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.

The City is Like Chitlins: Notes on Gentrification in Washington, DC.

Peace to Janel for staying on me to write about class. Peace to Latoya Peterson for reminding me to think about how cities are similar, different and the reasons why DC, with it’s 25 miles,  is special to me.

I once said that the city was like chitlin’s. Moving from the deep South to DC, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Ohio, New York, and Philadelphia during the great migration Black folks had to figure out how to make something horrible into something livable, or in the case of Chitlins- edible.

For many, chitlin’s, like the city is a delicacy now for some.

After WWII, there was huge resistance to African Americans living in decent housing in the city.

In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. went to Chicago to protest the housing conditions of African Americans. The Eyes on the Prize Documentary speaks captures some of this time period.

Shoot, African Americans were not allowed to live in East Oakland before the 1950’s.

My homie, Janel, has consistently stated that conversations about gentrification fail to take into consideration that brown bodies, regardless of the employment status reduce the property value. (*noted: Janel please correct me if my reading is off.)

At first, I disagreed with her hard. However, I am now coming to believe that there is some merit to her argument.

For example, if I am a professor, and Goldy is an lobbyist and we move into a condo on a mixed race but largely white street with owner occupied houses in Columbia Heights, with combined wages of approximately- lets say, $150k, the fact that we are high income earners does not mitigate the fact that we are both brown bodies.

At $150K this would put us in the upper middle class or the rich, depending on whose theory you use.

I had always thought that our social class power and education would make our race moot, when living in middle class and affluent neighborhoods.

Our brown bodies are read as reducing the neighborhood property values of our White affluent neighbors.

According to Janel, our neighbors property values would be reduced because we are “brown bodies.” I hope that she writes more about this in the future. #nudge.

Which brings me to the somewhat unique situation of Washington, DC.

Having lived in Oakland, Brooklyn and DC, I have seen patterns of similarities and differences in terms of how the city is changing demographically.

Because of the government and higher educational institutions, DC is a transient space. As people come here and leave for work for short periods, year around. A friend of mind, Mr. Miami, would routinely rent out an his extra room in his row house, for a handsome sum, for short two or three month periods twice a year in order boost his vacation savings.

Also, the district and the federal government employs a substantial number of African Americans. In fact, Prince Georges county is the seat of African American high income earners in the country.

There is a reason why Black folks, young and old joke about a “good gubmet job.”

I never really knew how Black DC government was until I went to get finger printed for a teaching job last summer. Nearly all of the employees were Black. In fact the woman, an African American woman, with a big old gun- was telling me about how much overtime she worked last week so she could take time off to be with her daughter for a summer camp performance.

The purpose of this post isn’t to go to be a five volume series on the differences of gentrification and global capitalism in three US cities, but what I am interested in is “Who Has A Right to the City?”

I am invested in asking questions about the  economic power of the people who make a city work- teachers, bus drivers, subway drivers, trash collectors, maids, nannies, police officers, fire fighters and cab drivers.

What’s interesting to me about DC is the juxtaposition of Black owner occupied houses and condo’s especially near Georgia Petworth and the lack of political will to ensure that Black home owners can remain in the city.

Wouldn’t it logically follow that Black politicians in the district have a vested interest in insuring that these residents, their base, remain here, if they want to be re-elected? I am not saying that Black people automatically vote for other Black folks, some do some don’t. I am asking where is the conversation? What explains the lack of political will?

What I am saying is that the lack of a vision and a willingness to address the strong possibility that African Americans will be taxed out of their homes needs to be interrogated.

Lot’s of conversations about gentrification are ahistorical. That is because most journalist are not historians.

Think about it this way. When I was in undergrad at the New School, right up on 14th and 1st  was Stuyvesant Town.

Stuyvesant Town has 8,757 apartments in 35 residential buildings stretching from 1st to Avenue C between 14th and 23rd street. African Americans were barred from Stuyvesant Town, for the record.

As a student I was unaware of what kind of housing it was. They looked like nice projects to me.

As I got older, I learned that Stuyvesant Town was built by New York City and Metropolitan life to house WWII veterans and their families after the war.

The apartments were rented at below market rates.

This is a massive complex.

I remember reading in the paper while living in NYC in 2005, at the height of the real estate bubble that Stuyvestant town was for sale. In 2006, MetLife agreed to sell Stuyvesant Town—Peter Cooper Village to Tishman Speyer Properties and the real estate arm of BlackRock for $5.4 billion.

Because of financing issues and lawsuits Stuyvesant town ended up with creditors.

Today, Stuyvesant town is luxury apartments.

I have questions. Many questions.

Why did New York City have the political will to build Stuyvesant Town?

Given that fact that enslaved African American’s have been property historically, what does it mean that they may be taxed out of there homes in DC? Who will move in?

Should there be political will in DC to ensure that African American home owners can remain in their homes? Why? Why not?

Should people be able to afford to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up? Where they spent their 20’s?

Have African Americans earned a right to the city? If not, who does?

Are the only people who have a right to the city the ones who can afford to pay the financial price?

A (Black) Feminist Note to Young White Feminists

The idea for this post came to me while I was reflecting on my work as a teaching assistant and teacher over the past year.

It is interesting how much I have changed as a person, having taught such hairy issues such as race, class, gender, sexuality, double jeopardy, the matrix of oppression etc.

My ability to read the energy in a room is sharpened, I feel empowered to intervene and de-escalate when it is clear that a situation may become out of control and harmful.

