OUR COMMON GROUND Kwanzaa 2013 -14

KWANZAA

Kwanzaa (kwahn-ZAH) is an annual cultural observance, which is recognized by Black people from December 26 thru January 1, each year:

  • Kwanzaa is non-political.
  • Kwanzaa is non-religious.
  • Kwanzaa is not related to Christmas.*

* Annual Kwanzaa observances begin on December 26th, each year] 

2013 Kwanzaa banner

This year’s OUR COMMON GROUND KWANZAA message comes from our Brother, Friend and Comrade,OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Dr. Ron Daniels.

The Nguzo Saba contains the core concepts and values of Kawaida and the foundation for Kwanzaa.  In a recent article, First Call for State of the Black World Conference III, I suggested that a spiritual and cultural revival is essential to combat and overcome the devastating State of Emergency afflicting the “dark ghettos” in Black America.  As we begin the celebration of Kwanzaa, it might be useful to restate the N’guzo Saba and discuss its relevance to healing our families and communities in a time of crisis.  So, I offer these reflections.

Dr. Ron Daniels, Founder and Director, IBW 21

Ron Daniels

The first Principle in the Nguzo Saba is Umoja/Unity. That Africans in America should be unified or act in concert to confront the State of Emergency should be self evident.  However, achieving Black unity can be challenging and illusive. In the name of pursuing the interests of Black people, what we have in the Black community is a myriad of leaders and organizations that all too often compete rather than cooperate with each other.  Moreover, various leaders and organizations have different ideologies and strategies for achieving full freedom/liberation. There is also a “class divide” between the more affluent sisters and brothers who have benefited from the “movement” and moved up in the world and the dispossessed left behind in abandoned and devastated “dark ghettos,” the “hood.”  Overcoming disunity  requires a conscious effort to create “united front” structures which bring people together despite their differences in philosophy and approach.  Dr. Karenga has advocated “operational unity” as a concept to enable leaders and organizations with differing philosophies and approaches to work together.  Operational unity means focusing on issues and areas where there is agreement among organizations and leaders rather than disagreement.  Dr. Karenga calls this “unity without uniformity.” With so many problems/issues affecting the Black community, the goal of operational unity is to have leaders and organizations collaborate/act collectively around specific issues, projects and initiatives they agree on.

Unity in the Black community requires bridging the class divide.  Brothers and sisters who have seized on a pathway to the middle and upper class paved by the blood and sacrifice of heroes and sheroes of the Black freedom struggle have an obligation to spiritually and/or physically return to “Tobacco Road,” the urban inner-city neighborhoods of this country, to give back, to reinvest their time, talent and resources to reconstruct/revive the “dark ghettos” from which they escaped.

 The second Principle is Kujichagulia/Self-Determination.  There has been much talk about a “post-racial society” in the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama as America’s first African American president. And, there have always been some within the race who wanted to escape the “burden” of their Blackness.  The State of Emergency in Black America clearly suggests that “race still matters” as a determinant of one’s life chances in this country. Dr. Karenga has said that to chart a course toward full freedom, a theory/ideology of liberation must provide an “identity, purpose and direction.” I believe that if we are to permanently rise above the crises plaguing our families and communities, we must name and claim our identity, proudly embrace ourselves and be resolutely committed to being “of the race and for the race.”  As descendants from the African motherland, “we are an African people.” And, part of our mission in life should be to unapologetically work for the advancement of people of African descent in the U.S. and the Pan African world.  This does not mean disrespecting, disregarding or disdaining other racial/ethnic groups; it simply means “charity begins at home and spreads abroad,” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  We cannot, must not abandon the race, especially our sisters and brothers in the “hood,” in an ill conceived effort to become absorbed in a “colorblind” or “post racial society.”  We have a right to define who we are and determine our own destiny as people!

 The third Principle is Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility.  As noted earlier, the Doctrine of Kawaida as conceived by Dr. Karenga is grounded in the traditional worldview and way of life of African people. As such it emphasizes “we, us and our” in terms of the values that are important to building and sustaining wholesome families and communities.  This is diametrically opposed to the “me, myself and I” values of “individualism” and “competition” stressed as central to the “cherished” American/western way of life.  The concept of the “collective” is frowned upon in America as “socialist” or communist.” And yet, the idea of extended families working together for a common purpose within communities with a sense of mutual obligation and responsibility is deeply ingrained in African societies – and our own experience as Africans in America, particularly in the South.  We certainly will not permit class or status to divide us if we see ourselves as one people committed to promoting the common good of the race. This is a clear example of the need to retain the values/principles of our forebears as opposed to adopting a value orientation which has proven to be destructive to Black families and communities.

