This Is Why We Still Don’t Need #WhiteGirlsRock

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Below you will find an excerpt to my latest blog,”Why We Still Don’t Need #WhiteGirlsRock,” which has been published on Huffington Post. I encourage you to read it here.

It’s a subtle kind of murder, the killing of black girls’ self-confidence. In a culture like ours that regularly dehumanizes and denigrates the bodies and identities of black women — even the First Lady of the United States isn’t exempt, after all — it’s easy to miss the often indistinct ways that black girls and women are cast as inferior to the identities and pursuits of white women.

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Why the racist students behind the Oklahoma frat video don’t deserve privacy

racist SAE video

Below is an excerpt of my recently published piece, “Why the racist students behind the Oklahoma frat video don’t deserve privacy,” the entirety of which you can find here. I encourage you to read it.

Similarly, in terms of privacy, 87 percent of those targeted by New York City‘s stop and frisk policy were blacks and Latinos; 85 percent of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8 percent of the white people stopped. This is despite the fact that stops of white people were twice as likely to yield a weapon and a third more likely to yield some form of contraband as compared to stops of black people. Surely if black and brown men can have identification demanded of them for merely walking down the street, we can demand identification of men on tape for chanting about lynching black people.

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Darren Wilson’s Demon

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I have begun publishing work on Medium. Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece, Darren Wilson’s Demon. I encourage you to go read it here.

They are that sick. They are that cruel. The Ferguson Report reveals the flagrant bias officers have toward black citizens: the numbers expose a jungle of malice, cruelty, spite, superiority. In the report, in the many anecdotes of black citizens having their IDs demanded of them, we hear echoes of boy and uppity. “Stop being a smartass and give me your ID.” Dogs turned on a 14-year old boy while the handlers laughed. “N*gger.” Beatings. Jailings. Unlawful searches. “Stop being a smartass and give me your ID.” Freedom papers. Parents brutalized in front of their small children. Déjà vu. The American echo.

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Beards and Armpits: The Tired Sexism of the Walking Dead

walking dead sexism

The Walking Dead, like any show, has its problems. While it is one of the most diverse shows on television, many have criticized its revolving door of people of color: killing one off before adding the next, as if having too many non-white people onscreen at one time would be too much. And while there are lots of women onscreen—including women of color: Michonne kicks ass as well as kicking the ass of stereotyped writing—there is another small thing that continues to irk me when I tune in every Sunday.

Rick, Darryl, and the other dudes look fit for an apocalypse: their scruffy faces get scruffier every season, and flashbacks to the smooth-faced Sherriff Rick of Season 1 are almost shocking in their stark difference. It’s an effective plot device, really; a way of illustrating both the passage of time and the ways in which priorities/capabilities have changed. In last night’s episode, Rick finally says the title, admitting, “We are the walking dead.” And it’s true, they are. They collectively stagger down the road, zombie and living alike, both men and women: dirty, bedraggled, and weather-beaten. So why then, if the dudes are forced to wander the ruins of the United States with Castaway beards, do the ladies have underarms as smooth as Baby Judith’s cheek?

It’s a small beef, I know, but one that is repeated in too many post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and dystopian films to go unnoticed. BuzzFeed made a hilarious listicle last year cataloging the ridiculousness: 12 Female Characters Who Keep Shaving Despite Constant Peril. And it is ridiculous, the notion that with death around every corner, women would still take the time to slip away to the bathroom and shave their armpits. In last night’s episode of Walking Dead the group couldn’t even find water. You mean to tell me the women not only shaved—but dry shaved? No. I can’t believe that. I don’t think any woman would be that desperate.

This ridiculous hairlessness is confounding considering the lengths the show goes to be convincing in other aspects of the zombie apocalypse: sickness, zombie gore, hunger, violence. It’s bizarre that a show with a scope as wide as The Walking Dead’s can imagine many things, but women with armpit hair is not one of them.

Part of this problem is the writers: I could find reference to only three women writers in a list of over twenty credited for The Walking Dead. Much has been written about the mixed results of male writers penning female characters, and we see the results in the media we consume every day: female characters who are unrelatable and lacking in complexity…who shave their armpits during the zombie apocalypse. This is part of the reason so many—myself included—have latched on to Shonda Rhimes#TGIT shows: women! Complex women! Relatable, diverse women! It’s an oasis in a dry desert of missed marks.

