The late great Shirley Chisholm, as photographed by the legendary Richard Avedon. Look…Shirley was THAT Black woman. Feminist. Humanist. Unbought. Unbossed. WORD.
This is my 47th Read This Week feature! Every week since Gradient Lair’s inception (it’s a year old now!) with the exception of a few weeks, I’ve posted essays, articles, journal articles and/or papers that I’ve recently read and share with you based on your interest in this blog.
Below are great reads…
I Don’t Mean To Be Dramatic… by @liberated_lez is a great read. TRIGGER WARNING for childhood sexual abuse and violence. She shares an honest and brave essay about a male family member who abused her, how some of her family engaged in victim blaming, and how years later, she knows it was NOT her fault.
The Perils of Funny Feminism by @graceishuman is an important read that addresses White middle-class feminists and their defense of comedy that attacks marginalized women, as well as their goals to make feminism “fun” even to the point that its purpose becomes fragmented and even kyriarchal.
The Racial Politics of Atheism by Sikivu Hutchinson is a fascinating read. This is an interview for her new book Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels. She states “There is no evidence that people of color—especially women of color—are rejecting organized religion, much less God, in any significant numbers. I wanted to explore the reason for this, while at the same time providing a radical voice for the growing numbers of openly identified non-believers of color.” She critiques mainstream White atheism and its lack of commitment to social justice as well. A lot folks ain’t ready for this level of intersectional thinking! Most think it should be team theism or team racist atheism, as if other perspectives cannot exist, such as one without theism but also committed to social justice.
Call for Papers: Women of Color Beyond Faith Anthology is a post that is asking for writing from women of colour who identify as non-believers, atheists, humanists etc. The anthology is going to be edited by Black women, including Sikivu Hutchinson herself. Why I included it in this particular Read This Week is because the questions posed at the bottom, as possible topics for writing, are interesting and probing.
Why We Can’t Blame Parents For Educational Inequality by Bruce Foster at Still Furious and Still Brave is a great read. He writes: “Placing the onus on parents to ensure that their children have equitable educational experiences and outcomes excuses the ways in which inequality is often embedded in school, state, and national policies. Blaming parents also fails to recognize the extent to which they face different constraints based on their social and economic background.”
Stay tuned for new suggestions next week!
After learning about the content of President Obama’s speech at Morehouse, I let out a tired sigh because it was actually worse than I expected. To be clear, he is a great orator with a skill that is truly a gift and a honed craft. He will probably be memorialized in history among the Presidents who are great orators such as Lincoln, FDR and Kennedy. But that’s not the point right now. I am not discussing ability. I am discussing content and context.
I was so bothered by his speech yesterday that I actually posted one of my favorite commencement addresses in recent times, Toni Morrison at Rutgers in 2011. Toni rarely holds back and every word she says or doesn’t say is deliberate. She critiqued Thomas Jefferson, let alone discussed the commitment to justice that those graduates need to have. She had no White approval to seek. Rejecting that approval while having a commitment to justice has garnered her success in spite of White supremacy and racism, not by downplaying their existence. I not only chose to post her speech because it is one in stark contrast to President Obama’s at Morehouse and First Lady Michelle Obama’s at Bowie State University, both HBCUs, unlike Rutgers, but because both of them have cited Morrison as among their favorite authors. I now find this ironic, actually.
In How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic he examined several instances by President Obama where his words to Black Americans seem targeted and pathology-oriented. About the Morehouse speech he wrote:
Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people — and particularly black youth — and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there’s no longer room for any excuses” — as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of ‘all America,’ but he also is singularly the scold of ‘black America.’
Despite the fact that sexism, homophobia, transphobia and anti-Semitism are problematic in our society, women, LGBTQ people and Jews are never addressed with bootstrap theory and patronizing paternalistic content. Why? All of those oppressed groups still involve Whites. Blacks, as an oppressed group via race, does not. White supremacy remains in tact when those groups are not critiqued and Blacks are, despite those groups having intersectional experiences with oppression. Because of the stark differences in power when an oppressed group involves Whites versus when it does not, it is much more dangerous for President Obama to critique the former versus the latter, in terms of political fallout.
