Ranting, Process, and White Girls in Dystopia: 4 Questions with Olivia A. Cole

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The amazing and talented Jenn Jackson (who recently interviewed Janet Mock) passed a blog tour baton to me, an exercise that is linking writers and bloggers together and provides their readers with a way to learn more about the people whose work they enjoy. This is timely, as I field a lot of emails from readers who want to know more about what I’m working on and why I write what I write. So here you have it: four questions, and four answers. Enjoy.

1) What are you working on?

The thing that takes up most of my writing time these days is the sequel to my novel, Panther in the Hive, which is currently untitled. I’ve had a lot of people ask when it will be finished, but that’s not a question that I can easily answer at this time. But I can say this: Panther took three years, and the sequel will take nowhere near that long. The storyline is mapped out through to the end and I’m about halfway finished writing the book itself. It’s coming!

Besides that, I do continue to write poems when inspiration strikes. In fact, a poem of mine is currently a semifinalist in the 21st Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards. (If you’re in Chicago and want to attend the reading, it’s on July 23rd at the Chopin Theatre. Click the link for more information. I’d love to see you there.) Then, of course, there are my blogs. I try to do a blog a week but that’s not always possible. However, I love blogging and try to give it time and energy whenever I can.

Finally, I am working on a young adult series starring a female protagonist as well. That book has barely been born, but it stays at the front of my mind because I think it’s an important one to write. More on that soon.

2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

Well, for starters, my characters are people of color, and generally that is hard to come by in the science-fiction/post-apocalyptic genre. There are, of course, geniuses working in that genre such as Nnedi Okorafor. But overall, non-white characters in apocalyptic settings are annoyingly rare.

I’d also venture to say that my writing takes itself far less seriously than a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I explore themes of humanity, racism, and violence, at the heart of my work is a thread of fun and excitement. Writing is fun. The worlds I create are exciting. I think the sense of humor that works its way into Panther in the Hive, for example, is somewhat rare in its genre.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Oh, this question always makes me a little crazy because I never know how to answer it. I don’t set out to write the things I do, I just…do. It’s always been this way. That question needs to be more specific anyhow. Why do I write books that feature characters of color? Because almost all of my friends, heroes, and influencers are people of color. Besides, does the dystopian genre really need one more love-crazed white girl running around in it? Nah. Why do I write fiction that takes place in the future? Because the present depresses the hell out of me. Why do I write fiction that is strangely funny and references a lot of pop culture? Because I love comedy and pop culture.

Or, if we’re talking about the ranty blogs that I write, well, that’s even easier to answer. I write ranty blogs about movies, people, etc. because when something infuriates me—and so many things do—I have to write about it. It’s a compulsion, one I’ve had since a child. I’ve stopped trying to tell it no.

4) How does your writing process work?

If we’re talking about fiction, then usually ideas strike me like lightning. One minute they don’t exist, and the next minute they do. From there, I just….begin. I just have to begin. By the time the idea strikes me, it already has something of a body, so I write in its legs and arms and eyes and so on until it can walk a little on its own and then I see where it leads me. Then I keep writing. I force myself to write every day, otherwise it may not get done and then the thing sits on my back and guilts me until I return to it.

Once an entire draft is finished, editing begins. That takes a long time. Usually there is a lot of cutting because I’ve written a bunch of things that suck and need to be removed. Panther in the Hive went through about 100 different drafts. If not more. I’m sure its sequel will be close, although I’m a better writer now then I was then (I hope) so maybe it will be less.

As for blogs, they’re a lot easier. After I see a film like Transformers or Single Moms Club, the problems are very apparent and hang in my head like light bulbs until I switch them off one by one. This “switching off” can only be accomplished by writing the blog, addressing the issues point by point. I usually don’t have to edit much for blogs. Rants tend to enter my mind in a very complete form. That makes it a lot easier.

There you have it. Stay tuned later this week or next for another rant from yours truly. Until then, if you have questions about my process or work, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer as many as I can.

Finally, I will now pass the baton to two other writers who I respect. Danielle Koon is the first, a writer based out of DC who is working on her first novel, The Docks. The second, Maggie Gray, blogs over at Colorful Adventures of a Gray Girl, exploring themes of womanhood, sexism, and life. Looking forward to reading their responses to these questions.

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5 Reasons People With Brains Shouldn’t See Transformers: Age of Extinction

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If you’re one of the people I refer to in the title of this blog—that is, people with brains—then you are probably already aware of the things that make Michael Bay one of the most vile and overrated directors in Hollywood. Explosions substituting for character development. General cinematic bloatedness. You know these things. But in case your instincts need a little sharpening, I will save you your money—and a precious three hours of your precious life—by providing five handy reasons you shouldn’t go see the new Transformers movie. You’re welcome.

#1 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That His Understanding of Women is Mere Millimeters Deep

With every movie that Michael Bay makes, he further proves that he not only hates women, but possesses the qualities of a panting 14-year old boy with acne and a public erection. His understanding of women is disjointed and stumbles between the two sexist binaries of Madonna and whore: the female lead in Transformers 4—I won’t say heroine because then I’d be a liar—reels between half-naked party girl whose skin provides 25% of the film’s panning shots and nagging wife-figure who is pure and cares only for the welfare of her helpless daddy. As the film goes on and real action starts to take place, the girl gets fewer and fewer lines. In fact, I believe an entire hour passed in which she didn’t say a word: just screamed, gasped, and moaned in fear. The last half of the movie was full of close-ups on her sweating, crying face. When she finally did get a moment of action in the last ten minutes of the film, it was 30 seconds long and completely underwhelming, seeming to exist grudgingly, added in as an afterthought so that her character does something other than hide and weep.

But creepier still is the fact that Bay chooses to make her young age a focus point of the film. He smugly references Romeo and Juliet clauses, as if to cover his pedophilic tracks. “See guys, the fact that I’m forcing you as an audience to spend almost 3 hours ogling a 17-year old girl is legal. Romeo and Juliet clause, baby!” Michael Bay is rich enough for therapy. I wish he’d go.

#2 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He Believes Explosions Are the Key to Good Filmmaking

Guys, I’m not kidding. Explosions. This movie is almost 3 hours long and I’d wager that 50% of it is just shit blowing up. It’s an action movie…I get it. Explosions and chases and crashes are part of the game and ordinarily I love it. But a five-minute shot of a car overturning and smashing other cars is overkill. Ask yourself, is it possible that explosions can be boring? Michael Bay makes it possible. Trust me. In the lifetime I spent in that movie theater watching Transformers 4, I looked at my phone four different times to check the clock. Is it over yet? The explosions washed over me in waves of monotony. Never have I felt so apathetic about things catching on fire and being launched into the air. I literally yawned as a car flipped through the sky during a ten-minute motorcycle chase in which no real stunts were performed. I yawned. This is a problem.