But it’s not just the male writers, of course. Even many female writers wouldn’t stop and think, “Hey wait, the women should be fuzzier.” Our culture informs our media, and in a culture that both infantilizes and sexualizes women, it’s unsurprising that no one would consider the absence of body hair: we’re so used to its erasure (in advertising, in film, in television) that its absence is somewhat realistic: women don’t have body hair, we’re told. So when it’s missing—even in the most unlikely scenarios—we don’t even notice.

It’s disturbing that women in other realities (dystopian, post-apocalyptic, or sci-fi)—stories of which, unfortunately, are few and far between—are subject to the same sanitization that women in our own sexist world are. In the past I’ve written about the limits of the white imagination when it comes to imagining characters of color in fictional worlds, and the same is true for the collective imagination when it comes to women: our imaginations are stunted by the -isms of our time.

Perhaps this is why there are so few stories—books and film—that tell the stories of women and people of color in worlds beyond our own. The future, it seems, belongs mostly to white men, another reflection of the values we see in our day-to-day realities. Whether the scenario is alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, or government-gone-mad, the story tends to center on white men, with everyone else in their role rotating around them in their “proper place.” Hairless women. One black character killed off to be replaced by another. Would it be a stretch to point out that Glen in The Walking Dead is the least bearded of the men in the cast, a reminder of the traditional emasculation of Asian men in American media? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s something to notice.

This is why I never stop hunting for science fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction that gives a glimpse at another vision of the future. Kenyan short film Pumzi is one. Upcoming sci-fi romance out of Ethiopia Crumbs is another. Anything by Nnedi Okorafor. Anything by Octavia Butler. Chang-rae Lee’s recent book On Such a Full Sea. There are others, but there are not enough.

Our sexism (and racism) is ingrained in us. It permeates the stories we tell and how we imagine the future. Many have called the apocalypse—in whatever form it arrives in—“the great equalizer.” The thing that brings all of humankind together against the thing that threatens our survival. But when I look at many of the stories we have that tell the story of our future—sci-fi or speculative—too many of them look just like the past.

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I’m A Bad Feminist, But Not Because I Don’t Like Iggy Azalea

iggy azalea bad feminist

Roxane Gay, who is much wiser (and certainly a better writer) than I am, said the following in Bad Feminist:

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”

I think of this quote often when being trolled by people (both men and women, both in real life and on the Internet) who latch on to any given aspect of my humanity and poke the various bears of my beliefs with “Oh you like ____? But you’re a feminist. How can you like _____ and be a feminist?” Things I don’t like are also subject to this kind of asinine dissection, and a common example is Iggy Azalea. “Oh you don’t like Iggy Azalea? How can you not like Iggy Azalea and be a feminist? She’s a woman in a male-dominated industry! You have to root for that!”

Well, no. I don’t. And here’s why.

As I have written in the past, Iggy Azalea’s rise to fame in the male-dominated rap industry isn’t due to her undeniable talent: it’s due to the whiteness and verbal blackface that has made her a novelty, white privilege serving as a jetpack that skyrocketed her to the top, surpassing black women who have toiled in the trenches of hip hop for decades. Yet Iggy Azalea denies this at every turn, despite her inability to perform some of the most fundamental aspects of rap music (freestyling, for example), blaming sexism for her criticism and nothing more.

And granted, Iggy has faced sexism. I was one of the first to defend her when Eminem made a reference to raping her in one of his songs. I criticized the hacker group Anonymous when they threatened to leak a sex tape they claimed depicted Iggy if she didn’t apologize for her racism. This kind of violence is faced almost exclusively by women, and the way Iggy Azalea handled both of these attacks was admirable in both maturity and seriousness.

But being a feminist does not provide a “get out of racism free” card, and that is the card Iggy has been playing over and over since her rise to fame, which a lot of folks seem to have a whole deck of, from dismissive reactions to Susan B. Anthony’s racism to flippancy regarding Madonna’s use of the N-word. (“But she’s Madonna! She, like, birthed the feminist movement in music!”) When Mikki Kendall launched #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen on Twitter, this is exactly what she was referring to: the idea that the pain of women of color should take a backseat to so-called “overall feminism,” as if the concerns of women of color are not included in the “all” of that “overall.”

