Kathleen Collins and the Redemptive Softness of Black Women

Still from the film “Losing Ground” directed by Kathleen Collins.

This post has been a long time coming.

I Love Black women filmmakers, because I believe that Black women filmmakers see us. Not just the uplifting “We shall overcome” versions of us, but they see us in all of our beauty, contradictions, nuanced, strength and fragility.

Last fall, while reading Jacqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, I kept coming across the name Kathleen Collins.

Come to find out the reels for Collins’ film “Losing Ground” were at the library so I took an afternoon and I watched it. The film blew my mind.

The main protagonist in the film is a Black woman philosophy professor who is searching for the ecstatic experience. Yes, honey, she is searching for ecstasy.

In an interview in Black Film Review Collins stated that,

Actually, the only hope for any sort of feminine salvation in this country– and the sad thing is that Black women are giving it up  in favor of a quietly growing, kind of strident white feminism. But the only residual softness that is possible in this culture as far as I am concerned is in the hands of Black women.

When I read this I thought. Wait a minute, the people who have been historically represented as lewd, lascivious, unrapeable, gold diggers, rich and lonely,  hoochie mammas, are the ones who have the redemptive softness?????

Film scholar L.H. Stalling takes this idea of the residual softness of Black women and runs with it. She writes,

Kathleen Collins’s solution to the violence done to black women and their image insists that such redemption come from those who have been positioned as the most abnormal and dysfunctional in society, black women.

This idea of Black women being the site of redemption because they are some of the most maligned is interesting, and I believe that I have heard it before in Audre Lorde’s work.

For me it takes on a greater significance when I watch reality television shows featuring the narratives of Black women. Love and Hip Hop Atlanta in particular is what comes to mind.

Stallings goes on to underscore why I enjoy movies directed by Black women filmmakers when she states,

Collins produces a film that imagines a viewer or audience who can get turned on by seeing a black woman think, be conscious, and create consciousness on screen. Black independent filmmaking (be it documentary, cinematic fiction, or pornography) continues to be the only space in which black filmmakers can explore and represent various sexualities and subjectivities.

So, what do you think of this idea of the redemptive softness of Black women?

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.

On Black Girls and Pleasure

Waaaaay back in 2008 I wrote a blog post in the summer time, right after we learned that Erykah Badu was pregnant with her little bear about the fact that Black women’s bodies do not belong to themselves.

Looking back I realize that I was inspired by the fact that that in public people feel entitled to touch our hair and our bodies, and in private our families and loved ones feel that they have say so about our hair texture (nappy vs. straight, or re: going natural).

So. This brings me to this morning when I finally figured out WHY I am writing about Black women’s sexuality.

Saturday, I got no work done. Nonya. This was the first time this year where my schedule got completely upended.

Last semester was on #Aquemini Saturday. My boo’s do be my muses. o.0

Rather than go to read and write on Saturday morning, we drove to Balitmore for brunch and that shit was luxurious.

Then I slept. Then we went to the movies.

Granted, I was behind as shit on Sunday, because so many chores didn’t get done.

So this morning, I was saying that I wanted to GO BACK to Saturday; It was impromtu and fun; it felt like a vacation.

Then Goldy turned around and called me greedy. I was like, “I am greedy because I want to hang out the you and not be running 5011 errands for two or three hours straight?” “I don’t think it’s greedy, I think I am being a human being.” She got my point.

It was in THAT moment that I realized why I have been writing about and invested in Black womens sexuality and the social and economic forces that shape how Black women make sexual choices at home and in public.

Many of us are told by our mothers that all we need to do is “work” because “you can do bad all by yourself.”

When many of us were little, language is used with Aunt’s, Uncles, and grandparents to discourage them from giving us stuff or being nice to us otherwise we may get “spoiled.” Spoiled food is rotten and inedible.

All of this leaves me with a few questions.

Out of a desire for our mothers to protect us, and make sure that we have tools to deal with a fucked up world, did they make Black girls and pleasure two mutually exclusive categories?

Did our mothers socialize us to run away from pleasure?

Does enjoying pleasure mean being “ruined”? Ruined for who?

Why are the boys in our family not talked about in the same way?

Are the boys in our family ever described as being “spoiled?”

Does it have the same meaning when it is used to describe girls?

Arielle Loren Asks “Is Beyonce the Face of Contemporary Feminism?” My Response

We need to be clear about who we are trying to be equal to.

In her blog post Arielle Loren asserts that most women do not identify as being feminists even if they share its core ideologies, that there has been a shift in the contemporary agenda for women’s equality and that women are tired of rhetoric of hardcore oppression and patriarchy. She goes on to say that “frankly, all of the traditional feminist criticism of her “Who Runs The World (Girls)” video is just another example of the disconnect between intellectual theory and real life.” Beyonce is the face of contemporary feminism because women feel empowered listening to Beyonce’s music, so consequently, they take this “power” with them as they go on about their day to day lives.

Interesting.

Let me lay out my assumptions.