In Tough Love or Stereotypical Shot? Michelle Obama’s HBCU Graduation Speech on Clutch Magazine, the author Harmony raises a great question. The problem is both answers are awful. This intraracial maternalism that Michelle Obama engaged in with her speech seemed like an assignment hoisted on her by a White supremacist society where she is the Black mom who will try to fix the ills of the “arbitrarily pathological” Black child; the Black American population. She was among Black elites—college graduates, in a country where only 30% of all adults have Bachelors degrees and only 20% of Black adults have Bachelors degrees and it was a time for “tough love” as the “best” outcome of a speech? Even the “best” outcome for this speech is one I find beneath who I thought Michelle Obama was and beneath those graduates who worked hard to have that special day. Respectability politics, victim blaming, bootstrap theory, intraracial classism and more filled that speech. I’ve always loved Michelle Obama and defended her from the racist, sexist and misogynoirist attacks that she faces in general society and even from within progressive spaces, but this speech was just as problematic as President Obama’s.
This isn’t to say that those “tough love” speeches should be hoisted at the poor and those who aren’t college graduates, as President Obama did in Chicago with his gun violence speech. As long as the effects of structural inequality and oppression on Black life is portrayed as “arbitrary pathology” that “personal responsibility” can fix, then Black people remain the ones who have to be responsible for the effects of racism, While Whites claim no responsibility for anything, continue to benefit from racism and continue to deny it through White privilege.
While I’ve never truly felt that either of them were fully committed to social justice (whether by a combination of force in a White supremacist society and by choice; and I’ve read so much on them and studied them beyond MSNBC or Fox News), yet I do realize the relevance of their ascension into political, social, and cultural power as Black individuals, a Black couple and a Black family (obviously I do; I’ve shared many positive photographs as well as some nuanced posts illustrating my complex views on them, especially on Barack Obama’s role as President), there is no way I can or will positively spin these speeches into something that they are not. They were patronizing, paternalistic, White supremacist, classist, minimized the role of racism and oppression and played into very old stereotypes about Blackness, ones that never should have to surface and be given so much space on such a large platform, but also ones that seem genuinely out of place at college graduations. If by society’s own (problematic) standards, the elites that are college graduates are still not “responsible” enough if they are Black, when are Black people good enough? When?
In addition to my anger about this, I also got a good laugh from the satirical yet poignant short essay, The Obamas Double Teamed That Ass by Son of Baldwin, because he animates the Obama’s manifestation of exceptionalism and how utterly problematic and dangerous it has become. There are no excuses to be made for these speeches. They have no election to win and no Whites to pacify to win it. They spoke around Black people, not to Black people with these speeches. They affirmed the negative views of Black people and played into exceptionalism.
Patronizing paternalism disguised as “tough love” for Black people yet no “tough love” messages are crafted for Whites to challenge them on the systemic, institutional and structural inequalities that create the racist oppression that Black people face, impacting their choices? Toni Morrison found a way to do just that with her commencement address, in part of which she said “personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one.”
It is truly amazing how “personal responsibility” only applies to Blacks. Whites continue to have zero accountability when it comes to White privilege, racism and White supremacy. Both of these speeches reminded them of that. I suspect that was the intent, especially amidst these recent faux and real scandals that the White House faces. Unfortunately, the price of pacifying Whites in a White supremacist society is always the re-affirmation of the “justified” oppression of Blacks, who need to simply “man-up” and “get over” the oppression which has never ended. I don’t support such a message, whether the messenger is White or Black, whether the messenger is someone non-famous or someone I voted for to become the first Black President and First Lady of the United States.
Ha! As a mom, Beyoncé is STILL NOT HERE for your gender binaries. I love how they dress her, in general. In this photo, you see this beautiful little girl with her back to you. The symbolism is great. She doesn’t need your opinion of her to matter, it’s of no consequence. Then, she is wearing a jersey, something always viewed as “masculine,” yet it is a salmon shade (not quite pink, which is ridiculously deemed “feminine”), a colour that both women and men wear. Then she has on a super “feminine” tutu.
People have hurled all sorts of sexism, misogynoir, and homophobia at Blue Ivy. It’s disgusting and unacceptable. When I look at this photograph, I see the tiny flame that may very well grow up into a fire that will be a force to be reckoned with, just like her mother. Love it.
While I was perusing tags related to feminism on Tumblr, I came across a post by a Black man with a sentiment that I’ve seen many times. He posted a photograph of a Black man’s lynched corpse with a White woman looking at it with laughter. His commentary suggested that “feminazism” is destroying Black men (as its goal) and whose side are most Black women on, Black men’s or White women’s?
