Friday, 30 August 2013

When Did Pointing Out Racism Become "The Real Racism"?

I want to discuss something that's been on my mind for a bit. On Sunday night, right after the VMA's, (and before it-which-must-not-be-named), I had a long discussion with my 20 year old brother about why I was offended by Miley's performance. He's not totally up on social justice issues, and doesn't have the same context for this stuff as I do, but he's insightful, and willing to engage and learn. The discussion eventually segued into the nature of the word racist and how it is used in conversation of this nature.

He thinks that the word racist is "aggressive" and should only used to describe acts and people who do obviously and maliciously racist things (like... lynching I suppose?) because using it to refer to smaller, unintentional acts of racism immediately puts people on the defensive, and makes them unwilling to listen to you and your line of reasoning, even when you're right.

Now, while I see his point, and agree with his reasoning, I disagree with that sentiment. I think that it's even more important to explicitly label the smaller, unintentional acts of racism as racism, in order to help people recognize that no, you're not in the KuKluxKlan, but yes, pawing at a black woman's hair or calling a black man "boy", or dressing up as an "Indian Chief" for Halloween, or pulling your eyes back to make them slant is still, racist as fuck.

And I got this POV a lot in the comments of the article both here and over at GT over the last few days as well. Including this last one that I got just today:
That being said I don't believe that what is acceptable is one culture should be considered racist unless it actual causes harm to someone. And no one will convince me that dance moves are harmful to anyone other than the dancer.

To me, the unwillingness of people to call those smaller acts exactly what they are, feeds into the idea that racism isn't a big problem anymore. I think it contributes to the rhetoric that PoC are "pulling the race card" when they rightfully call people on their naked prejudices. 
I personally think it's incredibly important to start calling those "smaller" acts of racism out as racism, so that it becomes easier for the population at large to see why things like Miley's twerk obsession/appropriation is so problematic. 
Not calling out micro-aggressions as racism ignores the fact that Impact trumps Intent every time, and perpetuates the idea that a racist comment or joke is somehow purged of its racism because "I didn't mean it that way."
People take the label racist as a personal insult, when in fact it's just a fact of life. According to Jane Elliot:

"If you're not a racist when you leave high school, then you should have failed Social Studies because you weren't paying attention."

And I wholeheartedly agree with that. Being racist and/or prejudiced based on race is something that is ingrained in us. It leaches into our consciousness from television, movies, books, everything. It doesn't make you a bad person if you hold those prejudices. It makes you a bad person if you recognize that you have those prejudices and don't do the work to unlearn them. Because that's a huge part of intersectional feminism for me: consciously unlearning the prejudices that were fed to me as truth.

People don't get defensive when they're accused of racism because in their minds, they aren't racist, and accepting that they may have done/said something racist means acknowledging that they hold the "wrong" beliefs. It means facing the fact that they accept harmful ideas as part of their worldview. But "racism" isn't genetic. It IS something that you can change about yourself if you do the work. 
You can't fix a problem you don't know you have. How are you going to know that what you're saying is racist if people keep dancing around the word out of fear they'll offend? I'm sorry, but fuck your feelings. I'm already offended, and I have good reason to be. So I think I have the right to alert you to your racism and the fact that it's harmful to me.

I actually think that calling out racism might be the only education that PoC "owe" to white people. 
What about you guys? Is it better to tiptoe around the problem in order to avoid offending someone? Or is it more important to be clear and precise about calling our racist actions?

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Here Is A Thing That Happened: I Accidentally Went Viral // Miley-Gate 2013

On Monday 26th August, 2013, I published an article entitled Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications Of Her VMA Performance. The article quickly went viral, accumulating over one million views, 700 comments, and 100K facebook shares in a little over 24 hours. That does not include the traffic that this blog received from cross-posting the article.

Response was divided, but largely positive, with many people emailing me personally to thank me for the piece, and a number of influential people reposting and discussing the article. This is a summary of the events that led up to my writing the article.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Comments Are Now Closed

The response to the Miley article has been way, WAY disproportionate to what I was expecting. While I've gotten some really sincere positive feedback, I've also had to deal with some devious trolling and personal attacks, and I'm not really able to deal with all of it on my own.

