Calhoun Cabaret this weekend and i was fortunate enough to attend this evening.

beyond the satirical matter of the play itself (which constructs parallelisms between the Middle Passage and flight on a plane called Celebrity Slaveship, alludes to josephine baker through the figure of Lala Amazing Grace, and critiques the antifeminist reduction of African American struggle and experience to the pursuit of only manhood rights), i was most overpowered by the work of the members of the HTE that staged the production.

the cast performed brilliantly: with wit, pain, humor, joy. SHADES comprised a significant portion of the cast and consequently, nearly everyone on the stage had an inordinately gorgoeus voice and presence.

every vignette, with song and drama and comedy, testified to the depth and diversity of black undergraduate arts. from theater ensembles such as HTE and EPGY, to dance groups such as konjo!, steppin' out, rhythmic blue, to WORD's slam poetry, and singing groups such as yale gospel choir, asempa, and SHADES, black performing arts at yale remain one of our campus' greatest strengths.

of course, TNS was rolling deep in the colored museum, with melay tadesse araya as director and elizabeth st. victor as producer. melay and e st v have succeeded in reminding those of us in attendance that we cannout outrun history nor live in it.

for those of us who may have been sleepwalking on this campus, blind to the great irony of being a student of color at this university and in the city of new haven, the yale heritage theater ensemble has shaken us into a consciousness that i pray we will actualize.*

let us carry these wisdoms in our soul and in our hearts and in our skins, unafraid to speak them out of us and into these communities (some fragmented, some false).

knowing, as George C. Wolfe would have us remember, that there is beauty in our madness, strength in our contradictions.

congratulations to the cast: alex blissett, katherine webb, daniel tetreault, camelle scott, noah p. hood, emily jenda, sarajane williams, naomi bland, and kyle mitchell. congratulations to melay tadesse araya (director), elizabeth st. victor (producer), quincy o'neal (assistant producer), graphics designer (marika bailey), bouncer (quave smith), house manager (umi-shakti ausar-sahu), and natalie k. paul (of HTE). *note: i have discussed the great irony of being a black student at yale with elizabeth. i recognize her in this note for the phraseology is hers.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from the black person.

If you're a racist, and you want to get away with saying racist stuff all the time...become a comedian. That way you can belittle pretty much every race and no one would say anything to you! Only way you could mess this up is if you were having a bad day and some black men happened to start heckling you and you somehow lost all control and called them niggers. But come on. What are the chances of that happening? So all you descendants of Italians, French, Grecians, Jewish…what’s a word I could use to catch all these groups…hmmm. White. That’ll do it. All you white people out there: listen up!

If you, in light of this recently imparted knowledge, now aspire to be a racist comedian but fear not being funny, don’t worry. If you tell bad jokes, a few people will laugh. Because chances are there will be a few racists in the room and as long as you’re degrading a group of oppressed people or a minority (I know what you’re thinking…oppressed and minority don’t mean the same thing? Surprised me too.) they will laugh.

Yes, I know you watched the Kramer video and it didn’t seem like anyone was laughing. It probably was. You just can’t make it out. But for fun let’s assume no one was laughing. Either they were smart enough to hold it in until they got in the parking lot then talked about it the whole way home. Or the audience was comprised of minorities (I didn’t even know black people watched Seinfield. Guess you gotta watch something when your cable gets cut off.) and white liberals. How many white conservatives go to comedy clubs? Their idea of comedy is “Let’s give crack to black people and see what happens.”

I enjoy comedians that make jokes about different groups, even when they are based on race or ethnicity. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it or that all or even most comedians are racist. All I’m saying is if you’re going to be a racist, you might as well get paid for it.

This is a bit long, but I think it's a great articulation by black teenagers of the way black teens feel about their bodies in American society. Feelings and frustrations that most if not all of us have had, I'm sure. The short is up for a $10,000 prize from CosmoGirl (ironically). You can check out the other films and vote here.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Do Not Look

Do not look at me, supposed ally.
Do not look at me as I burn at the racism that appears on the screen while you laugh at my blaze.
I do not know or care if you have had the experiences painted on my skin that inform my hurt and my proposed actions when I experience racism or bigotry. But do not look at me simply to enjoy my outrage.
Do not mention these incidents to provoke a response that you will not share or even try to understand. The casual and throwaway reference dismisses the power of our potential response.
This is not an icebreaker.
And that blackface party is not the weather. And I certainly am not helpless to the forecast that is Global Racism 24/7.