 The fourth Principle is Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics.  This principle is closely linked to Ujima in that it encourages people of African descent to share resources and engage in joint efforts to build and sustain an economic foundation for our families and communities. Cooperatives, credit unions, investment clubs and community development corporations are examples of economic structures based on pooling and sharing resources for the common good.  Ujamaa does not preclude for-profit corporations or individual entrepreneurship. But, the value/principle of Ujamaa dictates that entrepreneurs and businesses explore ways of collaborating/cooperating, exchanging ideas and pooling resources where appropriate to enhance the collective economic empowerment of the Black community. This is what Dr. Claud Anderson has promoted through the concept of Powernomics and George Fraser through Power Networking.  In the spirit of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, it is imperative that people of African descent persistently work to build an economic infrastructure to undergird our social and political institutions.

 The fifth Principle is Nia/Purpose. When we survey the incredible fratricide/carnage occurring in Black communities, largely committed by young Black males, one has the feeling that it may be because many of our young people lack a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.  And, this may be related to a lack of collective purpose in the Black community as a whole. Gone are the days of the civil rights/human rights and Black Power movements when there was a pervasive spirit of purpose in the air. There was a dynamic movement and a feeling that Black people were on the move! In the face of a daunting State of Emergency, we urgently need to restore a sense of purpose in Black America. And, that purpose should be a commitment to reclaim and rebuild our communities, a fervent determination that America’s desolate dark ghettos will become new communities that are bright beacons of hope and possibility. The collective conviction/purpose and the struggle required to rebuild our communities will be contagious; it will capture the hearts and minds of our youth/young people by restoring a sense of mission to their lives as part of a people fighting to liberate themselves from an oppressive value system and society.

The Sixth Principle is Kuumba/Creativity.  People of African descent gave the world its first multi-genius in the person of Imhotep, the Egyptian physician, architect and engineer who mastered the science of building in stone that led to the erection of the pyramids as one of the greatest wonders of the world! One might say that creativity is in our DNA.  Africans from the Caribbean took old barrels and transformed them into “steel drums” that produce amazing music.  Those of us who came up on the “rough side of the mountain” in America (most of us) bear witness to the fact that our mothers and fathers were masters of “making something out of nothing.”  They had to in order to survive.  Overcoming the State of Emergency to rebuild our families and communities is a formidable undertaking.  It will not be easy, but we should act with the absolute confidence that we possess the creativity, the knowledge, skill and will to meet the challenge.

 The Seventh and final Principle is Imani/Faith.  Given the obstacles our forebears faced, they had to have an abiding faith that survival was possible, that beyond the brutality, hardships, suffering and sacrifice of the moment, “joy would come in the morning,” that someday, a generation that sprang from their loins – sons, daughters, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great, great grandchildren … would be able to proclaim “free at last.” For millions it was the belief that “we’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.” For others it was a spiritual force deep down inside that could be tapped to carry forth for another day and another day … the faith that a better day was coming for the sons and daughters of Africa in America. In this current crisis, we too must have faith, a belief that enables us to scale heights, not normally possible, because we believe and act on our beliefs. Similar to the Principle of Kuumba/Creativity, we must have faith that there are no odds too great for a people to overcome if we act with Umoja/Unity, Kujichagulia/Self-Determination, Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics, Nia/Purpose, Kuumba/Creativity, and Imani/Faith.  “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day!”

– See more at: http://ibw21.org/vantage-point/the-nguzo-saba-and-kwanzaa-in-a-time-of-crisis/#sthash.gap6irva.dpuf

2014-3Kwanzaa

The 5 Things Black Women Must Do in 2014 to Live Happier, Healthier, Healed Lives

 The 5 Things Black Women Must Do in 2014 to Live Happier, Healthier, Healed Lives

Posted: 12/27/2013
The funny thing about stereotypes is that they often have some measure of truth to them. As black women in America, no group has been more stereotyped, or misunderstood, or more devalued than us. As we begin the countdown on the year that was 2013, it is time for us as black women to look toward our future in the New Year that is 2014.

As someone who has traveled the country for the last two years, talking and engaging almost exclusively with black women in corporate America, in universities, in our sororities, in industry, in our organizations, in the media and in our churches — I think it is time that we, as black women, faced some challenging truths about ourselves. What I’m about to say will be hard. And it may offend some of you. But that is okay, because the truth always hurts us before it heals us. Years before I wrote my award-winning book Black Woman Redefined, I founded an organization: I Am My Sister’s Keeper.