I saw a lot of promise in my students. They were interested in creating a better world. Some were very conscious of the privileges that they held in terms of class, race or gender. They were pariticulary floored when they learned that only 27% of the country has a bachelors degree.

The young white women students seemed to be most moved by the fact that their male peers could possibly earn more than them, even if they have the same training. They looked down right sad. When I saw this I told them that they looked down right sad. I also told them that we are arming them with this information so that they can go out in the world, and that they would be a apart of a long line of people who have seen issues with the world and decided to do something about it.

What I want them to be mindful of is the distinction between structural issues and individual issues and how they are both connected and distinct. It was challenging for them to think about how social systems, schools, church’s and families teach them what being “man” or being a “woman” is as most of them have been trained to think about the individual and choice. For the most part, they eventually got it.  In fact, they were really clear on the connection between the individual and the institution when it came to issues of reproductive justice. They understood that a woman can only make a “choice” based on the conditions in which she finds herself.

What was the most interesting thing about them is their ability to spot contridictions. It freaked me out at times. It kept me on my toes after I realized that they could spot contradictions the way that they could. In creating my lesson plans I anticipated their ability to spot contradictions.

For instance:

They were able to see the contridiction between the idea of the “melting pot” and the “all american beauty.”

They were able to ask why, when women out number men, are women not more frequently placed in positions of decision making authoritity?

They were able to see the contradiction between women “having it all” and women being expected to do all of the house hold social reproductive labor.

Lastly, they were able to see the contradiction between a society that claimed to treat everyone equally yet perpetually paid women less for the same work that their male counter parts did, because in our social system, paying half of the workforce less means more money for profits.

I wanted my students to understand that it is up to them to take their lives seriously.

I want them to know that women are both similar and different, and that these differences should not stop them from engaging in social justice work. That we are ALL human beings. This does not mean that I am not Black and they- at least most of them, are not White, because we have our respective packaging and that  our “packaging” has histories.

One of my most impressive students was a young woman who wants to be a federal agent. And if she sustains her passion for reading and writing and work, she will be one. One day she asked me, Ms. Jarmon, “What do I do if I go on a job interview, and I get the job, but the employer is racist.” I was floored. Because this is a profound question.

I said to her, “Wow, well, there are a few things that you can do. Let’s talk about your options. Thank you for sharing this with me, because as your teacher, working through these kinds of issues are important.”

We then proceeded to discuss what her options would be in this kind of situation.

It was in this moment that I was reminded of my passion for teaching and how fulfilling it is to connect with students.

#ummhmm.

What would you tell a young white woman who is interested in social justice work?

As a teacher, what are your favorite moments?

Have you noticed how my writing has changed over the last year? I guess that is a question for long time readers.

Sometimes the Intern Game Reminds me of the Crack Game

Well. The New York Times has a piece up about interns working for free. Shout out to @rafikam for the tip.

Ross Perlin writes in an op-ed,

The uncritical internship fever on college campuses — not to mention the exploitation of graduate student instructors, adjunct faculty members and support staff — is symptomatic of a broader malaise. Far from being the liberal, pro-labor bastions of popular image, universities are often blind to the realities of work in contemporary America.

In politics, film, fashion, journalism and book publishing, unpaid internships are seen as a way to break in. (The New York Times has paid and unpaid interns.) But the phenomenon goes beyond fields seen as glamorous.

Three-quarters of the 10 million students enrolled in America’s four-year colleges and universities will work as interns at least once before graduating, according to the College Employment Research Institute. Between one-third and half will get no compensation for their efforts, a study by the research firm Intern Bridge found. Unpaid interns also lack protection from laws prohibiting racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

Ah. Please reconcile how the “American Dream” means working for free with the promise of getting paid one day?

Why would I pay you later if you are working for free now?

The crack game is capitalism in its purest form. In some ways interns, the artists and the mommas being expected to work for free represents capitalism as that 100 percent uncut to the gut as well.

As a Black woman, I have a profound understanding of the idea of working for free. Black women, as enslaved people were forced to work for free in the fields picking cotton, and their children, and children’s children were subjected to the same. #ummhmm.

Our Beautiful y Peculiar Democracy…..

On Unemployed, College Educated, White Men

When I saw that the Wisconsin governor was openly attacking White working class folks last month in Wisconsin I was floored.

Why?

Because the White working class, historically, has exercised significant official political power in the US. Read Richard Pearlstein’s Nixonland for more on this. (Rob do you know of any other contextual pieces on the history of the White working class?)

Labor or Work is organized by gender and race, so this means that your gender and race shapes, constrains and structures the kinds of jobs that are available to you.

This is why most African American women were domestics until the 1970’s, this is why many of the IT folks in the Bay Area Indian, this is also why the chief executives of most Fortune 500 hundred companies are White men.

This morning reading the New York Times my antenna were zapped when I read an op ed article about young  kids who are both college educated and under and unemployed.

In a society organized by and for men, this is significant.

24 year old Matthew Klein writes in The New York Times,

The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.

We are not talking about  the  lazy negro men or women narrative, nor the undocumented Latino men and women narrative, which are both popular narratives around work and unemployment in mainstream media. We are talking about a narrative from a young white man.

If the young people in this country began to connect their plight to the plights of young unemployed people, in other parts of the world, we may arguably see a change, that only those us of us who walk by faith and not by sight, have sensed would occur since 2007.

Do you think that it is significant when young White men and women question a system that historically has favored many of them?

What does this mean to young people of color?

Isn’t this opposite of the narrative of apathy that we often see used to describe young people?

Is your rent paid?