#3 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He Has No Problem With Racist Stereotypes

Remember the Transformer twins in Revenge of the Fallen? You remember…the jive-talking, illiterate, violent autobots that were criticized widely? Well, Bay didn’t learn his lesson. Age of Extinction features a samurai Transformer with a heavy Japanese accent who calls Optimus Prime “sensei.” Oh, and his face is made of yellow metal. Need I say more? Also, another fun racist fact, my fiancé, who has done karate for over twenty years, pointed out that samurais are Japanese but when the samurai autobot bowed, it was the traditional clasped-fist bow, which is Chinese. Bay doesn’t even do his research, apparently. An Asian autobot is an Asian autobot, right? (And made to have a yellow face? I mean, come on.)

#4 Michael Bay Once Again Proves That He’s Got Issues With Masculinity

Casting Mark Wahlberg to play a nerdy inventor is kind of a funny choice. Wahlberg’s character is supposed to be a tinkerer, a guy who builds little robots and hopes to invent the”next big thing.” But in the mind of someone like Michael Bay, that kind of guy isn’t masculine enough on his own: he needs to be someone muscular who can also punch people in the face and shoot guns and ride spaceships. At one point, Wahlberg crashes a spaceship in downtown Chicago, wrecking a car. A nerdy man with glasses and average biceps gets out and delivers a “funny” line about hoping Wahlberg has insurance. What does Wahlberg do? He makes a big macho declaration, cracks open a beer, and threatens to shoot the guy. No, not kidding. That’s what he does. Because BIG TOUGH GUY IS COOLER THAN SMALLER NERDY GUY WHO CARES ABOUT WIMPY THINGS LIKE INSURANCE. Guns! Beer! <scratches armpit>

#5 The Writing is So, So Bad. So Bad.

I actually stayed in the theater even longer than necessary so that I could glimpse who was responsible for writing this script. His name is Ehren Kruger. Ehren, wherever you are…stop. Please. For the good of mankind. The Transformers call people “bitch” (because aliens are familiar with misogynist epithets) and deliver the most pathetically limp one-liners I’ve ever heard. Optimus Prime, known for his speeches, delivers monologues more likely found in a badly-translated anime film than in a Hollywood feature. The plot holes…well, the entire film is a plot hole. The narrative coherence…well, there is no narrative coherence. Ehren, give me a call if you need a consultant for next time. (God forbid there is a next time.) I’d be happy to brush you up on creating female characters who exist outside of a misogynist binary, and we can discuss these one-liners too, because right now they’ve got about as much zing as a can of SPAM.

There you have it, folks. I hope I saved you some time and money. But hey, if you’re a masochist, knock yourself out. If you can stay awake.

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Why Is the Villain in Dragon 2 the Only Non-White Character?

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I’ll keep this short.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 could have been great. It could have been an exciting, funny tale of a boy overcoming both a life-altering injury and his close-minded society to become a hero to his people once again. But one detail holds it back from greatness, and that’s the decision of writer and director Dean DeBlois to make the only non-white character in the film the super-evil mega-villain.

Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar fans are used to mostly- and all-white casts (which is part of what makes this fall’s Home so exciting), so the first Dragon was no different in that regard: the film is about Vikings, and Norse Vikings (as far as I know) tended to be white folks. And true to that, Dragon was a jumble of blonde and red-haired characters with Scottish—and sometimes vaguely Australian?—accents, with little variation. The enemy in the first Dragon was not human: the enemy was dragons (or so it seemed) and the intolerance/fear of protagonist Hiccup’s kinsmen. The “big bad guy” was one dragon in particular—a big fat one who commanded all the little dragons to raid villages and bring him sheep to eat. When Hiccup (spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen the first film) defeated him with the help of his adorable dragon-friend Toothless, it was easy to cheer for the win and walk away from the film feeling good about the characters and the story.

But not so with Dragon 2. They don’t show the villain at first, but the audience hears his voice from under his cloak. Hearing it, I was immediately suspicious. “That’s not a Scottish accent,” I thought. It sounded African, vaguely Middle Eastern. I nudged my friend and whispered, “They better not make the bad guy a brown dude.”

But they did.

Drago Bludvist is a darker-skinned, black haired, dreadlocked, nose-not-quite-like-anyone-else-in-the-film, non-white dude, voiced by Djimon Hounsou. I have spoken with a number of friends, some of which read him as an Eastern European character, given his name. Someone also mentioned that he had green eyes, but I’m not sure if I agree. The point, however–whether he was intended to be vaguely African or Middle Eastern– is his Otherness. Where the other characters are fair-skinned and red- and-blond-haired, Drago’s skin is decidedly darker, his accent distinctly foreign from the Scottish and American tongues of the rest of the cast.

Now, films and literature have historically relied on the light-dark dichotomy to differentiate between good and evil. So there is a long tradition of storytelling here that Dragon 2 is making use of. But you know what?

It’s lazy, and it’s racist.

“How can we make sure the audience (kids) know that this guy is bad?” a lazy director/writer might ponder. “Oh, I know! We’ll make him darker-skinned! That way the kiddies will know that he’s a bad guy.” Because….darker-skinned people are…bad? Interesting, too, that Drago Bludvist’s skin is just light enough to make him ethnically ambiguous, which leads me to believe that the “Make him black…but not too black” conversation was had at some point during production. As if an Eastern European name and not-quite-brown skin would be enough to deflect accusations of racism. But the fact remains: Dragon 2 effectively created an Othered character to act as the villain.

Do directors that perpetuate this sort of nonsense believe they’re somehow doing audiences of color a favor by making the villain a person of color? “Sure, you’re not represented anywhere else in this film, but what about the villain! We made him brown!” Not all representation is good representation, and in a film and TV culture already sorely lacking in black and brown faces, the last thing little kids of all colors need is another reinforcement of “white is good, black is bad.”

Sure, we’re talking Vikings here, and as mentioned above, the Norse were typically white, so having a black or brown Viking might not be historically accurate. But you know what else isn’t historically accurate? Motherf@*!ing dragons. So I think an animated film such as this has a little bit of room for creative license. My father agreed. After speaking with my dad about the film, he snorted and said, “I don’t understand why any director would continue to do this crap. If they really want to make the character look evil and scary, they should make him look like Dick Cheney. Now that’s terrifying.”

Good call, pop.

How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel are great films about friendship, family, courage, and overcoming disability to be who you are, and DeBlois showed how creative he can be with his writing and directing. So where is the creativity in having a villain who is dark-skinned and foreign, drawing on old stereotypes that are better laid to rest? You can do better, Mr. DeBlois. I know you can.