First of all, the fact that a Black man would conflate feminism with Nazism, when both Black men and Black women faced multiple holocausts during slavery is astoundingly ahistorical and hyperbolic. The word “Feminazi” rose to popularity via Rush Limbaugh. Funny how this “conscious” Black man quickly aligns with White patriarchy, and a racist at that, when the critique is of Black women.
Secondly, interestingly enough, he chose a lynching photo with no White men present. Why? Because his perception of Black men as victims can’t include critique of White men if assuming the patriarchal power that Black men (and White women) want to share with White men, versus questioning oppression itself, is an ultimate goal. Black men who heavily critique feminism and demand dog-like loyalty to patriarchy from Black women tend to want to mimic or share the power White men have. This means that they will never truly critique White supremacy itself, beyond what power they critique White women for (and some won’t even do this due to sexual interest in White women), because why critique the type of corrupt power that one desires? (I critiqued this very same line of thinking before, which fuels many Black men’s love for the film Django Unchained.)
White fear of Black male sexuality and economic, political and social competition is what fueled lynching as a practice. Even if the charge against a Black man was due to a White woman’s claim (and these same women watched and enjoyed lynching as an entertainment of “strange fruit”) ultimately White men had to physically engage in the practice of lynching. Thus, for him to choose a photo where no White men are present is quite telling. Oh and…Black women were lynched too.
Thirdly, some Black men just as some White women tend to view Black women solely as “sidekicks” to “their” causes, not women and humans with our own causes and needs, ones most definitely shaped by intersectional experiences. We aren’t only Black. We aren’t only women. He didn’t include any images/stories about Black men street harassing, committing domestic violence, raping or murdering Black women. He chose to show Black men only as victims and posits that Black women are responsible for Black men’s victimhood. This is fascinating since Black women, from Billie Holiday to Ida B. Wells were some of the most outspoken against lynching of Black men. Today, Black women like Michelle Alexander are incredibly outspoken against how Prison Industrial Complex impacts Black men. Black women are often deemed not to be supportive enough and ahistorical, decontextualized “evidence” is always proffered by Black men as proof. (Some even have the audacity to cite that racist and misogynoirist Moynhian Report from ‘65. Disgusting. Read Patricia Hill Collins’ critique of that report in Black Feminist Thought.) Amazingly enough, not interpersonally obeying patriarchal orders from Black men and in their perception, not being committed “enough” to being sidekicks of “their” causes versus full human beings and voices for our own and collective Black causes is viewed by some Black men as “aligning” with White women.
I can only laugh at this. They obviously have not heard any actual discourse and dissent between Black and White women, feminist or not. Black womanists/feminists and White feminists have not walked this magical path of unity that Black men seem to think we have, especially one based on destroying Black men. Black men who think so know nothing about women’s actual lives, I suspect.
The idea that Black women are just “copying” White women in terms of womanist/feminist theory and praxis proves again that some Black men know nothing about Black women beyond what they would like us to be, stereotypes and externally constructed notions of Black womanhood. (Once, one of my sisters responded to an extremely disgusting drawing posted on Facebook; it had the same sentiments of Black women being monsters out to get Black men and controlled by Whites.) If being a whole human being as a Black woman, not a sidekick of “team Black men” (or “team White women”) is viewed as a “threat” to Black masculinity, then Black men need to examine why our dehumanization is needed for them to feel like men. Will they ever be able to visualize and embrace masculinity without domination? At which point will they actually critique White men and White supremacy itself for the issues that they think dog-like loyalty from Black women is magically going to fix?
I am not on a “team” in that feminism is a gimmick; I am not going to choose between race and gender for sport. I am TIRED of Black men (and White women) suggesting this. At the same time, I am committed to the liberation of all oppressed people, which INCLUDES me and other Black women, as people, not platforms for Black men to stand on. Intersectionality or bust. I will not be anyone’s doormat, especially for wiping ahistorical boots with soles made of patriarchy, sexism and misogynoir.
“It was painful to realize that many men rarely consider reading what women write, or bother to listen to what women are saying about how we feel. How we perceive life. How we think things should be. That they cannot honor our struggles or our pain. That they see our stories as meaningless to them, or assume they are absent from them, or distorted. Or think they must own or control our expressions. And us.” - Alice Walker
Classic Ebony Magazine cover of Betty Shabazz (May 28, 1934 - June 23, 1997): educator, activist, mother of 6 and the widow of Malcolm X. This was only a few years after he was assassinated. I am trying to find the original article. No luck yet.
