Category Archives: confluence

Blackface is Racist. Period. Mocking Domestic Abuse is Misogynistic. Period.

So this happened.

http://jezebel.com/5952124/idiot-students-in-blackface-reenact-chris-brown-beating-rihanna-at-worst-pep-rally-ever

Yeah an almost all white school had a performance where they did a skit in blackface portraying Chris Brown beating the shit out of Rihanna to win a popularity contest. This was a skit approved by school officials, watched by staff and community leaders. And now many of the students and faculty are defending it, saying it’s not racist at all. Sadly I’m not that surprised by this but it did make me feel some things I wanted to share.

First of all, as always I love it when white people, especially white people who obviously have no cultural knowledge of the history of blackface, and have close to no diversity in their community tell me what’s racist.

‘Cause they know right? They’ve been hassled by the police. They’ve been called the n-word by people that were supposed to be their advocates. They’ve been targets of harassment where people wouldn’t believe them because of their skin tone. They’ve been assumed to be a thief, thug, stupid, animalistic. They know how much it hurts some members of the black community to see blackface, how it’s tied to a time when we were considered less than human, how it was used to mock, belittle, terrorize, and propagandize to keep a group of people from having basic rights.

Blackface is racist. The end. Any comedy that requires you to darken your skin to be funny? Relies on the characters race for humor and considering you couldn’t get a black person to play the role I’m going think that the comedy wasn’t exactly flattering. There is no reason for blackface. Why is your art relying on an archaic and problematic premise?

Prejudice is the easy joke, it’s the simple laugh. Watch any frat dudebro comedy and you’ll see, they go for the old school stereotypes about women, foreigners, LGBTQI folks, disabled people, poor people, etc. for their humor. The women are always virgins or whores there to be mocked for either decision, the POC are always thugs (Af-Am), hackers (As-Am), mocked for their misunderstanding of America (everyone), etc. and the gay characters are there to be mocked with old stereotypes that compare queer women to men and queer men to women. We’re not even going to go into that problematic binary, that’s a completely different post. The point is it’s the easy laugh. HaHa look at the outsider, they’re not like me so their funny. If that’s the only humor you can reach for, aside from being privileged and oppressive you’re just a bad comedian. It’s old, it’s tired, it’s racist, it’s no longer okay.

And I assume if they’re defending this and past examples of blackface they’ve examined why they feel the need to use blackface. They’ve delved deep into their psyche and examined why an almost all white community that has little to no contact with People of Color finds blackface so entertaining it had to happen repeatedly.  They have a really good defense and reasoning for why they did this, why educators approved it, why everyone thought it was funny, aside from their critics being stupid or oversensitive, right? They were doing some good work deconstructing race and gender and the male gaze right? ‘Cause if they don’t have any that.

It’s. Just. Racist.

This is without even going into the fact that they were recreating the act of a black woman being abused! Go to the link above, look at that photo, look at the all-white audience laughing and smiling while they imagine a brown woman being thrown to the ground in violence. I don’t care what the skit was, I don’t care what they meant by it, I don’t care for anything the students, faculty or attendees have to say that is not a heartfelt apology, an explanation why they thought this was funny, and a commitment to examine their own amusement at mocking the physical assault of a black woman. Would it have been just as hilarious if it was recreating Pamela Anderson’s abuse incident? Sharon Osbourne’s? There’s misogyny here to be sure but the racial aspect turns it into something even worse.

What is it about seeing a brown woman beaten that these white boys think will win them a popularity contest, that their community will be entertained by the misogynistic, racist spectacle?

Also I’m sure the faculty and advisers know that 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend in an abusive relationship, that 1 in 4 teen girls have been forced into sex by a intimate partner, that 80% of abused teen girls continue to date their abuser, that almost a third of teen girls killed every year are killed by a boyfriend or husband. Given these statistics they must also know that there are likely girls in that auditorium watching that performance that are currently involved in an abusive relationship. So what message did they get from the faculty approving of this? How likely are these girls now to feel safe reporting anything about abuse to this school, to anyone in their community? They’ve effectively told all who see this that the misogynistic atmosphere of the community is the arbiter of who gets to complain, who’s pain is real and whose is a joke.

But it was all a joke right?