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Chicago Filmmakers Choose Substance Over Stereotypes

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When it comes to documenting the lives and stories of people of color, Hollywood is notorious for being more interested in the perpetuation of stereotypes than meaningful portrayals of marginalized communities with value and humanity. And often when those films are made and manage to find a spot in the mainstream, there exists another problem, this time on the audience’s end: studies show that Caucasians have what is called a racial empathy gap—they struggle to relate to the experiences (specifically pain) of people of color—and that extends into the way they respond to films featuring people of color. One example is last year’s Best Man Holiday, a film featuring an almost entirely black cast and exploring topics such as friendship, cancer, love, and faith. Despite the fact that its plot was based upon these universal themes, the film was referred to as “race-themed” by major media outlets such as USA Today, causing moviegoers of all colors to question whether mainstream media can only view non-white experiences as defined by their race, rather than by their humanity and the universal experiences that make us human.

Filmmakers who choose to focus on the stories of marginalized communities face unique challenges in finding funding and mainstream attention for their projects. Chicago filmmakers Cy Weisman and Josh MacNeal have certainly faced their share of those challenges. While discussing mainstream audiences’ reluctance to connect with plotlines that deviate from white, hetero-male perspectives, the brother and sister duo agree that the problem has multiple layers, including 1) mainstream audiences are unfamiliar with stories about black, brown or gay characters because they feel those narratives are specific to those communities; the only real exceptions are stories that have a white, male, or heterosexual character present in the lead i.e. The Kids Are Alright and Freedom Writers. And 2) films featuring black, brown, or gay characters that get mainstream attention pigeonhole those lives and experiences in a way that makes black, brown, and LGBT experience “niche,” as opposed to one part of a broad spectrum of humanity.

“Living in the inner city is only one aspect of the black experience,” says MacNeal. “And unfortunately audiences, especially youth, have become conditioned to the idea that these experiences shown on BET, for example, define black lives. The experiences being shown, however, are limited.”

MacNeal, who grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, didn’t become conscious of racism and the way he was perceived as a black man until he was older, he says, and as a filmmaker has focused heavily on illustrating other aspects of black experience and identity than just the narrow version mainstream media chooses to portray. “It’s troubling,” says MacNeal, “that films that happen to feature black characters are automatically described as ‘black movies,’” rather than universal tales of friendship, adversity, love, etc.

“Movies about white people are never called ‘white stories,’” he says, and laments the fact that when “black stories” are told, they focus on drugs, violence, or thug life, usually without exploring the systems behind those realities.

On his part, his goal is to create work that reaches beyond the pigeonholed perspective and digs into the experiences that are universal, experienced by a variety of characters: black and white, straight and gay.

Weisman, on the other hand, who does the writing for the duo’s films, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and says her consciousness of racism—and also sexism—emerged at an early age, and recalls music as being one of the first mediums in which she really noticed negative messages by and about black and brown communities being perpetuated—usually by black and brown artists.

“White kids bought into ‘ratchet’ culture before it was ever called ratchet culture,” she says, “and the business of art and film has been built on those tropes ever since.” Interesting, she notes, that trends within black music have largely been dictated by the appropriative tastes of white suburban youth, and expresses disappointment in rap artists who no longer rap about lived experiences and life narratives, instead choosing to create music about wealth, possessions, and name brands—experiences that not even white suburban youth can relate to. “Most people aren’t rich,” she adds.

“It’s so rarely about art anymore,” she continues, “or being an artist. So many songs these rappers and singers perform are written by somebody else, and many movies being produced are remakes or drawn out sequels. The process of creating has been watered down.”

Not so with Weisman and MacNeal, who write and direct all of their films, and are currently seeking funding for their next major project, Urbs in Horto, a crime thriller set in Chicago. Urbs in Horto is focused around exactly the sort of exploration of identity that MacNeal and Weisman agree need fixing in filmmaking: three different stories about diverse characters of different backgrounds, and juxtaposing those characters’ lives—moving beyond the drug violence and white collar crime—in order to reveal the universal experiences.

Weisman criticizes the superficiality she sees in music and film today, which she insists are inextricably connected. That is why she uses them almost interchangeably in her critique of both mediums, and which is why their plans for Urbs in Horto involve working extensively with indie musicians and artists to create the soundtrack that they imagine for the film.

“Music is an integral part of any movie,” Weisman says, and expresses her excitement about the prospect of working with indie artists.

“That’s the great thing about film,” MacNeal says, echoing his sister’s excitement. “We’re tapping into Chicago’s creative community for actors and artists, but we’re also creating jobs in the city we grew up in for legal, real estate, food services, etc.”

“Anything we can do for Chicago is awesome,” Weisman adds.

And Chicago needs this discourse, they both agree: segregation, violence, and poverty are just a few of the challenges faced by Chicagoans, and that’s why the brother and sister team declare that audiences need stories that speak deeply to the community now more than ever.

The purpose of Urbs in Horto, MacNeal says, is to spark that conversation while still offering the action and exhilaration that comes from crime thrillers.

“Film is an art form, but primarily a form of entertainment,” says Weisman. “We need to encourage people to seek and expect more substance in what they consume.”

She insists that a film can be a thriller with action and excitement—and even violence—while still offering a depth of human experience. The task is changing audience’s standards for the films (and music) they consume. But how?

“Give other options,” MacNeal says simply.

He believes that audiences’ preference for stereotyped narratives is really just a case of consuming what’s available: eating junk food because it’s what’s in the fridge. His sister agrees, adding:

“If you give audiences other options—show them more multi-layered stories that feature marginalized peoples—then they will respond.” She describes what she perceived as a shift from positive to negative representations of minorities in the media—The Cosbys and The Martin Lawrence Show transitioned into countless scripted reality TV shows & uninspired sitcoms. She says emphatically,

“If we transitioned into this cultural low, then we can transition out of it.”

Her brother agrees. The key, he notes, is for directors and producers with a foot in the game already to support the next generation and have a dialogue about the importance of these depth-driven stories.

“That’s why I applaud the fashion industry, especially the CFDA, for how they mentor and propel their young designers. In film, Spike Lee is a great example of someone who’s doing it right,” MacNeal says. “He focuses on the issues and helps out who he can. He does a good job uplifting younger filmmakers.”

And the pair of them are young indeed. Weisman is 26 and MacNeal is a mere 20, one of the youngest filmmakers in the industry and already earning attention for his latest film, The 4th Meeting. The way they see it, making a difference is a matter of making the right film and making it reach a broad audience. And they might be right.

“There are people that need to hear these stories,” Weisman says, “and people who want better content. We’re not the only ones who feel this way.”

No, Ms. Weisman, you are not.

