Archive for November, 2009

A few words: White House Party Crashers

I’ll make this brief and get right to the point as it will sum up all that I feel we need to know about the White House Party Crashers:

They’re rich and white. Therefore, they looked the part and got away with being as close to the President as they are in the above pic. Ain’t nothin else on it.

Now I know I might get told I’m playing the race card here, and I’m prepared for that. But I absolutely believe that if this couple were working class and perhaps not white, if this couple looked more like me and my fairly-new partner–young Black people with natural hairstyles (another topic in its entirety)–they wouldn’t have even seen the inside of that State Dinner. Like, at all.

I’m not saying that the CIA is racist or that there was racially-charged intent in their actions–all they’ve admitted to so far is they “made a mistake” (no sh*t sherlock) and that’s all we can really accept for right now. What I am saying though, is that the Salahi’s ability to get away with crashing a White House dinner speaks to their class and their level of white privilege.

From Anovelista:

I am having major issues with the White House State Dinner crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi. The first description of Michaele Salahi referred to her as a “glittering blonde decked out in a red and gold sari” and I knew we were in trouble.  Even at the White House, the automatic assumption about a “glittering blonde” is why of course she belongs! She looks the part, right?

My point exactly. My friend Wise told me a great story that further illuminates this point. A few years ago, Wise went to a VIP party a professional colleague of his threw in the Hamptons. While he had every right to be at the party as anyone else, Wise was hassled by security because he doesn’t “look the part”: a tall brotha in a suit with a smallish afro. They questioned his being there, asked to see his ID, the whole nine, simply because he didn’t seem like he”belonged” there. What message does that send about how we feel about class and privilege and who gets to “own” high levels of such things?

In any case, the White House Dinner Crashers don’t tell us anything else, and it doesn’t get any more complicated than this. They were white, they were rich, and they got over on the CIA because they looked the part. Open and shut case of what is afforded to people who are at the top of the class ladder.

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I Do Not Consent: Musings on Sexual Terrorism

This is a re-post from JoNubian’s blog. A painful truth is that rape plays too big a role in the lives of one too many of the women closest to me. I hope that both cis and trans women continue to tell their truths about rape and that men join us in breaking the cycle of rape culture.

I am the history of rape

I am the history of the rejection of who I am

I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of

myself

I am the history of battery assault and limitless

armies against whatever I want to do with my mind

and my body and my soul and

whether it’s about walking out at night

or whether it’s about the love that I feel or

whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or

the sanctity of my national boundaries

or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity

of each and every desire

that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic

and indisputably single and singular heart

I have been raped

From A Poem About My Rights by- June Jordan

I have been steadily dodging the writing of this blogpost about Black women and sexual abuse, however the words you are reading haunt me.  I would like to say that my thoughts on rape began just a few months back, but this would be a lie.  As a woman, and especially a Black woman, unkept and unsafe, the threat of rape is almost as constant as breathing and books.  What I will say is that rape has been at the forefront of my thoughts since POTUS Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which may seem odd- although it is not.  I became curious to see who else was nominated for the award.  I consider myself solution oriented and felt that if I would denounce my support of the committee’s choice, I certainly would need to provide the name of a more deserving victor.

As I searched the list and read the stories, one name in particular was familiar to me, although unfortunately not in cheer. It was Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, who has dedicated his life to treating the women of DRC who are the victims of rapes so brutal that I would need an entirely separate blogpost to describe them.  Dr. Mukwege’s hospital is overrun with battered, tortured, mutilated women. In one province alone, over 27,000 rapes were reported, which accounts for at least 70% of the women living there.  While addressing the US Senate last year Dr. Mukwege made the following statement, that has etched it’s way into my memory much like my favorite lovers or Baldwin quotes, “It is important to point out that this sexual terrorism is done in a methodical manner”.  It had never occurred to me previously to describe rape as terrorist or methodical, but therein lies the truth of it.

