Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is Flawless

The BeyHive has been swarming about since Thursday’s surprise album drop. What Melissa Harris-Perry has deemed Bey’s “Feminist Manifesto” has also gotten a good deal of attention. While I’ll save my discussion of the nuances of “liberal” and “radical” feminism(s) for a later post, I am excited that “Flawless,” Beyoncé’s sonic interpretation of feminism can introduce folks that might not have read or even heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to the writer’s brilliant voice and work.

Yoncé cites the writer’s critique of gender inequality and the expectations that girls must marry. But the line that stuck out to me from Adichie’s talk deals with the power of anger:

I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But, in addition to being angry, I am also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.



More Than Just HAIR

bighairMy hair tells a story that often coincides with different phases of my life. I remember tearing up when I sat between the knees of mama or an aunt bent on conquering my course hair and corralling it into pigtails. I bent back ears to save them from getting burned by pressing combs. I even consented to the dreaded jheri curl that promised to loosen my much tighter coils.

After graduating college, I took scissors to my own head. Relaxers had made me feel everything but relaxed. I relinquished the mental and financial burden of straightening my hair and shaved it all off. And I must admit, it felt freeing. At the time I could still hear Audre Lorde’s voice booming in my ear, “Is your hair still political? Tell me when it starts to burn!” And while I didn’t walk the streets with my fist in the air wearing a floor-length dashiki, the act meant something.

This was well before the “transitioning movement” converted sistas to two-strand twists when tracks became too rough. This was before black girls could walk into beauty supply stores and find an entire hair apothecary devoted to kinky, wavy, springy, zigzag hair and every pattern in between. I was–at least I felt I was–a part of an unpopular tribe of sistas fielding questioning looks and personal comments about my closely cropped and later homemade locked hair.

100_0410During my many adventures in black hair styles, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked to touch my hair. More than a few have had the audacity to do it without my permission. When I refused one white woman’s request to feel my locks, she asked why, as if she were entitled to invade my personal space.

youcantouchmyhairSo I understand the passionate responses to the Un’ “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit that happened this past weekend in New York’s Union Square. Some have equated the interactive public art display to a petting zoo and the real live “exhibits” to “primitives” or “animals.” The exhibit reminded me of Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit …, a series of satirical “cage performances” that conjured the western world’s history of exhibiting its colonized Others. One of the things that made Fusco and Gómez-Peña’s exhibit so powerful is that it collapsed the positions of spectacle and spectator. The audience’s responses to seeing caged humans on display was as important as the performance itself.

Un’ruly’s founder Antonia Opiah stated that the goal of the exhibit was to create dialogue. But I’d be interested in turning the gaze onto those who were eager to touch black hair, whether out of curiosity or admiration. What prompts someone to want to touch a stranger’s hair? What assumptions does that touch confirm or debunk? Granted, some hair-touchers were other black folk. As Michaela Angela Davis explained on HuffPost Live, many black people are curious about each others diverse hair textures. Black folk also tend to let other black people into our intimate space since we take as a given our shared sense of belonging.

Most of the angry reactions to the performance come from black women who feel that we are always on exhibit under the white gaze. Black women have long grown weary of being exploited, exoticized, and Othered. cover_avocado

Plus, what does the act of touching accomplish? In The Erotic Life of Racism, Sharon Patricia Holland discusses the potential of the touch to either overcome or solidify difference. Touch can reinforce the boundary between the “human” and “nonhuman” (thing that is touched) or make legible interracial intimacies that have gone unacknowledged (104). In the time of slavery, blacks and whites lived in close proximity, but seldom did what my friend and colleague Lynn Makau calls “peculiar intimacies” develop into a fuller acknowledgement of shared humanity and belonging between blacks and whites.

Similarly I doubt that granting strangers permission to touch our hair in a so-called “postracial” era will shock people into recognizing black women’s humanity. Perhaps the performance will spark questions about the who gets to look at and touch whom and engender ways of disrupting those power dynamics.

