Twenty-Five Years A Slave: Identity, Intersectionality, and Cultural Realization

Carol was a physically beautiful girl. She had tanned dark skin, dark eyes, and thick, curly hair. Intrigued by black culture, and even more so by black men, she sought to consummate her sexual curiosity by juxtaposing herself to black women—seemingly hoping to outshine black femininity with a presumed exoticness.

Yet, somehow her invitation to the movies seemed harmless. Admittedly, I probably would not have seen the film if not invited. But antagonized by my white classmates, I was a little more receptive to companionship than I should have been. In the height of my systemized state, I found a false unity in gender with a person of color.

Nothing could have prepared me for the lessons this experience would expose. The performances in the film were surpassed by the dramatic behavior of the audience. The whipping scene prompted a white woman seated several rows in front of me to cry violently in a manner more mawkish than meaningful. In short, her response appeared rehearsed, and an insincere attempt to separate herself from the white slave master, who easily composed the core of her bloodline.

During the scene where the slaves bathed in plain view without modesty, my “friend” whispered “they’re naked, just out like that?” I suppose this scene was educational to anyone without knowledge of slavery. But to a person whose ancestors composed the black bodies cast in the backdrop of this white savior tale—this depiction failed to encapsulate the totality of black objectivity. I recall reading a book as an eighteen-year-old college freshman that described an image more horrifying than any slave film. In the book, a slave master had his young slaves line-up nude and wait to use the restroom. He piled the male youth on top of one another to induce a state of arousal to which he watched in a pedophiliac lust. The slave master’s arousal, although then fixated on the bodies of the black youth, stemmed from his power. To be black is to maintain a similar position to that of the black youth in the novel, to be cast naked, your bodily responses induced to meet a global gaze and serve the desires of others. Seated in that movie theatre that day, I felt exposed, my reactions a means to enhance and validate the experience of a person I thought was my friend.

The rape scene prompted a similar nakedness, despite my frame being encased in a newly purchased corset jacket, probably sewn in a sweatshop by a pre-adolescent child. This scene was encased in silence from the theatre, so I could not ignore my “friend” whisper “he killed her” in a pseudo outrage.

“No,” I thought to myself.

“She will live and give birth to my foremothers and forefathers.”

To Carol, this rape was a scene in a movie included to induce a reaction to which she provided. To anyone within the black collective, this was a scene in our past. Perhaps most poignantly, this horror was a scene in our very conception.

By the end of the film I was hot with rage and ready to go back to my dorm—which I hated. Then the lights came on, and the next few moments would betray the true nature of my invite. My friend looked up at me wiping tears that I did not see. She then said the words that burnt me to my core. Words that highlighted the cultural insensitivity to which blacks are regarded with across the globe

“You don’t seem sad.”

I gave a slow blink to a face I once saw as so beautiful. She was now the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I initially found common ground in the fact that we were both pink on the inside, although now I was not so sure. She seemed hollowed by a hate she tried to pass off as love, by a vengeance she tried to pass off friendship, a sourness she tried to pass off as sweetness, and a competitiveness she tried to pass of as camaraderie. This would prove inescapably true on the way home when on the ride home, Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” came on and she asked me what Beyonce meant by watermelon.

It then became obvious that we were not there to see a performance. I was the performance. To her, an un-enlightened “person of color,” blackness was a production started in slavery and manifested into present day. To her, and many ignorant gazes throughout the globe, blacks were never kings and queens, only concubines and field hands. Films like Twelve Years a Slave function to reduce the African legacy into American slavery.

Carol invited me out as a peek into blackness, granting her what she would eventually imitate to bait a self-hating black male.

To her, a curious and appropriative gaze, sadness was something worn, a tangible state. Missed in her shallow analysis, is that to be black and to fully understand all that lies within your melanin–the beauty, the mental and physical bludgeoning, the historic and contemporary struggle for life and liberation, is to bear an emotion much deeper than sadness.

The revelations present by the time the credits rolled were two-fold. On one hand our friendship ended. On the other hand, this exchange revealed that what we had was never a friendship to begin with. Just as many interracial relationships lack the ability of full cultural comprehension, many inter-racial or inter cultural  friendships  also exist at a superficial level which eventually exposes an impenetrable ignorance or indifference in any attempt to delve beneath the surface.

We were not as I believed sisters of a similar struggle. She had her language and the option to enter this country. Black women, do not stand beside other persons of color whom relinquish what we spend lifetimes working to obtain.  Every day is a struggle to get a little bit closer to the place from which our ancestors were torn. So as she willingly spoke English and attempted to compartmentalize my struggle, she objectified me in a way I had experienced all my life, except she pretended to be my friend.

In the film, Solomon is “recovered” by a white man and “returned” to his home. This ending surfaces to appease those who relish in one black obtaining physical freedom in the face of countless others still physically bound to a white male master. In this dynamic, Solomon is the Obama, the athlete, the businessman or mogul taken off the physical plantation and afforded another means to serve whites. He is the exception that whites and other persons of color can reference to prove that blacks don’t “have it so bad.” To Carol, I was the escaped slave who was to report the tellings of my experience. I am not to possess the presumed bitterness as my escape functions to illustrate my counterparts as lazy not systemically diseased and castrated. I am to entertain, and demand nothing more than an ear to listen. To Carol I am an individual, a compartmentalization that uproots the foundation of my collective self and erases the unspoken tales of past and present diasporic Africans. Namely, in objectifying the individual, the collective is lost. Once again blacks become the background in their own narrative, a narrative redacted to highlight “exceptions” at the expense of capturing the true black experience. Black truth then fades into the background, eventually becoming part of the earth, silenced and unseen— succumbing to the collective amnesia desired by the whites who tell our story.

In hindsight, I see that I was solicited as a means to validate someone else’s curiosity. My body was a gateway to illustrate someone else’s humanity—placing me in an identical role to my kinfolk portrayed in the film. There I was twenty-five years old, seemingly standing under an umbrella with my colored sister until I realized I was soaking wet— my body, my burden, my beauty, my beliefs too big for full coverage. Up until that point, I falsely believed in the collective concepts of “woman” and “person of color,” two concepts that did not even see me, let alone identify with my struggles as a black woman. My past experience, mirrors that of countless black women throughout the globe who believe in a sisterhood with those who fail to see the black woman as human let alone a sister.

May my experience be your lesson.

Black Power ❤

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To Save a Slave: Consciousness, Ambivalence, and Social Responsibility

I write from a place of intense but familiar disheartenment. A feeling that only accompanies the stresses of being black, proud and hopeful that these feelings will prove contagious.

While the state of the black collective is a general cause of concern given our systemic programming to self-destruct, this post will focus primarily on the youth. To say that black youth present a cause for concern would be an understatement.  Many black youth prove a cause for concern in their attachment to the white supremacy implemented in what many label morals and values. To most black parents the road to being a good person and having a good life is to become white— a state consummated by money, material, and other conventional accolades. This week, I had a disturbing exchange with a young lady well on her way to an illusive whiteness. Her whiteness is seemingly consummated by gaining entry to a white school, and ultimately living in a white area. A reality made clear in her refusal to attend a concert at the Brooklyn Barclays Center because of the “area.” Although heavily gentrified, the Barclays center is in an area presumed to be predominately black. My response was to be careful, because those same people she feels safe around pose the most danger to her body as a young black woman.

My comments proved contentious to say the least, but her defensive response fell on deaf ears. I did not need to hear what she said. I’ve heard it so many times before.

“I didn’t mean it like that” she says.

All that means is that she did not mean to betray her ignorance and enslavement.

