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Category Archives: global capitalism

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

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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.

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

 

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Solange, Smokey & Obama

Solange Knowles photo from DJ Wonder site

One of my favorite songs of 2008 was “I’ve Decided” by Solange (the much underappreciated younger sister of Beyonce) Knowles.

Weeks ago, while driving around in freezing Chicago, my sisters and I had the song on repeat, LOUD. It took me a minute to figure out why I liked the song so much. The Neptunes-produced single takes the most delicious, feet stomping part of The Supremes’ “Baby Love” and loops it throughout.

Solange’s song–as is evidenced by the video— is very much of this moment, my generation (not sure what we’re being called these days), searching for some kind of identity. Colorful and pastichey, the piece pays homage to all that is in this generation’s cultural image-ination about the political culture of the Motown & beyond era. Quick flashes of raised-fisted Olympians from ’68, Malcolm X, people being water-hosed, Rubik’s cubes spinning, and the Berlin Wall falling appear amid Solange crooning and the stomping beat. To make meaning of the video is work, a student of mine complained.

There’s a clear difference between the display of events being shown in the video for the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Tears from a Clown.”

Its three sequences reveal a clear narrative of the cultural turmoil and grief experienced by the moments/movements surrounding the JFK and MLK assasinations and the Vietnam War. “Smiling for the public eye,” sings Smokey. “Don’t let my glad expression give you the wrong impression.” Very much a statement of the times–smiling outside but dying inside.

I was born in 1979, a decade plus after those assassinations and a few years post-Vietnam. Smack dab in the birth of hip-hop and advent of an extreme right-wing, fiercely developing global capitalist world (not unrelated phenomena in the least). The stylistic elements of Solange’s song and video are telling, in that they represent how I and most of us under 30 understand the events of Smokey’s song. The song’s pulsating claps and the video’s refusal to distinguish between cultural-poltical turmoil and social fads mute any sadness we might have even had.

It’s all about that beat. Or not. At least, it shouldn’t be. Not in this moment, the simultaneous 50th anniversary of Motown Records and the election of America’s first black president. The final minute of Solange’s video stands in abrupt contrast to the frenetic collage of iconic images of the past 40 years. Slower, more comtemplative and futuristic, its shades of blue-grays lets her imagine (at least in her love life), some other-world type sh*t. What will we do with the equally compelling and troubling elements of the world that we (and Obama) are inheriting?

What was most promising about Obama’s candidacy, in fact, was the spark it produced in our populace, its positioning within the perfect storm of just enough right-wing ridiculousness, contradictions in capitalism, and technological savvy. What a unique political moment. The generation that will come of age in it ranges from being once or twice removed from Motown & Smokey, devoid of the grief of Smokey’s “tears,” yet with an existence and way of looking at the world that has been shaped, in part, by them.

It’ll be critical that we, in our political activity, artistic endeavors, and social relationships, act in this world in a fashion that lets us appreciate the “best” parts of those old songs while keeping in mind the implications of the history and political moments that produced them.

And yeah, I’m gonna be bumping some Solange as we do so.

1-31-09