RSS

Category Archives: black women

Kenya’s Workspace

You need to watch this. Some of the videos are chilling, others are funny. (And maybe chillingly funny?) You can even create your own online art gallery experience and play a few of them at the same time to find out what the viral expressions of female identity look and sound like in unison.

(thank me later)

Advertisements
 

Teaching White Boys to Dance and Other Solutions to the Black Marriage Crisis (repost)

This was, hands down, one of the most brilliant, spot-on, and engaging pieces I’ve seen on a topic that happens to be the flavor of the moment. (Quickly being surpassed by the Sh*t _______ Say explosion) Read on and check out the Crunk Feminist Collective’s site.

This morning, while reading Kate Weigand’s 2001 book Red Feminism in preparation for a book I’m writing, I ran across a fascinating story in her chapter on Black women’s participation in the Communist Party.

In 1934, Black female communist organizers asked the Party leadership to outlaw interracial marriages in the Party ranks. Many of the Black men in the Party had married or begun dating white women, and white men were not showing comparable interest in Black women, which severely restricted Black women’s dating options.

In response, the Party asked a Black leader named Abner Berry to deal “with the problem.” Berry, himself married to a white woman, was staunchly opposed to outlawing interracial marriages on the grounds that this move would be “counterrevolutionary,” but he did institute some sessions on Black women’s triple oppression of race, class, and gender. Apparently, they also tried to teach some of the white male communists how to dance so they would be more comfortable approaching Black women at parties. Seriously. Lol.

There are a few morals in this somewhat comic story:

At least the CP had enough sense to talk about the social causes of Black women’s singleness, rather than blaming the sisters for being loud, attitudinal, too independent and unattractive. (Perhaps some preachers, comedians, and alleged scholars could get a clue; and perhaps some sisters should stop blaming themselves for a problem that began before we got here and will probably outlast us all.)

Continue reading at Crunk Feminist Collective

 

On John Mayer (And Apologies That Don’t Really Offer Clarity)

Upon a few hours of trying to process reports of offensive remarks that popular musician John Mayer made in the current issue of Playboy magazine, I tried coming up with a few clever Facebook status-updates, my favorite being that Mayer sorely needed a Racism and Sexism course. (I didn’t publish that, but I still think it’s true) Though a pornographic magazine is the (very overlooked) context for all of his statements about who he’s had sex with, how it was, and who he won’t–there remain key issues in this media event.

Jessica Simpson

Superficially, it’s another example of a celebrity making a “gaffe” on race, (which never gets old) getting caught up in it, “apologizing” for it, melting down, having a moment of “clarity“.

But on another level, it’s a particularly vivid example of the freedom, if you will, afforded him, as young, white, heterosexual, and male, to freely espouse his sexual proclivities, debase women period, race be damned, claim identification with black people, promptly get hated on, have a breakdown, and in the end, remind us that he “just wants to play his guitar.” And in a span of 48 hours, no less.

Kerry Washington

The racism of his sexual aversion to black women, I’d argue, is coupled with the sexist entitlement abound in his retelling of the sexual details of his relationships with Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston, who as blonde-haired white women, already receive a particularly stifling type of media treatment. That entitlement helps explain why he was able to candidly explain the types of black women he’s attracted to, and even debase women, like actor Kerry Washington, whom he’s never had a sexual relationship with.

Without even reading his entire Playboy interview, the widely-publicized excerpts are textbook examples of intersections of racism, sexism and male domination–comparing his penis to white supremacist David Duke, crude as it is, is simultaneously as clear as many of Mayer’s most popular songs.

Global media culture has long thrived off of narrowly defined notions of who’s racist (white men only) and who’s sexist (black men only) vis a vis characters like a Don Imus or Ludacris. So when Mayer, someone outside of those types, who has built a career and image solidly as a non-threatening and introspective artist, acts out, we take notice. For those paying any attention, it’s an important moment that should have us recognize the myriad of ways that domination can be made visible.

Part of what’s critical about Mayer’s moment is that even after speaking as he did, he will be allowed to use that image as his cover. This is where nearly all public “apologies” are rendered useless–as a comedian once remarked, “He’s just sorry he got caught.” What’s really evident is that the entitlement of racism and sexism will enable John Mayer to “breakdown”, come to “terms” with his transgressions and return to modest guitar-playing.

But will Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, and Kerry Washington be allowed a (public) breakdown? I doubt it.

