Ms. Viola Davis and the White Beauty Industrial Complex

SGHI For Project._New Font

Viola Davis looks like the women in my family. ~My friend, and African American Playwright

So.

Alessandra Stanley called my friend* Ms. Viola Davis “less classically beautiful”.

Let me be clear. As a scholar my work is on Black women’s sexuality in popular culture. So I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the images of Black women being deployed in mainstream spaces (Scandal, Belle), in alternate baby mainstream spaces (Peace to Hello Cupid and Roomie Lover Friends, Almost Home) and on the film festival, alternative indie theater circuit (Pariah, Into the Night).

I wrote a while ago that when Viola Davis showed up at the Oscars wearing a short chestnut colored afro, in the age wind swept blond locks, fair skin, taught slim bodies, I saw myself.

I didn’t see myself because of the aesthetic beauty affirmation. You can go to pretty much any city mid sized or large city in 2014 and SEE yourself as a natural Black girl.

What I am saying here is that I saw myself in that I saw a person who took her craft as seriously as I take mine. Lip game. Eye game. Dress colors…popping.

It is incredibly powerful to see your reflection when you live in a culture that simultaneously sees you as brilliant and abnormal AND hypersexual and subhuman, but #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Like a woman with a form she became dangerous. (**See Morrison’s Sula).

Which brings me not only to Viola Davis, but also Beyonce Knowles Carter, Lupita Nyong’o  and Rihanna Fenty.

When Black girls construct desire in mainstream media the matrix quivers because we are not suppose to hold space, and we certainly aren’t suppose to be desired.

We ain’t suppose to stunt, flaunt or fly.

If you think about the various conversations that have been had about the aforementioned women over the last year, there is a subtext of “go sit down, you are taking up too much space”.

But here is the rub, for me, it makes sense that this historical moment is happening with representations of Black women’s beauty and representations. Every since 2009, I’ve been documenting and marking the consumption and images of Black women in mainstream spaces (Precious, Pariah, For Colored Girls, Good Hair).

It appears that we are manifesting on the smaller screens tablets and televisions, rather than the silver screen.

It makes sense, Black girl stories are profitable.

The technology supports the evolution of our stories into these spaces (smart phones with video bandwidth, Kickstarter campaigns, the rise of Black and Sexy TV and Issa Rae’s production company, Black Girl Twitter on Scandal Thursday’s). An entire ecosystem of Black girl stories has emerged AND they are focused on sustainability; this is key.

In some ways, the critique of Shonda Rhimes and my push back is also about giving respect to the worlds that Black girls make. (When I say Black girls, I mean Black women and girls, and the spirit of our playful Black girl hand clap, braids with a jillion multi-colored beads and  summertime double dutch games that last into dusk. These manifestations of our creativity reminds me of the  space that many of us inhabit before the world forces us to crunch that part of ourselves up in order to survive. Our quirky selves, our out the box selves).

I can’t end this without looking at Allesandra Stanley’s article on Shonda Rhimes. In this article Stanley examines the cultural space that Rhimes has been able to build within primetime telvision using the archaic and sloppy trope of the angry Black woman. She attempts to contextualize the characters that Rhimes has created by creating a historical timeline of Black women in primetime television, for example she mentions Claire Huxtable’s role amongst others. She also situations Rhimes’ place/legacy within archive of other show runners such as Aaron Sorkin and Aaron Spelling.

However, as many have said, the article, at times comes across as heavy handed, tone deaf and light weight insulting to Rhimes’ and Davis’ fan bases across race.

To say that Davis is “less classically beautiful” operates at three levels, at least that is what I am thinking about now.

It is an attempt for Stanley to describe a Black woman, who doesn’t fit the Beyonce beauty aesthetic OR the mainstream beauty aesthetic (and let me be clear here, they overlap) within a journalistic space.

It is an attempt to mark the power of White beauty standards without mentioning White beauty standards.

It is an attempt to mark the significance of the space that Davis is currently taking up in 2014 without explicitly saying why it is disruptive.

Davis embraces her beauty and takes up space in a main stream culture that says that she needs and  doesn’t have permission to do so. Venture capital cats talk about disruption; they have no idea.

Stanley wrote, she stumbled, Black women got pissed, but the long and short of it is that these stories are here and I am here for them.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. -June Jordan, 1978.