Either embarrassed or exhausted by our tense exchange, she then tries to take the conversation to a neutral ground and discusses her brother who’s “lighter than me.” A quick look at my “about” page reveals the shade of my skin as a berry blackened by the blood of my ancestors. But this comment revealed a systemized size-up in which her deficiencies objectified me through dismemberment. I was not a full being to this young woman on a walk to whiteness, I was a shade, a hair texture– competition for conventional beauty despite being thirteen years her senior. Although not entirely surprising, this comment bothered me in its unveiling of a sickly young girl, plagued by a disease she seemingly spent her adolescence trying to ignore. Self- hatred oozed from every word that escaped her mouth. She was impenetrable and unapologetically self-deprecating. Yet, it is in this assessment that I realize, that self- deprecation is the norm for members of the black collective throughout the globe. We are programmed to hate ourselves from birth until death. Self- love is a aberration as is this deep disappointment in face of such adversity.

Due to her speech, which sounds more like an eighty pound, blonde- haired white girl, than a darkly complected, full featured, and short haired black girl, it is obvious that this young lady seeks to flee blackness by sounding like what she wish she was. Our engagements are to prepare her for college, but as Dr. King once said with regard to immigration, “I have come to believe that we have integrated into burning house.” Similarly, during each of our encounters I find myself asking:

Am I leading this young lady into a burning house?

The assimilatory part of my being that I am desperately trying to extinguish, tells me I am out of line for turning a college- prep session into black history, but my conscious tells me I am wrong not to. Preparing an already systemized mind to attend an institution makes me an accomplice to a white supremacist heist that abducts the souls of black folks and turns them into soldiers of white supremacy, also known as doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, etc.

Admittedly, I do not think that giving up on our youth is a formidable path for curing the sleepwalkers that populate our collective. My student, at the ripe age of sixteen, is full of self hatred–emotions to which she wears with pride, and defends more vehemently than she does her own people a point substantiated by an unassuming subject.

She went on a rant about how she does not “get” how people (by people I mean me, I mentioned I saw Chris at Barclays) support Chris Brown, a young black man who made a mistake, but speaks about the safety of white areas citing stats as her reason. It’s these same stats that predict her failure and function to validate her overall inferiority.  It is these stats that conceptualize her beauty as ugliness and nurture her to admire Beyonce– a woman whose beauty she appreciates because she cannot see her own. It is these same statistics that function to distract the black collective from the true evil that pollutes our lives on a daily basis. I am fine with holding Chris to high standards of morality, but be sure to hold those who benefit from your systemic disenfranchisement to the same standards. Be sure to hold those who have multiplied earnings stolen your ancestors accountable for what you hold that young man. It seems a predictable act of the oppressed to forgive their oppressor in a forgetfulness never afforded to those not at fault for the system that oppresses everything from the air they breathe to the food they eat.

Whites will take her self-hatred and use it to their benefit. They will wrap it around her neck slowly. Her ignorance will prompt her to enjoy the tickle, and interpret this abrasiveness as love, until it suffocates her into an assimilatory state in which she can no longer breathe but merely exist in the shadows of her oppressors.

As a woman on a journey to consciousness, I feel a sense of heightened responsibility amidst the immense disappointment prompted by this young girl. Disappointment, in a strive towards consciousness, is seemingly ubiquitous. The entire word is seemingly engulfed in a negative perception of blackness. Phrases like “that’s why I don’t like dealing with black people” amongst countless others that chastise black businesses and blacks people to uplift whites and other persons of color, dominate the world.

Yet, it seems a subtle form of elitism to just surround yourself with those who “get it,” as  confused blacks  benefit most from the enlightened few. This enlightenment, it seems, is not best served in moments of contention, but by example.

One of the most resounding reading experiences I had was reading the late and great Malcolm X discuss the effect his older sister Ella had on him in his autobiography. Initially he shirked her advice and her leadership, but when he was ready to learn she appeared as his teacher and key supporter. We all need these Ella-like figures in our lives that enable us to “see the greatness within ourselves” as Ossie Davis would say of Malcolm X after his assassination. Not to say or imply that I am in any way an Ella like figure, but that this acquaintance is one I wish for my student.

In her I see my teenage friend— an unconventional beauty in the eyes of our oppressor, but an African queen to our ancestors. She pretended for years to be anything but black, hoping to change how others perceived her by lying about her ancestry. She would stand in the same place for twelve years, rejected in every attempt to escape herself-out of breath and out of time—left with virtually nothing. I want more for this young lady, as I wanted more for my friend, and all the other young black women struggling to see the beauty in their collective selves.

I would say that these encounters grant me a unique heartbreak, but I know that my ability to feel highlights that my heart is anything but broken. The conscious mind ables a complete heart, whereas the unconscious mind yields a shattered heart, mind, and soul misassembled by white approval.

It is this plight for white approval that expedites her journey to whiteness. In ten years, she’ll be a female Clarence Thomas, or married to a white man anxious to birth children who have the skin color and hair she always wanted. By this point the name Bakari Henderson will sound unfamiliar, but she’ll be a living resurrection of the slain young man and his ingrained values.

I see this all play out in my mind, and it feels like a nightmare, but to her, it’s not only a dream but her dream. As condescending as it may sound to some, I want to save her.  But how do you safe someone from inhaling toxins they wear as perfume?

How do you save a drowning child who does not think she’s drowning? How do you provide the remedy for someone who refuses to admit that they are sick?

The reality is no one can save anyone that does not want to be saved. And sadly, some don’t get cured, they get killed—literally or figuratively. I suppose it is as ancestor Harriet Tubman once said:

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Most are unlike Tubman. In both a traditional and contemporary context, few have saved one slave let alone a thousand. But if we as a collective focus on being an Ella-like figure to one person, maybe we can yield more Malcolms and Fred Hamptons.

We can’t save em’ all, but we can save some.

May the warmth of my student’s African blood melt the coldness of the white evil to come. May she one day look in the mirror and love the totality of her being. May she find a hero that elevates not enslaves her, even if its not today, tomorrow, or next year.

Black Power ❤

I Am Not Your Negro, A Review

James Baldwin’s “I am Not Your Negro” succeeds in bridging past and present racial truths earning them a much deserved place in contemporary conversation. One of the most troubling ideologies of contemporary culture is the belief that the turmoil afforded to black life, is isolated, or new. The films succeeds in drawing the necessary connection between current culture and a not so distant past of lynchings, beatings, poverty and murders.

The film takes the reader through time, engaging multiple perspectives and images that will surely engrave themselves into the viewer’s memory indefinitely. Although I have seen pictures of a dying Malcolm X on the stretcher countless times, something about seeing this photo last night caused a hot tear to run down my cheek. We all know that Malcolm is dead, the reminder somehow just seems as cruel as it is necessary. The film issues similar views of Dr. King, and Medgar Evans in their caskets, frozen in time– their words as poignant as their faces. The film also juxtaposes lynched young bodies alongside boys in handcuffs. Both images prove painful to the eye as their subtle juxtaposition illustrated an unfortunate fate issued to far too many black males.

In addition to powerful images like these, the film stays true to Baldwin’s genius. Namely, the film issues a number of resounding phrases from Baldwin that make it hard to believe that three decades have past since his last breath. Baldwin’s words prove eerily insightful if not clairvoyant. His words cause the reader to question whether  America is in fact predictable. Or, have we, as a collective, been too seduced by the idea of change to actually demand it.

Baldwin contemplates these questions, in addition to a number of historical occurrences and dynamics in the following cluster of quotes extracted from the documentary.