To contact or see their work, visit here: http://www.joshmacneal.com/urbsinhorto

Image credit: Rudy Lorejo Photography

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Dear Forbes: This Is Why Iggy Azalea Doesn’t “Run” Hip-Hop

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The Internet is currently on fire following a piece on Forbes that was initially titled “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” but was changed after the backlash forced Forbes to realize what an absurd claim they were making. The new title is “Hip Hop’s Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman.”

I’m annoyed for multiple reasons. Let’s discuss them, shall we?

First off, I wouldn’t go to an Iggy Azalea concert if it were happening on my front porch. While I understand (somewhat confusedly) that she does have something of a fan base, anyone who has any love for hip-hop is currently decrying the notion that this woman “runs” hip-hop. Or anything at all, really. But that’s why the article title was changed, right? Because it (as the update reads) “did not accurately reflect the content of the piece.” Nor does it affect, um, reality. So yeah, good choice, Forbes. But you’re not off the hook.

Let’s get into the article. Here is the author’s reasoning for what he calls Iggy Azalea’s “notable” “rise to prominence”:

Making a name for yourself as a woman and hip hop is laudable enough, forget the fact that she is a white, blonde, Australian woman. In a genre dominated almost exclusively by African American men she sticks out like a statuesque thumb.”

Yes, making a name for yourself in hip-hop as a woman is laudable. But lauding Iggy Azalea here is ludicrous. The author seems not to understand the fact that it is precisely because Iggy Azalea is white and blonde that she has “made a name for herself” in hip-hop. White privilege has successfully floated her to the top of a genre where black women have fought for decades to be represented: her presence (and success) in hip-hop isn’t a shining beacon for feminism, but for the power of whiteness and what it can accomplish.

The author goes on to say:

“While this is all happening very quickly for her in America, she has actually been honing her craft for a decade now, first rapping at the age of 14. In the ten years since, she has seen and been through all the trials and tribulations of the industry.”

Really? All the trials and tribulations of the industry? All of them? Black female rappers encounter a unique struggle in their journey to success in an industry bent on attacking (and exploiting) black female sexuality, not to mention the complex dichotomy of battling male rappers on their misogynist lyrics while also being pressured to support the genre of hip-hop as a whole. The experience of black women in hip-hop is nearly analogous to life outside of hip-hop: black women being asked to choose between supporting black men in the struggle against racism and supporting their own struggle against misogyny (and misogynoir.) Has Iggy Azalea had to make these choices? No. Rather, she is flippant about the subject of race, spitting this lyric in her song D.R.U.G.S:

 

“Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks

When it really starts I’m a runaway slave…master

Shitting on the past gotta spit it like a pastor”

 

“Shitting on the past,” huh? Bye Iggy.

In the end, the idea that Iggy Azalea’s fame is “unlikely” is equally absurd. Of course it’s likely. A woman who represents every patriarchal and white supremacist ideal of beauty—tall, slim, undoubtedly white-featured, blonde—finding success in an industry that champions these qualities is entirely unsurprising, especially in a genre that is, as the author says, dominated almost exclusively by African-American men.” Iggy Azalea is not a success story I wish to celebrate. To me, she isn’t a success story at all: she is a novelty, a tiresome example of white female privilege and the delight white culture finds in white people appropriating any and everything.

Lastly, I would ask Hugh McIntyre if he has heard of FM Supreme. Awkwafina. Dominique Young Unique. Rapsody. Jean Grae. 3d Na’Tee. Women of color in hip-hop who are making a name for themselves against all odds. They run hip-hop. Next time you’re feeling all gushy about women in hip-hop…maybe write about them.

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Belle: A Lesson In the Timelessness of Racism and Misogyny Against Black Women

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It’s not often that audiences are exposed to a portrayal of racism that is viewed through the lens of black women. Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race woman in 1700’s England, was the daughter of an admiral and an enslaved African woman. The film Belle, which was released nationwide this weekend, follows Dido’s life in the household of William Murray, her great-uncle, who was the earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England. We watch Dido become a lady, educated and accomplished, while still forced to dine separately from her family in the company of strangers due to her lower status as a non-white person. We witness her experiences with romance and her complicated friendship with her white cousin, all during the infamous Zong case.

In the film, Dido becomes acquainted with an aspiring lawyer and abolitionist who advocates against the Zong slavers and, in turn, exposes Dido to the realities of slavery and racism that she had previously been sheltered from in the household of Chief Justice Mansfield. Meanwhile, as she comes of age and her cousin is introduced to society, she becomes painfully aware of what her race means outside the home of her great-uncle, becoming conscious of the unique prison she finds herself trapped within as both a non-white person and a woman. Her cousin, Elizabeth, is white, but poor; she doesn’t have the inheritance that Dido is privileged with. But the two young women discover how complicated both racism, sexism, and classism have made the world: Elizabeth can eat with her family and be introduced to society without burden; yet without an inheritance, her options for marriage are extremely limited, and the gentleman that she would marry will not have her, as his own pockets are empty, requiring a hefty dowry. On the other hand, Dido can afford to not marry if she wishes, or marry who she pleases, given her inheritance. Money gives her some independence, yet it seems she will not be able to marry at all, given her status as a non-white person: “too high to dine with the servants,” she says at one point, “but too low to dine with my own family.”

The intricacies of marriage and money and dowries in the 1700’s were complicated and seemed far different than what we experience in our world today, but what I saw in Belle—juxtaposed with the ancient-seeming idea of black bodies as property, cargo that can be thrown overboard as if drowning were not drowning but a mere spoiling of goods—was a startling sameness. Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in 1761 and died in 1804, yet the experiences this film projects in its illustration of the past bear shocking resemblance to the challenges black women (and black people) currently face in the United States today.

Dido’ fetishization by the two Ashford brothers, for one. While one brother sees her simply as an exotic Other who he can bed without forming attachments—very different than the attitude toward white women of the same time period, whose virtue was unequivocal and untouchable—the other is downright violent in his conception of Dido, calling her “repulsive,” but still expressing a desire to rape her. The scenes in which that older, more violent Ashford brother addresses Dido directly, giving voice to his unbridled racism and at one point assaulting her, are indisputably disturbing. Disturbing not just because they represent a disgusting and brutal history of humanity, but because I see remnants of those attitudes today in the way the world perceives the bodies of black and brown women: exotic, sexual, sensual, different, objects. We see it in the way Miley Cyrus and almost any given white pop star (Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke, for example) use black women’s bodies as props in music videos: something to be appropriated and used for one’s own pleasure, and then cast off in pursuit of the next trend. In addition, the rape of black women still does not seem to carry much horror in 2014: it was most recently the punchline on Saturday Night Live, and last year Russell Simmons was forced to apologize for his highly-offensive “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.” None of this is too different from the way the Ashford brothers perceive Dido’s body: an exotic Other not worthy of love or respect; merely lust, and lust framed in a particularly problematic racism.