For more reading on Black women in film and video see the following:

Black Women Film and Video Readers edited by Jacqueline Bobo

The Black Lady by Lisa Thompson

Black Looks by Bell Hooks

Dark Design and Visual Culture by Michelle Wallace

Some Black girl fundraising campaigns that you can support, in the spirit of this post because “Black Girls Been Creating (Sub)Cultures”.

Reagan Gomez: Project Title: Surviving the Dead

Marquette Jones: Project Title: “Forgiving Chris Brown”  <— Dear Friend

Lisa Marie Rollins: Project Title: CALLALOO Literary Journal’s 2014 Writing Workshop<—Digital Sister

Latisha Fortune and Felicia Pride: Project Title: After the End Again h/t @arieswym

Also follow my tumblr Black Girl Funded, which features Kickstarter campaigns as well.

So less classically beautiful?

Did you actually think that show would launch without some kind of blow back?

White beauty industrial complex? Too far or just right?

A version of this essay will appear in my forthcoming book “Black Women’s Sexuality in Pop Culture”. Sign up here to receive updates. I will never spam you:)

“Choking Women During Sex”: The Life of a Meme.

Justin Timberlake tug’s on Ciara’s chain in the Love Sexy Magic video.

Various conversations have been generated around Jay Electronica’s comments and $20K bet with Nas on whether “All Women Like Being Choked During Sex.”

Crunktastic wrote a post at Crunkfeminists, “Why Jay Electronica Can Choke on His Own Words.”

Then Latoya cross posted it on Racialicious.

Then Davey D linked to the post on his blog and made an interesting comment.

First he said,

all women deserve respect and maybe you with hold it when u get disrespected.. This aint a situation where folks need to jump through hoops to earn respect per se especially when they haven’t done wrong…

Because there is systemic violence against women all over the world simply because they do have vaginas and hence aren’t considered equal with men, then we should recognize that sort of oppression and counter.. ie there’s a woman in Iran who is getting stoned for some male defined transgression..

The gray text is a good working definition of gender based oppression concisely explained in 34 words. I appreciate Davey D for saying this. Makes my work a bit easier.

On Crunkfeminists, a commenter provides context for why conversations about “non vanilla sex” are important and the writer emphasizes the fine line between choking and non consensual sexual domination.  Commenter MtnTopFeminism writes,

While we do have to challenge ourselves not to have gut reactions against kinky or nonnormative modes of sex, that fact doesn’t get all forms of sex off the hook. It is critical that we engage in discussions that focus on the varying levels of sexuality and how pleasure cannot be restricted to vanilla norms. At the same time, it is also important that while we are open to new expressions of sexuality, we never lose sight of the dangers associated with them.

…Within a BDSM relationship trust becomes the main component. It isn’t just about “I like to get slapped around.” There is much more there. Without that open communication and honest dialogue, many practices, including erotic asphyxiation, are highly dangerous and even deadly. Not only that, but it isn’t just women who like to have such things done to them…a fact which is often ignored. Without discussing the three main tenets of BDSM—safe, sane and consensual—we head toward dangerous territory by merely accepting any discussion on kinky sex at face value.

Latoya cross posted Crunktastic’s post on Racialicious. And peep game. The sister of the woman who was at the concert and spoke up read the post and left a comment. (The internet amplifies offline sound and light, via @afrolicious).

Speaking of @afrolicious she mentioned this in the comment section around having expectations for artists gender politics. She writes,

I learned a long time ago not to trust an image, especially that of a rapper. As much as I want hip hop to respect me as a woman, I don’t get that often, even from the best of the creators. Additionally, I don’t expect progressive gender politics from most people, so to some extent I’m not disappointed.

It’s not a perfect rationale, but it’s how my filter works.

I hear her rationale,  and it is most certainly useful. I also believe that some statements can’t go unaddressed.

Another comment is from Rob, my colleague and a blogger at the Liberator (peep game here) wrote,

So here’s one of my initial reads: left-of-center hip-hop head blogosphere/twitterverse latched to jay because he’s a throwback to the golden age of conscious, Nation of Islam infused, east coast centric rapper who cares about his craft. However,the other side of all those early 90s dudes coming out of the NoI/NGE tradition is that when talking about women they were paternalists at best, if not outright misogynists. I don’t think anyone from that era escapes indictment.

