Tag Archives: privilege

Why I’m Not Here for #WhiteGirlsRock

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The Black Girls Rock! Foundation was founded in 2006 as an organization dedicated to the empowerment of young women of color; a foundation committed to helping black and brown girls overcome the myriad of obstacles a misogynoiristic society places squarely in front of them. The Black Girls Rock! Awards are now featured on BET as a way of recognizing role models, encouraging teachings of self worth, and emphasizing the talents of extraordinary women of color who are otherwise unseen in American media.

Let me emphasize that last part. “Women of color who are otherwise unseen in American media.” We need Black Girls Rock! because black girls and women are almost invisible in American media. Because if you were a black girl growing up in this country, watching TV and movies and reading magazines like every other kid, looking for some representation of yourself as something beautiful or heroic, you would be sorely disappointed.

  • Black Girls Rock! is necessary because when you Google “beautiful women,” this is what you see.
  • Because when you look at the covers of Vogue, this is what you see.
  • Because when Vanity Fair printed their Hollywood issue, they put the black actresses on the back cover.
  • Because when a dark-skinned woman is put on the cover of a magazine, this is what is done to her.
  • Because Pixar has never made a movie featuring a black cartoon character.
  • Because a black actress has never won a drama series Lead Actress Emmy. (Although Kerry Washington will change that, I am certain.)
  • Because in 39 years, only three black women have been part of the cast of SNL.
  • Because, until Scandal, the only real place you could find black women in leading roles on television was Real Housewives of _______.
  • Because the “first black Disney Princess” was a frog for 95% of the movie.

I could go on. But I think you get the gist. What it comes down to is that black girls are missing representations of themselves in positive contexts. When they turn on the TV, they are missing. When they are looking at the cover of magazines like Vogue and Elle, they are missing. When they go to the movie theater, they are missing. For black women’s faces to appear in mainstream films, it seems they must be either wearing a maid’s apron or chains. So when Black Girls Rock! appears on the scene, ready to uplift and empower the girls who are so tragically neglected in American media, ready to showcase women of color who are smart and fun and beautiful and accomplished and positive, I am so here for it.

But let me tell you what I’m not here for.

I’m not here for #WhiteGirlsRock. The hashtag appeared on Twitter in an apparent response to Black Girls Rock! that aired on Sunday night with typical nonsense such as:

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And

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Let me tell you something, white folks. From one white person to another.

You are in everything. 99% of Hollywood movies feature your faces. 99% of magazine covers are covered in you. The Emmy Awards and Oscars are almost entirely you. If you Google “beautiful people” the screen is covered in white faces. Black girls (and boys) are taught from birth that there is one version of beauty, and it is you. Many black girls go their entire lives thinking they are ugly, thinking they need to be lighter, straighter, whiter in order to have value. Everything that you see every day that reaffirms your whiteness; every commercial that has a nice white lady embodying the perfect “mom;” every magazine that has blue eyes and bone-straight hair; every Hollywood blockbuster that has a leading lady with skin never darker than Halle Berry….all of these things are reinforcements of your identity that you take for granted.

You may be fat. You may have hair that curls up at the ends. You may even have acne. But your face is everywhere. Your people are everywhere. What in your heart recoils when you see Black Girls Rock? What bone in your body sees empowerment for black girls and thinks “that’s not fair”? Where is your bitterness rooted? What do you think has been taken from you when women of color are uplifted?

All of the things you take for granted are what you’re protecting when you shout down Black Girls Rock: your whiteness, the system that upholds your face as the supreme standard of beauty, your place in the center of a culture that demands people of color remain hidden in the margins, present but only barely and never overshadowing the white hero/heroine. Your discomfort with black girls who rock tells me that you prefer the status quo: you prefer for black faces to remain hidden, you prefer for America’s heroes to have white faces, you prefer for black actresses to wear aprons and chains.

This is not to say that white girls don’t rock. I’m white. I kind of rock. But this conversation isn’t about you, it isn’t about us. Why must everything always be about us? It doesn’t have to be. And it shouldn’t be. From one white person to another….please sit down. Queen Latifah is on and you’re blocking the screen.

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How Not to Be Rapey on the City Bus

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Let me tell you about something that just happened.

On an overcrowded 62 southbound bus in Chicago, I was standing to the side of a seated woman in her 30’s who had her purse on her lap. I noticed her when I got on because she was very pretty and dressed well. Standing next to me (and in front of the woman) was a white man in his 40’s: 5’5” or so, very slim, large glasses, wearing a polo shirt. He raises his voice a little to be heard and says to the seated woman, “That’s a beautiful purse.”

Her: Thank you. [small, polite smile.]

A few minutes pass in silence. Then,

Him: It goes very nicely with your shirt. [His voice is a little different now. It has taken on a wheedling tone. He’s making it clear he’s hitting on her.]

Her: Thank you. [only a glimmer of a smile. She averts her eyes.]

A few minutes pass in silence.

Him: So. Are you coming from work? [now he’s in full on creep mode. It is important to note that the way they are positioned places his crotch almost fully in her face.]

Her: [silence. Averted eyes.]

A minute later:

Him: Did you not hear me? Are you coming from work?

[enter Olivia]

Me: Excuse me, has she given you any indication that she is in the least bit interested in you?

Him: No. [stutters] Don’t worry about it.

Me: Well, I’m going to worry about it if you’re making her uncomfortable. And you’re making her uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: Shut up. If she was uncomfortable, she would have said so.

Her: [looks up at me, refusing to look at him]

Me: Dude, are you blind? She’s uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: [muttering insults]

Me: Did you say something?

Him: Yes.

