Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bright College Streets

I have graduated one year too early, this May. While many of my classmates have left on towards glamorous summers, I am left in New Haven wondering about this city when the Yale buildings have been emptied, when there's more of New Haven than me. Graduation weekend was an interruption.
Graduation was a grotesque reminder of incoporated education, a parade of classicism, racism - with little elegance to shield them. In the name of tradition, I guess.
I am reminded that the development of a consciousness, though recommended by the faculty is ultimately "approved by the corporation", in the words of pres. Levin. I am sublimated by the utility of my education to others.

Graduation is a three-day affair where the streets of New Haven are notably cleared of the homeless, the drug addicts, or the ill - for the near 60% of Yale students' parents who pay the total $45,000 dollars a year. Resident favorite homeless, the "flower lady" remained a fixture. Perhaps she is a darling trip down memory lane for the patronizing as they offer change and make small talk. Absolution of a conscience? I wonder.
No matter. "Flower lady" was quota homelessness for the weekend. With the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut on the Yale corporation board, the task of painting the town fair was as easy as a nudge, a slap on the back. There remains no press on the marked absence of the homeless.
I am laughing as I write this because I'm recognizing how naive I am to believe herding homeless citizens requires public process. Or that publicity guarantees fairness. As most politics go, historical actions precede those of today - see the 2002 Olympics of Salt Lake City.

But New Haven could be seen elsewhere serving drinks, washing dishes, cleaning sidewalks. At least they have a job, as another points. It is discouraging to find that fifty years have passed and while opportunity has risen, presentation remains the same.

And for a short word on the vitriolic reactions I received when mentioning I was attending black graduation: why? what's that...isn't that racist? A consecration ceremony recognizing intellectual, artistic, athletic, communitarian capacities of students outside of phi betta kappa is the opportunity to be lauded in one's own space. While one or two may be awarded during commencement, I say: to each her/his own award.


congratulations to the seniors we know on graduating. andom, thanks for using the bjb for your speech at black graduation...and we saw you with that mean lean.

and to dean salovey, thanks for the shout-out at class day.

There goes the white Christian male power strucure!

Saw this on Feministing today. John McCain was on Bill O'Reilly's show talking about the Left & Right opinions of immigration reform (though their representation of the "far Left" was the New York Times). They tossed around the idea that some people "might just be afraid of Latinos" and that having a strong border is a national security issue.

I've always been confused when I hear people talk about the "security" of the southern border, and building walls to keep out "terrorists." I have never heard of anyone sneaking over the border to commit "terrorism," but that's still the reason given. When there was a proposal two years ago for a wall along the border with Canada, however, it was immediately shot down, the reason being that there was no threat coming across the border from Canada. What's the threat at the other border? Brown people!

Well, now McCain and O'Reilly admit that maybe for some people, there is some racism there. There's racism aplenty in the way they talk about it, that's for sure. But their exact fear:
But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have.
Yes! Bill O'Reilly, you finally get it. Your days of dominance are numbered.

Here's the video.

TNS Summer Reading

TNS had an idea a few weeks back to think about reading something together as a blog community. A book club of sorts. This post is for people to say what they're already reading this summer (related or not) and to suggest some books for a list TNS can put up in a week or so.

It'd be cool if we could volunteer some books that might be helpful in light of past debates on the blog: hair politics and beauty standards, hip-hop, Obama (and Af-Am representation in leadership), the n-word, and white liberalism. It's also a space for us to move towards some new territory that hasn't been covered yet. Let everyone know what's on your shelf in the comment thread.

Also, if you do not want to use your name in the comments, please choose a pseudonym so we can avoid having 2 or 3 different posters using the anonymous option.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More on the N-bomb and Hip-Hop Culture


It’s Your Nigger Problem Not Hip-Hop’s
by Mark Anthony Neal

"Permanently retire the word “nigger.” This was the call from a collective of black political figures in Los Angeles recently, in the wake of Michael Richards’ racist diatribe at a Los Angeles comedy club. The press conference where the appeal made was emblematic of a moment where the circulation of the images of “blackness” throughout the globe has created a moment of crisis in some sectors of the black community. The basic tropes of “blackness” – black culture, black identity, black institutions – have been distorted, remixed, and undermined by the logic of the current global economy. At stake is the preservation of a “modern” blackness – that blackness which was posited and circulated as a buffer against white supremacy, political disenfranchisement, slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the collusion of racist imaginations and commodities culture in the early 20th century. In many sectors “blackness” is literally thought to be under siege. It is in this context that many of the contemporary tropes of “blackness” that circulate in commercial popular culture, particularly in popular music, film and music video, are deemed threats to blackness as tropes of an erosive and inauthentic blackness that is as threatening to the Black Public proper as “death” itself. This sense of threat, has been, perhaps, most powerfully expressed in these debates over the use of the word “nigger” in popular culture which highlight a philosophical divide within “blackness.”