So the comments on this blog (and on the original article over at groupthink) are now closed indefinitely. I will likely never turn the GT comments back on, but the comments here will be back as soon as I think the trolls that have been circling find something else to do with their time.

I'm just one person, and I can't deal with all of the moderation on my own, and frankly this whole thing is stressing me out. So I'm taking a mental health sabbatical, and simply making this space a rhetorical one until further notice. 

To my new readers, I hope you will stay, and that you find other content here that you find engaging. I haven't forgotten you, and I've very grateful for your eyes, and your time. To all the people who have shared and tweeted and commented, I'm grateful for your willingness to be part of this discussion, and engage in meaningful dialogue about an important issue.

And to the ladies and gents of GT, you are the tits and I love you so much for being so amazing and helping me deal with the massive spectacle this has become. I deeply treasure my Trouser award and I have never felt so appreciated!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Feminism: Why Miley Matters OR Our Relationship To Pop Culture Does Not Exist In a Vacuum

Yesterday's post on Miley's VMA performance and the racism she put on display has gotten way bigger than I ever expected. I originally wrote it for Jezebel's Groupthink forum, then cross posted it here. Between the two, the article has racked up close to 12K shares on facebook, nearly 100K views, and enough tweets that I've been getting follow requests to my private twitter account all day; and the numbers will likely only have grown by the time I hit publish. 

But while on a superficial level I'm glad that so many people have read and shared my work, the bigger emotion that overtakes me is relief. Relief that so many people get it. Relief that so many people understand that there was something very, very wrong with what Miley did onstage that night, and it had nothing to do with her costume. Relief that this many people understood that Miley's performance was not a stand-alone occurrence, but a symptom of a much, much bigger problem with the way that blackness, and specifically black womanhood is portrayed in our culture.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance

Editor's Note: The response to this piece has become a little overwhelming and I'm having some trouble trying to reign it all in, but do know that while I may have to deal with derailers and trolls over on Groupthink, I will not tolerate them here. This blog is my safe space and I will not let anonymous commenters change that. I will be heavily moderating the comments of this article, so think before you post. If your comment accuses me of "reverse racism" or includes derogatory remarks. It will be deleted. If you slut shame Miley Cyrus, your comment will be deleted. If you derail the conversation in any way, your comment will be deleted. Be forewarned.

As a black woman, I feel like I owe a debt of gratitude to Mikki Kendall, of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen fame for managing to so perfectly encapsulate years of subjugation of black women by white women. With those five words, she was able to instantly zero in on why Intersectional Feminism is so necessary if the feminist movement is to progress. 
Because Miley's performance last night, and the subsequent ignoring of the racial implications of what she did is just the latest incident in the long line of things that shows me as a black woman, that white feminism does not want me, or care to have me.
Jezebel's piece on the performance chose to focus on the slut shaming that has been thrown Miley's way in the wake of the performance. All fine and good. Slut shaming is bad, don't do it. On that we can all agree. What it didn't acknowledge was the incredibly racist nature of that performance. So I brought it up.
Okay.... but can we talk about the problematic and racist nature of her performance? Her literal use of people as props? Her association of her newfound sexuality with the traditional codifiers of black female culture, thereby perpetuating the Jezebel stereotype that black women are lewd, lascivious and uncontrollably sexualized? Can we talk about the straight up minstrelsy of that performance? Can we talk about how not a single black person won an award last night even though the people who did win awards have been mining black music and culture for years? 
No? Ok... I'll just sit at the back of the bus then. #solidarityisforwhitewomen
See the problem isn't that they talked about slut shaming. That deserves attention. The problem is that they completely sidestepped the other glaring teddy bear in the room, and that is the commodification of black female sexuality in Miley's performance. But it's not a thing that white women deal with, so it didn't warrant inclusion or discussion by the white-led mainstream feminist media.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The MTV Video Music Awards 2013: The Danity Kane Show


I'm irrationally excited and I can't explain why. There's so much buzz this year about who will and won't be there (*NSYNC), who may or may not be reuniting (Danity Kane!), that I cannot contain myself! I have never fangirled so hard in my life!*

Not to mention the list of performers for tonight's show. Lady Gaga will be opening the show with her new single Applause, and I can't WAIT to see how she'll translate the song's spectacular music video into a stage performance.

