The Choices that Creatives Make

Image via Metro Times

Dedicated to Jonzey and our conversations about Hennessy / Carol’s Daughters sponsored art.

This post is about money, artists and how corporations are deliberate and never neutral.

Spending the last few months teaching a multiracial group of young people about race, art, class, history and feminism, I have learned a lot about how challenging it is to teach people about topics that force them to question basic assumptions that they have held nearly all of  their lives.

Especially when it comes from a body that reads as one that some are not socialized to see as being “an authority” on intellectual topics, ideas and teaching.

Some were clearly resistant to learning how race, hue, class position and gender structure our day to day lives. Others LOVED being taken seriously, Loved examining their own social position as it relates to others, Loved thinking about questions of agency and gender roles.

They also wanted to derail on sexuality, but I was not going there, not yet.

The topic that arguably it was most challenging for my students to understand is that corporations are not not neutral. Now, they KNEW that corporations are set up to make money, but they had a hard time making the connection between the fact that they are set up to make money and how the desire to make money means that corporations will and have looked the other way when a crime or many crimes occurred as a direct result of the pursuit of profit.

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me “How Do I make money”? I waited before I responded because I was unsure where her intentions were. I thought, why, you have a freelance writing job for me? I also thought to myself, and I didn’t know if it was true, so I kept it so myself, clearly the daily labor invested in teaching and writing original knowledge production is not being seen as all encompassing as it is.

Having taught about corporations, I am very clear about them. As someone who studies the political economy of Black cultural productions, which is fancy way of saying that I study Black pop culture (Beyonce, Tyler Perry), how much money they earn, why they are allowed to earn the money they they do, the ideas conveyed within their productions, how their work relates to the history of Black movies and music, and how these ideas shape how we see ourselves regarding gender roles, race, sexuality etc.

The older I have gotten I have come to the conclusion that “all money ain’t good money and all head ain’t good head”. I say this to mean that while we do all have bills, and we have all done what we have to do to keep the lights on (I have waitressed), having taught how  corporations are not neutral and HAVING taking the course “corporations” (<<<the fucking irony) I am particularly sensitive to how creatives may be inclined to make choices, in a political economy in 2012 which forces individuals to align with a corporation who at best, can only see you as temporary, expendable and replaceable.

What kind of facts are those?

What kind of terms are those?

This is not to say that folks do not align with them, or I have judgement if they do. No. Going into 2012 in some ways, aligning with one is a means of survival.  What I ask though, is that we acknowledge they are not neutral. That we acknowledge that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on who they protect, who they exclude, who they include. That we can acknowledged that you can learn a lot about a corporation based on how they deal with systemic patterns of harm that are premised on age, race and class. Penn State.

In fact in teaching the students about corporations not being neutral, I had to do a 5 min South Africa, Apartheid, Coca Cola explanation. Geez, laweese, I was not ready for that. And I had to say that I am NOT an expert on South Africa, but you all are too young to remember this AND it serves as an example of young people leveraging pressure on corporations (Universities and Schools) in the 80′s who were invested in upholding racist and oppressive regimes in South Africa. They couldn’t believe it.

I think that learning early on that a corporation isn’t neutral is an incredible tool. I also think that in 2012 creatives, it may benefit us to think about this seriously, especially creatives of color.

Thoughts?

You accept the idea that a corporation is neutral?

You remember Coca Cola & South Africa?

On Kim Kardashian’s Empire and Race

On Clutch Danielle Belton has an excellent and problematic post titled, “Celebrating the Black Beauty on White Women”. She discusses in general the politics of race and women’s bodies as well as the politics of White artists performing what has historically been seen as Black music (see Eminem, Elvis and Adele).

I am really interested in the politics of race and Black women’s bodies AND I have been wanting to write about Kim Kardashian every since that I learned that there were some black communities (notice I used a plural because we are not all the same) who felt that she did not deserve to be in a Tyler Perry film.

The post is awesome because Belton interrogates the different ways in which some Black men may desire say a curvy Black woman with light skin who looks like Kim Kardashian versus how some Black men may desire a curvey White woman because she is just that; affluent, curvey and White. Belton writes,

If society tells you, from birth, that you should dream of marrying Blake Lively, but dream of screwing Nicki Minaj, a woman with Blake’s face and Nicki’s ass is going to trade high on the “male gaze” market.

Which brings us back to Kim Kardashian. (And by proxy, her sisters, Ice-T’s wife Coco, Angelina Jolie’s lips who are gorgeous on her, but “ordinary” on every other black girl in America, etc.) This goes beyond just physical beauty.