The younger Ashford brother adds another layer to Dido’s complicated experience as a black woman: one night while he and Dido are sitting away from the crowd on their own, he confesses to being “taken with her,” and compliments her beauty in a strange way. Her mother’s blackness, he says, is undoubtedly ugly, but Dido’s “better half” (that is, her white half) won out in her features, which is what makes her so beautiful.

Shocking, isn’t it, that someone as beautiful as Dido would be struck down for her black half, and regarded as more beautiful simply because her white features are more prominent? Not so shocking when you consider it in the context of our beauty standards today, in which a quick Google search for “beautiful woman” returns almost entirely white faces. In American culture, the black women who do manage to be considered beautiful by mainstream societal standards are almost always mixed-race or possess white features: slim noses, light skin, straight hair. While the occasional darker skinned woman does manage to catch the public’s attention from time to time, she faces fetishization as well: look at Lupita Nyong’o. The public’s rabid consumption of her image often seems almost surprised with itself for finding a dark skinned woman so attractive, a feeling compensated for with adoration that borders on frantic.

Belle also examines the relationship between white and non-white women. Dido’s cousin, Elizabeth, speaks unhappily about the role of women in the world, noting that “we [women] are but their [men’s] property.” Her statement is almost comical: while bemoaning her own state of disadvantage as a [white] woman, she entirely ignores the disadvantage of black women, who were quite literally property. Where Dido and Elizabeth’s relationship was once intimate and carefree, tension grows between them as they become more aware (in different ways) of the power dynamics between them. Elizabeth’s ignorance and apathy—as well as her own racism—become roadblocks in their relationship, something we see often today when it comes to white feminists’ denial of their (our) own privilege and unwillingness to acknowledge intersectionality. Elizabeth is something of a feminist in her consciousness of the prison women are forced to live within in a sexist society, but her obliviousness to the plight of black people—and black women—blinds her to the ways that Dido’s identity impacts her life. That blindness is never actually remedied in the film—at one point she attacks Dido verbally about her “lower status,” but bites her tongue before saying something blatantly racist—and nor is it always remedied in our time, as white feminists so often attack women of color on decidedly racial ground, all the while claiming to be non-racist.

There was another moment in the film that paralleled our times so decidedly that it took my breath away. Toward the end, when Mr. Davinier—the young abolitionist lawyer that Dido encounters—is speaking passionately about the racist laws that made the Zong massacre possible, he says:

“Laws that allow us to diminish the humanity of anybody are not laws. They are a framework for crime.”

Yes, they are, and this is our world, our country. We live in a country where:

  • African-Americans are 33% more likely to be detained awaiting felony trials than whites.
  • African-Americans are frequently (illegally) excluded from criminal jury service, according to a 2010 study released by the Equal Justice Initiative. For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African-Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on cases involving the death penalty.
  • The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system, black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crime.
  • The Sentencing Project reports African-Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.
  • In New York, the infamous stop-and-frisk program continues to racially profile black and brown New Yorkers, even in the face of data that undermines its purpose.
  • Stand Your Ground laws continue to indicate racial bias in favor of white criminals who use it in their defense, meanwhile Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jonathan Ferrell and so many others receive no justice.

The list goes on and on. Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in 1761. It is now 2014, and the film about her life gives me very little comfort in the progress we have made as humans. In Belle, the courts rule against the slavers on the Zong, and Mr. Davinier rejoices, stating that the decision will reverberate throughout the world and will change the future. But the Chief Justice, Dido’s great-uncle, tempers the young man’s happiness: “History will judge whether your optimism is warranted,” he says, knowing there is much work to be done.

He was right. There is. And one of the greatest mistakes we can make in doing that work is acknowledging the ways in which we’ve come so far, while ignoring the ways in which we have not. Belle provides a view of an incredible life, a story not often told. We need these stories. We must keep hearing them. Mr. Davinier says at one point that a country that ignores the suffering of some and not others is “a country for whom hope is lost.” Let’s not be that country. Let’s not be that world.

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5 Ways Chicago Transit Authority Shows It Hates Chicagoans

If you live here, you have felt it. Perhaps you’ve thought, “I have been standing on this platform/bus stop for half of my life. Why? Someone must hate me.” The answer is…someone does hate you. It’s Chicago Transit Authority. If you live in Chicago and have felt the keen sting of CTA’s loathing, then read on and perhaps find some small comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

1. Ventra

Any true Chicagoan knows that this must be the first item on this list. If you need to see proof that CTA hates us, you need look no further than Ventra. CTA inflicting Ventra on us was, for all intents and purposes, an unprovoked attack. No one hated the old system: no one was tweeting @cta railing against the Chicago Card. No one was creating parody accounts mocking the absolutely absurd functionality of the Chicago Card. The old system worked…and then along came Ventra. From bank cards being charged in addition to the Ventra card, to inexplicably nonfunctional cards, to a completely and utterly mystifying account interface online, to fundamentally clueless Customer Care employees, to hour-long hotline waits, and oh, let’s not forget the fact that you are instructed to pay cash when your already-paid-for Ventra card doesn’t work on their worthless scanner…Ventra has been (and continues to be) a nightmare. Every single day the line to board the bus is at a standstill while each person must tap their card 3-4 times before it’s actually read. Meanwhile:

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Oh, of course. We’re being double-charged when we’re forced to double-tap. Of course.

Even worse: Ventra and CTA continue to pretend we’re all crazy for not liking the new system. See this lovely exchange on Twitter:

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“which is pretty rare?” <cue uproarious laughter>

Yeah. Right. You’re not fooling anyone.

2. Bus Bunching

Bus bunching is, to the CTA, like the common cold. It seems like such a simple thing, but the CTA cannot—I repeat, cannot—find a cure. Like most Chicagoans, I waste precious time every day of my mortal life waiting. Just waiting. Staring at potholes that will never be fixed, and waiting. I live on the near South Side and catch the 29 every day, a bus which is always full of people trying to get to work and kids trying to get to school. But at any given time while trying to catch the 29, there is a 20-30 minute wait. But it’s more than just a long, empty window. It’s the fact that at the end of that long, empty window…two or three buses come all at once.

I have many questions for CTA, but here’s one: what good does 3 buses all at once do anyone? Great, the thirty people now crowded on the bus stop can now get on multiple buses. But now there are three buses all in a row at every bus stop until Congress: traffic is congested, streets are blocked, people are pissed. Why not just have the buses come every 8 minutes? Like they’re supposed to? What is happening at your depots where every…single…day this occurs? It happened when I lived on the North Side too: the 147, the 151. North Siders, you hear me. Bus bunching is a blight. But CTA doesn’t care. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Abysmal Customer Service

I’m not even talking about Ventra, because everyone knows that the dunces they have working at Ventra are a bunch of salespeople trying to convince you to use your Ventra card as a credit card too—yay corporations interfering with civil life!—and maybe attempt (attempt) to troubleshoot your nonfunctional, worthless plastic Ventra card. I’m talking about CTA. Never have I encountered more apathetic, defensive, blame-shifting grunts in my entire life. Here’s the conversation I had this morning after calling to complain about bus bunching:

Me: “Is there a manager I can speak to?”