I know lots of people have already made that connection, but I thought it bares repeating not to excuse what he did, but to historicize the comment and the evolution (or lack thereof) of gender politics in “conscious” hip-hop?

I responded saying,

I hear you on historicizing Jay Elec. However, I wonder if you or anyone would be willing to do the same thing in the face of White racism. What I am getting at is, in the last 24 hours, you are the second Black man to bring up the history out of which a Black man is rooted to contextualize their misogyny, the other time occurred in a conversation about Jim “I chase women out of windows” Brown last night.

I mean…I don’t hear people saying well you know…The Tea Partiers come out of a very particular history…..feel me? While I am not saying that Jay, the Tea Partiers or Jim Brown are analogous..I am certainly thinking of HOW and WHEN we deploy the “lets historicize” for a minute Renina steez. I guess this is me interrogating the historicizing…which is what your comment asked for.

He then explained that historicize is not the same as rationalize. I was relieved and I felt where he was coming from.

Our responses to Jay Electronica’s posts are influencing how I shape my research. I realize this after watching this meme evolve and, especially after a meeting with my professor Wednesday and hearing her tell me that I need to asks questions that give Black women the space to talk about desire, pleasure and danger. She felt that I was letting the interviewee’s off by going into pop culture and not asking them directly about #desire and #pleasure.

In responding to Jay’s comments I have read about women talking about their experiences. This is a positive outcome of this conversation.

Thoughts?

Why does sexual conversation’s send people into rigid randy mode? Hella defensive?

See any good meme’s lately?

Black Women’s Sexuality Project Lit Review

I am doing a project on Black Womens Sexuality and here is the begining of my lit review.

I am focused on work written in the last 20 years, but historical works that changed the game must be used as well.

My goal is to use this information to work on the Doc that I mention that I am working on in my Bio. Luls.

I really need academic articles and films and fiction.

Please include recommendations in the comments and Thank you for helping me. *Cough* Moya & Jess.

Books

Jacqueline Bobo, Black Women as Cultural Readers, 0th ed. (Columbia University Press, 1995).

Cathy Cohen, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics, 1st ed. (University Of Chicago Press, 1999).

Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2003).

Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race, & Class, 1st ed. (Vintage, 1983).

Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, 1st ed. (Vintage, 1999).

E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (Duke University Press Books, 2005).

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (Vintage, 1990). Shayne Lee, Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture (Hamilton Books, 2010).

Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Tricia Rose, Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy (Picador, 2004).

Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, Feminist theory and the body: a reader (Taylor & Francis, 1999).

T. Sharpley-Whiting, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women (NYU Press, 2007).

Greg Thomas, Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh: Power, Knowledge, and Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Revised Edition. (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).

Articles

Evelynn Hammonds, ?Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality.,? Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6, no. 2 (Summer94 1994): 126.

Fiction

Gayl Jones, Corregidora (Beacon Press, 1987).

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006).

Films

Leslie Harris, Just Another Girl on the Irt [VHS] (Miramax Films, 1997).

Books

Jacqueline Bobo, Black Women as Cultural Readers, 0th ed. (Columbia University Press, 1995).

Cathy Cohen, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics, 1st ed. (University Of Chicago Press, 1999).

Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2003).

Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race, & Class, 1st ed. (Vintage, 1983).

Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, 1st ed. (Vintage, 1999).

E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (Duke University Press Books, 2005).

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (Vintage, 1990). Shayne Lee, Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture (Hamilton Books, 2010).

Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Tricia Rose, Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy (Picador, 2004).

Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, Feminist theory and the body: a reader (Taylor & Francis, 1999).

T. Sharpley-Whiting, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women (NYU Press, 2007).

Greg Thomas, Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh: Power, Knowledge, and Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Revised Edition. (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).

Articles

Evelynn Hammonds, ?Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality.,? Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6, no. 2 (Summer94 1994): 126.

Fiction

Gayl Jones, Corregidora (Beacon Press, 1987).

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006).

Films

Leslie Harris, Just Another Girl on the Irt [VHS] (Miramax Films, 1997).

Spike Lee, She’s Gotta Have It (Island Pictures, 1986).

Spike Lee, She Hate Me (Sony Pictures, 2005).

Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou (Lions Gate, 2003).

Donna Deitch, The Women of Brewster Place (XENON, 2001).

Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou (Lions Gate, 2003).

Donna Deitch, The Women of Brewster Place (XENON, 2001).