“Malcolm was one of those who he saw at the Mountaintop”

A central theme of the documentary is love, a sentiment Baldwin extends to black revolutionaries Medgar Evans, Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Slightly older that all three men, Baldwin revisits knowing and losing men he both admired and cherished. History showed us what happens to blacks who uplift their collective. However, Baldwin takes us into the affect these losses yielded to those who loved them in life and were gutted by their murders.

The love Baldwin had for Evers, X and King mirrored the affections they all had for one another. While adapting various approaches, all men possessed a genuine love for their people, and a pride in their culture. All men depicted a kind of valor that seemingly died with them. This valor issued them a form of fearlessness that prompted them to fear oppressive stagnancy more than death. Baldwin referenced King’s final speech in a manner that spoke to this unity. Baldwin wrote “Malcolm was one of those who he saw at the Mountaintop,” seemingly referencing the mountaintop as a destination consummated in the predictable and untimely murders of black revolutionaries.

Watching the film, I could not help but wonder that as I sat in the Lincoln Center theatre listening to his words, if Baldwin listened too from this mountaintop. It seemed that Evers, King and X afforded him alternative perspectives to America, perspectives that transformed him from a figure of comfort to a force to be reckoned with. He mentions being older than Evers, King and X, yet outliving them all– a fact he conveys with a tone of regret, suggesting to viewers that each year granted to him and not to them, murdered the part of him that believed in America in a way that he no longer could.

“One of us should have been there with her.”

Baldwin issues this line in reference to Dorothy Counts’ integrative act. The film showed images of Dorothy Counts-a stunning beauty– walking proudly. Although it seemed that she was just walking to school, she literally and figuratively crossed the segregated line. An act that earned her jeers and threats from white onlookers. Her beauty dominates the picture, but one’s peripheral is bound to capture he contemptuous looks that encompass the background. Baldwin’s sentiments mirror the guilt and responsibility some of the black collective felt after hearing about the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Kalief Browder (yes, from my perspective the system murdered Kalief).

“A Meaningless Moral Gesture”

Baldwin recounts a meeting that he and Lorraine Hansberry had with Bobby Kennedy. During this meeting, they requested that he escort a little girl integrating a school, an act he deemed a “meaningless moral gesture.” This was a sonorous moment of this film, as it provided the necessary truth to suggest that the separatist strategy is not one of hate but one of necessity. Whites are not allies to blacks, simply because the very acts that hurt us helps them—therefore they cannot be trusted to cut off their arm to help us barter our freedom.

“Weakening the ability to deal with the world as it is.”

Perhaps one of the most resonant portion of the film was Baldwin’s engagement with western depictions of blackness on the big and small screen. From Sidney Portier in his”Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” role where Baldwin states blacks deemed him as a  working against black interest, to degrading images like Steppin’ Fechit that rendered no truth to what he saw or knew—Baldwin confronts television as an oppressive tool. He resonantly states that television presents “What we’d like to be versus what we actually are.” On television the white man is a celebrated hero, and the blacks and native Americans are savages and simple fools in need of western civility. These images project the internal contents of western imagination yet function as fact. Baldwin referenced a “grotesque innocence” with regard to popular white images, a combative interpretation of images aggressively placed at the forefront of western culture to imply white superiority. These images operate in sheer contrast to American truth. For whites to depict themselves as embodying innocence when they robbed an entire continent of human being s they appropriated for western gain, is nothing short of bizarre.

“Never had to look at me but I had to look at you.”

The film showed audiences pictures of men and women handing limply from trees, as Baldwin commented on how these horrific acts affected the oppressor. Baldwin states “You Never had to look at me but I had to look at you” to reference the oppressive dynamic. The oppressor never has to admit to the severity of their deeds. There are no moments of remorse, regret, or reflection. Just moments of gloating in a stolen superiority. Baldwin then addresses how white supremacy affects the white supremacist with the following: “ You cannot lynch me and put me in the ghetto without becoming monstrous.” Despite working overtime to imply their superiority, all that whites have done to dehumanize blacks has not actually made blacks inferior but it has made whiteness a monstrous entity. Furthermore, it is not black bodies that have become dehumanized, but the white conscious, or lack theirof, that epitomizes the very humanity they tried to cast onto blacks.

“Nothing can be changed unless it is faced”

Much of Baldwins writing focuses on a journey back from Europe to the United States. The distance between himself and the black collective that birthed him presents him with a since of nostalgia This nostalgia does not discount the oppression that he knows awaits him on the other side of the ocean. But it does cause him to miss the beauty of blackness often overshadowed by white ugliness. He references black style, black cooking and just being near those who birthed and nurtured him as a void unfilled elsewhere. Facing the perils that still face the black in America, is like looking into a mirror that grants instant access to your past and present self. There simply is no escaping the past, or present as an African in America as your African blood not only runs through your fails but in the soil and concrete that dominates the North America.

Through the words he writes, it seems that Baldwin views his journey to Europe as a form of escapism. A form of escapism that proves counter productive as the African in American experience, once encountered is not subject to erasure.

“Bad Nigger”

I particular enjoyed Baldwin’s rhetoric on hue and heroism. Notably that black heroes correspond to an undeserved demonization, whereas their white counterparts correspond to an underserved celebration. A particularly resonant moment in the film is when he speaks of John Wayne. He speaks of John Wayne being a white hero both black and white audiences cheered on, but this cheering halted upon realizing that Wayne murdered Indians, and as an oppressed groups Blacks were the Indians. Furthermore, the western world designs a world where blacks root for their own oppression and whites are praised for their oppressive action. However, when revolutionaries like Malcom X, Medgar Evans and Dr. King work to raise their people from the perils of white supremacy they are treated like national terrors. Namely, their murders symbolize how black bodies that the bear the audacity of pride and self-awareness become examples that must be publicly and brutally eliminated.

“The Story of the Negro in America, is the story of America.”

The displaced African body is not an African in America, they are America. From stripping Africans of their language and culture, to beatings, lynchings, mutilations and murders, the African body is the American land, stolen, raped and reasserted. America is the home of white supremacy, a land that speaks of a freedom created on the backs of the abducted African.

Furthermore, the most poignant point of the film is Baldwin’s assertion of the “nigger” as an American creation. The African, abducted to compose the European settler’s binary opposite, personifies the American error. Thus, he and we are not the American negro, simply because the negro never truly existed.

We are not the figment of American imagination afforded to us as a form of pseudo identity. We are African, and we are human. We are a cluster of attributes, but we are not and never were your negro.

Thank you James Baldwin for your brilliance. I would say that I wish I could have met you, but I feel as though I already have.

May you rest in the peace you afford us all through your writing.

 

Does BET Series “The Quad” hit the four corners needed to advance contemporary black portrayal?

Tonight BET debuts new series “The Quad.” The series airs on the first day of black history month—a fact that corresponds well to the premise of placing value on our own institutions. The series, authored by Soul Food creators and writers Felicia D. Henderson and Charles Holland, engages the HBCU dynamic from multiple angles.

I attended a pre-screening event for the series on Monday evening in lower Manhattan.  For me, the series proved nostalgic. As an HBCU grad,  and former resident of freshman dorm “The Quad”– my  HBCU experience was bittersweet. Yet, it is the experiences encountered on Howard’s hilltop that taught me much of what I carry today.

While watching the series, I wondered if The Quad would prove would prove as resonant as 2002’s Drumline (Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones). Namely, could this series be the necessary push to redirect blacks back into schools that render their collective interests central?