This organization, was dedicated to helping college-educated professional black women to better navigate their careers, their health and wellness, their spirit, their finances and their relationships. The organization took off and grew much greater than I ever expected, and was nationally recognized by media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post as the go-to organization for Black women’s personal development and wellness for over six years. The organization was the catalyst for the book Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.

One of the things that I have discovered about living life as a black woman in America, and by talking to and engaging with literally tens of thousands of black women throughout the United States, is that we have some very negative self-destructive patterns that we need to own, face and be courageous enough to fix if we want to have happy, healthy and healed lives. It is my goal in this column to challenge us as a sisterhood of women to take the necessary steps, to heal ourselves, both individually and collectively. Before we get into the steps that I believe are necessary for us to truly get to the places that we desire in our lives as black women, I ask you to keep an open mind, try not to get defensive, and share the steps in your sororities, clubs, and workplaces so that other black women can benefit. Sometimes it is as simple as people NOT knowing better so that they can do better.

The steps that I have outlined below, are based on qualitative and quantitative research, focus groups, coaching and speaking at large women’s conferences, HBCUs and interactive workshops I have conducted throughout the country over the past several years:

1. We must deal with our unresolved pain, wounds and baggage that often result in angry eruptions, broken relationships, failed relationships and unrealized dreams. This is a huge stumbling block for us in our interpersonal relationships. We carry lots of stuff, and lots of people on our backs and in our spirits. It results in us being weary, tired and frustrated.

2. We must stop doing emotional violence and damage to other black women. Other black women are not the enemy. Other black women are struggling and fighting the same battles that we fight every day, no matter their station in life, no matter what you think they may possess in terms of wealth, status or lifestyle. We have to stop “hating” on other sisters. It is just wreaking havoc on our emotional wellness and sisterhood. “We are all we have,” as First Lady Michelle Obama once said. Let’s start acting like it!

3. We must love ourselves enough to take care of our physical bodies and learn to eat healthier, sleep better, exercise more, tend to our feet (for diabetics) and wean ourselves off of generations of destructive emotional eating (comfort foods) that has literally millions of black women in America stuck in a pattern of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression and heart disease.

4. We must learn to teach people how to treat us with value, respect, love, honor, dignity and peace by showing them that we live by a WOMAN CODE that honors the very same values in our own lives and in how we treat other people.

5. We must commit to engaging in healthy, functional, committed and loving relationships with the men in our lives. Where those relationships are unhealthy, abusive or destructive to our soul’s landscape; we must be willing to put an end to those relationships immediately. We have got to stop making excuses for other people’s abusive treatment of us and toward us. It is NOT acceptable, sisters. We have got to put an end to the pain we feel because our fathers left us or were absent. Or the pain that we feel because the men we love betrayed us, cheated on us, raped or beat us. We have to believe that there are still good, loving, healthy and functional men regardless of their race, who will see our value, our worth, our beauty and our possibilities. And when they find us, we must commit not to run away, push them away or punish them for what our fathers, brothers or uncles did to us.

The truth is, there is no magic checklist for getting any of us the life that we desire. But there are critical life steps that we can take starting right now, and right here to helping us as black women to heal. And sisters, we need to heal.

Far too many of us are walking around with a smile on our face, with beautiful clothing, with our hair perfectly coiffed and with expensive handbags and shoes to make us feel valuable. When deeply inside, we are simmering pots waiting to erupt. We look so good on the outside. But some of us are badly broken on the inside. And we are killing other black women with our venom.

And for those who have been courageous enough to do the work on themselves, it is time for us to be our sister’s keeper. I am not asking you to burden your life with another woman’s pain, I am not asking you to save another woman’s life, what I am asking you to do, is to be kind to other black women. Reach out. Care. Show some empathy. Be a mentor. Be a friend. When other black women try to help you do not treat them as the enemy. When they are there for you say thank you. When they have stuck with you in the trenches and storms of life honor them. When they have your back, don’t stab them in theirs. When they bless you with their gifts for free, support your causes, organizations, and the like or help you and your family in desperate times of need, don’t later discard them because you believe that you no longer need them. It is just immoral. It violates the WOMAN CODE.

Sisters, this will be the last column that I will ever write on the issue of us as black women. I’ve grown tired and weary. I love us, but the world is bigger, more global, and sisterhood is about all women coming together to lift, heal, inspire and change the world. We need to do the work on us so that we can fully participate in that global sisterhood and all the benefits of it.

