What Prince Taught Me: The Importance of Ownership

Prince Post

Prince, our new genius ancestor, taught me the sheer importance of Being a Black woman creative who owned as much of my work as possible. He taught me by example that in order to own my work that I would have to fight, and that the stakes were high. Black women’s work is often undervalued and stolen.

I know this is true because our genius ancestor Ms. Zora Neal Hurston died in penniless in an unmarked grave.

As a teenager, who Loved hip hop I read The Source avidly. I will never forget an interview that they had with Prince’s then attorney, Londell McMillan, where he discussed the politics of Prince’s relationship with Warner Brothers, the inability of Prince to use his name and the impact that it had on his creative process.

It is from Prince that I learned that it was okay to be absolutely clear about the value of my creative work in a world that says that Black women’s labor is worthless. He was also a fierce champion of Black women artists. See WEAREKING. See Misty Copeland.

Here are Eriq Gardner and Ashley Cullins of The Hollywood Reporter on Prince:

The story of how Prince — full name Prince Rogers Nelson — changed his name to an unpronounceable “love symbol” in the 1990s during a contractual fight with Warner Bros. is legendary. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the fourth-boldest career move in rock history. The story goes that the artist wanted to release more music and wanted to own his masters. The record company wouldn’t let him. When that happened, he began appearing in public with the word “slave” written across his face. The change of name even had Warners scrambling to send out font software so that reporters could incorporate the symbol into stories. Many of those writing about the musician just found it easier to speak about him as “the artist formerly known as Prince.”

To value yourself in a culture that says that you are invisible is the embodiment of being a Black girl from the Future. #blackgirlsarefromthefuture

To be able to dictate the terms under which your work will be consumed is a damn near miracle.

Prince taught me that I would have to be clear on the value of my work and continue to tell the people who desired the work the value of it over and over and over and over and over again.

Is it labor intensive? Exhausting and a fucking shit show. Yes. Everything has a cost. And my rational is that this is the cost of doing this kind of work for Black people in general Black women in particular.

Do you value your creative work?

How do you demonstrate that you value the creative work of someone else?

Who is your favorite Black creative and why?

Black Women’s Sexuality Documentary: Can Black Women Reclaim Deviance?!?!?!?

Over the break, I was going back over my old posts and I saw that in two thousand and eight that I wanted to make a documentary after seeing Byron Hurt’s Barack and Curtis. In fact, I stated that I wanted to do FLOTUS and Nicki Minaj.

When I met with Boss Bear yesterday and told her what I wanted to do she asked me “What was I doing that was new?”, “What was my question?”, “Why a documentary?”.

She then zeroed in on my Byron Hurt inspiration, which is here. I would never think of doing anything around a binary in terms of Black women’s sexuality, because the binary is violent in terms of how/who it erases. However, knowing what I don’t want to do, doesn’t tell me what I am want to do.

I went on to say that I was using Nola Darling y Bryon Hurt’s doc as a point of departure for my new project…She challenged me as to WHY I was centering Black men’s voices but implying the influence of Ava Duvernay, Dee Rees, Gloria Naylor….

Naming is important. Peace to Quvenzhané.

I had no defense and simply said I was wrong and that I was thinking. I clearly know better, but it is important to see how we can not be aware of our own assumptions.

I went to sleep early, because I knew that I would wake up early processing the data. Before I went to sleep I re-read some work on Marlon Riggs, and I saw precisely what I needed to do, which was be brave and follow the heat.

The lesson, be careful who you use as a point of departure because you will be caught in the framework of their logic in your work. Choose deliberately.

But first, you have to learn that their logic. You can’t be in conversation with someone that you don’t understand, or whom you haven’t read.

I am not invested in a binary system of Black women’s sexuality or Black women’s gender, in fact it is why I am addressing the fact that Black Women’s* sexuality has an asterisk, because their are some Black female bodied people who do not identify as women.

Creating a project and coming up with questions entails a lot of sifting, and lot of condescending and doing what I call “looking for the heat energy.” Like where is the heat, where is the hot shit in this work?

Beep was clowning me because she thought I was talking about making a doc, like I was making a sandwich. She has an MFA, and so I respect and understand that folks need to have their work and time invested taken seriously.  In some ways, I was on some sandwich making in that I had not thought clearly about the narrative arch, and what I wanted to get out of the data. This distinction became clear yesterday in that boss bear made a clear distinction between getting a group of folks into a room to talk being a focus group, but what I was talking about was a narrative which answers a question.

#sandwichmaking. I like that.