I. Where the show succeeds…

1. Variety

One of the pinnacles of my HBCU experience was encountering individuals from various walks of black life. The series does a great job incorporating the diversity within blackness. This is especially important, given how hard the media works to suggest that we are all the same. From the privileged black girl who identifies more with whites than blacks, to the Diddy/J.Cole medley–a black male college student who is also an aspiring rapper, to the cute quirky girl who is an instrumentalist, to the jock who tries to excel in sports, academics and love—the series depicts a mirage of experiences that accompany the HBCU experience.

2. Drama that does does demonize black culture

The characters incur a degree of drama that while entertaining accompanies the necessary layers to avoid demonizing black culture. For example, though working steadfastly towards a music career, the series depicts its aspiring artist as having a loving Auntie and Mom-deflecting from the stereotypes that black men are unloved “thugs” who take but do not give. The series also layers the “wannabe” white girl, who also happens to be the president’s daughter. In a conversation with her white counterpart, the wannabe states that her mom “knows everything.” The tone that accompanies said statement suggests intimidation. Namely,  the admission suggests that the “wannabe” actually wants to be like her mom, but deems doing so impossible. Thus, she chooses the easy way out and opts to oppose blackness in its entirety, becoming a girl who just happens to be black.  This layered depictions functions well, as it prompts the reader to think, not judge.
3. The struggle of the Black female professional
Perhaps the biggest win of the series is depicting a black female as the fictive HBCU’s presiding president, Dr. Eva Fletcher (Anika None Rose). The series does a great job depicting the conflict afforded to black female bodies who evoke change in presence and practice.  The series reveals the plan two black male collegues construct to compromise both the reputation and position of their black female president. While unfortunate, this is a battle many black women endure in their role to challenge a system that while harmful, proves fruitful for some.

The Quad issues a brilliant protrayal of a black female professional who is both educated and enlightened and who mains an elevated position without looking down on others. These truths are undoubtedly guised by her Ivy League education and mansion residence—but the conveyed dichotomy is both accurate and refreshing. The conveyed dynamic also substantiates why womanism, not feminism should encapsulate the words (and whispers) of black females.

4. Everything’s a Haze

Perhaps one of the most accurate depictions of the series is illustrating the numerous factions that populate HBCU campuses. These faction foment a “journey to belong” that often lasts long after college.  At HBCU’s everything comes with a price. This price is hazing.

Whether you join the choir, fraternity or society— every faction corresponds to a hazing process. During freshman year, a roommate joined the church choir. As part of her initiation she was blindfolded, led to an unknown location, and left to find her way home. Another friend sought to join a society within his dorm. During an event, candidates were led into a dark room where members threw cups of urine onto prospects. The series depicts band members reveling in their accomplishments, to the upset of upperclassmen. The upperclassmen deemed said behavior haughty and landed one member in the hospital due to extreme reprimanding measures.

While HBCU’s exist to foster black advancement, many facets of these institutions implement the “break you down to build you back up” process which acquiesce the very systems these institutions supposedly challenge. Furthermore, I commend the series for bringing these issues from the corners of black universities in to the avant-garde of contemporary contemplation.

II. Causes for Question…

  1. I honestly would love to oppose the white cast members, but as a HBCU grad I can attest to this depiction as valid. Interestingly, the white football player cast on the series reminds me of a white male on the football team during my time as an HBCU student. I would have liked to see these roles also be afforded to up and coming black actors (like the rest of the cast), but think that white presence at HBCU’s is a worthy topic of discussion. Furthermore, I commend the series for its bravery in depicting the truths of the HBCU.

2. My next area for criticism is a persistent problem in black portrayal, hyper sexuality and the black female body. Although successful and enlightened, Dr. Eva Fletcher lost her previous job due to a sexual relationship she had with a graduate student. This student, objectively called “Six-Pack,” follows to her new position. His presence in her new location provides viewers with a steamy, “black lust,” love scene, but raises a question that accompanies all contemporary portrayals of black females.

Why is the downfall of the beautiful, educated, and conventionally successful black female always sex?

All in all I applaud the series for unveiling prevalent topics within the black collective. I also applaud the series for perpetuating drama, but doing so in a way that promotes analysis not ignorance. So to the title’s query: Does  BET Series “The Quad” hit the four corners needed to advance contemporary black portrayal? My answer is Yes.

Whether seeking some HBCU nostalgia, curious about the experience, or just looking to wind down from black life, I encourage everyone to give the show a chance. Personally, The Quad— a black authored portrayal of black people, makes me both happy and proud to tune in.

What Teaching Taught Me

I still remember writing my cover letter for my first college teaching job. I wrote that I wished to be the example for other minority women who wish to go far with their education. While my ambitions have proved fruitful at times, as an instructor I have too often become a canvass for a persistent anxiety surrounding the blacks who dare to exist outside of western conception.

I stood in front of my first class at the ripe age of twenty-five. I observed a college course as part of my graduate practicum and my mentor, a young black man, agreed to aid me in teaching my own course. I approached teaching with reservation. As an English major everyone said I’d be a teacher, but their foresight placed me in front of children. Teaching college seemed simply unreal. Flash forward to three and a half years later, I now design my own curriculum and teach part time at a University.

At this point I can predict my first day with little to no effort. I will walk in, greet the class to no response. Heads will lift in disbelief as I take my place at the podium.  Once I begin the class, one student will stand up or raise their hand to “double check” that I— a twenty-something black female— is actually the listed lecturer. When conveying this dynamic to others, I am commonly told that it is my youthful face that prompts said reaction. Sometimes I smile at this, wishing that I too could believe that it is my youth and not my blackness that prompts this reaction from my students. To issue perhaps the largest understatement of my life– teaching  proved quite didactic. However,  I do not think anything could have prepared me for the ways in which my pedagogy would teach me the ways of racism.

Interestingly, much of feedback as an instructor reverts back to elementary comments such as “she thinks she’s all that.” As an instructor is seems that some of my pupils confuse their own perception of me to reflect how I feel about myself. To intertwine this with race-gender intersectionality, black women who bear the attractiveness of self-confidence proves an insult to a world that demands her inferiority. Teaching has acquainted me to the silent demand to be less of who I am to appease the low regard to which the western world holds me.

Although an instructor, I am a black woman first and foremost. This means that the stance in which others are comfortable with me is with my head hung to represent a fractured self-esteem. I am expected to appear grateful, even groveling, seeking approval in everyone but myself. Holding my students to high standards proves just as insulting as holding my head high.  I am to exist solely to prove the “diversity” of twenty-first century America, not to challenge it. I am to fulfill at least one stereotype attached to black femininity, be it in lack of intellect, overtly dysfunctional, fatally unattractive, a young single mother, hyper sexual harlot, or a fatherless child. These stereotypes produce a discordance in their absence as the world seems unwilling to accept the black female body that refuses to be caricatured.

In article “Witness us in our battles,” Toni C. King, articulates findings from her study on experiences encountered by black female instructors of higher education. Her studies note a pattern in administrative action taken against black female instructors.  This part of the article resonated with me given an experience encountered early in my teaching career. About two and a half years ago, shortly after meeting one of my classes, the department chair called to inform me that a group of students prepared a petition to  relieve me of my duties. The grounds for their argument? I was “talking down to them.” Mind you, we had only had one session where I merely went over course objectives and polices.

The department chair, an elderly man of the majority, initially sought to resolve the proposed conflict by scheduling an in-class hearing. During said hearing the students were given the floor to state a series of comments that had no place in a college classroom. I was belittled, embarrassed and attacked by both my students and my department chair. I would go on to endure these feelings countless times throughout my career. Each experience seemingly occurring to punish me for bearing my blackness unapolegtically. Taken together, these experiences unveil both the students and highly-ranked faculty as holding the black female instructor in the same low regard.