Read the article here

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Black Camelot?

"My mother was a very powerful woman. This was so in a time when that word-combination of woman and powerful was almost unexpressable in the white american common tongue, except or unless it was accompanied by some aberrant explaining adjective like blind, or hunchback, or crazy, or Black. therefore when I was growing up, powerful woman equaled something else quite different from ordinary woman, from simply "woman." It certainly did not, on the other hand, equal "man." What then? What was the third designation?" - Audre Lorde in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

"Usually, I love the dynamics of a cheeky woman puncturing the ego of a cocky guy.

I liked it in '40s movies, and I liked it with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in "Moonlighting."

So why don't I like it with Michelle and Barack?" - Maureen Dowd in her column (click the #1 search item for full text w/o registration).

Because she's black, Maureen. And a woman.

Now, I realize I'm laying down a bold claim. I don't know what Dowd thinks about Hillary or what she thought of Mrs. Heinz-Kerry, but I do see something unsettling in her critique of Michelle Obama's treatment of her husband. In the article, she discusses Michelle's tendency to humanize Obama through (what I would consider) teasing. I understand Dowd's critique that this humanization starts from an understanding that he is more than that: a superhero only dressed like one of us. But let's face it, famous politicians are more than their bodies. Bush, Cheney, Clinton, Obama, Pelosi, Kennedy, and Guliani all stand for something bigger than their life experiences. It's a longstanding trend and one that is worthy of a brief historical analysis.

Black (male) leaders have always been seen as more than human since most of our community bought into (even after bondage, we had agency) a system of patriarchy that states that as the norm anyway. From Douglass to DuBois to King, these figures have benefited from a system of patriarchy that historicizes them as demigods while their female counterparts (Sojourner Truth, Ann Plato, Lucy Delaney, Mary McLeod Bethune, Irene Morgan, and Claudette Covin to name a few) remain unwritten or passively written in history books. It is also a system that demands the oppression of these men as non-white members of a hierarchical oppressive system.

Michelle Obama does not “emasculate” Barack as she jokingly reveals his flaws, she liberates him from an imposed hypermasculine and distant identity forced upon other men, especially men of color. While I do not think this a necessary duty of a significant other, I do see it as teamwork on the part of the Obamas. This seems to be a system that has worked well throughout their marriage, and I am glad that the campaign trail will not force either of them into foreign and constrictive gender roles.

Dowd, for whatever reason, sees Michelle in light of Barack. It could be the trappings of the potential first lady position or it could be perpetuated by racial or gender bias. I think all factors are to blame since this piece might also fall into a similar framework. Let’s try to change that. What does Michelle have to say about this? In a USA TODAY article, she does not directly address Dowd’s critique when asked about it she simply said that Dowd “doesn’t understand.” In other comments though, it really seems like she is sincerely trying to get America to judge Obama as a person rather than a deity. Looking at Camille’s piece a few posts back, it might be a good idea. She says:

It’s important at this time for people to feel like they own this process and that they don’t turn it over to the next messiah, who’s going to fix it all, you know? And then we’re surprised when people turn out not to be who we’ve envisioned them to be. There is a specialness to him [but] if he’s doing his job, he’s going to say things you don’t agree with.

Responding to John F. Kennedy’s pristine Camelot model, Michelle is deliberate in her stance:

“Camelot to me doesn’t work. It was a fairy tale that turned out not to be completely true because no one can live up to that. And I don’t want to live like that.”

I think that last line is critical. Michelle sees this period before the primaries and possibly general election as real life. Not time where events, people, and personalities can be suspended for the public eye. She knows a Messianic politician is very close to, if not already, an oxymoron and is using her agency to anticipate the inevitable Obama deflation by emphasizing the positive but not lying or hiding the negative, even if it’s unseen to everyone but her.

Michelle Obama does not seem to believe in these safe spaces we bring up on TNS. Or rather, she believes in a safe yet public space for her own career and her own life instead of a private one where potential problems with Barack would fester. It seems to be a matter of possession. She knows he could be ours (if only representatively) and wants us to see things from her perspective to facilitate an easy and honest process of electing the best person for the job. It might just be me, but I find that admirable.