Katy Perry will also be performing her new single Roar and Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake will all be taking a turn on the Brooklyn stage. It is gonna be bananas!

I can't wait to see who takes the Moonmen for Video of the Year and Song of The Summer. I'm rooting for Bruno Mars' Locked Out Of Heaven and Daft Punk's Get Lucky respectively.

But let's be real. I'm completely and totally watching in case Danity Kane decides to make all my dreams come true and perform a new single. They are currently the main reason for my existence. I have been listening to their two (#1! platinum selling!) albums non-stop since the reunion announcement was made. I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THEM! I don't even mind if they perform an old song (Damaged anyone?) Just give me something. I'm begging you Aubrey! Lol.

In any case, I'll be live-tweeting the show tonight @battymamzelle, so sign into the #VMAs tweetchat room and join me! (and the millions of other people who will be watching...) See you tonight!

Will you be watching the show tonight? Who are you most excited to see take the stage? Who gets your vote for this years's moonmen? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Misc. Music: Applause by Lady Gaga (Directed by Inez & Vinoodh)

I don't think I realized how much I missed Lady Gaga until this video debuted.

Gaga has been out of the news cycle for so long that I stopped caring what she was up to, and I wasn't that concerned with what she'd been doing. But this video is clearly a return to form. It's a little bit of Born This Way, Alejandro and straight up art and fashion culture rolled into one. I'm obsessed.

The visuals are beautiful, due in no small part to fashion photographers Inez &Vinoodh, I'm sure. I have to say I'm very on board with this new trend of fashion photographers as music video directors. Madonna's Girl Gone Wild by Mert & Marcus is still one of my favourite videos of all time, and maybe Applause could be next on the list.

In the end, I have to say, I wasn't really here for Applause until the video debuted. I didn't dislike the song, but it seemed to me to be classic Gaga. But the visuals really brought it home for me. I'm a fickle fan; judge me. While it isn't bad, I had hoped for something more... innovative from the woman who brought us Bad Romance. So while, the song is a bit of a letdown, the video follows in classic Gaga tradition of incorporating disconnecting visual elements to create a compelling story. I am SO here for it. Check out a few stills of my favourite moments from the video after the jump.

You Are Less Dumb Now: The Backfire Effect and Fighting On The Internet

I always knew fighting online was stupid.

It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. I mean, endlessly debating the merits of theism with random strangers? It's like begging to get dragged into a black hole of endless suck. But sometimes, even though it might seem harmless, it's really necessary to take a step back.

I recently learned about something called The Backfire Effect, and I had a chance to see it play out in painfully slow motion on twitter earlier this morning. Essentially, the backfire effect works like this:
"Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper."
And I can tell you from experience that the effect is only compounded online.

The thing is? It doesn't matter that oftentimes, one side is objectively right and the other objectively wrong. It doesn't change the fact that Barack Obama is not a Mulsim, 9/11 was not a government conspiracy and abortion does not involve killing babies. It doesn't matter. Because human nature dictates that if you were stupid enough to believe those things in the first place, evidence to the contrary will only strengthen your resolve. I'm learning everyday that we're predisposed to protect the things we believe in, whether or not those things are rational or logical.
"Did you teach the other party a valuable lesson? Did they thank you for edifying them on the intricacies of the issue after cursing their heretofore ignorance, doffing their virtual hat as they parted from the keyboard a better person?"
"No, probably not. Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. If you are lucky, the comment thread will get derailed in time for you to keep your dignity, or a neighboring commenter will help initiate a text-based dogpile on your opponent."
Yup. So, learn from my mistakes. Don't fight on the internet. You'll have wasted your time, and you won't teach anyone anything. You'll just have guaranteed that the other party is even more determined to remain stupid than they were before, and that does humanity a disservice.