Me: Oh I didn’t hear you. Because you were mumbling

Him: [silence]

The rest of the bus ride passed without incident. The woman got off five stops later and I got off seven stops after that (two after my actual stop: I didn’t want him to know my real stop in case he was a psycho). He stared at me for much of the ride but said nothing.

So why am I writing this blog? For a number of reasons.

Even if someone is not saying the words “You’re making me uncomfortable” they might still be telling you they’re uncomfortable. The woman’s clasped hands, the aversion of her eyes, the shifting in her seat, the refusal to answer his questions? This is discomfort. Part of living in a civilized society is taking social cues from one another. If you can’t restrain yourself enough to not hit on a woman in public—and I urge you to do exactly that: restrain yourself—at least have the humanity, respect, and presence of mind to take note of the behavior of the subject of your attention. Often, men who engage in street harassment rely on the societally taught politeness that is ingrained in most women in order to subjugate their target. They interpret this politeness as either interest or “playing hard to get.”   Hint: “Playing hard to get” doesn’t really exist in these kinds of scenarios. She’s not “playing hard to get.” She wants you to leave her the fuck alone.

Additionally, take stock of your privilege. Not just your male privilege—hopefully you’re already taking stock of that daily—but your physical privilege. Standing in front of a woman on the bus with your crotch in her face is not the time and place to compliment her on her shirt. Trust me. You are in a position of physical dominance. Allowing this posture to inflate your sense of control in the situation is not “being confident.” It’s being rapey. Don’t be rapey.

We need to teach men. Men need to be taught about boundaries, dominance, privilege, intimidation, street harassment, and a multitude of other microaggressions that they employ—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—when they interact with women.

Men, the first step is paying attention. Please, please pay attention. Sometimes you can’t see because you’re standing in your own way. Advice? Move.

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Justin Bieber, Trayvon Martin, and Kittens

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Today Sharon Osbourne said this. Gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you why it’s bullshit.

Justin Bieber, to date, has spit on his fans, smoked marijuana, and urinated in buckets in public—on camera. You know who is to blame for these acts? Justin Bieber. You know who is not to blame for these acts? Black people.

Sharon Osbourne is an idiot for a multitude of reasons, but the glaring one here is this: implying that Justin Bieber’s bad behavior is somehow the result of black culture’s influence and not the result of, oh, I don’t know…unchecked white privilege, unchecked arrogance, poor parenting, limitless financial resources, armies of Yes Men, and well, a shitty personality, is not only deeply ignorant, but deeply racist.

Prepare yourself for a list of rhetorical questions:

  • Why is bad behavior associated with blackness?
  • Why are faceless, nameless black boys held accountable for the actions of a young, white, male celebrity?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne “feel bad” for this asshole of a kid?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne associate “bad boys” pissing in a bucket with blackness? Is this something that “bad black boys” do? Piss in buckets in public? Nah.

I can’t help but be reminded of the public’s reaction to the possibility that Trayvon Martin had been smoking marijuana on the night that he was killed. He was transformed into a dangerous, drug-running addict: a 17-year-old hurricane of chaos and violence. No one said he was lost. No one said he was a “little kid with a huge dream,” “cute,” trying to be a “mean boy” but “mean as a f*cking kitten.”

Why is Justin Bieber a kitten? Why was Trayvon Martin not?

Sharon Osbourne says Justin Bieber is lost. If he is, it’s not from following a map penned by black youth. If Justin Bieber is lost, it’s because he’s followed the path laid out for him by privilege, entitlement, and white supremacy.

Maybe he can be found. But I tell you what’s not going to bring him back to humanity: excusing his bullshit actions and blaming black boys. I can tell you that for sure.

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Sagging Pants and Pointing Fingers

ImageSince Don Lemon’s statements about sagging pants being the reason black men can’t get jobs, continue their education, stay out of jail, etc., I’ve witnessed a flurry of white fists in the proverbial air, mobs of white commenters on various blogs and forums saying “See? See? What I’ve been saying all along.” Torches and pitchforks. Pointing fingers. Sighs of relief as their own opinions—held however secretly—are given breath by a black man; the token voice they need for “permission” to air out their often ill-concealed dirty laundry.

This topic has been written on extensively. I have little to contribute. Lemon’s equation of fashion choices to the grossly disproportionate numbers of black men who are unemployed, criminalized, and institutionalized is almost laughable. But I do want to ask you this, Mr. Lemon.

Would you say the same about victims of rape?

If a woman is wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top and is the victim of sexual assault, is she to blame? When police officers arbitrarily dismiss her allegations as uncredible; when courts lambast her supposed promiscuity and wardrobe choices; when she is called a whore or that she was “asking for it”—is it her fault?

I am discussing a system of blame in which an oppressed group bears the brunt of its own brutalization; in which petty justifications like sartorial decisions are gestured to as the root of all said group’s misfortune. It reminds me of something… It reminds me of a boy who was wearing a hoodie on a rainy evening while walking home from the store, who was seen as dangerous, threatening, suspicious, out of place. A boy who was murdered as a result of it.

Is your memory so short, Mr. Lemon?

This is a society that would rather criticize hems and pants than its own distorted lens of bias and blame: its systematic inequality and inherited poverty.

A society that would rather point at hoodies as the problem rather than address its prejudice toward the skin of the hoodie-wearer.

A society that has a finger pointing solidly at the black boys with their pants riding low, steadily unaware of the four fingers pointing back at itself.

Black boys are being gunned down in front of their homes, and we’re talking about pants? We’re talking about PANTS?

Enough, Mr. Lemon. And enough, America. You need an intervention.

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