Certainly this isn’t an argument of “I’m a bad feminist, but Iggy Azalea is a worst feminist!” Not at all. But I do challenge the belief that because I find flaws with Iggy Azalea, my feminism is further flawed. My praying that Iggy wouldn’t win a single Grammy—thank you, Lord—doesn’t mean I was praying for the downfall of women in hip-hop. My laughing at her two days of Twitter beef with Papa John’s pizza doesn’t mean I don’t think the leaking of her private information is a serious matter. That’s the thing about being a thinking, multi-dimensional human being: I can, in fact, consider two topics simultaneously. I can laugh at the absurdity of a famous “rapper” using her stage name to order subpar chain pizza (and calling it her favorite! God, that’s hilarious) while still agreeing that her private information shouldn’t be leaked by a thirsty teenage delivery guy who was careless and idiotic.

Feminism does not exist to serve as a magical shield to protect women from criticism. I cringe as I write this, knowing that too many (sexist) men have said something very similar, usually while criticizing a woman on sexist grounds. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that we can’t, under the guise of feminist solidarity, allow abusive or abhorrent behavior to go unchecked and uncriticized. And abusive and abhorrent Iggy has been, from now-deleted tweets with racist jokes and denigration of the bodies of women of color to the disturbingly exploitive and pedophilic music video for her song “PU$$Y,” in which Iggy raps about her sexual prowess while sitting between the legs of a black boy who can’t be more than seven years old. Yet on these matters Iggy’s defenders (mostly men and white feminists) have remained silent, insisting instead that she is a feminist icon and blameless of the appropriation for which she is often charged. Between sexist men and white feminist women, then, a disturbing alliance emerges: it seems abhorrent behavior can be ignored, forgiven, overlooked, when the victims are women of color. It seems the preferred brand of feminism is that which is focused on the comfort and terms of white women.

That’s not the kind of feminism I’m interested in aligning myself with. Feminists generally scoff at the idea that shaving our legs, wearing pink, or changing our last name is “bad feminism.” It’s an outdated way of viewing the F-word: only the fools who still use “feminist” as an insult still believe feminists are hairy, man-hating whores. But just as antiquated is the idea that feminism is for white women, and that the Iggy Azaleas of the world can trample women of color—appropriating their bodies, their language, and their culture—and still be flawless feminists worthy of praise and nothing else.

In another world, I might have liked Iggy Azalea. I admire how she has criticized publications for Photoshopping her moles. She can also take a joke; dressing up as a character from White Chicks after being memed online following a beef with Snoop Dogg. But as of now, this is not that world. I may be a bad feminist—messy, human—but as Roxane says, I’m also “trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world.” And if calling out Iggy Azalea makes me a bad feminist (or a worse feminist) then that is just what I’ll have to be.

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If you’re black in America, stereotypes kill

stereotypes kill

Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece (“If you’re black in America, stereotypes kill”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

Just last week, 62-year-old black grandfather and legal gun owner Clarence Daniels was shopping at Walmart when he was tackled, restrained, and put in a chokehold by three white men who saw his legally concealed firearm and suspected him of being a criminal—while he shopped for coffee creamer. Even pedestrians crossing the street are subject to racial bias: A study revealed that cars are twice as likely not to yield for black pedestrians crossing in a clearly marked crosswalk.Respectability is worthless—student, grandfather, law-abiding citizen—when there is active (and violent) racial bias.

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The toxic police response to #ICantBreathe

#icantbreathe

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“The toxic police response to #ICantBreathe”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

Racial bias combined with arrogance unleashes another host of problems. “Contempt of cop” is law enforcement jargon for behavior by citizens towards police that officers perceive as disrespectful or insufficiently deferential to their authority. Police reactions to “contempt of cop” are considered to be a sort of “occupational arrogance,” bred by exactly the kind of culture and attitude that Dutta promotes in his Washington Post article. When citizens aren’t sufficiently deferential, violence and/or arrests are officers’ way of coping with what they perceive as disrespect. When Harvard professorHenry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested in front of his home in 2009, it was his outward expression of anger that police say led to their decision to arrest him. Others say this was a clear case of “contempt of cop.” The same for journalists in Ferguson, Mo., who were arrested fornot moving fast enough. In 2011, a woman was awarded $97,500 in damages after she was unconstitutionally arrested by two officers who were offended by statements she made in a convenience store about police. In 2010, a man was arrested for having the audacity to ask for an officer’s badge number.