This low regard often manifests in the disposition accompanying many of my students. Namely, many of my encounters involve students acting defensively. King comments on this dynamic in the following:

Often students unconsciously feel that being student to a black female professor is an indicator of their own failure and inaquedacy. This might apply be expressed as “If someone black and female is able me, when what does that say about me?” Black women describe their experiences as feeling “degraded,” “put down,” “demeaned” and “disrespected in the role of authority. (20)

Angered students often treat me as if I “beat them out” for a position. Thus, our engagements often possess a one-sided competitiveness that is both baffling and bizarre. King’s analysis supplements my own. Namely, the inability to conceptualize “deserving” a black instructor prompts students invent their own dynamic as a means to cope. History consistently places black bodies in the background as sources of labor, entertainment, sex, or comedy. The black body is seldom placed in a position to be taken seriously. Thus, student reactions often reflect the anger and confusion surrounding being prompted to take seriously what western world has up to this point deemed forgettable.

In reflecting on my experiences, it is a battle not to become upset when thinking about the manner in which many of students have addressed me. I should clarify, the words spoken is not nearly as troubling as the tone many students bear in our interactions. Namely, many students speak to me with a chip on their shoulder, or talk to me as if I am beneath them. This past semester I encountered overt passive-aggressive behavior from a predominately white class. These students would talk about me in front of my face as if I were not there, aggressively using the pronoun “she” in place of my title. I even had one student who seemingly waited for me to arrive (early to set up) to continuously gloat about this professor that “actually did something” and “was such an intellectual.”

Oddly enough, many of my students who possess this overt chip on their shoulders, take on class projects that speak to social issues in the black community such as racial profiling or just simply racism. King speaks to this in her article with the following: “Some students become hyperactive in wanting to prove their acceptance of her “ (20). In taking on said projects and social causes, these students appear to oppose the racist and prejudice their behavior brings to surface. Then, it seems the issue is with the individual teacher and not a bias the individual holds towards all blacks. This dynamic occurs countless times outside of the classroom when a prejudice or racist act is met with phrases “ but my best friend is black,” “my girlfriend is black,” or veiled because an individual adopted a black child or donated to a charity.

I have also been targeted by colleagues. Upon first encountering many of my colleagues, I am dismissed as another “diversity admit” prone to decrease the retention rate. Once my faculty status is uncovered, I am typically spoken to with condescension. Most of my colleagues only listen for the negative or look for me to make a mistake that proves what they thought when they first saw me– “she does not belong here.”  In face of the conflict my presence has incurred, my colleagues have insisted that I am the conflict. They’ve reprimanded my “overconfidence” and suggested that my experiences do not reflected a collective issue but my own faults. Many take it upon themselves to suggest my inferior credentials or stare at my curves to shame me for the imposition my black body poses to this traditionally white space. I remember an elderly colleague violently interrupting my conference with a student after the department assigned me to a desk that previously belonged to her.  Another college remarked that the department was “changing complexion” after noticing a black face amongst a sea of whites.

The pressure to be and remain inferior is a prominent component of blackness, and earns a troubling duality in race-gender intersectionality. In “A Letter to my Nephew” James Baldwin manages to capture the essence of required inferiority in the following:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Black instructors face criticism because their ambition is an insult to a world that thrives on their inferiority. Yet, if we listen to those around us we begin to see ourselves as the problem. This mentality of course reflects what the western world has ingrained into the minds of Americans for centuries—blacks do not suffer from inferiority, they are inferior. As a result, blacks often place doubt where our self-confidence once dwelled, and queries where we used to have assertions, transforming us into the very inferior beings portrayed in “his” story.

Furthermore,  teaching proved instructive to ways of racism.  With my new perception of racism, it is also a struggle not to let my experiences make me hateful. At times it is even a struggle to get out bed and rise above all the low that awaits my endeavors as a black female instructor. I approach teaching with almost a neutrality these days, as it seems suicide to invest emotionally in what has been established to defeat you. This neutral stance does not prevent me from placing my best foot forward, but allows me to implement method rather than madness.

I may not have the physical whip on my back like my ancestors did in the 17th century or the dogs biting on my arms as my elders did in the 1950s, but I do have the cold, hard burden of white supremacy demanding the same inferiority required of my elders. Teaching bludgeoned my naive bones with necessary awakening so that I may properly weather the storm of systemic racism.

In front of the college classroom I’ve been protested, disheartened and belittled, —but I’ve also been resilient, confident, and black. I’ve seen the ugliness of white supremacy, yet I’ve never been more sure of my beauty and purpose as a black body on western soil.

The beauty and purpose of the indigenous African is not only the ability to withstand abatement, but to remain standing. I  am therefore not a victim, but the inevitable victor due to my ability to perform in the image of my ancestors.

If the saying “Those who try to bring you down are already beneath you,” is true, then may black excellence summon all adversaries to our ankles.

To all my sisters  (and brothers) in front of the classroom, keep teaching and be proud.

Three Issues with the Keke Palmer and Trey Songz Feud

During my college years I was huge fan of R &B crooner Trey Songz. I have shamelessly sang along to his lyrics in Atlantic City, Roseland and Madison Square Garden. My perception of actress Keke Palmer is also favorable. Palmer earned a place in my heart after embodying a positive portrayal of black girls as Akeelah in  Akeelah and The Bee. My sentiments towards Palmer have always been sisterly and I admire her ability to convey confidence and objectivity where many women wear their envy.

Before I start this piece, let me say that I know my perspective will be an unpopular one. I know that because Keke Palmer stands at the intersectionality of race and gender like myself, I am expected to “side” with her. However, as said on numerous posts, I am black first. It is from a position of blackness that I compose my perspective.

A little background…

Early this week, actress Keke Palmer outed singer Trey Songz for placing her in a video without her permission. Palmer’s accusations hit the internet via  video, in which she accused Songz of “taking advantage of her” while under the influence and implementing sexual coercion to harbor her participation in a video for song “Pick Up the Phone.” Although not stated directly, Keke implies that what she experienced was a form of rape, equating this scenario to the coercion many young women face on college campuses. Palmer also criticizes Songz’s request to deal with the situation in private. I agree that this situation should have been handled in private for the following reasons:

I. The presented scenario paints both Palmer and Songz in an unflattering light.

The scene portrayed in Palmer’s footage from the party she willingly attended mirrors the ambiance portrayed in the video for song “Pick Up the Phone”—scantily clad women, marijuana, alcohol and suggestive behavior. Having gone away to college, I am VERY familiar with this kind of atmosphere and the expectations that accompany said ambiance. In fact, my friends and I exited our first college party after the environment proved too suggestive for our liking. This statement does not suggest that women do not reserve the right to drink or attend parties. I do however think that western parties operate under a pretense of male superiority, thus should be regarded with reservation.  Men often treat women who attend these events in a manner vastly different that if encountered at a Panera or a campus library.At parties, male partygoers often blatantly ask disinterested female partygoers “why you are here?” if she proves offended by their sexually aggressive advances. These comments appear genuine in referencing the mindset expected given the environment. Women attend events like these for a mirage of reasons, however female presence in said environment assumes an interest in suggestive behavior and male attention.Furthermore, by attending the party, drinking and socializing, Palmer seems at most compliant and at least unbothered by said ambiance as this environment would unlikely suit a non-drinker or a wallflower.

While this article does not function to critique how anyone has their fun, you probably would not be a library if you did not know how to read, nor would you be in a butcher shop if you did not eat meat.  Location harbors expectations that may or may not be true, but exist nonetheless.