I have, like many others before me, devoted the last decade of my life to helping the rest of the world try to see us as the beautiful, fabulous, fierce, loyal, kind, nurturing, intelligent, committed and loving women that we are. But in the last year, in particular, I’ve experienced first hand, and heard far too many stories from good black women, from all walks of life, about other black women who have cursed them, cut them off, betrayed them, manipulated them, stolen from them, slept with their men, slandered them, ruined them, fired them and literally broken their hearts with treachery for the smallest of offenses, or for no offense at all.

We love to do what I call “The Go Off.” It is what we do when anyone dares challenge us, correct us, upsets us, or in some cases, tries to love us. Sisters, you have no right despite whatever kind of pain you may be in, to heap abuse on another black woman. The most disturbing part of this “go off” mentality, is that we feel entitled to do it most of all against one another. We don’t do it to the men in our lives who mistreat us and abuse us. We would never do it to the “other” people in our lives or at our workplaces. But we will do it to the sister in church, the sister who has taken us into her home, the sister who has been with us through hell, the sister who has lent us money, the sister who bathed us when we were too sick to bathe ourselves, or cared for us when we were sick. Sisters, it’s time to heal (see my 2012/2013 series for essence.com: “Sisters Heal,” it will bless you).

In the final analysis, each of us must determine her own journey for herself. Each of us must do the work that is required, for us to rise above the pain that was unfairly inflicted upon us as children, as young girls and women, and now as grown middle-aged or aging women. It is never too late to fix yourself, if you are willing to do the work. It is never too late to apologize, to make amends for the wrongs that we do and to forgive those who have wronged us. Sisters, it’s time for us to stop pointing the finger at everyone else and take a long hard look in the mirror at the woman was looking back. If your life is not what you imagined it would be, or if you are unhappy. The change has to start within. You can never skip doing the work. It will destroy your destiny.

If you want 2014 to be different than 2013, then the work has to start now. Your life will only become what you want it to be, when you find the courage to love yourself. And when you learn to love yourself, I promise you that you will learn to love, respect and honor other black women.

Sophia A. Nelson

Award Winning Author; Corporate/Personal Development Coach, Cultural & Political Columnist for The Daily Beast, NBC’s theGRIO, Essence Magazine, & USATODA

RATCHET ME THIS: HOW DO WE RIDE FOR PLEASURE IN A PIMP CULTURE?

REAL COLORED GIRLS

DEC 22 2013

RATCHET ME THIS: HOW DO WE RIDE FOR PLEASURE IN A PIMP CULTURE?

Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Michele Wallace, Harriet Tubman, Patricia Hill Collins, Sojourner Truth, M. Jacqui Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, et. al.

 

irst things first: we are not talking to Jamilah-come-lately. If you ain’t been boycottin’ R. Kelly since Aaliyah was 14, if you even needed to see the piss tapes to persuade you further, if Kevin Powell’s BK Nation petition was your entry into this conversation, you ain’t got the answers.

Second: if you’re trying to engage in an analysis of Black women’s sexuality, without acknowledging the role of pimp culture in your framing, you ain’t been doin’ the education.

‘Pimp culture’ is the umbrella under which we map the interlocking systems of oppression that create the material conditions under which Black women experience bodily and psychic harm. Vestiges of the gator-wearing, fur cape-lined pimp show up in our private and public spaces and we feel the brunt of his solid gold cane in our experiences of mass culture apparatuses. Pimp culture employs white supremacy, misogyny, racism, homophobia and the dogma of rugged individualism to physically and psychically undermine our sense of self, diminishing our capacity for self-determination.

Pimp culture is in line with other terms used in anti-violence discourse – sexual violence, culture of violence, rape culture. Yet, in the Black feminist tradition, we use the term to center the unique experiences of Black women and signal the specific forms of knowledge that we bring in understanding the depths of physical violence and psychic trauma on individual and societal levels.

By Jess Pinkham _DSC9539.NEFCollectively, these forces show up as, for example, the vicious maligning of nine-year old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis who was “jokingly” called a cunt by a major news media outlet. The sexualized verbal battery of a Black girl child, on the public stage, in her moment of glory, was an act of psychic aggression meant to humiliate Black girls and women, while underscoring that in pimp culture we are primed to be sexually exploited even in our most innocent moments. The language used was an attempt by pimp culture to turn a Black girl child out as a sexual spectacle, reminding those of us who are grown that we don’t own the mechanisms of our representation, nor do we have the allegiance of anyone in power who will ride for us.