CTA: “No.”

Me: “Okay…well can I tell you my complaint?”

CTA: <silence>

Me: “Hello?”

CTA: “Go ahead.”

Me: “Well, the 29 has been really bad lately. There are old ladies waiting on a stop with no benches waiting for 30 minutes, and then a bus comes and they can’t even get on it because it’s so packed and—”

CTA: “Give me your phone number. I’ll have a manager call you back.”

Me: “Um…okay. Here’s my number.”

CTA: “I see in the system that you already complained about this.”

Me: “Yes, last week.”

CTA: “Oh, a manager called and left you a voicemail.”

Here’s a screenshot of my phone:

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Guess what, CTA? No, a manager never called me back. No, they didn’t leave a voicemail. See? My voicemail box is empty. So what are we supposed to do when we have a complaint or a grievance against CTA? Well, some people might take to social media, but CTA’s Twitter often seems to be run by what appears to be a petulant teenager. See, the Twitter account runs fine when they’re just reporting outages, service disruption, etc. But when they actually have to interact with customers who are complaining? They take the apathy you experience when you call them on the phone and add a pinch of defensiveness and a sprinkle of subtle sarcasm. Tweet at them. You’ll see. If you like being treated with contempt and thinly-veiled indifference, tweeting at @cta is the hobby for you.

4. Cattle Cars

I have been told a story by different people a few times in my lifetime: a story about public transportation in Japan and how there are guys that stand on the platforms with sticks to shove people into the subways to fit more people into the crowded cars. People always tell this story with a kind of amused awe: “can you believe they do that over there?” and no one ever really knows if that little tidbit is true or not. But this story always annoys me, for two reasons. 1) It’s racist. “Oooh look how weird and intense Japanese people are!” and 2) Do you really think that is not your life here? Okay, there are no people with sticks shoving people into train cars, but every day riding a bus or a train in Chicago during rush hour (and often outside of rush hour) is like transforming into a heifer for thirty minutes of my life. It might as well be a mosh pit. A combination of delayed trains/buses, route cuts, and not enough actual vehicles in the city creates the cattle car effect: people are smashed against one another. So forget riding CTA if you’re claustrophobic in any way, but cattle cars lead to other problems too.

Sexual harassment. Violence. Theft. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve witnessed/experienced taking advantage of the tight train situation in order to cop a feel. Same with people taking stuff from people’s purses, pockets, backpacks. And as for violence: well, people get pretty testy when they’re forced to be pressed against a stranger’s usually-odorous body for long periods of time. “Waiting for signal clearance”—those dreaded words— means you’re not even making any progress in your trip: you’re just cuddled (standing) with a stranger for no reason. Tempers flare. Fights erupt. It happens all the time.

But does CTA care? Who do you call when you’ve just been crammed into a train car for 45 minutes, had your ass groped, and your wallet stolen? CTA? Ha. You must have already forgotten #3 on this list. Go back and reread that. Short answer: They…don’t…care.

5. No Change

No, I don’t mean that they won’t make change if you’re paying cash. (Which, speaking of cash: you’re out of luck. Ventra wants to be credit card dependent. And your fare increases if you don’t use Ventra and continue to pay cash.) What I mean is that nothing has changed. Unlike anything else, where there are complaints, outcry, protests against a company and apologies are made, processes are tweaked, Ventra and CTA just dig in. One of the complaints about Ventra (mentioned above) is that, unlike the old system, you can’t tap your wallet in order to scan your Ventra card without your bank cards also being charged. This complaint has been made since the initial roll out, with Ventra reps promising to look into the problem. But now, this is what you get as response when you ask Ventra about it:

They have no intention of making a change: not about Ventra and not about anything else. The onus is on Chicagoans, like it is for everything else, and the ripples of CTA’s ineptitude extend beyond delays. The fact of the matter is, that CTA’s refusal to find solutions for the problems they are charged with creating every single day in Chicago leads to things more problematic than delays. Kids can’t get to school on time. Adults can’t get to work on time. The elderly and disabled are forced to wait (often at stops without benches, and often in bad weather) for up to 40 minutes in some parts of the city. Groping and sexual harassment increase. Theft increases. Anger increases.

You see, what CTA doesn’t realize is that their behavior doesn’t just mean a bad train ride. It means a bad start to the day. Take one look at the Twitter account @ctafails and you can see the negativity that begins from the moment Chicagoans step onto the bus stop in the morning, which is then reanimated when they’re trying to return home at night. The CTA website reports that on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on Chicago public transportation. When you fail even a fraction of those customers, interrupting their days, ruining their commute, making them late to work, what does it mean for the morale of a city? This makes me think of an article I read recently on Salon, “The Troubling Reasons Americans Are So Depressed.” In it, the author discusses “learned helplessness” and how Americans, due to corporations and call center hold times (among other things) are becoming depressed and angry because of the amount of our lives we spend waiting on hold, waiting in line, and (I add)…waiting for buses. The helplessness, the author says, is the helplessness of those who are resigned to the indifference of the institutions we depend on.

What else can we do? I’m not sure. Rant in blogs like this? Perhaps. I see the helplessness that the Salon author examines in his article. I feel it. What do you do when the buses won’t come and you’re late to work and you can’t afford a cab and you call customer service and if someone answers (if they answer) they don’t care and no one ever calls you back and nothing ever changes?

It’s funny…the CTA Twitter account recently tweeted this article: Public Transportation Shapes Where Millennials Decide to Live, where I found this stat: “54 percent of the participants said they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around.”

Careful, Chicago. You might just be the city we’re moving from, not the one we’re moving to.

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In Defense of V. Stiviano: Your Misogynoir Is Showing

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This will be short.

Today, anyone paying attention is expressing their contempt for Donald Sterling. For example, Snoop Dogg posted this particularly eloquent video which sums up my feelings on the matter pretty accurately. In general, everybody hates Donald. From his blatant expression of ownership over Stiviano—dictating who she spends time with, what she does with her social networking sites, etc.—to his disgusting overt racism, he is currently public enemy #1. When he said this of the Clippers:

“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have-Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

he made it clear that when it comes to black bodies, he claims absolute ownership. David West’s tweet on Saturday is extremely accurate:

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In general the trends on Twitter indicated almost zero support for Sterling, with the exception of a few trolls. I did, however, notice one troubling trend on multiple social networks, repeated by men and women alike: the idea that somehow V. Stiviano is to blame in all this, and that it’s really her status as a “gold digger” that we should be talking about.