Your snorts roll back The Movement as you legitimize the type of racism that creeps and oozes its way into the national consciousness making everyone say,
“Oh, you’re just too sensitive. And seriously Josh, if this is racist then how did it get past the executives.” You know, the ones who never look like their suits. Who never have quite anything to say when attacked except for that classic white finger pointed to the token who okayed it too. Better yet, it was his idea.

And if you are of color the irony is as rich as a dollop of cream in some black coffee.
Listen, I am not forcing you into the trenches. Lord knows you have to want to be there.
But I am asking you to reject the reproduction of racism in any form where you are stationed and, perhaps, to be an ally when I shout out.

And if you say no, then fine. If we are too different now forty-four years after fighting for the same thing, then so be it. That will be our legacy as the “post” generation. But don’t revel in what you would say is my obsession with my oppression. Do not toy with my mission of raising racial and diversity consciousness (with a focus on revision and social justice) everywhere that does not escape me.
Do not hide your discomfort, disapproval, or lack of commitment.
But whatever you do, do not look and laugh while I am burning because these dark eyes will someday spirit you away to the depths I have reclaimed as my liberation.
In this gaze you will find where I long for you to be.
Home in a world of displacement.
Taken not by a look, but an understanding.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Violence in Somalia

Somalia has seen its worst fighting in 15 years , and, sadly, it's the result of American-backed Ethiopian interventionist forces' indiscriminate killing of Somalis. America's proxy war in Somalia demonstrates that America's interest in Africa only exists if it perceives some threat. Millions can die in Congo and Rwanda and hundreds of thousands in Darfur and Chad because, "unfortunately," there is no strategic interest there.

America is at "war with terrorism," but, for the government, this translates into a war with Islam. Only through such a racist conflation, one that is constantly made across American society, can the Somali Islamists have been feared at all to be the next Taleban. Clearly, American policymakers have no idea of Somalia as a country, for, not only is it extremely secular, but it has, even in its instability, rejected tempting Al-Qaeda and Wahhabi influences from across the Gulf of Aden. The Islamists were successfully able to unite Somalia, but now Somalia is crumbling as American and Ethiopian warplanes bomb "suspected Islamists." What does that even mean? Everyone is Muslim in Somalia, and everyone, I'm sure, has some political leanings. Are people being killed for their political allegiances or because they have a weapon in hand? While it doesn't ultimately matter which one it is, we do see a sad side of humanity when one need only be suspected of espousing a certain political ideology to not have his/her murder merit condemnation.

Help support Somalia and African sovereignty as they both are slowly being killed in this illegal war. If only America showed as much interest in poverty alleviation and health as they did in "suspected terrorism"...Muslim human beings can no longer be savagely dehumanized as essentialized tokens of terror worthy of Western annihilation. These are human beings, and in Somalia, Algeria, Palestine, Iraq, and in Afghanistan, innocent, peace-loving people are murdered everyday for being nothing more than Muslims.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Sequoyah invented the alphabet or something like that

I am a product of my environment. The particular environment I am speaking of at this moment is that of the schools I have attended. So I am a product of my eurocentric education.

My knowledge of the history of cultures outside my own is limited. Sure we all took US History but unfortunately the only black people mentioned in the book we were taught from were Martin Luther the King, some dude X-Man that hated white people, that one dude that got shot in the Boston Massacre, WEB DuBois, and that guy who they always say was hating on him. Well, I’m assuming MLK and X because we did not reach that part of the book. Something about nothing from those chapters would be on the AP test…I’m guessing because nothing that happened from that time period was important. I mean there’s something about this movement but it’s not like it changed the country or anything. My great greats (At least I think they were my great greats. We all look alike so it’s hard to tell) had a cameo in this one drawing in the book…but they were in shackles and I’m pretty sure they didn’t want to be there…not sure if that counts.

So why do people take classes on other cultures? If you want to learn about black history all you have to do is watch commercials during the month of February. I encourage you to watch corporations make associations that aren’t there.

I have this feeling that reading a few Wikipedia entries will not do any group justice (and that’s what we here at TNS are all about…or at least that’s what they tell me). So if someone ever has the audacity to ask you why you, a white person, are taking African American History or why you, a black person are taking American Indian History, tell them because the story is always different when told by the oppressed.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Hopeful, Yes I am...