Don't be a disservice to humanity :)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Bits and Bobs on Feminist Theory #8: Marriage As A Social Contract

Marriage is a contract just like an other contract. When the terms of that contract are broken, the parties are entitled to either nullify the contract or renegotiate its terms.

The only difference with marriage is that in addition to agreeing to financial terms (pre/post-nups) you are legally binding yourself to social terms like love and fidelity.

People forget that the idea of marriage for romantic love is actually a very new concept. Way back when, people married not for love, but to ensure economic stability. Kingdoms were joined through marriage to forge political alliances; love had nothing to do with it.

A "good husband" was one who could provide for his wife and family financially, because often, women were forbidden from providing for themselves. Women were encouraged to vie for the attention of the most successful man, because that was the only to ensure that their own financial futures were safe.

But this is 2013. The "institution of marriage" as we know it is (and always has been) steeped in deeply patriarchal and sexist notions, and now that we've made some progress on the women's liberation front, it's not something that we as a society need. Granted, there are definitely practical reasons to get married, most specifically the legal recognition of your tangible and intangible contributions to another person's life. But the idea that it's the only way to show a long-time personal commitment to someone you love is at worst, bullshit, and at best, very silly.

Marriage is a choice that should be made practically. It's not a life goal. Like any other contract, its terms should be considered seriously. If the terms are to your benefit, go for it. If not, don't sign on the dotted line. A marriage should be an arrangement that enriches the lives of the people who have entered into the agreement. But on the flip side, contracts end all the time, and it's completely okay to end a marriage in the same way. It shouldn't be a decision that's steeped in shame.

At the end of the day, marriage is a business transaction between two people who love each other (with a few federal benefits thrown in).

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Things I Love: The Read

The Read is the best podcast you're not listening to. Seriously. If you love Scandal and Beyonce, you NEED to be tuning in every week.

Hosted by KidFury of Youtube fame, and his friend Crissle, The Read covers the week's most interesting pop culture events, fan advice letters, and one spectacular read each from the two hosts. 

The show is as NWFW as it is deliciously enjoyable, but the slight taboos of dirty words and sex talk makes it that much more amazing.

Kid Fury and Crissle tackle everything from relationship advice and racial politics, to Beyonce's haircut and Miley's cultural appropriation, and they do it with the intelligence and real world experience of people who know what they're talking about. My favourite thing about them is the fact that they aren't afraid to take on political issues and infuse them with their specific brand of humour and outrage. They know what they're doing, and they aren't about to slow down for ignorant folk who can't get it together.

Take a listen to this week's episode (featuring a spectacular read of Little Miss Ratchet Miley) if you know what's good for you. I promise you'll be coming back week after week for more of their crass yet classy views, and you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

On Tone Policing: Why It's Bullshit And Why You Need To Stop

One of the things that bothered me about the discussions that happened online over the HS debacle in the last few days was the rampant tone policing by defensive white women. It didn't happen a ton, but it happened enough that I was genuinely annoyed by it, especially since tone policing is a tactic that MRAs use all the time to derail feminist discussions. To see white women (who are supposed to be allies) use those same tactics against black women as a defense against their justifiable anger, and to protect themselves from accusations of racism was more than a little enraging. 
So in an effort to make sure that no one is ever confused about why tone policing is bullshit and will automatically label someone as racist/sexist in my mind, I've pulled the following quotes from this great piece (which you should read in full) that explains it better than I ever could hope to do:
 It’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 
Tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational. 
But being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid. It’s also important to note that, by tone policing, you not only refuse to examine your own oppressive behavior, but you also can blame that on the other person, because they were not “nice enough” to be listened to or taken seriously.