Many of the comments on our first blog, “The Problem with BeyHive Bottom Bitch Feminism,” along with dialogues in the Twitterverse, support the idea that we should celebrate the presentation of sexual pleasure by Black women, especially when it’s done inside of marriage. In an effort to subvert the politics of respectability, some Black feminist hash-taggers have relied on strategic amnesia that discounts the reality of the material conditions of our sexual lives. To wit:

Whenever we consider Black women on stage, we also consider the auction block. When we think of public displays of Black female sexuality, Saartje Baartman isn’t far from our minds. When Black women voluntarily show “the actual inside[s] of [our] vagina” to an audience of strangers and peeping Toms, the torture of Anarcha Wescott takes center stage. Sexual violence is not a joke. We breathe these histories alongside our freedoms, which interrupt any fantasies of an ahistoric sexuality and make us suspicious and critical like a mutha.

Real Colored Girls are serving notice: game recognize game, and we are not here for corporate entities to consume our bodies, shit them out, repackage and sell them back to us as avatars for the music industrial complex. RCG are committed to defining healthy, loving, kinky, freaky, juicy, queer, bi and hetero sexualities for Black women. We are most concerned with publicly taking care of Black women’s sexuality by addressing historical and present trauma and arguing for the creation of a cultural environment in which it is safe for us to express ourselves sensually and sexually.

A cadre of Black feminists and Black women sympathizers (those who don’t proclaim to be feminist but ride for Black women) are calling for a “pleasure principle” that creates space in pop culture for Black women to express empowered sexualities. Any set of propositions that seeks to determine the fundamental basis for our sexual expression must consider the structural conditions under which said propositions are engineered. Pop cultural texts are produced inside of this context, and failing to acknowledge that in your analysis limits the work of dismantling the structures of pimp culture. Twerk it out.

Real Colored Girls encourages the communities of folk engaged in recent discussions about this work to move beyond Bey and consider what this moment has triggered around the presentation of Black female sexualities. Beyonce seems to have mastered the impossible, given the realities for most Black women in the U.S. – taking charge of her cultural production. Close reads of her recent and past work from writers Emily J. Lordi and Daphne Brooks invite us to consider the complex challenges for Black women artists. Even though Beyoncé is suspiciously sexy and joyfully raunchy, it would take a contortionist to situate her performances as a safe & empowered representation of Black women’s sexualities. Beyonce is a product of the hip hop generation – she woke up like that. In contracting with pop culture to distribute feminism, have we diluted the struggle of our Black feminist foremothers? For RCG, this is about the political economy of culture – how global corporate structures are not the context for transformative revolutionary action, and we shouldn’t look to them for our politics.

Our dream is for a revolution for Black women and our sexualities. As Mother bell exhorts, living out this dream requires us to do,

…the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representations of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.

Real Colored Girls are willing to ride for our radical politic, while acknowledging our privileges as artists and academics. We promote an oppositional consciousness that imagines radical spaces for sexual expression – physical, virtual and spiritual – which is risky and not without sacrifice. We call upon the lives and recorded texts of womanists and Black feminists as scripture and theory in the flesh.

roll-callAudre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Michele Wallace, Harriet Tubman, Patricia Hill Collins, Sojourner Truth, M. Jacqui Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, et. al.

bell hooks cautions that Black women,

…haven’t as a group really carved out different ways to live our lives.

This is an amazing opportunity to do this work. In the spirit of loving Black women, we invite interventions that construct a post-capitalist imagination in which to dream ourselves whole.

#RealColoredGirls

#PimpCulture

Photo Credits: Bridge to Freedom FoundationTrey Anthony

REAL COLORED GIRLS

 

This Week’s Program Note

See on Scoop.itOUR COMMON GROUND Informed Truth and Resistance

This Week on OUR COMMON GROUND 21  December  2013 28th Annual OUR COMMON GROUND Kwanzaa Teach-In and Celebration Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throug…

OUR COMMON GROUND Omnibus‘s insight:

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world African community, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.

See on ourcommongroundtalk.wordpress.com

THE PROBLEM WITH BEYHIVE BOTTOM BITCH FEMINISM

THE PROBLEM WITH BEYHIVE BOTTOM BITCH FEMINISM

Beyhive Booty

In Pimp Theory, a “bottom bitch” is the one in the whores’ hierarchy who rides hardest for her man. She’s the rock of every hustler economy and her primary occupation is keeping other ho’s in check and gettin’ that money. She isn’t trying to elevate the status of her sister ho’s. She isn’t looking to transform pimp culture. The bottom bitch is a token who is allowed symbolic power, which she uses to discipline, advocate for, represent and advance the domain of the stable.  In pop culture, she represents the trope of the chosen black female, loyal to her man and complicit in her own commodification.