Moving forward in time, again my thoughts and heart are bombarded with the ugliness of rape after reading an article about a fifteen year old girl being gang raped by five boys (and men) as more than twenty people spectated.  My blood boiled so terribly that I assumed it was fever and that this world had been successful in literally making me sick.  And as I spoke about the incident on twitter, I began to receive all of these private messages from women who had been victims of gang rapes themselves.  I didn’t want to believe that such violence against women was so prevalent and commonplace. Subsequently, the days and nights following the details of that rape were exhausting.  Thoughts of my and my daughter’s safety began to eat away at my sleeping hours, and I kept wanting to embrace all of the women who contacted me, somehow allowing my love to spill through my pores, providing protection where others had failed them.  Yes rape is terrible and a terror, even for those women not raped.

Rape is terrorism, especially if one defines terrorism as, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce”.  Certainly, there is no stronger example presented to contest an individual’s (and possibly a group’s) humanity than a publicly viewed rape and torture as were the cases in the Congo and in California.   Suddenly there did not seem to be so much distance between the US and the DRC.  However, as tragic as these rapes are we cannot afford to limit our anger and remorse to these specific cases of abuse.  Sexual violence against women also includes sexual harassment/extortion, spousal abuse, incest and child rape (May peace be upon Shaniya Davis), forced sterilizations, and an overall inability to choose, as a woman, what happens to one’s body.   My revolutionary crush, Angela Davis, agrees, which I noted while reading an address she presented at Florida State University in 1985 entitled, We Do Not Consent: Violence Against Women in a Racist Society. She writes:

These particular manifestations of violence against women are situated on a larger continuum of socially inflicted violence, which includes concerted, systematic violations of women’s economic and political rights. As has been the case throughout history, these attacks most gravely affect women of color than their white working-class sisters.   The dreadful rape epidemic of our times, which has become so widespread that one out of every three women in this country can expect to be raped at some point during her life, grimly mirrors the deteriorating economic and social status of women today.

If we disconnect rape, and consequently, all sexual violence against women, from their socio-economic foundations, we cannot adequately discuss solutions to said abuses.  We dis-serve women by only acting or objecting to sexual abuse in extreme cases.  We have to understand that a woman should control her reproduction, or desired lack thereof- and be allowed to do so safely and with no judgement.  We must admit that, no matter how “provocatively” dressed or sexually explicit a woman appears to be, we have no right to objectify her and/or harass her.  We cannot emotionally abuse women, use women, treat them as receptacles, even if they contend that such treatment is okay, because we know that it is not. We have to sincerely view women as human beings before we can wholeheartedly respect and protect them.

There is no truth but this.

Please read the rest of June Jordan’s poem A Poem About My Rights here:

http://wp.me/pxAOY-2Z

To truly understand the intersection of race, class and gender, please read Angela Y Davis’ Women, Culture and Politics

More on Dr. Denis Mukwege and his mission here:

http://wp.me/pxAOY-2Z

Finally Precious – Part 1: Black Girl Pain

I’ve been psyched for Precious ever since I saw the trailer this past spring. It was released here in DC this weekend, but up until then I had read varying opinions about the movie.

From Hit me Back!

I should be clear: When I say that Precious was horrifying, I don’t mean it in a “Wow, kudos to Sapphire/Lee Daniels/Oprah/Tyler Perry because they just outdid themselves” and got me wanting to testify about it kind-of-way. No.

Make no mistake — Lee Daniels is a pathology pimp. Plain and simple. He’s not the first. Some of our most prolific movie directors (Scorcese comes to mind…) are pathology pimps. Pathos tells good stories and, often, creates great, watchable art. But, see, this is my problem with Lee Daniels. He’s a pathology pimp and he’s not even good at it. His work, ultimately, is not art. It is raw, unchecked, internalized oppression that he is peddling as “important” stories about Black folk that “need” to be told.

There are elements of Precious, of course, that are real. In this country and around the world there are Black girls like Precious — morbidly obese, abused, victims of incest, illiterate, HIV-positive, etc. There are women in my family who, in one aspect or another, have been subjected to the same atrocities as Precious.

But, really, tell me something I don’t know. I live in Chicago. All I have to do is watch the news, read the paper or visit my proverbial cousins “Pookie an’ ‘nem” to know that there are elements of Precious that exist. One look at the health, socio-economic and class status of many African-Americans is proof of that.


I wanted to hold my tongue on my own critique of the movie until I saw it for myself. And now that I have I’m revisiting some of the reviews I’ve been reading over the last few weeks.