Belton then goes on to discuss how “everyone likes Black stuff when it isn’t on Black people”. Which brings me to another thing.

We need to talk about race.

Race is an unstable category and identity marker. So is gender. Race is unstable, dynamic and always changing. Read Omi and Winant for more about this.

If race were a fixed category and identity marker we could never have a conversation about whether President Obama is  “really” Black. 

Race is a moving target. So is sexuality and gender and this makes people hella uncomfortable.

In fact, it is precisely because ideas of race, and markers of race are unstable and dynamic that we have these conversations in the first place.

So, the title of the post doesn’t reflect the actual content of Belton’s post but I want to address it because it is problematic. To say that Black beauty equals curves suggests that there is only one kind of beauty on Black women.

Ideas of beauty are subjective. Meaning that they are personal value judgements based on individual standards that vary from person to person.

And.

Black women’s bodies and beauty come in a variety of shape and sizes. We are not all the same.

We have to be very mindful of the kinds of beauty standards that we set up.

In fact, I think that with regard to Kim Kardashian the issue isn’t so much that she is an attractive White woman who is curvy, the issue appears to be that she is an attractive White woman who is curvy who enjoys dating Black men and who has leveraged her sexuality into a multi-media empire.

I mean, didn’t the folks complaining about her being in Tyler Perry’s new movie because she is “a bad influence” on Black children because of her sex tape etc. How many of these same folks bump R. Kelly hard (Trapped in the Closet series and all), despite his penchant for teenage Black girls. Remember ya’ll he married Aaliyah.

Why is Kim Kardashian a “bad influence” but R. Kelly gets a pass. No I am not saying that they are trafficking in the same material, nor am I saying that she is as talented in the same way that he is. I am, however, asking why some do Black people’s moral respectability police come out for Kim Kardashian and not for R. Kelly?

Young girls are taught from a young age that their most important value is how pretty they are. In some ways, in a society that devalues women over men, a society that teaches women that their primary value is their beauty, a society that emphasizes the visual, the rise of a woman who embodies Kim Kardashian’s beauty makes sense.

What Awkward Black Girl and Trans Women Have Taught Me About Black Gender Politics

Where in the hell do I begin? I will just start with me and the two questions that have been on my mind since Moya (and I believe a loose collective of folks) wrote the criticism of Awkward Black Girl‘s usage of transphobic and homophobic language in a recent episode of the web series Awkward Black Girl. I am a huge cheerleader of Black women filmmakers, to that extent, I am a fan of the show. I haven’t seen as many episodes as my homies, however I have been thinking recently about coordinating screenings of episodes as a kind of Black girl film/video night.

Let me be clear. This post isn’t about their exchange per se, but it is about how Black women interact with each other online when it comes to Black gender politics. This post is also about the significance of words, questions of solidarity, and issues of critique within the Black girl blogosphere.

I stayed off the internet in Wednesday. Largely because I was busy but also because I sensed an intra-racial shit storm brewing and that I wanted to observe, collect my thoughts and then offer my perspective.

As I watched the blog posts fly hella questions came to my mind.

The first question is what responsibility does a Black woman who is a digital cultural producer have to her audience? This is related of course relates to Issa Rae, Moya’s letter and the subsequent feedback and comments on blog posts throughout the Black girl interwebs.

My second question is what responsibility does a Black woman who is an editor at a Black girl publication have in terms of setting the tone for a post about how Black LGBTQ politics are represented in a cultural production created by a Black women. This relates to a conversation that I had on twitter with Britni Danielle, an editor at Clutch Magazine and a post that she wrote about Awkward Black Girl. After a conversation and some prodding she ultimately concluded that editors do have power to shape conversations and that she would try to be mindful of the tone that is set in blog posts.

I also need to take a moment and state my stand point. I have been blogging for hella long. This puts me at a particular social location because I know where “the bodies are buried” if you will. Second Black girl creatives, especially those of us on the internet, all know each other. And if we don’t know each other it is one degree of separation. This means that I know Moya, I know Britni I am also a member of The Crunk Feminist Collective. Perhaps most importantly, I subscribe to the idea that the shit that I write, I am going to probably have to answer for, to someone’s face. This makes the prospect of  getting hot in the mouth with someone on the internet really real, in that I know that it is a human being behind that keyboard. Not a robot. We are human beings.

Shortly after Moya wrote her post, Issa Rae responded with a tweet saying, “Respectfully, “Awkward Black Girl” was never meant to be politically correct. We poke fun at ignorance. Response letter coming soon”.

I cringed, but I also thought, this could lead to an interesting conversation.