Although the “smoke, drink and party” lifestyle accompanies many celebrities or people in general, this dynamic functions differently for those of African descent. Blacks who drink, smoke and act suggestively as part of their fun, perform in the caricatured imaging that hovers over blackness in our implied hyper sexuality, ignorance and laziness. As a result, black women face virtually no protection in said environments as the protection afforded to their white female counterparts is seldom. Case in reference is the recent Brock Turner case where a young white woman attended a fraternity party and was sexually assaulted. The attack was caught on video, but only earned the assailant three months. Although the judge stated that Brock incurred the sentence because he did not “pose a threat to anyone,” the slap on the wrist unveils the dismissive attitude that accompanies the inebriated female partygoer. As seen in the Vanderbilt case, only if the assailant is black does sexual assault on white female partygoers become a punishable act.

II. There are a number of things that should have bothered Keke and an unapproved cameo is not one of them.

In her video, Keke references being in song “Pick Up the Phone” without batting an eyelash. The lyric that references Keke reads as follows:

“I palm her p*ssy like Keke, like Keke, like Keke.”

This lyric is vulgar play on the singer’s last name “Palmer,” yet its failure to warrant a complaint or even a comment from Keke raises an eyebrow. The sexual coercion Palmer references in her reaction video seems anticipatory given this sexually charged lyric. To not see this comment as problematic makes me wonder why the reported behavior is a problem but this lyric is not. It also seems that inviting Palmer to a party for a video where she is referenced warrants a cameo. The more I look into the facts surrounding these accusations, the more this “feud” seems a staged effort to drive the video views from its current 200,000+ views closer to the million mark. Or, that Palmer’s management deemed her friendships with Songz and other R&B singers like August Alsina as detrimental to her image, and her accusations are just damage control.

3. This fuels the ever-persistent image of the black man as a sexual predator.

In accusing Trey Songz of implementing sexual coercion in her inebriated state, Palmer paints Songz as a stereotypical sexual predator or rapist. Angela Davis speaks to the black male rapist in Women, Race and Class with the following:

The myth of the Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whoever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justifications Davis 173).

In lieu of the violence that murders blacks in both traditional and contemporary settings, painting the black man as a predator justifies any violent act taken to his body. To white America, Trey Songz operates interchangeably with slain teens Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Thus, painting Songs as a sexual predator validates Martin and Brown’s murders, suggesting eliminating the black male body is essential to maintain safety. Furthermore, in striving to exist under the protection afforded  to white female sexuality, Palmer’s accusations work to foment the traditional cause for rape laws.  Davis outlines the traditional cause for rape laws with the following:

In The United States and other capitalistic countries, rape laws as a rule were framed originally for the protection of men of the upper classes, who daughters might be assaulted.

Davis goes on to say what the media accurately relays to us, “… the rape charge has been indiscriminately  aimed at Black men, the guilty and innocent alike ” (Davis 172). So, Palmer’s accusations paint black males as a figure that the western world needs protection from. Perhaps more problematic, the Palmer/ Songz dynamic demonstrates blacks as commonly placed against one another fueling a lack of unity that ultimately strengthens white supremacy. As long as we deflect enemy status onto one another, the perils of white supremacy remain buried in the subconscious of black understanding.

What Palmer and Songs both seem to overlook is that they, as visible black bodies, take on a role much bigger than themselves. Their actions reflect the black collective, and function to either challenge or acquiesce to images afforded to us by western society. This incident seems a testament to the underserving power of the black celebrity, or those who garner fame and fortune for personfying white perception simultaneously twisting the knife of oppressive imaging onto their respective collective.

From Michelle to Melania: Femininity, Race and White Supremacy

The morning after the 2008 election, I had an American Literature class with a white professor at a historically black university. This professor would prove drastically inferior to the brilliant black minds to which my education would acquaint me. He also proved consistently discouraging, seizing every opportunity to belittle the writing of a small class filled entirely with young black women. The morning following the election he spent a large portion of our fifty minute class condescendingly addressing the Obamas, treating a black family occupying the White House as many regarded the 2005 blackout. The most resonant of his comments some nine years later were the comments he made regarding Michelle Obama–namely the facial expression he wore when he called her victory dress ugly. Although he spoke of her dress, it was obvious that he regarded the black female body that was then the First Lady with a similar disgust. His comments cemented my perception of him as inherently racist, and fomented my understanding that the western world nurtures all whites to bear this predisposed racist mindset. This inherent racism became obvious in discussing black male Barack Obama but perhaps proved most transparent in discussing First Lady Michelle Obama.

The comments rendered by my former professor, mirrored the comments that would follow Michelle Obama throughout her time as First Lady, comments that would prove dichotomous to conversations surrounding current First Lady Melania Trump. Incidentally, the comments generated by both political figures unveils race and gender perceptions as stagnant.

Criticism surrounding the Obamas as a couple,  frequently accused the Obama’s of using tax money to attend vacations. These accusations disregard the reality that Obamas were hardly broke before occupying the oval office. Much of the western psyche appears contingent on blacks circumscribed to an existence that is either dumb, ugly and poor. These contingencies plagued Michelle Obama’s First Lady status, bludgeoning her image with comments that functioned to reduce her to an angry black female undeserving of the First Lady title.

Michelle faced constant criticism for her racially assertive Princeton thesis entitled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” Many referenced this thesis as evidence that Michelle Obama “hated this county,” was “racist.” Despite centuries of turmoil, the blacks in America remain consistently pressured to embody a grateful stance toward a country that continues to oppress them. Those who operate with any kind of historical cognizance are commonly killed, or incarcerated labeled a “criminal” if male and and “angry” if black and female. The western media constantly painted Michelle Obama as an angry black woman in her failure to adopt a pageant smile for each and every public appearance. In reality, claims of an attitude and ungratefulness veil the true catalyst for Michelle Obama’s criticism. While campaigning for Hilary Clinton would consummate the shuking and jiving expected of her, Obama’s behavior would still prove deficient to the praise white America expected her to sing with every word and facial expression.

Although centuries separated from physical slavery. the western world renders a series of impositions onto the black body that mirror the demands faced by their ancestors. Perhaps the most prominent of these demands is a demand for blacks to occupy a pride-less state. This lack of pride allows themichelle-obama-arms-workout.jpg black body to become a vessel for white ideologies. In place of self-esteem, pride-less bodies displace esteem onto their oppressors. What is perhaps most disturbing is that Michelle is not Angela Davis, Assata Shakur or Winnie Mandela, and white society still strives to break her stride. This illustrates that whether fractionally or undeniably present, black pride poses a threat to white supremacy–as black shame is necessary to foment white pride.

moape.jpgMany comments corresponding to an article or photo of Michelle Obama referred the  former first lady as Moonchelle, aligning her aesthetics to that of an ape. The ridicule Michelle Obama faced for her looks operates out of necessity. White ridicule on black aesthetics occurs almost predictably, implemented by whites to assert their own beauty. Tanning salons to darken colorless skin, lip and butt injections to add definition to thin features, and hair extensions to veil see-through locks, unveil the depth of white insecurity. Yet the western world functions to convince the black body their aesthetically traits are cringe-worthy not covetable. The frequent juxtaposition between Michelle Obama and Melania Trump functions similarly, for it is Michelle’s “ugliness” that provides a platform for current first lady, Melania Trump’s beauty.