I think she makes an interesting point. It is the type of criticism that I could imagine Boyz n the Hood received–the fact that a painful black narrative is being created for the “amusement” of white audiences. But I’m of the belief that even though a movie is heralded by white audiences doesn’t make the story less valuable. That said, it shouldn’t be implied that this is the story that all Black girls grow up with having to endure.

I also think the fact that there are kids just like Precious in hoods all over the country, and that it shouldn’t take a movie to alert people to this. But part of the power of this movie is that Precious is telling someone’s true story. It’s unfair to deduce Lee Daniels to a “pathology pimp” when this is one story that is being told on film; by saying that the motivation for making the movie was solely to exploit or glamourize black pathology for White people’s entertainment doesn’t give Daniels nearly enough credit.

from Afrobella:

Precious is the kind of film that needs our support. It’s a film that reveals a slice of American life that we too often close our eyes to. Because we don’t want to see.

It’s such an ugly slice of reality, you want to keep it hidden. But people NEED to see this movie. I hope it’s shown in schools. I hope the people who need to see this movie, see this movie.

As raw and real and painful as it is, Precious is uplifting. And important. We can’t let movies like this come and go without making some noise at the box office. Because there are many, many more stories like Precious, that need to be told.

While I tend to side more with Afrobella, I think there is room for many of the varying opinions to be right. Yes, Precious is a difficult story to watch, just as novel Push was to read. But it’s an important movie nonetheless. For one, I’m glad to see us telling a story about a Black girl growing up in the hood. So many times we see hood coming of age stories that center around boys; The Wire comes to mind. This isn’t to say that every girls story of growing up in the hood includes rape, incest, and abuse, but that the story of Precious Jones is just one of several that we can tell, and I hope that it leads to more explorations of a black girl’s life on film and in literature.

On the acting front, I absolutely enjoyed both Mo’Nique and and Gabbey Sibide’s performances. I can’t say that Mo’Nique’s acting was necessarily Oscar-worthy the way I can with Gabby’s, but it definitely will help her break out of the comedic actress box, so it’ll be great to see what other roles will open up for her after this. Solid performance by Paula Patton as well. Mariah didn’t move me either way, and of course I didn’t mind the addition of the nurse character played by Lenny Kravitz not only because I thought his character was endearing, but because anytime I can ogle at that fine hunk of man candy for 2 hours on screen is a CLEAR WIN (don’t argue with me on this point, okay?)

Speaking of Paula Patton, I”m gonna have to agree with Racialicious here and say that I was disappointed at the casting of Paula Patton to play the part of Blue Rain. In the book, Blue Rain was a woman who looked a lot like me–a dark skinned Black woman with dreadlocks. For Precious, a girl who already suffers from self-hatred and sees light skinned people as more beautiful and more capable of being loved and cherished, Blue Rain presented an alternative image of Black beauty, and an entry point to healing and reinforcing a more positive image of herself. Paula Patton as an actress is perfectly fine, but I think casting Blue Rain as a light skinned woman was a HUGE mistake given what her character represented in Precious’ life.

There’s been lots of discussion about whether or not Lee Daniels has colorstruck tendencies in his casting selections. All of the “good” characters in the movie adaptation are light skinned while all of the bad or dysfunctional characters were dark skinned. I can’t say either way Lee Daniels is colorstruck because I don’t know the man well enough to label him as such nor was I in the room when the casting took place. that said–I wasn’t bothered by Mariah Carey or Lenny Kravitz being cast as the “good” characters. The only casting I saw as problematic was Paula Patton because omitting her the significance of her skin tone in the book omits a huge part of Precious’ healing.

One thing they didn’t omit was the fact that Blue Rain was a lesbian. I was glad they actually showed Blue with her partner, because oftentimes black lesbians are fetishized on film, shown only for the entertainment and arousal of men. While Blue was only shown with her partner a few times, I think it’s important that the audience sees a positive image of Black lesbianism, especially in a Black film. It’s also a subtle way confronting homophobic attitudes in the Black community.

Overall, Precious is a great film, and important film, and I hope it gets all the attention and notoriety it deserves.

Did you see the film? What did you all think? I should probably point out that if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, there may be spoilers in the comments.