Bookmark and Share

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Good Hair: About Us but Not For Us

Documentary films are often powerful in doing what typical mainstream media outfits can’t: accidentally reveal truths. There’s a moment in comedian Chris Rock’s Good Hair when a group of young black women discuss the realities of having straightened hair in order to secure work. When her friends express their concern for her, the lone woman with naturally styled hair has a look on her face that says more about the underlying tensions of the issue of black women and hair than do the other two hours of film. But before the viewer can fully engage in the moment, there’s a cut.

The filmic cut is emblematic of a truth evident in both the form and content of Good Hair: a practice of simultaneously exploiting and promoting black women all for a bottom line—be it in the male-dominated black female hair care industry or in a mainstream film about black women that doesn’t have women of any race in principal production roles.

At the root of the colorful, fast-paced filmic spectacle that is Good Hair belies a $9 billion dollar global industry in which men, whether they are in the U.S. or Asia, control production, distribution, and ultimately are the major profiteers of black female hair products. Female workers in Asia comb through the hair, Asian female clerks in the U.S. sell it, and black women pay upwards of $1,000 for hair weave. So when black (male) business owners complain about Asian merchants impeding their “right” to control the industry, one wonders if it matters who’s in control when all scenarios leave black women as the economically exploited.

How does this relate to the production choices in Good Hair? Consider an indie film about the same topic–In Our Heads About Our Hair, a lower budget, work in progress doc from first time filmmaker Anu Prestonia. Within a few minutes of In Our Heads, black female scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin offers a succinct historical context to black women and hair care. Griffin even says the R-word: racism. (Rock has Al Sharpton and Paul Mooney offer up snappier analyses) While Rock relies on a white male scientist to explain the health impact of sodium hydroxide-laden hair perms, Anu actually finds a black woman, environmental activist Majora Carter, to discuss the impact of those compounds on the earth.

You’d need an entirely separate essay to review the misogyny inherent in the level of airtime afforded to the many men in the film (rapper Ice-T being the most prominent) who joke about the multiple costs of love and sex with women who straighten or weave in their hair. In Our Heads provides a rich example of the black female subjectivity that should rightfully be central in a film about black women and hair. And it’s not coincidental that Prestonia worked with a largely female film crew.

Any successes that Good Hair may boast must be underscored by the fact that currently, a famous black male comedian will have a decidedly easier time making a film about black women than likely any black woman will, famous or not (okay, Oprah could do it). The question is, though, can he make it funny and non exploitative? After seeing Good Hair, the answer is Not yet.

I won’t deny Rock’s comedic brilliance—you will laugh often. Nor will I disregard his motives—he starts the film as an ode of sorts to his two daughters. Perhaps Good Hair’s popularity (assumed due to a fairly rigorous promotional campaign) will open the door for films like In Our Heads. But the film remains a sobering example of how a film about black women is not actually for us.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 9, 2009 in black women, global capitalism, media, sexism

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

black girls face: r. kelly (preview)

about one year ago, i completed the film i had always wanted to see but got tired of waiting for someone else to make. here’s some snippets of it:

i purposely included the black female subjects of this documentary trying to figure things out and make meaning while they spoke. that’s real to me. in watching a nation and media obsess about an older white man’s remarks about younger black women, i realized that when racism and sexism are the topics, we are allowed very little space to just think and express something outside of guilt and resentment (white folks) or anger and resolve (black folks). anything outside of these emotions exceed the limits of mass media, particularly tv.

the issues underpinning the imus drama can’t be resolved or even fully understood in mainstream media, mostly because mainstream media thrive mostly off of eruptions–events that ultimately become spectacles that inundate more than they inform. as far as imus went, i found myself as interested in how the story was reported on as much as the story itself.

one of the most frustrating things is the continued insistence of mainstream media to rely on perspectives from black folks who are older and/or male. to refer to al sharpton at every eruption is almost as offensive as the eruptions themselves. another reality that keeps becoming more and more clear is that if a white man is the perpetrator (imus) or accused perpetrator (duke guys) and the target(s) is black and female, the problem is consider a “racially explosive” issue and is quickly addressed. but if the perpetrator is a black man, its like the infraction didn’t happen.

and i am talking about r. kelly. it’s going on 5 years since he’s been charged with child pornography–younger black females as the targets–and he has not seen a trial. i quietly bring and re-bring this up, not because i have a vested interest in seeing r. kelly being admonished in the same ways that imus was (as an aside, i’m not convinced firing him was necessary). it’s more because as a young black woman, i care about what’s being implied in all these eruptions, particularly when they have to do with my peers.