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Whoopi Goldberg reminds us that women fart too—and that’s OK

whoopi goldberg fart

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“Whoopi Goldberg reminds us that women fart too—and that’s OK”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

In these visual representations, attitudes toward women farting tell us a lot about attitudes toward women in general, especially black women. Apparently this isn’t Whoopi Goldberg’s first time farting on-air—she let one slip in 2011 as well—and one look at the comment section in that case reveals some truly heinous invective (which I will not repost here, as they are incredibly triggering). As recent as three months ago, commenters have thrown around the “N-word” with ease, calling Whoopi “animalistic” and “ghetto trash.” This reaction to Goldberg’s femaleness, but also her blackness, tells us that farting—like anything that relates to femininity—is a complicated issue, one that carries the weight of the farter’s sex, race, and socioeconomic status.

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What Piers Morgan doesn’t understand about the ‘N-word’

piers morgan racist

Below is an excerpt from my recent piece (“What Piers Morgan doesn’t understand about the ‘N-word’”) which has been published over at The Daily Dot. I encourage you to go read it.

It’s concerning that no editor read this piece and thought, “You know, Piers, using a whipping-post analogy and the words ‘brutal submission’ in a discussion of the ‘N-word’ and American’s legacy of slavery and racismprobably isn’t the best idea.” It’s concerning that a white man felt that he was qualified—and entitled—to write a piece about what black people “have” to do in regard to a word that was invented to subjugate them. It’s concerning that Morgan even admits, “As a white man, I have no right to demand that any black person gives up using the ‘N-word’” but goes on to do just that anyway.

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White Rage, the Hunger Games, and the Lack of Justice for Eric Garner

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Today, like too many days, I am angry. Today a grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against the white officer who killed Eric Garner, father of six, with a chokehold. The killing is on video, which many people hoped would mean an indictment and, eventually, a conviction. Not so. Today, America tells us once again that the value it places in black life is nil, insubstantial, nonexistent.

The protests have already begun in New York, and I’m thinking about anger, rage. I’m thinking about things that burn. When the grand jury in St. Louis County announced that it would not be indicting Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Ferguson burned. Over the weekend, I saw the latest Hunger Games film—Mockingjay—and in it, the Capitol executes unarmed civilians, their deaths broadcasted for millions of eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice: the killing of unarmed people, one a man and one a child, their murders recorded and spreading like wildfire on the Internet. Like in Hunger Games, the people have taken to the streets to protest these killings, demanding change, demanding that the system in which laws benefit some and murder others be overthrown. It’s been written about extensively, this parallel between the Hunger Games and this America that not only sets Darren Wilson free but awards him almost $1 million for…what? In Hunger Games, we stand behind Katniss as she takes on a system bent on her—literal—destruction: she is our champion as she fires an explosive arrow at a plane that targets women and children. In Mockingjay, the film crew following her gets the perfect shot when Katniss witnesses the destruction of one of the weaker districts, shouting into the camera, “This is what they [the Capitol] do!” She gestures at the fire that has engulfed the victims of the district. “And we must fight back!”

There have been accusations that police in St. Louis have set fires in Ferguson, an assertion which some media outlets have claimed to debunk but that protestors on the ground insist are true. Thinking of things that burn, one can’t help but remember the MOVE bombing of 1985 in Philadelphia, in which police dropped bombs on a black liberation group’s commune and then, when the commune was engulfed in flames, “let the fire burn.” In Ferguson, it has been clear since day one that the police and National Guard have been the aggressors in the rising tension since Mike Brown’s death. One can’t sit in the theater with Mockingjay shining in one’s eyes—the Capitol’s troops with their intimidating tanks; their masks; their weapons—and not think of Ferguson. The malicious Peacekeepers keep peace in name only: the audience sees their suppression of revolution and we hate them for it: no one in their right mind would sit in the theater and think to themselves, “You know, maybe if the districts stopped being so angry. Maybe if the districts worked a little harder. Maybe if Katniss had a father, this wouldn’t be happening to her and her people.”

It’s interesting: in Mockingjay, Peeta withers away before our eyes in Capitol captivity, his eyes sunken and his skin chalky. Prisoner to President Snow, he gives a few interviews to the Capitol media in which he says things that make the rebels in the districts curse his name: “Killing is not the answer! Stop and think of what all this violence could mean!” He begs Katniss and the districts to “show restraint,” and when they bomb the Capitol’s dams, Peeta roundly condemns the act of violence.

