single black ladies

Apparently the relationship status of black women has reached “crisis” level (42% are single). But don’t fret ladies, ABC News/ Nightline is on the case. They’ve also sought the assistance of comedian-turned-relationship guru Steve Harvey. Harvey’s advice to fine-looking, twenty and thirty-something black women: get you an old cat daddy, they knows how to treat y’all. (insert eyeroll here)

“Blah blah blah blah, blah blah by myself.”

I don’t mean to be callous. But the “why black women are still single” narrative is getting a bit trite. So why am I posting about it again? In short, I’m a cultural critic and am especially concerned about black women as subjects. What troubles me most about the news stories and articles that profile the state of single black women is that most of these pieces hover fairly closely to black pathology theses. Black women are too picky/snobby/overeducated/emasculating/status-driven … blah blah blah blah. Black men are players/in jail/undereducated/all dating white women … blah blah blah blah.

Needless to say, these profiles make a number of troubling assumptions (most that are conservative, heterosexist, divisive along gender lines) that ultimately affirm that something is “wrong” with black people.

Is the marital status of black women a debate that should be played out in the media? And if so, how can such a conversation become more productive? What do studies that predict the improbability that a black woman will marry a black man hope to gain by trotting out bleak statistics? Can these kinds of debates be reframed in a way that doesn’t blame black women for being single or that presumes that something is inherently wrong with (you for) being single?


beauty matters

Naomi Sims, Beverly Johnson, and Iman are all figures of beauty from my childhood. Proof positive that dark-hued women should grace runways and magazine covers.

Beauty matters.

Especially in a Western culture shaped by Kantian aesthetics. Black girls who have grown up since the late-80’s have had an even narrower range of cultural images of beauty available for their appreciation. Most mag covers today look like a variation on a “fair”-skinned, blond-haired theme.

(randomly selected mag cover):

Recently, beauty and its relationship to colorism was broached in critiques of Lee Daniels’ Precious as the light-skinned Miz Rain (Paula Patton) seemed to embody all the goodness and love Precious’s darker-skinned and larger-sized mother Mary(Mo’Nique) lacked. The oppositional duo calls to mind Glinda the Good (Lena Horne) and Evillene (Mabel King) of The Wiz.

Black feminist writers and scholars continue to take up the politics of aesthetics, race, and gender. Two recent works that explore the contested nature of beauty and aesthetics, include Deborah Willis’s superb Posing Beauty and Sarah Nuttall’s thoughtful Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics.

fela’s queens

I saw Fela! off-Broadway last year, and wrote about it here. This past weekend, I took my partner to see the Broadway production (produced by Shawn Carter and the Pinkett-Smiths). It was still as amazing as I remembered and even more so with the additional space the Eugene O’Neill Theatre made available for the setting.

Felicia Lee spotlights the actresses that play 9 of Fela’s 27 queens in this week’s NYT. The actresses, who have researched the lives of Fela’s wives, complicate any easy readings of the women’s unconventional relationship with the musician and activist. The queens do not speak in the musical though their individualized expressions and mannerisms set one apart from another. Suggesting that the women in Fela’s life were comrades as well as lovers, Lee reports:

“One thousand soldiers swarmed Kalakuta, beating Fela and raping and viciously abusing some of the women — an episode depicted vividly onstage. Fela’s 77-year-old mother, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, herself a political counterforce to Nigeria’s authoritarian regime, died the following year from injuries suffered after the soldiers threw her out a window.”

Sam Baldwin’s review of Fela’s authorized biography, Carlos Moore’s Fela: This Bitch of a Life sheds additional light on the relationship between Fela and his wives. Baldwin writes that “sexism” is the strongest statement made by Moore’s biography of Kuti, “Well, sexism and police brutality.” Judging from Baldwin’s review, the wives do not speak much in the bio either, but they do admit that their beloved slaps them around on occasion.

How does a brilliant musician, a fierce opponent of neocolonial corruption, and son of an outspoken feminist fail to interrogate his own sexism and homophobia? And how do we as black feminists negotiate such an uneven legacy?

As Kai Wright’s review of the play points out, “if Jones boldly presents Fela the legend, he plainly avoids Fela the man.”

Jones clearly was going for a “mythic” portrayal of the man Fela, though the director does avoid presenting the complicated figure as a saint or a one-sided hero. Perhaps a flawed hero who dies tragically of AIDS-related complications is not the stuff of musicals. Luckily the political sway of a musical genius is.

sex in chocolate city

Latoya Peterson offers another balanced reading of Helena Andrews’ WAPO piece and forthcoming book in Jezebel.

speak up for black girls

This cute little girl with a head full of fresh braids with beads on the end twirled her hair in class. The sound of the beads clinking against each other was pleasurable to her ears. Maybe she felt especially pretty that day. Maybe the sound calmed her.

The repeating clinkety clink of the beads frayed her teacher’s nerves. The teacher called the seven-year old to the front of the class and took matters into her own hands by publicly humiliating the child and cutting off one of her braids in front of her classmates. They laughed and the little girl walked back to her seat and cried.

The $175 fine that the teacher must pay for “disorderly conduct” is akin to a smack on the hand, a far more gentle punishment than Lamya Cammon suffered at her teacher’s hand.

Speak up for this little girl. Write, e-mail or call:

Congress Elementary School
5225 West Lincoln Creek Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53218

Tel: (414) 616-5300

bitch is the new black

While I am tired of the stats, studies, and magazine articles that sentence successful black women to a life of spinsterhood, I know a number of these “surveyed” women: educated, attractive, employed, well-heeled, single and searching. The desire for love and a partner is nothing to scoff at and Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black discusses candidly the loneliness that some single black women feel as well as the steely exteriors they put up in order to shield themselves from racist work environments and a taxing dating world. The “mask” Andrews talks about reminds me of the “culture of dissemblance” Darlene Clark Hine details in her brilliant piece “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women.” While I am not equating rape and the threat of rape to singlehood and potential loneliness, both examples speak to the ways that black women have cultivated exterior appearances to hide the emotional tumult that sometimes rages inside.

While I haven’t yet read Helena Andrews’ book, which she describes as a black Sex and the City meets Bridget Jones’ Diary, I have been working on and longing for more books that look at the lives of urban black women (or Sistas and the City). Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes is set to produce the film version of Bitch, which I hope will not merely be Sex and the City in blackface. I watched the exploits of Carrie, Miranda, Sam and Charlotte as faithfully as most of my black girlfriends and even empathized with some of their experiences but black women have our own stories and not all of them are about “triumph and strength.”