So, I woke up with reclaiming deviance as a subtopic.

Why did I pick reclaiming deviance? Well, with reclaiming deviance, the politics of respectability is challenged head on, and  want that, I need that. Also, in my interdiscplinary paper, I talk about “ho tapes” and I talk about how ambivalent I am about “reclaiming deviance”, but ultimately, I knew this this would be the subject for the first video because I remember the conversation that I had on my blog. I remember seeing Pariah and the Black women responding and being like “what the hell do you mean by reclaiming deviance” and I know that the “what the hell do you mean” is what I want to dig into.

The other question lurking in here is that if Black women, reclaim deviance, what are the costs!?!?!

I will still engage Nola Darling, The Steve Harvey Industrial Complex, and MSNBC’s/The Washington Post and other folks investment in our dating lives, but my point of departure will be deviance, not these otro narratives.

Reclaiming deviance is about representation, power and Black women as subjects, as contradictory dynamic human beings and I am all about that. #fuckaBinary.

#Excited.

#Scared

#StillTrying

 

Black Girl Voltron and My Fear of Black Girl Cyborgs

 

Yesterday on Tumblr, I was having a conversation with @latinegrasexologist around some of my ideas about and my resistance to Black Girls as Cyborgs. This conversation came about as I was discussing some of the tension that I have been feeling around blogging around digital Black feminisms. On one hand I feel uniquely suited to do so, on the other hand I am hesitant to mix up something that is work and interesting, with something that is work, but also an escape and joy.

Ultimately, @latinegrasexologist encouraged me to think about how Black girls can claim cyborg status, and what it means about how I have used my blog as space that I have claimed as my own, as a space where I feel free, as a space that belongs to me, as a space where I have explored elements of my interior life publicly.

Then holy shit this morning it all came together. Walking to my newly discovered writing place, I realize that the thing that I am most interested in is the conversation that occurs when Black women cultural workers and Black women web developers and computer scientists get in a room together, and get this shit gina, I have already started such a group; Black Girl Voltron.

Black Girl Voltron is: me, @afrolicious, @Marqueez, @salinabrown_nyc, @LatoyaPeterson.

Our first meeting which was via Skype the day after Thanksgiving 2010, Black Friday. We talked about many things from, the rise of mobile technologies, why Youtube and Itunes will not scale for independent artists, the opportunities that mobile may offer for Black women artists, the intersection of social justice and technology, the future importance of Big Data.

I took notes that day, but what was so amazing to me about this conversation is that I knew that we had something special, but I just didn’t know what it was.

Not until this morning.

Walking on the way to the train, I thought to myself, what I really want to do is have a focus group, where a group of Black women who possess an oppositional lens on racial, gender and sexual politics can get together and talk about the intersection of technology and Black girl cultural projects that are online.

Crossing the street, I was like shit…I have already been doing that, but I just never thought about it that way.

So now that I know that I have identified what we have been doing as being theoretically significant, I now need to realize how we can have other conversations that can be documented.

Which brings me back to Black Girl Cyborgs. I have championed when other Black women have claimed cyborg status. The first two people that come to mind are Erykah Badu (Robot Girl), Janell Monae. But for me to do so, shit feels weird. Don’t get me wrong, I ride for #blackgirlsarefromthefuture, but the cyborg makes me uncomfortable.

I think this occurs for two reasons. First, it is a challenge for Black women to be seen as human beings by many people in the US, so claiming machine + human cyborg status is real to me. Second, technology within captialism in the US is framed as means for a more efficient systems.  Efficiency, when brought to bear historically on Black women’s bodies has historically meant that our ass is grass. See, US Chattel Slavery, See, Henrietta Lacks, See forced sterilization of Black women in South Carolina. For me, there is an acute tension between efficiency and human becoming more human in 2012 and beyond. I take this idea of becoming a more human, human being from Grace Boggs.

All of this being said, I felt the need to write this because pieces seem to be coming together. I also heard someone use voltroning as a verb, and didn’t acknowledge #allcity. #keepiteven.

To be clear, voltroning…is a term that I have used to describe when I get together with folks, and my favorite voltrons are spontaneous joints. It’s Libra season, so there should be a lot of voltrons happening ;p.

I also see this post as an opportunity to reflect on why the idea of the Black girl as a cyborg troubles me.

Black girl cyborgs?

Do you read sci-fi? Does anyone do Black women as cyborgs other than Ms. Butler?