Melania Trump, the third wife of President Donald Trump, succeeds Michelle Obama in the role of first lady. A native of Slovenia, Melania had a successful modeling career prior to marrying Trump — a man twenty-four years her senior. Her modeling photos have since surfaced and reveal that our now first lady posed nude and for a paycheck.  This fact  proves rigid western standards optional when posed to those of the majority. Singer Janet Jackson was blacklisted from numerous award shows following a wardrobe malfunction that revealed her breast to the word during the 2004 Super Bowl.  Nudity also disqualified Vanessa Williams from the Miss America title in 1983.  Yet Melania Trump melaniatrump_010616douglasfriedman.jpgholds a much more prestigious and influential position and her naked body remains a click away from anyone with Internet access. This double standard illustrates nudity as a smokescreen. The western world simply did not want to award Williams this honor, so they searched and searched until they discovered a past act or statement that suggested it was William’s unworthiness not racism that warranted the retracted honor. Michelle Obama’s media portrayal functioned similarly, as her implied “ungratefulness” suggested that it is not racism that foments her criticism but her behavior.

While Michelle Obama faced criticism for her appearance, Melania Trump garners consistent praise for her looks. Although easily attributed to preference, celebration surrounding a surgically altered face illustrates a western preference for any face as long as it’s white. Melania’s looks also garner praise possibly due to her lack of professional accomplishments that prove germane given her new setting. While Michelle Obama proved an anomaly as one of the few first ladies to bear a professional degree, Melania blends in to the trophy status preferred by our white supremacist society.

In contemplating current discussion surrounding women’s rights under the Trump administration, the white house dynamic unveils feminism as existing to serve women like Melanie Trump. Currently trending is the The #freeMelania hashtag, a reactionary measure implemented following a photograph where Melania supposedly appears “terrified.” To occupy myself with feminist concerns such as this one, is to overlook that black females still fight for the “freedoms” extended to Melania. Melania-a woman who willingly journeyed to America and accrued more liberties after getting her green card than black females have received in centuries, is not a figure worthy of sympathy from anyone—especially not the black female. Brains earned the black female body a place in the white house. Whether looking up at a camera or at Donald, the current first lady earned the same title on back. Furthermore, the Michelle Obama and Melanie trump dichotomy illustrates that to earn visibility in the western world the black female body must posses a degree of greatness, whereas the white female body simply has to be white.

So while the feminist community concerns themselves with “freeing” Melania, as a womanist, I deem freeing the back female body from western influences like feminism far more relevant.

Gone Girl Versus Bye Felicia: Examining The Inequity of Blackness

Almost five years ago, I, along with countless others around the world, read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The thriller seemed the perfect summer read, well-equipped with multiple perspectives and gritty drama. gone-girl1

Gone Girl renders the perspectives of Amy and Nick Dunne, a married couple who have hit a rough patch in their union. Amy Dunne is a young, unconventionally beautiful trust fund baby whose parents afford her a privileged upbringing by way of a book series conceived in her honor. Exasperated by her spouse’s infidelity and mediocre ambitions, Amy stages her own disappearance which prompts a national search. Nick Dunne, an average guy with average ambitions, finds love with Amy– a woman who knows a different perspective to privilege then afforded by his modest upbringing. Emasculated by Amy’s economic comfort and his personal shortcomings, Nick emotionally checks out of his marriage and elicits an affair with one of his students. Inevitably surfacing as the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, Nick becomes the victim of white female wrath.

As a young blonde white woman—Amy possesses a conventional beauty and thereby embodies western treasure. A conventionally beautiful, wealthy white female Amy implements her privilege by attacking the white men who fall in love with who they believe she is. Her past is decorated in staged rapes and stalking, painting her as a desirable being that warrants animalistic male tendencies. Gone Girl captures Amy in her lifetime performance— framing her husband for her “disappearance/murder.”

In actuality what author Gillian Flynn does with protagonist “Amazing Amy” is a craft a mockery of abduction and crime. Gone Girl veils abduction and criminality with a comedic string of events orchestrated by an over-privileged white woman determined not only to prove her worth to her cheating husband, but to the world.

natalee_holloway_yearbook_photoGone Girl’s Amazing Amy mirrors real-life “gone girls” Natalie Holloway and Elizabeth Smart. While Elizabeth Smart mirrors the lost and found dynamic that frequents western suspense-thrillers, Holloway, America’s golden girl smartpersonifies every parents worst nightmare, a child that goes on a class trip but never returns.

Following her disappearance, Holloway became a household name— her face, a national treasure burned into the minds of all Americans. Much like the fictive Amy Dunne, Holloway was young, conventionally beautiful and wealthy. Taken together they epitomize the tragedy American imbues in its inability to protect its most treasured asset.

barnesConversely, Phylicia Barnes, a sixteen- year-old black youth went missing a few years later to a vastly underwhelmed public. Barnes graduated high school a semester early and was on the fast track to college when she also went on a trip in which she would never return. Four months after her disappearance, her nude and unrecognizable body was found in the Baltimore river. Her discovery met the ears of many who never even knew she was missing. Like Holloway, Barnes was beautiful and bright. But unlike Holloway, Barnes was black. Barnes did not receive national coverage and she did not endure the celebrity status afforded to Holloway. Barnes endured a dual tragedy, one in her untimely murder and a second in epitomizing the disregard afforded to black bodies throughout the western world. To her family Barnes is a fallen angel but to the western world she is a faceless woman of color the world is better without.

This dynamic hits close to home for me as one of my little cousins has been missing for over three weeks. His mother created a flyer, simply because the community precinct failed to do so. As a family, we wait daily for updates, updates that are few and far between because a young black male just simply does not warrant the search efforts of the police or soldiers of white supremacy. Thus, to see a woman fabricate a story that receives much more attention than real loss is a cruel mockery of an unbalanced system.

To whites, blacks only matter when money is involved. The most worthy blacks accompany the title celebrity, their value determined by how much capital they afford whites. These blacks, if missing garner national attention because they are under contract. History conveys a similar dynamic. Traditionally, when black bodies went missing whites searched endlessly to ensure their property was returned to them. Back when black bodies proved profitable, their loss proved valuable to white supremacy. The contemporary world imposes white supremacy on the western mind in simply rendering any black body not in direct correspondence to western economics worthless. No black person could fabricate their disappearance to the same reaction afforded to Gone Girl‘s Amazing Amy. Even in truth, justice for blacks is seldom.

Gone Girl in book and cinematic form overlook the privilege in simply being “gone.” The phrasing accompanies an endless plight to discover the missing person. The western world does not afford the black body the privilege of being gone, as perfunctory effort awaits the black body that goes missing. Thus, Gone Girl’s fictive depiction illustrates the label “gone” as a privilege exclusively reserved for whites. While white women are “gone girls” black female bodies endure the frivolous dismissal embedded in the popular phrasing- “Bye Felicia.”

What is deserving of a formal dismissal is a system that deems the black body forgettable and utterly replaceable. While I reference my cousin directly, the cavalier disregard that hovers over his missing status mirrors the treatment that awaits any black body lost or missing. Interestingly, it is discussions like these that reveal black rights as human rights. Blacks are not fighting to maintain a form of superiority over others. For centuries, we have endured the impossibly difficult quest to be treated as humans. Somehow this quest becomes magnified in discussions of disappearance and tragedy, despite its presence in everyday life.

Furthermore, there is no need to retrain officers, there is a need to repeal the entire system. Blacks need a system where their lives, education, children and safety matter and their lost bodies garner concern not cavalier disregard. This is something consistently denied by the western world, and therefore is something we must take. In closing I’ll leave with you with the words of the late and great Dr. King:

“No one can do this for us, we must do this for ourselves.”

 

 

 

 

The 2017 Women’s March, A Black Female Perspective….

Following Trump’s inauguration a series of Women’s Marches occurred throughout North America. The protests erupted to preserve the female liberties seemingly threatened by a “conservative” president who boasted of sexually assaulting women. As a female, I empathize and even support the initiatives that foment this March. However, although a woman, I know that I am inevitably black first. Thus, I can’t help but feel that by supporting the women’s march is to support the very means of my oppression.