As for Ms. Dowd, I don't think she knows what to do with a strong black female who will not simply sit and smile but instead will be her own person free and willing to examine her husband's behavior, politics, and his public reception when she thinks it’s appropriate. I don't think Michelle should remove herself to the business side of Barack's campaign, as Dowd suggests. After all, Michelle’s speeches on the campaign just might be implicitly critiquing those oppressive systems that relegate her to that third unnamed designation far from recognition or understanding. Neither a mammy nor a jezebel, Michelle Obama is free from the usual expectations for black women. Equipped with a high profile career and an educated black man, Michelle Obama is writing her own history.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


“I want all the white women they wanted but were never able to get.” This attitude shown in Soul On Ice is exactly the attitude that many believe is the incentive for all black males that seek or just happen to become involved with white women. This, of course, is not true in all instances. The decision of aligning oneself based on personal beliefs versus that which is usually associated with one’s race is a choice that has plagued black Americans throughout history. Stereotypes are at the ready for black Americans but there is one that is more damaging to the unity of the race than any other; the exaltation of the “White Goddess.” The history behind the relationship of the black man and white woman is too strong and the internal struggles caused by such a twosome too dangerous. A right of citizenship, the right to pursue happiness, has been provided to African Americans. However, there are some aspects of this blessing that are not further needed to advance the race. The right to pursue one's individual choices in life pertaining to interracial marriage should be handled responsibly and done with the solidarity of black America in mind. Its importance should not be at the top of the black man’s list but it should be taken into consideration because they should be aware of the message being sent by this action. This action shows that some do not find their own race worthy of their standards. Those that believe and follow this brand of logic have, in the past, usually been the ones wreaking havoc on blacks. The argument is not being made that all decisions should be based on who one thinks is watching and what understanding is being taken from those actions, but this one should. In order for blacks to reap all benefits of being citizens, black men must push aside a right given to them to do just that. Although post Civil Rights America has afforded blacks the right to marry whoever they want, black men should not marry white women because it disrupts the solidarity black America must have in its quest for justice and equality.

White woman = freedom

Black woman = slavery

The white goddess became the black male’s declaration of freedom to the white masses. Along with the glorification of white females came the degradation of black females. Black males slacked in the protection department. Because of this lack of protection, black women began to question their worth to not only their communities but to their men. It seems as though they figured the key to a man’s heart was by looking like a white woman.

When white men felt the interracial relationship scene was getting out of hand, they did the same things they had done when presented with problems regarding the politically powerless black race in the past (Black Codes): passed laws to ban it. The law was finally repealed in 1967 signaling the opportunity to explore their rights to freedom in a way never before possible in the United States. This new found freedom allowed the black man to pursue a desire his ancestors were not afforded.

The black race has the most severely skewed sex ratio (females being the larger group) yet black males not only are the most open group to interracial relationships, they engage in interracial marriages the most. Realizing the power of white physical assimilation, companies began to market products to aid in the process. Skin bleaching products, hair straightners, and other like items became a staple in black communities. Money entered the picture and solidarity crumbled. Black companies exploited their own women: their daughters, wives, and mothers, to not only please their desire for white looking women, but to make money. The constant bombardment from public arenas that the new black was to look white continued the devaluation of the black female. Once black women start trying to look white, men start marrying them in record numbers. Today the black woman conforming to white standards of beauty is not hard to find. Colored contacts, dyed hair, relaxed hair, and other unnatural physical alterations are the norm rather than the exception nowadays. Now of course if you go up to a woman on the street who is black as night but has gray contacts and blonde hair in she will deny wanting to look like a white woman. She’s just trying to look like her favorite superstar who is trying to look like a white woman. The pervasion of the trend leads the black man back to the white woman. A black woman with white features is not hard to come by so one must run back to the white goddess. The imbalance of males to females makes the black woman, who marries interracially at the same rate as other groups other than the black male, sink to new lows to attract males. Solidarity is weakened by the corruption of relationships. The saying “it’s so hard to find a good black man these days,” is not far from the truth. These good black males, those whom decide to pursue endogamy, are hard to find and therefore act with a freedom never seen before. Cheating, lying, and bad behavior is dealt with more often because if a black females leaves this good male, she sees her chances of finding another one, if she finds another one, slim to none. Black women are forced to be more sexual to garner attention. This survival tactic breathes new life into Jezebel. Black women are forced to compete in an environment that does not facilitate healthy relationships and no healthy relationships equals lack of togetherness in the community. Without a working relationship between sexes, no group can attain solidarity.

The more education a male receives, the more likely he is to engage in an interracial relationship. This changes what black males strive for by signifying that dating a white woman is a by product of success. Also apparent is the successful black male, though entertainment or otherwise, indulging himself with white women.