 

Black Women’s Hair & Gabby Douglas: Standing Straight in a Crooked Room

In the book, Sister Citizen, Dr. Melissa Harris Perry argues that many Black women in the US find themselves standing straight in a crooked room because of how we experience both racism and sexism. According to Harris-Perry, Black women are standing straight in a crooked room

when they are confronting race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion…To understand why some Black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem titled in ways that accommodate  the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.

This is immediately what came to mind when I saw the conversations about Gabby’s hair, conversations, many initiated by Black women about who thought it wasn’t straight enough.

No Gabby’s hair does not look like the Black women on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, and that is fine. The women on LHHA stay fried died and laid to the side and Gabby’s pony tail is the pony tail of a young Black woman Olympian. Full stop.

And just in terms of Black girl visibility politics, Gabby Douglass is a Black girl who had global media attention and she does not look like a well kept video vixen and she doesn’t have to. She is petite, muscular and brown with a high voltage smile. When was the last time you saw a Black girl like that getting mainstream attention? I’ll wait.

I know that some Black women felt that because Gabby was on a global stage she was “representing us.” My retort to that is Gabby belongs to herself, not to you.

Hair is serious for Black women because the mainstream standard for beauty in the US and arguably pop culture globally is long, preferably blond, straight, wind swept hair. If you think I am wrong, check out the magazine covers at your local grocery store check out stand.

I always find it peculiar when the ways when which Black women regulate on each other finds its way into mainstream media conversations. It is not that we don’t like each other. I think that socially women are not taught to like each other. Openly liking and being nice to women is a political act for this reason. The culprit in many ways isn’t Black women per se, but that many of us have internalized what White standards of beauty AND we tried to hold other women to these standards,we are also taught that the work that women do isn’t valuable.

But, let me tell you. #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

I also think it may may make some Black women uncomfortable to see another young Black woman who is so clear about both her purpose and focus. A young Black woman who is clear that her investment in being an Olympian is more important than having music video bone straight hair, at this moment. I am not talking about human beings here, I am talking about what happens when you encounter a spirit that is so clear you can see yourself in its reflection. It ain’t no joke. #ChangeJobs. #ChangeGods.

Gabby Douglas put herself first and her desire to be an Olympian. You can’t become an Olympic champion by being raggedy.

I also know that as Black women we are socialized to put our mothers, our children, our husbands, our wives, our girlfriends, our boyfriends, our step-children, our brothers first. But never us, and we suffer for that. Our lives are constrained in particular ways when we do that.

So Gabby, I see your gravity defying, futuristic Black girl self.

Gabby Douglas give you goosebumps?

Why is it so hard for people to acknowledge how White mainstream beauty standards figure into this conversation?

 

All City Real Talk for @JessSolomon, @Mqueez, @Afrolicious

I have been reflecting on why I have been scared of taking these next steps.

The thing about it is, is that it is fear.

Fear that I won’t have the people in my life now that I have had because I am not only working way more, but moving in new and other circles.

Fear that being of service will take me away from the people that I Love.

I have my shine now, and the space is comfortable. But having ran into my homie two weeks ago who runs a prep school for boys in Bed-Stuy I was reminded that I have work to do. That I was put here to do work for others on another scale. That is some scary shit.

 

To do more means getting used to being liked or not being liked on a whole other level, and I don’t often know whether I am up to it. Because as a doctoral student and someone who is being trained to be a professor and as a Black woman, I know about the toll that emotional work takes on Black girls. I also know that if I don’t have a strict self care regime and a sort of emotional work plan I am going to be fucked off in the game. One of my projects entails engaging women of color nationally in local electoral politics. #gamechanger.

Latoya has told me that the way to deal with this is to select two or three people whose opinions I respect, and check in with them when I am tripping or there appears to be a rupture or disturbance in the force. What I interpret her to say is don’t let just any raggedy negro online affect how your moral compass about your work shifts. She has a point. I do that now in some ways, but I think she is recommending something a bit different in terms of being a bit more deliberate.

I mean, to spend hella time and writing working and researching something only to have someone tell you “nah B, you are hating” is a huge slap in the face. That’s the kind of shit that will have me telling someone that they are politically under developed and that they need to sit down and read a book before they come at me. #ego.

I also fear that I have said something in the past that has alienated people. But, as a writer I was more underdeveloped then, and I did not see, at the time, how the things that I said would be read. I also know, that challenging peoples thinking isn’t a popularity contest. People can get rich affirming what folks already know, but they rarely become popular or rich challenging them. And that my dear is the rub.

So now that I have said it outloud, it no longer has as much of a hold on me.