I saw this fabulous photograph on a Pinterest board called Big Beautiful Black Girls. They baaaad! She’s beautiful and I love her style.
She’s fabulous. The denim jacket is giving me nostalgic 80s vibes. Her skin is exquisite. Black = beautiful.
(Source: fuckyeahfamousblackgirls, via darkskinnedblackbeauty)
Wow. So pretty!
Yesterday I posted a photograph of Beyoncé on Ms. Magazine with some probing questions that I have for the article, which included this text:
I will be interested in seeing if the article reveals the nuances of her perspectives (such as ones revealed in her documentary), whether they challenge or affirm patriarchy at times (as she, like many women do both) or will the article solely hold her to an unreachable standard where she has to be bell hooks to be feminist while Lena Dunham, not Gloria Steinem appears to be the bar of White feminism. Again, nonfamous womanists and feminists should not be overly THIRSTY for celebrities to validate feminism. At the same time, I am interested in reading more of Bey’s perspectives on self-esteem, empowerment, confidence, inclusion, sexuality, LGBTQ, friendships and romance/marriage, for example. (I am DEFINITELY not interested her (or anyone) being labeled “unfeminist,” as I wrote about before. That word, specifically, is problematic.)
Silly me; I originally thought the article was an interview. Apparently, it is not. Since yesterday, I learned that: 1) The article is behind a paywall and not accessible to poor women or anyone without a subscription. 2) The Facebook thread for the article is disgusting, as expected. Many of the comments have the typical misogynoir and respectability politics that people seem to have confused for feminism. 3) The thread itself ends with a question, which part of it reads “Has Beyoncé ‘earned’ her feminist credentials?” Credentials and feminism should NEVER be used in the same sentence. This reeks of the merge of White supremacy, “legitimacy” and education.
In my post on Storify today, Is Beyoncé Going To Be Critiqued By White Feminists Ad Perpetuum?, I shared some Twitter conversation on the topic and raised six points as to why this critique, in general, seems never-ending and is non-productive, three of which include:
1) White women want to control and police feminism, which is actually quite White supremacist and patriarchal. It seems that theist, cisgender, heterosexual, thin, middle class, White women in the West think that feminism is their plaything and country club. It isn’t. Even White women without some of these privileges still stand firm against Beyoncé in a way that they would not do to any White woman, feminist or not, celebrity or not. They still view Black women as “allies” to their feminism, not actual women or feminists.
2) Feminism tends to have an element of inaccessibility by class and education, which definitely connects to race. By class, of course, Beyoncé doesn’t have this issue. She can access whatever she wants in any space. She has a platform. However, many of those with literacy/formal education privilege do not want Beyoncé to be considered feminist because she is not an academic. Black women have to be bell hooks to be considered feminist, but the bar (which should not even exist for any women) for White feminists is Lena Dunham? Beyoncé has no college education and she was home-schooled for a lot of her education as well. She is not the picture of a “scholar.” But neither was Sojourner Truth. Neither were Black blues singers or Black women who worked as domestics. Many still were the faces of resistance for Black women.
3) Some women, both White and Black, view Black women’s sexuality as automatically deviant, even if that woman is heterosexual, with heterosexual privilege. White heterosexuality is deemed the “norm” of heterosexuality. Heterosexual Black women are still deemed sexually deviant, even if they have the privilege that lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans* Black women do not. Thus, Beyoncé being sexual with her art, despite being in a highly heteronormative, presumably monogamous, heterosexual marriage and being a mother is not “enough” to deem her “respectable.” The problem is respectability politics are constructs of patriarchy, NOT feminism. Then there is the concept of sexuality within art itself. When is it “too sexual?” The fact that Miley Cyrus in a White body is not deemed “dirty” for twerking, yet Black women and our bodies automatically make the dance “dirty” reveals this race-specific misogyny, or misogynoir.
The fact that Jenna Jameson (a White woman deemed “mainstream” now) is a porn star in a patriarchal society and receives less criticism for her sexuality than Beyoncé speaks to the racism involved in the perception of sexuality. Beyoncé has been blamed for everything from teen sexuality and poor health to sex trafficking, and people think this criticism is normal and logical. This reveals how deep racism and sexism runs in our society, as it pertains to Black women, specifically.