Let me spend two seconds telling you why blaming V. Stiviano is a mistake. Really, just two seconds.

  • V. Stiviano is not the one on tape spewing horribly racist garbage, parading around like a glorified Calvin Candy and exhibiting all the traits of a narcissistic, abusive white supremacist.

That’s all. Just one bullet. There’s no list. That’s it. It’s that simple, because focusing on V.Stiviano and whatever relationship she might have with Donald Sterling is irrelevant, misogynist, and relieves him of accountability. The fact that people would rather delve into her work as a model, whether or not she’s actually dating Sterling or “using him” for his money, and whether or not she’s had plastic surgery, rather than spending the time giving critical thought to a man whose idea of black bodies is no different than a rancher’s idea of cattle—the ongoing story about Cliven Bundy is particularly well-timed in all this—indicates the hatred for women (particularly black women) that is so prevalent in Americans of all races.

It is easier to hate V. Stiviano, isn’t it? To turn the rifle on a beautiful brown woman comes naturally to Americans who have been carefully groomed to never blame white men for anything, ever. But when we focus on V. Stiviano, we demonstrate our deep-seated hatred of black women. She is not the villain here: in fact, she is the agent of change. She is the hero in this little story. How can we, on one hand, hate Donald Sterling for what he says on that tape, and on the other hand criticize the agent who did the exposing? You’re confused. You know racism is horrible, but the racism you (we) have been fed our entire lives says we also must hate Stiviano: a woman. A beautiful woman. A beautiful woman of color. Each of these things have bigoted attachments that we’re choking on when we try to be proud of her. And we should be proud of her. Why wouldn’t we be? She exposed a racist for what he is, and simultaneously liberated herself from a relationship in which her womanhood and her blackness were being torn down and controlled.

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Think long and hard about where your blame is coming from. When we blame Stiviano, when we imply that the emotional abuse she clearly suffered in her dealings with Sterling, that she “let herself” be “enslaved,” it implies that Sterling and racist, abusive scumbags like Sterling, are not responsible for their racism and abuse. Sterling is rich, white, and male: he has all the power he needs to ensure that a woman like Stiviano—young, brown, and female—lacks the agency and power she needs to be autonomous. Others imply that Stiviano’s beauty gives her power over Sterling, which illustrates a profound lack of understanding about the way patriarchy, misogyny, and misogynoir operate and the ways in which women who are seen as beautiful are just as susceptible to abuse and coercion as anyone.

What it comes down to, and the only thing it comes down to, is the fact that Donald Sterling is a racist, misogynist, narcissistic, abusive piece of human garbage. Period. That’s it. When you turn your sights on V. Stiviano, you expose not only your misogynoir, but your intellectual laziness. Keep your eye on the ball, America. Sterling and only Sterling is to blame here. Soon there will be media campaigns dedicated to discrediting Stiviano based on her previous sexual partners, her tattoos, her clothes, other rich men who she supposedly “used:” all the weapons a misogynistic and misogynoiristic culture employ to protect men like Sterling. Do not be distracted. Do not be deceived. Eye on the ball.

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Why Steve Harvey Needs to Have A Seat

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As Mimi and Nikko’s sex tape makes the rounds on the Internet, I knew it was only a matter of time before the policing began. Sure enough, yesterday a friend posted a recording of Steve Harvey on the radio, in which he earnestly advised “young women” against the making of sex tapes, etc. and once again revealed himself to be the sexist, opportunistic D-bag that so many have come to loathe.

The excerpt of his little speech that I heard begins with him explaining that the internet is forever, and how what gets put online stays online forever. Case in point. And while it’s true that many people—young or not—lack full understanding of the permanence of the Internet and how nothing can ever be truly erased, I already have a problem with the direction this sermon is going because…”young women?” Now, I haven’t actually seen Mimi and Nikko’s sex tape, but from what I understand…it’s a sex tape with Mimi and Nikko. Not Mimi. Mimi and Nikko.

Steve Harvey-types view women and sex through the lens that misogyny has provided for centuries: the lens that renders men invisible when there is an instance of shame being doled out. Casual sex, unwed pregnancy: centuries of misogyny dictates that it only takes one to tango; that the shame of “illicit” sex falls squarely on the shoulders of one and not two. And those shoulders always belong to a woman. When it comes to wagging a finger or calling someone a whore for premarital sexual activity, the man involved somehow dematerializes into a puff of smoke, leaving the woman to bear the brunt of society’s scorn alone.

In the radio recording, Steve Harvey goes on to rail against the Internet:

“The Internet has become a playground for evildoers. You sit up and you listen to somebody and all the sudden they’re making decisions and comments about you and they never even met you.”

He then adds:

“Please young women out there, think of yourself […] think about what people will say about you when you’re not around; stuff people will say behind your back.”

What’s annoying about Steve Harvey is that he delivers these little gems under the guise of being interested in the empowerment/protection of women and girls. A thin guise, I might add. Harvey warns girls about the backlash they will receive from random people on the Internet if they participate in a sex tape, but isn’t Harvey pretty much exactly that: a random voice on the Internet/TV/radio making comments about girls and women he’s “never even met?” He cautions us about the shame we will receive if we dare make a sex tape, but uses the same shame as the tool to keep us from doing it. Shamed if you do; shamed if you don’t. According to Harvey, women’s lives should be dictated by the expectations and presumptions of others. Our bodies are not our own: we exist at the will of laws perpetuated by people like Steve Harvey, who would have us covering our ankles in the name of modesty. Harvey isn’t interested in empowering us: he only wants to lay red tape in tight boxes around us in his effort to corral us into his idea of the ideal woman.

And Steve Harvey’s ideal woman is exactly what you would expect, fitting neatly into the virgin/whore dichotomy that has plagued women for lifetimes. “You’re not here for sex,” Harvey says in the recording. “You’re here for life. God didn’t create you for sex.”

Oh?

And why not? Why are we not here for sex? Isn’t it part of life? But more importantly, how did this conversation go from talking about sex tapes to sex in general? It’s one thing to say “Hey boys and girls, sex tapes are forever. It may be sexy now, but you may not want the whole world seeing that in ten years.” Sure. Fair facts. But that’s not enough for Harvey, and for some reason he seems incapable of addressing boys: only girls. Rather than using the Mimi and Nikko sex tape as a teachable moment about privacy, permanence, and the longevity of Internet decisions, Harvey can’t resist transforming that moment into a diatribe about shame and God’s plan for women’s bodies.