Then, Britni wrote her post at Clutch, Moya wrote another post on Crunk Feminist, Jamilah wrote her post at The Root and Issa Rae released her statement.

I frequently tweet that sex and sexuality are the third rail of conversations about race. Meaning that when some Black folks get together to talk about the intersection of sexuality and race, their heads like to explode. And I understand why. Because of how racism works, we don’t want to air our “dirty laundry” about sex and sexuality because we have historically been read as savages, as deviant, as loose.

Our silence will not protect us.

I personally was troubled by some of the comments on Britni’s Clutch Magazine post because of the ways in which some women, who I assume to be Black because it is a Black girl space, stated that “I am not trans or LGBTQ” so that issue does not apply to me.

I found this standpoint problematic for two reasons. Do we really need to be a “member of a community” in order to call spades? When my friends say things like that to me I respond saying “I am so glad that it ain’t 1850 and you aren’t on the US abolitionist committee, because left up to YOUR ass, I would still be picking cotton”. What I am saying here is that when people say “that shit don’t apply to me” the space is created for minority folks to suffer and or be dominated.

For me here, the issue is of social power, and who has the right to say things about members in racial, sexual minority groups. And when racial minorities say harmful things about racial and sexual minorities should they be held accountable? And if so, how?

Second, is the issue of being “politically correct”.  Four years ago, if Don Imus fixed his raggedy mouth to say “You all are being too sensitive when I called the Rutgers basketball team nappy headed ho’s” we would have been like you need to sit that ass down.

Saying derogatory shit about Black women hair and sexuality on a national radio show is wrong. Here is the blog post that I wrote about Don Imus and the Duke Rape case in 2007 titled “My Duke/Imus Moment“.

What I am trying to get at, is that we need to be mindful of what people, who are in positions of power and by this I mean those of us who have the capability to convey ideas through blogs, or digital cultural productions, have to be mindful of the language the we use, who we are willing to throw under the bus, and of the impact of language if it causes harm.

Four years ago, I was not down for throwing Black cis women under the bus when Don Imus called the Rutgers basketball team nappy headed ho’s.

Today I am not going to throw Black trans women under a bus.

The idea of words being violent has particular meaning for me, because as a writer and as a teacher and a historical Lover of hip hop, I know that words are powerful.

So let me take a step back and make the connection between connection between racial and or sexual slurs and physical violence.

The first step to treating a person like they are not human, like they are not shit is in calling them a slur. This goes for Black folks, Mexican Folks, Native American folks, Japanese folks, Muslim folks, low income White folks, Gay folks, Lesbian folks and so on.

People tend to get this with race, but it is harder for them to get it with gender.

#Hang in there with me.

Slurs are real because they are the first step in creating the conditions to treating a person like they are not a human being. See Jean Kilbourne’s video Killing Us Softly @2:09-2:20.

Heterosexual Black women are human beings.

Cis Black women are human beings.

Trans Black women are human beings.

Lesbian Black women are human beings.

Full stop.

The violence that trans Black women are subjected to has a particular resonance for me, because as a cis Black woman, I watch in particular how they deal with the violence of street harassment in DC.

Writing at The Advocate in August of 2010, Julie Bolcer states that,

According to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released in July, transgender women of color experienced hate violence far disproportionate to their actual numbers in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected community. People of color represented 70% of all LGBT-bias-related murder victims in 2010, and some 44% of LGBT murder victims were transgender women.

The violence is real.

One of the reason’s why the violence that trans women face is also important to me is because of the threat of violence I constantly deal with both because I am a woman, and because I am a Black woman who walks around cities like I have a right to be here. My most recent post on street harassment, “Kill Me or Leave Me Alone“, speaks to some of my experiences with the threat of violence that underpins street harassment.

Ultimately this conversation about Awkward Black Girl and trans women have taught me that there is space for Black girls on line to engage with each other. Mostly constructively, sometimes not so much.

It also has taught me that conversations like this create the space for us to talk about how there are multiple and various communities of Black women online. I personally am happy about this because I when I first started blogging, there was not.

I honestly enjoyed seeing some of the conversation online for two reasons. First, because of my understanding of the future of the mobile internet, the popularity of web series as a whole is bound to grow so it it is important for us to have a feed back loop with regard to representations of Black women on the internet in cultural productions. Let’s not recreate what happened with television.

Second, we seemed to be having a conversation between and amongst each other about how Black women are represented. I think this represents an important historical moment. This isn’t a presentation of Black women that we saw on BET, this is an independent production, created by a Black woman and supported by ostensibly a multiracial audience that includes a huge portion of Black girl supporters.

#Blackgirlsarefromthefuture AND we are not all the same.

Thoughts?