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

 

Listen to Your Intuiton

Image via Dr. Ergo

Yesterday, Goldy and I were walking down New Hampshire. It was warm enough that Black folks were on their porches, and young folks of all races were walking their dogs. But on this particular stretch of street there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic.

We walked pass an older Black man, and kind of pepped up when he saw us an started with the “hey’s” and “how you doings”, I just let out an #ummhmm, because I was not going to be bothered.

After a few seconds I didn’t hear him. Remember that.

Something told me to turn around, and not ONLY DID I TURN AROUND, but I turned around with my finger in his face saying “You need to back the fuck up”.

I was scared, not because of him. I am protected.

I was scared of how powerful it was to have a spirit that FELT a person coming that I did not SEE.

Goldy didn’t feel him coming, I did.

He looked at me, thought about whether or not he was going to “back the fuck up” and turned around and walked away.

I mean he had to honestly assess whether or not I was going to escalate, which I clearly was.

I don’t know what it was gina that told me “#allcity, turn the fuck around now and stop him”, but I listened to it.

It was surreal, like magic.

Listen to your Intuition. It might save your life.

#Blackgirlsarefromthefuture. Yesterday was further proof.

You ignore your intuition lately?

On Seeing Black Women’s Genius: For Whitney Houston

One of the things that surprised me most about the death of Whitney Houston was the vitriol directed at her in some White mainstream Internet spaces. Many of the comments struck me as being both racist and sexist.  I understand that both racism and sexism exists, but I always leave room for myself to to be able to wince when someone comes out of their face sideways. I also try to occupy the space between acknowledging the pain caused by sexism and racism but to also not spend hella emotional labor reacting to the fact that it does in fact exist. It is what it is.

Two books by Black women scholars and professors have helped me to think about the public reaction to the death of Whitney Houston. The first is The Suffering Will Not Be Televised by Rebecca Wanzo and the other is If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery by Farah Griffin.

I have been thinking about Griffin’s book because it is about how the genius of Billie Holiday is perpetually overlooked because of her struggles with addictions. I read this book nearly two years ago and was really floored by how Black women’s knowledge production and Black women’s genius tends to be largely overshadowed by their struggles with addiction in ways that the genius of Black men historically has not been. ( This isn’t limited to only Black women, as I remember comments around Amy Winehouse’s addiction struggles and trust, Frank was genius.)

For example, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane historically have had very public struggles with addictions, however their genius has not been denied.

Black women’s history is central to US history. To erase or deny their genius is to erase US history, and I am not having that.

To reduce their genius to their struggles with addictions is to fail to see them as whole human beings who are both fragile and dynamic.

Listen to the first 90 seconds of her version of  “I Will Always Love You” in a quiet room on a Sunday morning. #genius.

Having watched Oakland become consumed by the crack epidemic as a kid in Oakland I saw the city that I loved eaten from the inside out in many ways by the dope game. I watched many family members struggle with addiction, recovery and addiction and recovery again. You want to go through some pain, watch a family member relapse after watching them claw their way, one day at a time to sobriety.

As I watched people on in social media spaces speculate about who is responsible for Ms. Houston’s “downfall” I couldn’t help but think that is this what people who don’t know how to grieve? What does grieving look like in this moment? What does it mean that it is easier to emote in social media spaces rather than to look at ourselves, at our own dark side’s or to call a family member who is struggling with dealing with an addiction right now and let them know that they are Loved and that you want them to stay alive.

As I stated earlier, Wanzo’s The Suffering Will Not Be Televised helped me to make sense of a lot of the comments around Whitney Houston’s life and death. In her book Wanzo argues that,

some stories of African American women’s suffering in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are widely circulated and others dwell in obscurity. African American women are frequently illegible as sympathetic subjects for media and political concern, and unpacking the difference between the widely disseminated suffering stories and the invisible ones demonstrates why some stories of suffering gain prominence and others never gain a national stage.

After Ms. Houston’s death I thought, why was it so hard to see her as a sympathetic subject? Why didn’t she have “political currency”? Does she have political currency in Black online spaces? White online spaces? Why or why not?

I’ve had a theory for about three years about shiny Black girls. Shiny Black girls are talented, ambitious and fly. Their hair stays whipped, faces be moisturized and when they enter a room, they turn heads. #blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Ms. Houston was a shiny Black girl. In our current cultural climate shiny Black girls have to protect themselves, their bodies and their spirits in order to stay whole human beings.

I guess, at the end of all of this I am wondering how many shiny Black girls are in our midst at this very moment who may need our help but don’t want to or don’t know how to ask? What is our obligation to them?

What do we do?

Thoughts?

Why Black Women Film Directors?

NY Times article on Black Film in the early 1990’s titled “They’ve Gotta Have Us” by Karen Grigsby Bates

Note: There will be a few blog posts on Pariah and Black women’s directors over the next few weeks as I move like a squirrel with a flashlight trying to finish this paper. I cannot have boss bear calling me trifling.

 

The trouble with being erased for so long is that you come to think of your erasure as being natural. ~ Lorraine O’Grady in “The Cave, Lorraine O’Grady on Black Women Film Directors

Last week my homie James asked me why it was significant that Cooper and Rees fundraised to make Pariah when Black filmmakers were doing that waaay back in ’91.

The early 90’s were interesting years for Black films, but these films were primarily by black men directors featuring the narratives by and large of Black men and boys. To my knowledge and correct me if I am wrong the only films  that had major theatrical distribution that was directed by a Black woman were Leslie Harris’s Just Another Girl on the IRT and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust.

The fact that Harris and Dash are the only Black woman from that era that directed a feature length film with major distribution must be noted. Furthermore, the other side of the Harris- Dash coin is the quasi over-representation of Black women’s stories in the recent economic market place.

I say quasi over-representation because we see stories being produce that feature Black women’s bodies but they are not the directors.

Chris Rock, Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, Bill Duke and Tim Story are 5 black men who have released films in the last 3 years that feature stories about Black women. Which begs the question, where are the Black women directors, directing features with major distribution?

Then there is the Black Woman Can’t Get a Man industrial complex where “The Washington Post”, “CNN”, “MSNBC”, The Economist, scholars (Ralph Banks) and various other magazines explore possible reasons for the “low” marital rates for US heterosexual Black women. #jesusbeaFence. Every time I look up somebody has some something to say about the Who, Where, When, How and Why about Black women’s dating lives. I personally think that the these stories function as a way to make us seem deviant in this current historical moment.

Have Black women directors of feature films been erased for so long that we consider their erasure natural?

Hortense Spillers says that Black women are the beached whale of the sexual universe and that we are awaiting our verb.

Honestly, when I think about the politics of listening to Black women’s stories I am reminded of a scene in Ava Duvernay’s documentary “My Mic Sounds Nice” on women in rap music. In this documentary there is a moment where Stephen Hill states that in some ways the reason why there are very few Black women emcees rapping is because rap music is a male dominated genre where many of the stories are talking about women, so in other words, why would rap audience members want to hear these women speak back?

#Peace to Kasi Lemmons.

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?