rather than glamorize what’s being implied, i’ll just tell you my goals for the documentary–they are purposely the opposite of what all these eruptions suggest.

show our faces,
show us being vulnerable and pensive,
show us processing,
show us as female.

then we can draw some more appropriate conclusions about black girls and women.

tokumbo bodunde
04.13.07

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 14, 2007 in black women, girls, music, r. kelly

 

the female experience of racism


I was intrigued when I heard another Black woman use the phrase that is the headline of this article. It sounded different from sexism. And it could just be all words at this point, but whenever I see the larger-than-life ads for Eddie Murphy’s new movie “Norbit,” the phrase rises to the surface again. The ad features two images of Murphy — one as a meek, glasses-donning version of himself and the other as a severely overweight Black woman who’s pinning him down. This particular image of a Black woman is where I have to acknowledge the female experience of racism.

She is the fat, dark-skinned, loud and unattractive bitch. She is positioned in “real” life and in the movie as the opposite of the Thandie Newton-ish slimmer, lighter and sweeter Black woman. She is comic relief. She is who no one, even those of us who are, wants to be. She is undesirable. She has her historical predecessors, from early American television and cinema.

She ain’t new.

Her image, however, consistently gets green-lighted as an appropriate form of comedy for the masses. Comedian Mo’Nique, bless her soul, had a popular television show in which she essentially was that woman — fat, loud and undesirable to the desired man of the show. She has one foot in those old Tom & Jerry cartoons — she’s always screaming. She’s been the character of countless comedic routines for an easy and reliable laugh.

This version of oppression is completely de-politicized, as is anything once you bring being female into the conversation, particularly when it has to do with looks. Be assured though, that if the traditional experience — the male one — of racism were displayed on billboards as if it were comic, the usual suspects would raise hell. When Jesse, Al, and some women, begin marching and addressing a movie like “Norbit,” I’ll believe that we’re getting somewhere.

I don’t know if I can wait for a march though. The mainstream representation, if there ever was one, of the female experience of racism is limited to trite debates where light-skinned and dark-skinned Black women are positioned against each other — à la India Arie/Alicia Keys of a few Grammys past, or Jennifer Hudson/Beyoncé of “Dreamgirls,” or, hell — and this one probably slipped past the radar of most — Angela Bassett/Halle Berry when Bassett explained that she passed on Berry’s “Monster’s Ball” role because she felt it was one of a prostitute.

With these instances as the context, is it any wonder that people might scoff at the notion of “the female experience of racism”? It has been the challenge of Black feminists galore to take on something people don’t realize exists. How do you explain the irony of “Norbit” opening to the number one spot on its first weekend while “Dreamgirls,” a movie that at least attempts to consider different versions of Black womanhood, stood at number 10? Or that “Dreamgirls” has helped restart Murphy’s career, and he follows with “Norbit”? We barely have the tools to consider that, once they are absorbed into the mass media marketplace, there is not much difference between Mo’Nique, Big Momma from the Martin Lawrence movies and Nell Carter from the ’80s sitcom “Gimme a Break.”

It doesn’t make a difference if it’s an actual woman, or men performing in suits, it doesn’t matter if a white person produced the image or not. The totality of these images reaching our eyes and minds via Viacom, GE or Disney all have racist and sexist implications.

It is political. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it seems like this is about looks. It’s not. It’s about humanity and economics, as racism has always been. I know Black women who look like Murphy’s female character Rasputia in “Norbit.” They are all beautiful, complex women who, as a result of real conditions in this world brought on by racism and capitalism, are overweight.

To repeatedly exaggerate us on the big screen as if it were reality and just to entertain everyone is wrong. As is being told in a multitude of ways that being Black, female and overweight is synonymous with being loud, unattractive and undesirable. It is not merely a matter of depoliticized self-esteem. It is an unacceptable, systematic practice of disregarding and disrespecting a significant and specific part of the population.

With the limits that this notion of Black womanhood imposes, everyone misses out. We narrow who we consider for a number of roles, from who we can date to who can lead all of us. So, while a number of us fixate on whether a black or a woman has a shot at the White House, I refuse to act as if we, or our experiences, don’t exist or matter.

tokumbo bodunde
03.08.07