Just a couple quick examples:

Kanye West in Gold Digger– “And when he get on he leave yo ass for a white girl.”
Also him having a white woman playing his girlfriend in the Touch the Sky know...the song about success more or less.

The show Adventures in Hollyhood on MTV – Who is Juicy J going on dates with? What race are the women they give to him as a "gift"?

Nothing is morally wrong with black male-white female relationships, just that the black identity should guide one away from them. This same battle between individual and group identity happens when it comes to black republicans. It is safe to say that most blacks are democrats. Black society believes that this political party has their best interest in mind. Those blacks who chose to identify with other parties, especially republican, are then thought to be acting outside of their race’s best interest. The suffering black identity, due in part to the relationships it has failed to discourage, is not strong enough to deter these relationships on its own.

The black males’ admiration of white women is of course a stereotype. One that prevents the group solidarity necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength in a pluralistic society. Black behavior should not be guided to not conform to stereotypes. That is not the purpose of not conforming to this one. The individual relationships themselves are damaging to some individuals but the primary concern is the harm done to the whole. This union is not the only with the potential to cause a raucous. The homophobic black community would be none to welcoming to gay or lesbian marriage. Marriage should not be used to express solidarity but it can be used to show commitment to your race.

Without solidarity there is no political power and no way to grasp all things entwined in freedom and citizenship. By simply acting with black solidarity in mind, one can improve black America’s chances of fully achieving our rights of citizenship. There are many aspects in which blacks can change the way they behave in doing such but this appears to be one of the easiest. This right that was afforded us was good when first supplied. It allowed us to fully illustrate our power in the disproval of the stereotype by performing it. Unfortunately now it is out of hand and is reverting and giving the stereotype more power than before. Black males may not be able to control who they fall in love with but they are able to control who they put themselves in a position to fall in love with.


Does racism exist in Connecticut?

I do not have a TV handy so I'm not sure if this is the exact quote. Channel 8, 8 o clock news...something with an 8 in it has a commercial where they ask a question similar to the one above. I will not rant. I will not rave. I will just call anyone associated with the production of said commercial an idiot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

obama's "taking it to the streets"

Yes I voted for Barack Obama two years ago, and yes, I have been disappointed. But at some point I also ended up on his mailing list, so every now and then I get emails or letters addressed, "Dear Friend."

Today's email is to let me know that Barack's campaign strategy is outsourcing. Well, he calls it grassroots organizing, or in terms that he feels will appeal to me, "taking it to the streets." He has (personally?) emailed me to ask if I will organize a walk through my neighborhood to tell people how awesome he is. But as I've always understood it, grassroots organizing is when a community has strong convictions about an issue and then organizes their friends and neighbors, and that organizing spreads--the key is that it comes from below. When a boss or politician organizes that same community--from above--we call it propaganda.

Obama's shtick used to be that he supported improvements to welfare and social programs, ending the war, gay marriage, immigrant rights, labor rights, and that above all he can relate to people (of color). Okay, so he's abandoned most of that (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, and Exhibit D for starters). What's left is his knack for relating to people...or at least enough to get them to go out on "walks" for him, his veiled way of asking people to spend the summer canvassing--getting doors slammed on them, dodging sprinklers, and having an otherwise unhappy time door-to-dooring for someone else you've never met.

No matter how many times he calls me "Friend", I am still so disappointed.


nbc seems to have pulled the other video off of youtube. thanks josh and camille for the note!

safe space (or a lack thereof)

I would like to thank D.L. Hughley for further degrading these women--this time on network tv. D.L. Hughley willingly took part in the desecration of the black female body-- calling the Rutgers players ugly and nappy-- proving that he too ascribes to the mandates of white supremacist patriarchy.

And to add insult to injury: When the crowd responded to his remarks with sounds of shock and disdain, Hughley asserted that he was just saying what everyone was thinking.

Yes D.L., people might have had similar thoughts. But it took you, as a black man, to validate them.

"You Shouldn't Use That Expression Anymore Either."

Well, Elizabeth asked us to historicize whiteness a few posts back. Let's get started, folks. Or if you're like me, let's think about it while finishing your final papers. Nice tag team piece, Melay. Interesting to compare the two alongside each other.

What can be reclaimed and what cannot carry the burden of a negative past?
And who decides?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

reinventing our heroes

I wanted to weigh in on some things that have been discussed a lot here and elsewhere lately, the first being Spring Fling and the n-word in hip-hop, the second being the (artificial) relationship between Don Imus and hip-hop, and the third being where these intersect. Most of everyone has probably seen this, but at the height of the Don Imus fallout, people started pointing fingers at rappers, as though black people invented racism to entertain white people. Both Snoop Dogg and Russell Simmons (before changing his mind) had interesting responses, basically that hip-hop tells stories, and those types of stories require offensive language.