No, it’s not a joke. Abuse is not a joke, racism is not a joke. I’ve been known to make the off-color joke myself among friends, true but first that is among friends and I always try to be aware of the privilege I have and how that factors into what I’m saying. I try not to be defensive if people decide to call me on what I say. It seems like this community wants none of that. They want to pretend that blackface is just make-up, that watching a woman getting an abusive beatdown is all good fun, that a community rallying to defend white boy’s right to recreate a brown woman’s fear, terror and pain as entertainment is okay. It’s not. This is not art that’s meant to inform, educate or examine abuse in certain communities which is one thing but entertainment that mocks her pain, belittles it, makes it fodder for the humor of an all-white community.

And that? Is. Not. Okay.

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Marriage As Inequality – Link with Commentary

Most people know I have very mixed feelings on marriage in general (Not The Marrying Kind) and the push for marriage equality in particular (Marriage Equality: Yay for California but My Overall Reaction to Marriage is *shrug*). I am far from the only person to critique marriage as an institution or the push for marriage equality but up until now most of where I’ve heard it is in more radical or independent presses/spaces.

Then someone pointed me to this New York Times article that was published after the marriage decision in New York. Judith Stacey a sociology professor at NYU and brings up some excellent points in her piece, Unequal Opportunity. Such as:

My research suggests that younger gays are less likely than their forebears to envision alternatives to marriage and nuclear family life.

Which has always been something that bothered me. The narrative of: ‘There is a different way to live your life, a different family structure you can form that may not look like what you’ve been taught to expect but is valid nonetheless’ has gotten completely lost in the last couple of decades. More and more I see the marriage equality push legitimizing itself by trying to look more and more normative by which I mean white, male, masculine and traditionally attractive. A line is drawn, those who want to get married and “freaks”.

Another great point Ms. Stacey brings up:

For this very reason, same-sex marriage enthusiasts are wrong to celebrate the democratizing effects of their victory in New York. To be sure, it removes an indefensible form of discrimination against lesbians and gay men. But the upshot of celebrating marriage is to exacerbate discrimination against the unmarried and their children — a rising proportion of our population, particularly among its poorer and darker members. Same-sex marriage, like its heterosexual model, is disproportionately accessible to members of the white middle class.

I enjoy the fact that she acknowledges that this is a blow against discrimination but that there are more complex issues and interactions at work here as well.

The article is shorter than I wanted and doesn’t goes as in-depth (I’m thinking I may need to pick up her book on marriage) but hits some excellent points that I and other people have been arguing for years and it’s great to see these points and perspectives brought up in a larger arena.

Now go read the whole thing

Is He or Isn’t He? Take 5,890,763,111 – The Zachary Quinto Edition

Politically I’m quite a bit to the left (quelle suprise, I know) so it’s fairly often that more mainstream media pisses me off. Mainstream GLBT media especially which tends to be very white, male and “normative”, ignoring a lot of other parts of the queer community and thus pissing me off. So I tend to stay away from sites like Afterelton.com, the exception to this is the Glee Recaps which I enjoy and head over to read every week. This particular week I clicked on a link in the sidebar to a weekly column entitled, “Best Gay Week Ever!” and was scrolling through when I came across this charming little tidbit.

There was a lot of discussion this week about Zachary Quinto’s declining to address his sexual orientation when asked by the New York Times. That is certainly Quinto’s right and we here at AfterElton.com firmly don’t believe in outing in any way, so that’s pretty much all of what I have to say about Quinto.

But I just as firmly believe that every GLBT person who is able to live a life today that is more free and open than ever before has an obligation to do their part to make things better for those who come after us.

That’s why I’ll always champion out actors like [Chad] Allen and Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff, and won’t spend much time thinking about those who benefit from the sacrifices made by others yet live in glass closets.

Okay. *Deep Breath* Let’s ignore the hypocrisy of “[we] don’t believe in outing” and ending the rant with “others yet live in glass closets” and the fact that after saying that’s all that will be said about Quinto that the following two paragraphs are pretty much a passive-aggressive statement all about Quinto despite the fact that his name doesn’t appear. This isn’t even really about the person who wrote this column as much as it’s about  this pervasive idea in mainstream GLBT media that being out is the only way to live your life and that it’s worth anything and everything and on and on. It’s happened with rumors about Elijah Wood and Queen Latifah and Ne-Yo and a hundred other entertainers, along with the continual refrain of “Why won’t you just come out?” and frankly I’m sick of it.

First of all, let’s talk about the fact that the only reason that Quinto has had his sexuality questioned is his support of GLBT causes and issues. Take a moment to contemplate the sad fact that any straight man cannot support GLBT causes without it become a question of his sexuality and inevitably his manhood as well. That’s a whole research thesis in and of itself.