In hip hop vernacular she has emerged as the “Boss Bitch” or “Bawse”, titles you’ll hear used liberally across urban/pop discourses – from the streets to rappers to the hip hop, basketball and ATL housewives.  What she represents is an appearance of power within a structure of male dominance, but in reality this “power” is merely vicarious and not a positional power in and of itself.

Admittedly, bottom bitch is an unfortunate metaphor to use for framing conversations about Beyonce, but when you’re married to “Big Pimp’n” and his cameo on your new self-titled album, coined a “feminist masterpiece,” is all about how he gon’

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

you leave us no choice. When elements of the feminist community rise up to applaud your simplistic, pro-capitalist, structurally violent sampling of feminism, the metaphor becomes even more relevant. Moreover, we’re concerned that the capitalist ethics of mainstream hip hop has seduced feminist allies into flirting with bottom bitch feminism in their silencing of those who would critique Bey and the systemic violence she represents.

To this we ask: Is a feminism sponsored by the corporate music industrial complex as big as we can dream? Is the end game a feminism in which the glass ceiling for black women’s representation only reaches as high as our booties? Can’t we just love Bey as an amazing corporate artist without selling out the hard won accomplishments of our black feminist and womanist foremothers?  Can we not love her for the gorgeous and fierce mega pop star she is without appropriating her for some liberal, power feminist agenda?

These questions asked, we do understand the terror and mistrust some black women may feel when confronted with representations that reflect us to ourselves as brilliantly beautiful.  We also get the impulse that these same women may have to criticize and destroy such images. But this is not that. Our critique of Bey as a feminist doesn’t come from a place of fear. Indeed it may even be more a critique of the black feminist blogosphere. Our real fear is of a bourgeoning cadre of institutional gatekeepers of “appropriate” black feminist politics going in hard with their facile analyses, shaming and silencing black women with alternative reads of B.

Real Colored Girls are not here to promote or co-sign the idea that to critique Bey’s “Flawless Feminism” is to hate black women.  We reject the idea that love for the folks equals blind loyalty. Our deep and abiding love and respect for the ancestors will never permit an image of feminism wrapped in the gold chains of hip hop machismo.  We ain’t throwin’ no (blood) diamonds in the air for ‘da roc, no matter how many feminists you sample over a dope beat. We’re smarter than that. We’re worth more than that.

Insisting on a rank and file consent and approval to these ‘terms of engagement’ is a form of bullying and in the spirit of Audre Lorde we remind you that silencing dissent will not protect you.  We feel strongly that it is our duty and imperative to engage multiple perspectives in the marketplace of ideas, supporting open discourse, lest we find ourselves guilty of policing one another into a dishonest respectability.

Our work is not done. Beyhive Bottom Bitch Feminism does not replace nor is it even in the realm of the critical work of black women writers and artists across the discursive spectrum, as some folks have proclaimed across social media. As womanists and black feminists, we have a responsibility to bring it with our cultural work which we will infuse, at all times, with an ethic of care and responsibility. The coontocracy of assimilationist corporate negroes is in full effect, riding for patriarchal capitalist agendas and having us believe that somehow Bey’s success is a step toward some dystopic vision of progress for Black women. There may be empowerment for some folks but by and large it is a false hope steeped in capitalism and individualism, supporting the escapist desires of rampant pornographic consumerism.

This essay does not come from a place of ‘who gon’ check me, boo?’. We would like to invite dialogue, conversation and a multitude of perspectives. We’re thinking that our next conversation will be about how Beyonce has opened the door for further discussion around black female sexuality. We’ve been feelin’ this quote by bell hooks from her essay “Selling Hot Pussy”:

When black women relate to our bodies, our sexuality, in ways that place erotic recognition, desire, pleasure, and fulfillment at the center of our efforts to create radical black female subjectivity, we can make new and different representations of ourselves as sexual subjects. To do so we must be willing to transgress traditional boundaries. We must no longer shy away from the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representation of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.

What are your thoughts?

#RealColoredGirls

#BottomBitchFem

REAL COLORED GIRLS  Who Are They ?

When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

Sister of the Yam

POLITICS. HIP HOP. AND THE OCCASIONAL LOVE POEM.