I have a not-so-easy solution: maybe they should start telling different stories. Maybe a rap song could still sell well, but celebrate a different kind of hero than we’ve become used to. Simmons and Snoop Dogg define hip-hop in their comments to necessarily have hustlers/pimps/etc as the heroes, to whom bitches are the female counterpart and the n-word is a term of camaraderie. This is almost a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, but which came first: songs defining the black male hero as a hustler/pimp, or black males taking this route to become heroes? There’s probably no discernible answer, but I have a sneaking suspicion we could do without that hero-myth altogether.

Think about how many really admirable black people you know—the guy next door who works really hard to get good food for his kids, the community organizer who helped you fight off gentrification, your grandmother who stood up to Jim Crow. Don’t they deserve a hip-hop song? But you would never write a song about your grandmother and use the word “ho,” so obviously the language would have to change. You could put out entire albums with these new heroes and with the appropriate language. I’m tired of songs where the hero is a pimp. For every pimp today, there was probably once a Black Panther, and for every “ho” humiliated on a record, there’s a Sojourner Truth or Angela Davis. Why aren’t these our collective heroes anymore?

And just a bit about the n-word in general: I think we can do better. Yes, we can reclaim something used against us, but why should we? I can’t hear the word without thinking about my granddad, whose family was chased out of Mississippi in the middle of the night by men in white hoods using the same word. He wouldn’t go back to the South for decades. I don’t want to reclaim something that terrorized people. I don’t think that’s empowering; I think it’s selling ourselves short. We deserve a better term of endearment and a more positive way of portraying ourselves.

And to respond to a discussion in the comments a few days back: hip-hop hasn’t failed. It’s still got the potential to reinvent the hero. When in doubt, turn to Boogie Down Productions.

kelly ripa does the chicken noodle soup

i have been looking for a clip of picaninny children dancing on youtube to put up alongside clips of young people shuffling to "chicken noodle soup" for comparison. since i could find no such clip, i decided to post this video of kelly ripa, bow wow, regis, and chris brown instead. i will not say anything about the video--- i am sure other folks will have plenty to comment about, from kelly ripa's "holla," to a youtube user's observation that kelly must have "been watching BET."

Friday, May 4, 2007

The blame game

A recent post from blog
Black Churchies Lash Out, Question Reverend's Racial Alliance

Reverend Irene Monroe ain't no friend of Barack Obama. The black lesbian has come out against the black presidential candidate on more than one occasion. She first blasted the Illinois junior senator back in November, writing:

..[H]is affinity to conservative Christian beliefs not only informs his decision on the issue of marriage equality, but it also solidifies his decision about us in a community of believers like himself.
Though some black churches have lent their support to the lavender cause, the majority still maintain a decidedly repressive approach - an approach Obama maintains. [ More Queer Under Here » ]

It's interesting how Queerty takes the narrow-minded response of some within the black community and, in a way, make homophobia a "black" thing. Reading through the comments, I was struck by how many people declared that this only confirmed their "suspicions" about Obama and likened him to Republican candidates with questionable support for queer issues. No mention of Hillary, Edwards, and the liberal establishment (of which Obama has quickly become part) and their concrete history of voting for queer issues only when it is politically safe and advantageous. Of course I'm in no way defending Obama--I can't bring myself to wholeheartedly support any of the candidates--but I think it highlights a very real problem that's too often overlooked: the way in which interactions between the black and queer communities are represented in the media.

The inordinate amount of attention given to homophobia within the black community and racism within the queer community is not productive. Attention is warranted, and both communities, if they truly support equality, have a moral obligation to address the very real problems each has with discriminating against other marginalized groups. By exaggerating these problems, the media is in fact doing nothing to promote intra- or inter-group discussion or any resolution, but instead pitting the two groups against each other, exacerbating the problem, and excusing the discrimination of more powerful social classes.

In this example, we see how, by focusing on the homophobia of some blacks, white queers are able to ignore their own racism as well as the homophobia of whites in power (i.e. Hilary Clinton and John Edwards). These racist attacks of whites can reinforce images of a racist queer community, and increase homophobic sentiments among blacks.

The only way the black and queer communities can deal with the racism, homophobia, classism, etc., etc. etc. that plagues both is through productive criticism and discussion, and that is being undermined by irresponsible journalism.

P.S. Is anyone else insulted by Queerty's attempt to "blacken" up the post with the use of "ain't?" This coming from a usually quite progressive blog that regularly calls out racism both within and outside of the queer community.