Now, let’s also look at the fact that Quinto [and Wood, Latifah, etc…]  could very well be straight, that his denial to reveal his sexuality could actually be a strong and interesting position of basically saying, “Despite my heterosexuality I don’t feel the need to confirm or deny my sexuality and make that the issue here rather than the GLBT issues we’re talking about”.  I don’t subscribe to the idea that a ‘No comment’ is the same as admitting to something. There are simply too many variables that we don’t know, that we can’t know, to make it that simplistic.

And let’s say they are queer in some fashion (or even straight!), maybe they just feel it’s none of  our damn business and that’s okay. It’s okay for someone who lives their life in the spotlight and has everything scrutinized to want to keep their private life private. Now I’m not one to jump on the “woe are the celebrities/rich” whiny bandwagon by any means and I admit to an unhealthy love of celebrity gossip and reality TV but should someone be judged and held up for (albeit mild) contempt because they didn’t answer a question the way you wanted them to? I don’t think so.

There is a contract between entertainer and audience, it says: you will entertain me and I will pay you. That’s it. That’s all she wrote.  Somehow it’s shifted to this entitlement that we as the audience have the right to know everything about an entertainer and put them on some pedestal as a leader, a hero and it’s an insidiously pervasive idea our society. Bottom line is that none of these people that (the generic) you believes to be in the closet ever promised to be your: leader/lover/healer/hero/figurehead/and the list goes on. To put that expectation on them and then be angry when they refuse to live up to it exhibits a level of arrogance that really bothers me.

And finally, and this hearkens back to what I said about not knowing all the factors, the idea that just coming out is the solution is too simple and too one-pronged a position to take for such a complex issue. (This at the base is the same issue I have with the It Gets Better campaign, even though I get the motivation and impulse, because it doesn’t always get better for some folks and others can’t wait that long). The thing is that you can’t know what is best for someone else. It’s impossible. You don’t know their family dynamics like they do, their religious affiliation and level of belief, their ethnic culture, their racial identity, their connection to community and that community’s value system, their political identity, their age and how they’ve identified so far, their class background and a hundred other things of both large and small effect that determine whether it’s better for someone to come out of the closet.

Basically by taking the position of out being the only way, the GLBT mainstream not only makes an amazing display of privilege in urging everyone that one way is the right way, they are also saying that coming out is worth everything you might change. And that’s probably the case for some and some of have less to lose but for others maybe they don’t want to deal with familial fall-out, maybe they don’t want to change the way people look at them, maybe they want to keep their career on a huge uptick [anyone remember how quickly Rupert Everett’s rocket ride to leading man came to an abrupt halt, Hollywood is always more comfortable with gay actors when they play gay/desexualized characters] and maybe they just don’ t think it’s any of your business. And maybe just maybe they’re fine with that decision, maybe it actually makes them happy. Maybe things are more complex than ‘in the closet’ = sad panda and out = healthy vibrant queer.

Because I’m not talking about staying in the closet miserable and afraid by any means, I think every who wants to come out should be able to in a safe and loving environment. I also think someone should give me a billion dollars. Not only does not everyone exist in a scenario where they are able to come out but some people don’t feel the need to, some just don’t care about making an announcement to anyone. I’m saying that this is a much more complex and minefield laden issue than a simple “Hey, come on out, the water is fine.” and that whatever decision someone may make on the spectrum of ‘out’ to ‘in’ their choice is a valid one and one that should be respected.

Really it all amounts to the fact that we should be praising Quinto and others for supporting GLBT issues however they identify. This focus on “Well are they or aren’t they?!? And if they are they should be out!” makes it seem as if the only reason they could ever be invested in the politics is if they had a personal stake in it which is surely not the impression that should be given out.  And I think that with his activism and voice Quinto is (as the columnist above stated of GLBT out actors) doing his “part to make things better for those who come after us” whatever his sexual orientation may be.

For Colored Girls…But Not Really

Now I’ll fully admit that I have watched some Tyler Perry movies in the past and even enjoyed one or two. There’s a lot to discuss about Perry most especially the way women tend to be portrayed in his work. Strong but unable to be so if they continue to be single. It’s like the law of Tyler Perry movies a female character cannot just leave her abusive/mean/dismissive/boring husband or boyfriend unless there’s another man already lined up for her to lean on. There’s also the added facet that all of these women go from “professional” men to “working class” men which adds a whole class aspect to his work. The men always marry up and the women always marry down in terms of socio-economic level. And this isn’t saying that that is not a valid story for some folks but it’s less the individual movies I have a problem with as much as the overall thematic pattern of his work. The only woman allowed to be angry and strong consistently in his work is himself dressed as Madea, which is a whole essay on its own. We could also talk about the fact that those who starred in his original plays and happen to be plus size and black never make the transition to screen unless its in the background, there’s not even talk about the originators of the roles being cast which is interesting considering the to do that’s happened around other transitions like Rent and such but again point for another time that none the less informs a lot of the things that bother me about him and his portrayal of women of color.