When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful Minds

 kanye-west-808s-heartbreak-kaws-1[1]

For lack of a better reference, the moment felt like Lauryn Hill circa 2000: Kanye West spitting his characteristically impulsive but nod-worthy truths–my favorite that night was his deft critique of “rap beef” –riddled by the painfully familiar feeling that what we were also witnessing was a beautiful mind unraveling.

Some who watched the Kanye West-Jimmy Kimmel interview this past Thursday, who had been keeping close watch of the many other interviewstweetspaparazzi attacks, and fashion statements that brought Kanye to Kimmel’s desk that night, and who were perhaps also nostalgic for the pre-kilt, pre-Kim, College Dropout Kanye that used to croon about family dinners and the graveshift of dead-end jobs, observed in Kanye a dangerously heightened mix of mania and megalomania; heard a wired, rambling incoherence; and chronicled those twenty plus minutes as exhibit Z that Kanye West is indeed battling some sort of mental health crises.

Others picked up on a mouth racing to keep up with a mind in constant overdrive; they tuned into Kanye’s fearless, biting critique; and cheered along the self-proclaimed Genius-Underdog sparring with the lovable Everyman type that always seems to win these kinds of debates.

Both interpretations of that night–that Kanye was emitting his last fumes before meltdown or that he is deep beyond reproach–are freighted with their own particular dangers. On one hand, we risk participating in a rich tradition of silencing and managing rightfully angry people of color who dare to speak up by calling them crazy. On the other hand, fawning hero-worship can doom us to pulling up a chair and whipping out the popcorn to shit shows that could very well be prevented; Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston hang heavy in my mind as the parables for how fatal that kind of spectatorship can truly be.

Positioning oneself in the gray is often indicia of cowardice, but here I am in this whack limboland of hedge and no answers: neither hypotheses fully work for me.

 

That night I saw a man who was wounded. Who never expected his naked struggle for legitimacy would become fodder for late-night mockery or that it would hurt that much–that he, as an adult man with serious indictments against an industry that made and now mangles him, would be infantalized into a whiny, ranting child. I saw a man deeply frustrated by an industry that has smugly siloed bright black and brown men into the white noise of hip-hop so that it can exoticize, imitate, appropriate, and snub them safely from afar. I saw a man who was lonely and misunderstood, who had had been stripped of his support system and now floats about unmoored. I saw a man who thought his creativity and hard word would somehow immunize him from the garden variety isms that topple heroes and unmentionables alike. I saw a man who, like many talented men of color, whether they hide out in Ivy League institutions or behind mics, has never been held accountable for the gaps in his logic and the tangles in his heart strings–for the materialism, misogyny and violence that hobbles his otherwise brave and sophisticated wisdom about race and class in this country. (But that goes for Common, Nas, Tupac and Kendrick Lamar too). I saw a man who wears his vanity like a XXL T-shirt as armor for the much smaller, more vulnerable man underneath. I saw a man who is so transfixed by needing affirmation from White America, so obsessed with his worthiness and seriousness as an artist, an intellectual and a man that he can’t quite calibrate, stake out terms for himself, laugh at the jokes that will surely come, or brave the insults that will never end. And I saw a man who can’t help but still be, many albums and awards later, the creative boy in the back of classrooms, saving up for Gucci loafers, standing up against gangster bullies and inventing those self-survival myths and mechanisms that get you out but never quite set you free.

 

Black America is mad at Kanye because he didn’t properly learn the lesson that every person of color must learn to remain sane in an insanely racist world–how not to offer your neck to the guillotine. Quite frankly, we’re confused: did Kanye think his art, his name, his stuff, his women-as-props would exempt him from blackness? Did he think his laying out of dreams, the unbridled honesty and that faux Little Engine That Could confidence could be the brave preemptive moves that would keep him safe? Further, we’re exhausted by his lack of groundedness . Kanye cannot seem to locate himself in a long history of great people doing great things while hearing as many–if not more and more serious–no’s than he. Lack of perspective is a male privilege and also the white privilege Kanye will never have and should never fight for.

Terrifyingly, Kanye’s sins for White America are much simpler: he dared to call himself great without their permission. For that, he is an asshole.  For that, he is dangerous. For that, he is crazy.

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Deciding what Kanye is–”crazy”, genius, or troubled–is important because this is, of course, much bigger than Kanye. He stands next to Lauryn Hill, Dave Chapelle, and others with beautiful minds and broken spirits. I do not think it is coincidence that all three–Kanye, Lauryn, Dave and we can even throw Michael Jackson in–have been accused of “craziness” at the height of critiquing the ugliness and the isms of the industries and audiences that have propelled them to fame. I think we should understand that “crazy” is the Atomic Bomb of the English language, that it’s a no-return obliteration of personhood and credibility. And we should also remember that ”crazy” has been a way of managing female sexual desirequeer eroticism and political ideology; yesterday’s history is today’s wet paint. As Dave once said, “the worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.”