In the audience, you are aghast. In the audience, you can’t believe that Peeta would call for “restraint” in the face of a system that grows rich off the districts’ blood. In the audience, you know that Peeta must be brainwashed, trying to protect Katniss, something, because clearly you’re on the side of the districts, clearly you’re on the side of the people fighting against tyranny and murder. In the audience, you are filled with rage for the unfairness of it all.

Roughly 64% of Hunger Games moviegoers are white. I would venture to conclude that this means that those white people side with Katniss, with Peeta, with the districts, with the people who are gunned down by government agents and whipped at the post, and see no justice. Yet 32% of white people look at the protests in Ferguson and say that the police response to those events is “about right.” 35% of white people don’t have an opinion at all.

What is it about the Hunger Games that stirs white people’s empathy? Surely it is Katniss and her lovers’ whiteness. After all, Katniss and the districts’ plight have a lot in common with that of black Americans, past and present. Economic marginalization, forced labor, public shootings with no legal recourse, whipping at the post, and even lynching. In the theater, I sat, disturbed, as Katniss sang a song about “the hanging tree.”

“Are you, are you

Coming to the tree

Where they strung up a man they say murdered three”

In these words, I can’t help but hear the accusations leveled against the black lives taken in America to justify their killing. At one point, for a black American to be lynched, the only “crime” they had to commit was being black. Now, in “post-racial” America, there exists a kind of shroud of language around the reason for these deaths. For John Crawford and Tamir Rice, it is shouted that they carried BB guns (despite living in Ohio, an open-carry state). For Eric Garner, it is screamed that he was selling cigarettes. Mike Brown, they say, punched Darren Wilson, although photographs of Wilson’s “injuries” seem to illustrate only rosacea. “They say he murdered three,” sings Katniss, and we in the audience don’t need to ask to know who “they” is: “they” is the system, the Capitol, the President himself. And we don’t need to know if the man being strung up is guilty or innocent: we are on his side, because we know the Capitol is guilty, guiltier, guilty as sin.

At times it seems that the Hunger Games script was written after Ferguson. President Snow sits in his office at the Capitol and consults with his PR people about what they should call the districts that have begun to rebel. He doesn’t want to call them rebels, he says. It gives them too much weight. “Criminals?” his assistant suggests, and in the audience you cringe, you sneer because you know Katniss is no criminal; you know how unfair and twisted it is. “Radicals,” they finally decide. Radicals. And you shake your head, because you know it’s bullshit propaganda.

In St. Louis, Missouri, the same meeting was held. In media offices all over the country, the same meeting was held. Jeff Roorda, spokesman and business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, chose the word “thugs.” All over America, the word “thug” is chosen just as carefully, just as specifically as President Snow chose “radicals.” Are you cringing? Are you hearing the word and knowing you are hearing spin, strategy, propaganda?

One of the recurring themes in Hunger Games—in the films and in the books—is the role media plays in the subjugation of the district; the way crimes—the murder of humans—are recorded and used as entertainment. We look at that world—the world of Panem, a United States not united but torn apart by class wars and violence—and believe it an impossible distortion of our society. Yet Eric Garner’s murder, Tamir Rice’s murder, John Crawford’s murder, were all caught on camera, broadcasted on television and on the Internet—and they mean nothing. They don’t serve as entertainment, no, but these videos, captured for what we all hoped would be evidence in punishing the killers responsible, serve no purpose. Even with video, no indictment for Eric Garner’s killer. Even with video, no indictment for John Crawford’s murder. These videos exist only as an endlessly looping reminder of what America reinforces every day: in this system, black lives do not matter.

The Hunger Games shows us a world in which police are out of control and the government is hell-bent on keeping people poor and afraid; a world in which the masses, tired of being abused and killed on TV, rise up and demand change, by any means necessary. In Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen looks in the camera and raises her voice, “You can torture or bomb us, blast our district to the grounds. But do you see that? Fire is catching…If we burn, you burn with us!”

I want the white people in the theater cheering for Katniss to look at the countless black lives that have been taken by police in America—one every 28 hours— without justice, and say the same. I want the fire to catch. It is our responsibility. The wrongs that we weep for in Panem, the imagined wrongs that are inflicted on imagined white people, are happening to black Americans around you right at this moment. I want the fire to catch. Look at the damage, the irreconcilable violence, that the police in America wreak on black lives and say, “This is what they do. And we must fight back.”

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