Recently, Oprah has decided to invest $40 million out of her pocket to fund the opening of a school for impoverished girls in South Africa. Her decision to open the school, along with a subsequent interview in Newsweek Magazine, has caused quite a bit of controversy. First off, I scoff at anyone who thinks that performing a charitable act to uplift a group of people is wrong. Doing something to better others less fortunate than you does not equal wrong (this is where you imagine two sides of an equation, and in between them is an equal sign with a slash over it. Yeah. That one. I love those). The act itself is right and must not be construed otherwise. Albeit the plan is not perfect, and of course it is easy to poke holes in the administrative aspect of any idea. That being said, I will not in any way disagree with Oprah’s desire to open this school. Rather, I believe her response as to why she built a school in South African instead of one in an inner city neighborhood in the United States represents not only how far removed Oprah is from the plight of black people in the struggle for equality of opportunity, but also indicates the new found political and social conservatism of some blacks after they “get a piece of the pie.”

I’m not sure if Oprah is aware or not, but she does not have boot straps tied to her ankles, and thus did not use them to lift her from a humble upbringing in the Deep South and inner city to the television set of millions of people everyday. Not to take anything away from her or her diligence within the tough and historically racist entertainment industry, but Oprah is not where she is by her choice and her efforts alone. Along her path, I’m sure there was someone who saw something in her, or people like her, and decided to give her a chance to do either what they were able to do, or were not able to do. This is certain. Horatio Alger does not equal Oprah (insert the aforementioned equation). With the historically oppressive system in which we operate, one person will not make or enact change by him or herself. Keeping this in mind, it is completely and utterly damning to echo the exact words from Oprah Winfrey herself:

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," she says. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

I will agree with the latter part of her statement. I think it is true, but not completely true. Yeah. Kids in inner city schools will ask for iPods, Mikes (gym shoes by Michael Jordan for those of you who don’t know), etc. But I think if you asked that same question to any kid anywhere in America, you would get those types of answers: from Gary, Indiana to Greenwich, Connecticut. Welcome to American Consumerism 101. Children are one of the biggest financial markets in the world. So I don’t believe the desire for material things is unique to inner city schools. In South Africa the kids ask for different things because that is an entirely different culture. They don’t eat their young as Americans do. They are not swarmed with ads (ironically the ones that run during Oprah’s show) which put the value of game console over the value of an educated child. The varying cultures in South Africa and America dictate the responses of all of the respective kids, not just a specific sub-group.

And let’s put the shit on blast because I can’t take much more PC crap. She didn’t come out and say it, and maybe she doesn’t even realize what she is saying. But all this “inner city” talk is underlined with black. And everyone knows it. That’s how she perceives it. That’s how white people who don’t know what they’re talking about perceive it. No, this is not to say all inner city kids are black and attend the public schools. And no, inner city public schools do not have all black populations. But they are overwhelmingly attended by black students. Especially in the city of Chicago, of where Oprah’s show has been filmed for years. Moreover, if she thinks that the black inner city youths are so hopeless, she shouldn’t fault them. She needs to fault the post civil rights generation of parents and adults (of which she is apart of) who have allowed this to happen. She needs to fault their conservative and negative views on the prospects of today’s younger generation.

I can understand when someone like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh makes a blanket statement like this. But it’s a shame when someone who is a product of that environment says something so subconsciously. This is evidence of the alienation and separation Oprah and other blacks of that sentiment (Clarence Thomas, Juan Williams, etc.) feel when it comes to uplift. They are so convinced that what they accomplished is all due to the sweat of their brow, that their success is accredited to how they rolled up their sleeves each morning to fight for what they earned. Oprah has the misconception that the very pool from which she came is no longer capable of producing such talent. As a black man at Yale, I know my presence here was not solely my choice. Although choice played into it, I could very easily be out on the streets, be in prison, or be dead. And statistical rates for black men in America support that. I haven’t achieved one trillionth of the “success” that Oprah has, yet am aware that I'm an example of chance. Oprah’s conservatism and ignorance about her own people will only further those trends. The onus is not on Oprah to solve everything or anything wrong in the black community. However, in her choice to help other needy peoples, she must not turn a cold shoulder to our children. I am not calling for Oprah-dollars, or even Oprah-publicity, but Oprah is responsible to at least deliver hope to children today. Her general disdain for inner city students robbed them of that simple faith and borders treason. Oprah must consider that f the leaders of today are not willing to help contribute to the leaders of tomorrow, the next generation will have to unnecessarily reinvent the wheel.