On my a tri-weekly journey to a previous job, I recall seeing a number of protestors outside of Planned Parenthood at the wee hours of the morning seeking to shame female patrons. One protestor stood out from the others—an elderly white man surely north of seventy-five. He stood hunched over, holding an oaktag with a message written in ballpoint pen. I did not bother to read the poster, but judging by the stoic expression on his face, he was there to cast the stones of white male privilege onto the female body. Standing at the intersectionality of race and gender, the black woman knows this gaze all to well. While the literal gaze casts itself onto the black female body countless places throughout North America, the figurative gaze consumes black femininity in its entirety. The women’s march solely speaks to the “woman” component of this gaze, eliminating the most defining characteristic of black female identity.

Reproductive rights in general proves controversial to  the black female trajectory. A quick glance at history reveals that the black female endured sheer deprivation in terms of reproductive rights—her body used as means for mayoral economic franchisement. White women too encompassed an existence that also regarded them as property, however their fair skin warranted privileges denied to the black female body. These exclusive liberties afforded to white women illustrate the concept of “woman” as a privilege solely applicable to non-male whites. Consider the phrasing “black” woman. The label “Black woman” illustrates that black female intersectionality separates black females from the term’s initial meaning. For any “woman” of another marginalized faction, their race or ethnicity always precedes the term woman—proving their genitals deem them female but their race and ethnicity is first and foremost. Femininity is also a privilege extended exclusively to non-male whites. This exclusivity persists as the black female body only earns femininity when adopting western aesthetics and behavior.

Given the exclusivity of the term “woman,” I find it quite disturbing that white women ( and other oppressed groups) call on the black women for support in their times of distress, yet alienate the black female body when their children, brothers and fathers lay slain on the streets or untagged in the morgue. How many white women “said her name” after Sandra Bland was murdered? How many white women were overtly outraged after the Trayvon Martin verdict was rendered?

To take a trip down memory lane, how many white female feminists supported Tawana Brawley in her 1988 trial? If autonomy over the female body is right every woman deserves- why was their no feminist congregation when this young, black girl was sexually assaulted by a number of white men? The answer is simple.  Issues that engage both blackness and femininity become “black” issues instantaneously. This fact reveals that feminism is simply not built to encompass intersectional identities and thereby is not equipped to extinguish black female disenfranchisement.

It seems that former President Barack Obama’s victory disgruntled feminists, who supported this victory as long as it was a symbol of the feminist victory to follow.  It seems feminists felt that history would repeat itself. Namely, black male voting privilege preceded white female voting liberties.  Thus, feminists deemed Clinton’s victory inevitable following Obama’s 2008 victory. Dr. Angela Davis expressed a similar sentiment in the following excerpt from her book Women, Race and Class,

“The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro; and as long as he was lowest in the scale of being, we were willing to press his claims, but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is sIowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see ‘Sambo’ walk into the kingdom first.” (Davis 70)

Now that it seems that the black collective has something that the white female collective does not, the bells of white privilege right loudly under the veil of feminism.

Feminism functions to afford white women the same liberties as white men. The main component of these liberties is racism—deeming black female participation in any feminist activity injurious. Thus, to participate in a woman’s march as a black woman is to   march along to the stagnant beat of white supremacy. For the black woman is a queen, but to the western world she will never truly be  a woman.

President Obama’s Farwell:A Testament to an “Exceptional” America

President Obama’s Farewell speech proved predictably in tune with his presidential dynamic. In a little under an hour, President Obama delivered his farewell speech in which he assumed the multi-faceted role that dominated his presidency. Namely,  President Obama rendered a series of voices—exuding a voice for everyone. In doing so, President Obama proves that a “jack of all trades” is almost always a master of none. Nevertheless, President Obama evokes a wide range of emotions during his speech, illustrating the power in his strategic symbolism.

There were a number of moments that stuck out to me throughout the speech but one moment in particular was hard to shake. There was a portion of the speech where President Obama speaks directly to demographics central during his time as president. He uses his platform to incite each demographic to consider the perspective of the other. Consider the following:

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles.  America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

This line troubled me to the extent of disrupting my sleep. In so many words, President Obama seemingly supports the coerced acquisition of indigenous soil by European thieves—suggesting that this act “strengthened” what we now call America. This sentiment also functions to suggest that the slave trade, or coerced labor, also functioned positively to “strengthen” American economics. These sentiments validate white supremacy by evoking the same arrogance embedded in the “manifest destiny” concept. Whites manifested their destiny on the backs of those darker then them—to validate this behavior is to alleviate the western world of all accountability.

As “America’s first black president” Barack Obama serves to personify that stealing the indigenous’ land and the African’s labor was a good things. Indeed it was. However, this “good” is solely extended to whites. Thus, to hear President Obama say these words, and say them with conviction troubled me because it suggests that blacks who acquire conventional success seem on the fast tract to becoming white supremacists —upholding racist ideologies as a means to process their own success. In making comments like these with such conviction it becomes obvious that President Obama may not be as polarized from president Elect Donald Trump after all.

Nevertheless, most will solely remember President’s Obama’s words to whites that urged them to consider the long-lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

Most will ignore the reality that American Founders only intended for the penned rights to apply exclusively to white males. Thus, the injustice we continue to see is in direct accordance with the countries’ original documents. But perhaps the most troubling portion of this comment is use of the word equal.

The world equal shows up countless times throughout history. It sounds good and seems to operate functionally. However, equality means nothing without equity.  Equality pacifies both the oppressor and the oppressed but only benefits the oppressor. For example, while Brown v. Board of Education seemingly handed blacks victory, it only masked the issue. Whites continue to obtain superior education while blacks remained educationally disenfranchised and set up for failure. Schools, much like neighborhoods also remain informally segregated. Even today, most high performing schools are predominately white and most students pursuing higher education are white people. Moreover, equality did not solve racism, because it can’t. Thus, when President Obama challenges blacks to consider the problems that plague others “othered” by western systems, he oversimplifies the depth of the black struggle simultaneously ignoring that if we fixed rather than ignored racism, many of our problems would be solved.

For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

What everyone will remember about President Obama’s farewell speech is a tearful President Obama thanking the always poised Michelle Obama. Equally as touching is a beautiful and all grown up Malia Obama silently crying as her father praised her mother in her hometown. The moment was indeed touching and I found myself crying.  My reaction mirrored the reaction of countless blacks throughout the world last night. We reacted this way, because it was intended for us to do so.

The Obamas are intentionally likable and appear to love each other dearIy. However, as touching as this testament was to see last night, we as a black collective would be in much better hands if President Obama loved us, the black collective, as he loves his wife and daughters. I would argue that this moments resonates so well, because we as black collective live vicariously through this moment—silently pretending that President’s words are tearfully addressing us. It is in moments where the black collective goes from disrespected to joyfully crying– that President Obama’s symbolism proves most effective.

To this I say the President Obama was indeed correct when he said that America is exceptional. American exceptionality lies in the ability to remain stagnant yet convince most that it has changed. American exceptionality lies in the ability of blacks to leave this farewell speech with wet faces, high spirits and hands aching from applause, when our hearts should be heavy with disappointment, our minds burning with anger. America proves exceptional again and again by feeding blacks  symbols that essentially do nothing for them but for us to treat them as if they did. President’s Obama’s farewell is not a farewell at all, it is a see you later. Soon enough the black collective will be afforded another symbolic presence that makes us smile away the pain, and bring us to our knees while white supremacy continues standing on our backs to further their cause.