Monthly Archives: April 2014

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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