A Black woman does not have to pass a certain “bar” of entry that White women hold before she is “acceptable” to feminism and this suggestion is most certainly racist, especially since White women are automatically assumed to be feminist. Even White women who openly hated feminism, such as Margaret Thatcher, has had the label “feminist” placed upon her post-mortem. White women can be considered feminist even when clearly operating in ways that reinforce imperialist White supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy, like Thatcher did (examine her damn record, one that is as patriarchal and imperialist as any White male leader), yet Beyoncé is consistently attacked for not meeting some arbitrary standard as White women stand GUARD over feminism?
I’ve also noticed that some Black women and other women of colour do not want Beyoncé associated with feminism in any way, and unfortunately, their reasoning seems to be tied into respectability politics. They think choosing the “positive” side of patriarchal binaries is what feminism is about, such as being a “good” role model and exemplifying “perfect” womanhood, as dictated by theism and patriarchy. This is also a mistake. Even so, it seems that the largest voices against Beyoncé amidst feminist spaces are White women’s voices—probably because there are so many of them and because their voices are amplified due to White privilege. When most of them dissent, it hits a major blog or newspaper. When most Black women dissent it’s via tweets or personal blogs. The access points differ in scope. Even when a Black woman or another woman of colour writes about Beyoncé for a major publication, ironically (or not so) her views seem to match White feminists’ views against Beyoncé. Perhaps this is what it takes to be published.
Critique is important. No one is above it. But this perpetual critique of Beyoncé is no longer productive critique. (I am not sure that it ever was.) This critique is creating arbitrary standards that Black feminists have to meet that White feminists do not. This is racist antagonism towards Black women if they are loved, are considered beautiful and are successful. This is respectability politics and misogynoir masquerading as feminism. This is intellectual elitism. This is double standards—ones where Beyoncé’s experience with capitalism is evil but Sheryl Sandberg’s is good, where Beyoncé’s sexuality is deviant and Lena Dunham’s is empowering, where Beyoncé being married and a mother is just her succumbing to patriarchy but for White women, it’s deemed a powerful choice, especially if coupled with a career.
If White women view Black women as inferior and White feminists view Black feminists as inferior at worst or as “allies,” “sidekicks” or just Black women to “save” not actual feminists, at best, the problem is theirs, not Beyoncé’s or Black women’s at all.
White women need to stop guarding the invisible gate to feminism. It’s not a country club. That was never the point. Leave the gates and hierarchies for patriarchy.
Beyoncé on the cover of Ms. Magazine for Spring 2013. I will be interested in seeing if the article reveals the nuances of her perspectives (such as ones revealed in her documentary), whether they challenge or affirm patriarchy at times (as she, like many women do both) or will the article solely hold her to an unreachable standard where she has to be bell hooks to be feminist while Lena Dunham, not Gloria Steinem appears to be the bar of White feminism. Again, nonfamous womanists and feminists should not be overly THIRSTY for celebrities to validate feminism. At the same time, I am interested in reading more of Bey’s perspectives on self-esteem, empowerment, confidence, inclusion, sexuality, LGBTQ, friendships and romance/marriage, for example. (I am DEFINITELY not interested her (or anyone) being labeled “unfeminist,” as I wrote about before. That word, specifically, is problematic.)
White feminists defending The Onion sound an awful lot like male comedians who scoff at criticism of rape jokes.
The implication: these individual white feminists know what anti-black misogyny looks like better than black women do—even that black women should thank the authors of this piece, almost certainly one or more white dudes, for doing the work of our liberation. This is not so different from white male comedians who think they get to decide what is and isn’t sexist or harmful to survivors.
In a just feminism, black women wouldn’t have to deal with attacks from feminists whitesplaining how we fail to understand humor on top of challenging racist, misogynist comedy. —
These 3 quotes are from her essay The Other Double Standard: On Humor and Racism in Feminism.
(I wrote about the same topic myself last week: The Predictable Cycle of White Liberal “Humor” At Black Women’s Expense)
Interesting how when one is in a position of POWER and not the butt of the “joke” or the “satire” all empathy and concern is lost. White feminists defend The Onion’s attacks on Black women in the way that White men defend their “right” to make rape jokes attacking “all” women, and since “all” usually means “White and no one else;” those are the times that White feminists stand fiercely against it. Not surprising.