I believe in considering Dave’s follow up to that thought: “These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick.”drwdx-pw5_ru-deyv-shapell-aktery-dave-chappelle[1]

And that–the sick environment–is the one thing that never, ever gets enough play: if, as we speculate, all these beautiful, beautiful minds are breaking, undoing themselves, unfurling like tightly wound string, we owe it to ourselves to at least ask if something drives them to it. Certainly, mental illness is complex and at times turns on with no external switch, but we have testimony from artists we respect and admire, that something is rotten in Hollywood.

As Lauryn said after her hiatus from music, “When artists experience danger and crises…everyone easily accepts that there was something either dysfunctional or defective with the artist, rather than look at, and fully examine, the system and its means and its policies of exploiting/’doing business’.”

Over the course of a short decade, so many celebrities have fallen apart before my eyes: shaving their heads, ripping apart cameras, tearing off clothes, eating themselves into bloated existence or not eating themselves into invisible non-existence, drinking and drugging fast lives and slow deaths, basically begging us to listen in the most literal, primal languages possible, and we still keep diagnosing symptoms instead of curing the disease and the whole thing seems wild to me.

If mental illness is a dialectic between the person and the space,  then its source is not wholly the artist nor Hollywood, but I know that what Kanye and so many others deserve is the clean slate and the fighting chance Kanye kept quoting Richard Pryor to talk about.

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If this past Thursday was only an open-aired breakdown of mental health, then we need better language. Because though we complain mental health in this country and for black folks in particular isn’t talked about, that’s not entirely true: we talk about it all the time; we just talk about it poorly. If finding oneself on the edge deserves a life-sentence of being called “crazy,” of being dismissed, written off, and laughed at, of not being heard, then no wonder the shame and the silence. Particularly for artists, whose whole careers and identities are based on being experienced, interpreted, listened to and gazed upon: mattering.  Truth is, there are those who are dying from, but more curiously living with, mental illness in our midst; they are flying our planes, shaking our hands, watching our kids, loving us, and staring back at us from mirrors. And some of the great mindswe most admire produced art, theories, and inventions despite and because of battles with mental illness. Furthermore, achieving mental health is often a lifetime of strenuously and intentionally maintaining the balance; there is not one discrete day you are sick and one discrete day you are well. Given the enormity, pervasiveness, and constantly looming threat of mental illness, we have to figure out a way for people to matter even if they have not sought or successfully phased out of treatment. We can’t just keep calling people “crazy” as the lever we pull to extradite them into irrelevance. The balance is hard but important: how to hear folks when they need help, how to hear folks even if they need help, how to empower them to seek help, how to be the help they seek, and how to know when we can’t be.

If this Thursday was also about something bad happening to a beautiful mind and that something bad is, as Lauryn puts it, “a machine that overlook[s] the need to to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society,” then we still need transformation.  We not only need to imagine and create a celebrity culture that does not drive the talented, the strong, and the brave into hiding but we also need to collectively figure out how to survive that heartless, breathless machine in the meantime. For Kanye, the machine is the fashion and the music industries, but for any one of us, it could be the university or the office or the political regime. If we become as angry as we deserve to be, then the isms we fight will rob us of our life joy. We have to somehow figure out how to resist and dissent without allowing that enterprise to swallow us whole and turn us stale and I have faith we can win this war without quotable tweets or serving as the one-person congregation of the Church of our own self-proclaimed Godliness. Kanye once said that he, like Dave Chapelle, has to laugh to keep from crying and I suggest that he works harder on that laugh–not for the Kimmels but for Kanye.

A Post Racial America…Really?

See on Scoop.itOUR COMMON GROUND Informed Truth and Resistance

 The Huxtables are in the White House ….and All is Well   Separating Myth from Reality  In 2013 we have Barack Obama, a two-term African American President, hundreds of other black men and women el…

OUR COMMON GROUND Omnibus‘s insight:

"It might be more accurate to state some white American die-hards can’t help but choose to live in a post-Mandela world. While they may celebrate his courage and achievements in the abstract, they cannot fully digest this brave South African who sacrificed his freedom and life for a world where people of all races, ethnicities, and kinds will try to live in peace and harmony."

See on commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com