You see, those who are truly interested in empowering women and girls use different words. Instead of “Think of the horrible things people will say about you,” people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, “Don’t worry about what people say. You are autonomous.” Instead of, “You weren’t put here for sex,” people who are truly interested in empowering women and girls say, “Sex is one of many beautiful parts of life when it is consensual. You can have as much or as little of it as you want: just protect yourself.” These are the words we use when we seek to empower girls and women. The kind of shaming tactics Steve Harvey employs are not only tired, patriarchal regurgitations, but they fly in the face of actual women’s empowerment and turn “sex” and “women” into painful opposites that should have nothing to do with another. And everything else aside: men and boys are still absent from Harvey’s lecture.

This has all been written about before. Extensively. Yet Steve Harvey still added this to the end of his little speech:

“You’re putting your most precious gift out on display. For a pearl, you gotta dive to the bottom of the ocean […] Ain’t no diamonds laying on top of the earth: they don’t grow like corn. […] This thing every man got to have: your body. Your precious jewel. You’re sitting on a gold mine. Please act like it, young ladies. Act like you’re sitting on a gold mine. Because it is what every man is after. And we will pay dearly for it.”

Is anybody else creeped out? Is anybody else extremely uncomfortable about the fact that Steve Harvey is telling girls that they should treat their vaginas like a means of currency because men will “pay dearly for it”? Let me tell you a few things, Mr. Harvey. I’ll put them in bullet points so you don’t miss anything:

  • Women’s vaginas are not our most precious gift. Our minds, our souls, our personalities, are far more precious and will do more for us in our lives than the so-called gold-mine between our legs. In fact, for vaginas to be gold mines, they don’t bring us much gold just sitting down there being vaginas. Ever heard of women’s struggle for equal pay? Come on, Steve.
  • Diamonds aren’t that f*cking great. In fact, they’re intrinsically worthless. Their value is based on artificial scarcity, a system created by tycoons who seek to propagate the belief of their rarity to increase their worth. It’s almost like the idea of chastity. Chew on that.
  • If women “aren’t here for sex,” yet it’s the thing that “every man wants,” then does that mean that men are here for sex? Why would “God” make men for sex and not women? That seems silly. No, it doesn’t seem silly. It is.
  • Nikko was in the sex tape too. Where’s your sermon for him? Aren’t men and boys’ bodies just as valuable? Is their sex not also precious?

Steve Harvey’s explicit advice to young women is that when it comes to our sexual activity, we should think before we act—before we “give it away”—because “think of what people will say about us behind our backs.” And when it comes to a society that makes women’s bodies and what women do with them a matter of scorn and shame, Steve Harvey knows which side he’s on: the side that does the scorning and the shaming. His critique looks no further: it stops at the young women who are held prisoner by this ideology. He does not criticize the ideology itself; rather, he upholds it.

Steve Harvey is not interested in empowering or protecting young women. Instead, he joins the likes of Tyler Perry, Tyrese, Chey B, who would sit on their towering soap boxes making money off policing the lives and bodies of women. Write a book about young boys for once, Mr. Harvey, if you want to impress me: write a book about rape culture and the way we teach young men that women’s bodies are trophies, objects, status symbols, commodities.

Oh wait. You already know. Because with all your jabbering about gold mines and diamonds and precious jewels, you’re doing the teaching. The woman, Mimi, that you are criticizing is doing exactly what you suggest. You said what’s between our legs is a gold mine, right? Isn’t Mimi set to make a gold mine from this sex tape? Oh, but that’s not what you meant, right? A little too much autonomy, mixed with too little care for “what people say behind her back.” Have a seat, Mr. Harvey. Have this one. Or this one. Or this one. Just make sure you choose a sturdy chair, because times are changing: women see through your crap and we’re not here for it. Get comfortable. You may be sitting for a long time.

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People of Color DO Survive the Apocalypse: 5 Books You Should Read

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It’s been written about before: the problem with mainstream post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction and its absence of people of color. In the imaginations of so many writers of these genres, people of color don’t ever seem to survive the apocalypse, or somehow the series of events that led to the dystopian society that has banned smiling (or dreaming, or whatever the big “gasp” factor is) wiped out people of color along the way. Post-apocalyptic fiction is a craze, and not a new one: we have always, on some level, wondered what happens next, after we destroy ourselves, for a long time. (Think about it: the Bible’s versions of Heaven and Hell are a kind of dystopian fiction in itself. A book talking about what happens next if we keep f@&#ing up the way we have been? Just saying.) Yet somehow the versions of these stories that make it into the mainstream—and don’t get me started on Hollywood—almost invariably star white people, and especially white girls. But in case you’ve ever looked at the whitewashed array of dystopian and post-apocalyptic books that line the shelves and asked yourself, “Do people of color survive the apocalypse?” the answer is yes. Read these books.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Environmental and economic crises lead to societal disintegration in Parable of the Sower. Lauren Olamina is the daughter of a minister who loses her entire family when the chaos of the outside world enters her home compound. She ventures out into the wasteland of America alone and what follows is her journey to a new future in the face of almost certain death. Octavia Butler was a genius and you should read everything she’s ever written. Pronto. You can buy Parable of the Sower here.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

The setting for this post-apocalyptic future is Saharan Africa, in a world that is ruined by rape and genocide. A young girl named Onyesonwu—which means Who Fears Death?—is raised in the midst of a society that hates her; a society that she must overcome if she is to 1) survive and 2) save the world from the evil that plagues it. She is not only extremely brave, but flawed, funny, and powerful, and the story involves magic, self-discovery, and analyses of racism and sexism. In short: it rocks. You can buy Who Fears Death here.

Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole

Chicago hasn’t really gotten its fair shake when it comes to post-apocalyptic stories, and this book takes place in a Chicago of the not-so-distant future, following the story of Tasha Lockett, an oddball brown girl who finds herself alone in the city when a cybertronic disaster overcomes the States. It’s a coming of age story that takes on healthcare, racism, sexism, and political corruption. Oh, and I wrote it. Just throwing that in there. You can buy Panther in the Hive here.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

If you like zombie novels, here’s one for you. Colson Whitehead isn’t known for genre work, but this book was a doozy. The story follows Mark Spitz, a survivor in a civilian sweeper unit who is clearing Zone One of straggler zombies. It’s deep, dark, and literary, and it will leave you thinking. You can buy Zone One here.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson has won too many awards to count, and you should really check out all of her work. But Brown Girl in the Ring suits the purposes of this blog, following the story of Ti-Jeanne, a new mother who finds herself alone in a Toronto that has collapsed into violence and gang rule, with the rich and privilege having fled the city and barricaded everyone else inside. A little bit of voodoo. A little bit of love. A lot of adventure. You can buy Brown Girl in the Ring here.

There are others: this is just five. Do you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? Share it in the comments. There’s a shortage of these stories in fiction, so let’s collect them here.

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