So I was understandably nervous when he bought the rights to Ntozake Shange’s amazing choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf which is an amazing work from the perspective of eight  black women only known  by the titles: Lady in Red, Lady in Orange, Lady in Yellow,…Green, …Blue, …White, …Brown and …Black. It’s one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read period. It interrogates the perspective of black women as they fall in love, deal with abuse, raise their children, confront their secrets, work, dance and just live their lives. It’s nuanced. It’s moving. It’s smart. It’s beautiful. These are not words I really connect to Tyler Perry or his work.

The fact that originally Nzingha Stewart was supposed to direct the film before he used his connections to snatch the film from her already did not make me a fan of  him. When it was announced that he was considering Beyonce for one of the roles I was too through. Then as things started to come together in terms of the cast I had hope: Janet Jackson (who lest people forget started in acting – Good Times, Fame and Poetic Justice), Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson and more. These are all actresses I’m a huge fan of and began to balance out the presence of Tyler Perry. I also learned that rather than writing the screenplay himself he was using the the screenplay that Nzingha Stewart wrote when she was still in charge of the film which IMDb and various sources confirm. Another point in the movies favor.

And as I was watching the trailer I actually was interested.

(WordPress would not let me embed the video of the trailer, go here to watch it.)

Until the whole video ended with this:

“Written For The Screen, Produced and Directed
By Tyler Perry”

WTF? So not only did Perry snatch the film itself from Stewart but he’s taking credit for her work. Now if it turns out that what I’ve heard and IMDB is reporting is wrong then I’ll take this back but as of now I hate Tyler Perry. What a move to make? To take a story about black women’s experiences written by  a black woman, steal it from a black female director (of which there are few enough as it is) and then take credit for her work. Methinks you actually need to read some of the original work you’re adapting:

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff 
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
 but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
 this is mine/this aint yr stuff/
now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self

somebody almost walked off wit alla my stuff 
& didn’t care enuf to send a note home sayin 
i was late for my solo conversation
 or two sizes to small for my own tacky skirts

link to the entire piece

We could also have a conversation about the shortening of the name, erasing a lot of the context in terms of the lives being portrayed, but that’s a post for another time.

The 2nd Year Begins/Terminology “Confluences”

My second year of grad school has begun. I’m taking four classes this semester:

Contemporary Queer Writers of Color
Fiction Workshop
20th & 21st Century Poets of Color
Queer Poetics

So there’s a lot of reading, a lot of literature and a lot of theory. In addition two of my classes require me to blog once a week. So yes my dreams of blogging regularly again seem to be coming true just not the way I thought. All of this is in addition to being co-fiction editor of the literary journal 580 Split and running a school sponsored reading series.

In conclusion I may be insane, the good part is that a lot of my reading are awesome folks I would read anyway if not quite so quickly. I’m also reading a lot more stuff by Women, GLBTQ folks and People of Color – which was one of my goals for this semester.  So for my first week I read Langston Hughes, Barbara Smith & Gloria Anzaldua.

On top of this I’m researching various PhD programs in the Bay Area. So far the most promising ones seem to be Literature @ UC Santa Cruz, Modern Thought & Lit. @ Stanford and Rhetoric @ UC Berkeley.

*Terminology:  Confluences

Last week in my class I was introduced to the word confluences as opposed to intersections and I’m doing my best to replace the terms in my vocabulary. Not that intersectional is now “out” or anything like that it was just the more I thought about the reasoning the professor put forward, the more I agree with it. Intersectionality implies static connections, the the places and situations in which our identities meet and influence each other happens the same way every time in the same way at the same time. The truth of the matter is that our various identities shift and change depending on the situation.

The imagery I’ve been using to thing of confluences is wind currents. A separate current representing each identity, two or three or more may merge into bigger systems depending on the situation, or one current itself can interact on it’s own and even if some of your other identities do not feed directly into the confluence those other winds are still present shifting the focus and perceptions of the larger storm system co-existing.

Haven’t worked out the whole metaphor or interactions yet but overall really liking the terminology of confluences of identity as opposed to intersections of identity a whole lot right now.