And the kicker:
Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out. [...] But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

Summary? As a black woman, I am entitled to the full spectrum of human emotion, and that includes anger. My anger is justified when it is in response to oppression and oppressive tactics. By you questioning my anger instead of addressing the issues I've raised, you are telling me that I, as the marginalized member in the discussion have a responsibility to make you comfortable before I try to enact change.
I am not responsible for your feelings. I am responsible for making my life better for me and for the people who are similarly oppressed. I give no shits how recognizing your complicity in an oppressive system makes you feel, and I don't have to. No one gives a shit about how it makes me feel when I am told that things would get better if I just "asked nicely". You don't think I've tried that? The reason I'm angry is that I tried playing by your rules of niceness, and you ignored me. 
Obviously, not everyone needed to read this, because most of you ladies on Jez totally get it and I'm grateful. But for the few who don't, I hope this makes you recognize why you will always be forced to deal with the anger of oppressed people.
If after reading all this, you're still butthurt about your fee-fees*, read this piece on how to deal with being called out.
*Yes, that was anger.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Solidarity Is For White Women (But It Doesn't Have To Be)

I've been discussing the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag over on Jezebel for the better part of two days now, and I've noticed that a lot of people had been replying to me in the threads to say that they didn't know, or didn't really understand what happened with this Hugo Schwyzer debacle, so I figured I'd compile all the best links I could find and post them into one spot (off the Gawker server) so people can browse them as they see fit. 

First, a (slightly edited) summary, from the comment I posted on Jezebel's pitiful response of an article: 
Basically Hugo Schwyzer wormed his way into feminist spaces and used white feminists as a shield against criticism for his racism from WoC. Feminist WoC complained, Hugo blackballed and harassed them, and the WoC were labelled troublemakers for making a fuss. 
Come to find, last week HS basically has a meltdown on twitter, and admits that Yes! He is a racist, misogynistic fuck, and he knew it the whole time! He lied to everybody! 
So now, all the white led spaces that ignored WoC's protests are faced with having to deal with the metaphorical jizz on their face, (for empowerment, naturally) from having been TOLD repeatedly by feminist WoC, that he was harmful to feminist spaces and specifically to WoC, and choosing to side with an abuser.
And continue with the the following:
The links aren't in chronological order or in order of escalation unfortunately, but together they give a pretty comprehensive view of everything that's happened in the last two days I think. If you have found other links, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

I'm really glad that so many people seemed to be willing to have this discussion even if the editors at Jezebel, XOJane and The Atlantic aren't. I'd also encourage you to engage Mikki Kendall (who started the hashtag) directly on twitter if you have any other questions or concerns I guess. I mean, I can answer stuff from my perspective, but she started this, andI don't want to speak for  her if I can avoid it. Anyway, happy* reading!

*By happy, I mean I hope you don't puke.

Editorial: Lily Collins by Max Abadian for Elle Canada

There's something about Lily Collins that's just never appealed to me. She's a stunning woman, and she seems like a genuinely nice person, but she also strikes me as very... boring. She's almost bland in her beauty. There's just something about her that I can't shake. Gorgeous as she is, I can never invest anything in her as a personality because she seems so flavourless and unmemorable. I can only think of one movie she was in off the top of my head, which is odd since she's supposedly pretty famous.

But these photos? These photos are spectacular. I remember her now. Her doe-eyed shtick no longer turns me off. Instead, I'm intrigued by the contrast between her big bedroom eyes and the fairly "good girl" styling. She looks less like someone who is constantly in deference to the people around her and more like the independent and successful young woman she is. 

It's amazing the story you can tell with the right styling isn't it?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Cover Wars: Jessie J by David Roemer for Marie Claire UK

Jessie J has been out of the limelight for a while, but I'm glad to see her back. She recently shaved her head in support of a friend with cancer, and it's growing back in beautifully. Very Anne Hathaway. Girl is giving so much face, and this is one of the first times I haven't hated how that dress has been photographed. I'm obviously going to have to track down a copy of this issue.

Photo of the Day: Minnie Mouse

A simple little shot, and yet elegant all round. 

Bits And Bobs On Feminist Theory #7: On Slurs

When it comes to hurling slurs at women: 

Slut is attacking women for their right to say yes.
Friend Zone is attacking women for their right to say no.
And Bitch is attacking women for their right to call you out on it. 

Don't be that guy. Don't be the guy who policies a woman's sexual behaviour as a way to retaliate for unrequited affection.