Feminism is not about being equal to men. All men are not equal. A black man  from 135th street with a Harvard MBA does not have the same social capital as a Black man from 135th street who just got out of Rikers. Full stop.

Next.

We need to be clear about who we want to be equal to. In fact, we need to ask do we want to be equal or do we want to be free?

Second assumption.

Black feminists are rooted in Love.

Black Feminists are interested in creating spaces for men to feel because men who don’t feel do not know how to Love. Black feminists are interested in holding themselves, and others accountable when they say racist, homopobic ‘ish, because thats how we roll. Black feminists will get up in that behind when a rapper tries to make jokes and bets about non consensual choking of women during sex. Peace to Jay Electronica. The Black feminist I know are rooted in Love. Being rooted in Love means that you understand that you will not be able to have meaningful emotionally invested relationships with another adult until you have forgiven you one OR both of your parents for abandoning you. Peace to all my homies who are in therapy. We grown.

Black Feminist Love is hella grown.

We are so grown that we understand like Arielle Loren does, the importance of Black women being able to be sexual, complicated, whole human beings. We understand that is is particularly important for Black women who are rendered 50 million ho’s on the regular in pop culture. The mission statement for the Black Feminist blog  Betta Come Correct states that:

BECAUSE BLACK FEMINIST SEX IS THE BEST SEX EVER…THIS IS ALSO A WAKE UP CALL TO ANYONE WHO INSISTS ON INTIMACY WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY, CONDONES VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN, OR REFUSES TO BE TRANSFORMED BY THE ECSTATIC MIRACLE THAT BLACK WOMEN EXIST. YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISSING OUT.

So Black women having space to be multidimensional and whole is a part of the contemporary Black feminist agenda.

Back to Beyonce.

As you many of you know I have done a lot of writing about Beyonce, because I am concerned about how the messages that she conveys shapes expectations within Black heterosexual relationships. Given the fact that she made 80 million dollars in 2007-2008 and that earning that kind of money is extremely rare for people in general Black women in particular, Beyonce’s messages influence society and they shape how Black women look at themselves and their partners. Black women are not allowed to earn nearly 100 million dollars unless they are beautiful, talented, non-threatening to White men and they convey historical stereotypes about Black men and women. Dave Chappelle walked away for a reason ya’ll.

Because I care about Black women, I pay close attention to what Beyonce says.

It is dangerous to make open statements that women run the world, because there is so much evidence women get the shit end of the stick in the world.

Black, Latina and Asian women are sex trafficked in the Bronx, East Oakland and Las Vegas.

Eastern European women are sex trafficked globally.

An estimated nearly 100 Million female fetuses and girl children have been aborted or neglected in China and India over the last thirty years.

Women are 50.7% of the US Population. Yet, women are only 16.4% of Congress. They are 17 of the 100 members of the Senate. They are 73 of the 435 member of the House of Representatives.

Women are routinely paid less for the same jobs that men do and this is broken down by race.In fact when I told my students two weeks ago that they could graduate from college and be offered less money, just because of what was between their legs, they looked depressed.

They couldn’t believe how profoundly unfair it was. When I said that “Women are cheap labor” they looked mortified. I explained to them that shutting down was not going to create a more just and equitable world. That they cannot change a system if they do not understand it. And now that they do know that women are offered less money to do the work that men can do, they are expected to go out into the world and change it. Peace to the Equal Pay Act.

Poverty is feminized in this country, meaning that a main predictor of poverty is having a baby because children are expensive (childcare, healthcare, food, clothes, shelter) and there is very little support such as state/federal child care, paid federal family medical leave, support for families who work full time as parents.

We need to be honest about who we are tying to be equal to.

Women do not run the world. The world shits on women. Ask Ester Baxter. Ask Susan Giffords. Ask the woman who claims that she was assaulted and raped by the former President of the IMF. Ask Shaniya Davis’s family.  Ask Ayianna Jones’s family. Ask Sakia Gunn’s family. Ask. Ask. Ask.

Now if we want to celebrate the catchiness of a Beyonce song, or honor her athletic ability, her fierceness as a dancer, that is perfectly legititmate. But to call her the face of modern day feminism is ahistorical and a slap in the face to Black, White, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American women and men who have been working to change our world so that being born with a vagina does not automatically mean being raised to be someones wife, street harassment material, nanny, slave or prostitute, but a fully developed human being.

For more readings on the history of Black Women and Feminism read:
Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement and the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920 by Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham
Living for the Revolution by Kimberly Springer
Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington in DC by Ann Valk.

For more readings on Black, White and Chicana Feminisms:
Separate Roads to Feminism by Benita Roth

For more readings on Third Wave Feminism
To Be Real, Ed by, Rebecca Walker
“Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip Hop Feminism…” by Whitney Peoples
On Being Feminism’s Ms. Nigga by Latoya Peterson <<<And I still have issues with the title.
Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Ed. Jessica Yee.

My post on R. Kelly and Julian Assange mentions some good books on feminism as well.

Thoughts. I know you have them.

Is positing Beyonce as “contemporary feminism” a move to come up?

What is your definition of feminism?

Music as feminist empowerment?