Network TV Is Broken. So How Does Shonda Rhimes Keep Making Hits? by Willa Paskin


Shonda Rhimes (Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser)

“I love that the gay White House chief of staff is threatening to pretend the first lady is a closeted lesbian,” Shonda Rhimes said to a roomful of writers. “It is so wrong. In the best way.” Ten of the writers — seven men, three women, five plaid button-down shirts and two pairs of outsize hipster glasses frames — were sitting in her bright Hollywood office, pens in hand, scripts in laps, going through notes for the 20th episode of “Scandal,” Rhimes’s gonzo political melodrama, which is about to finish its second season on ABC.

Continue reading @ The New York Times

11 in 11 (Watchlist for 2012)

2011 was a banner year for black women in art, culture, entertainment, and politics. Here are a few highlights I noted from the year + “colored girls” to watch in 2012:

Photograph: Joan Marcus

1. My first shout-out is a two-fer. The beautiful and talented Sanaa Lathan returned to Broadway to star in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage‘s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. At once sad and funny, Vera Stark offered a sharp critique of Hollywood’s racial “shuffles” without being overly dogmatic about it. 

2. Speaking of maids and the paucity of diverse roles for black women in Hollywood, Viola Davis captivates audiences and breathes life into every role she plays. I didn’t like The Help and I’ve made no secret of that, but I do like Viola Davis. I hope the Oscar nod and potential award she’ll secure for that film will open up more and even better roles for her.

Dee Rees’ Pariah

3. The success of Dee Rees‘ directorial debut Pariah may be at the pulse of a new wave of black filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of representations of “blackness.” Even if the critical success of Pariah doesn’t herald a revolution in black filmmaking, it has definitely put Dee Rees on the map of filmmakers to watch in the coming years.

4. On the small screen, we’ll soon be able to watch political analyst Melissa Harris-Perry host her own show on MSNBC. The Tulane professor and blogger for The Nation has made frequent appearances on MSNBC and has filled in for Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. Claiming her own time-slot seems a natural progression for the savvy political pundit.

5. Political powerhouses President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia were among 2011’s Nobel Peace Prize winners. No women had taken the prize since 2004 when Professor Wangari Maathai–whose passing the world mourned last year–received the award.

6. Taking National Book Awards for fiction and poetry respectively, Jesmyn Ward and Nikky Finney use the written word as witness. Veteran Finney and newcomer Ward keep company with a cadre of contemporary black women writers who use their imaginations in the service of cultural memory.

7. In a complementary way, Kara Walker‘s large-scale drawings conjure a past that has not yet passed (to borrow from Faulkner). Widely recognized for her cut paper silhouettes of plantation scenes that amplify the nation’s racial subconscious, Walker’s summer 2011 exhibition “Dust Jackets for the Niggerati–and Supporting Dissertations, Drawings submitted ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker” showcase a new direction for the artist: up from the horrors of slavery and lynching into the “promised land’s” dark unknown.

8. Supersonic diva Jomama Jones“Radiate” evoked black women’s movements and migrations on a transatlantic scale. Back from her self-imposed exile in Switzerland, Jomama (chaneled by the inimitable Daniel Alexander Jones) dazzled audiences with nostalgic tales of love and adventure set to grooves that–aided by the vocal stylings of the Sweet Peaches (Helga Davis and Sonya Perryman)–transported us to a space and time that was both familiar and futuristic.

9. Martina Correia proved an untiring fighter for justice even as she battled her own fight against–and later succumed to–breast cancer. While Correira’s leadership in an international campaign to save her brother Troy Davis from the death penalty did not spare his life, her courage helped reenergize death penalty abolitionists to eradicate state-sanctioned murder in the United States.

10. Twenty years after the infamous Senate hearings and eventual confirmation of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court judge, Brandeis University Anita Hill returned to DC to join the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll (lawyers for the women employees who filed a class action suit against Wal-mart). The firm will no doubt benefit from Hill’s keen ability to seam matters of race, gender, and history, as her new book Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home shows. Further capping off Hill’s achievements in 2011 was a conference held in her honor at Hunter College, “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later.”  

11. LMAO: If you didn’t tune-in the first Thursdays of 2011 for Issa Rae‘s The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, you must have been sitting under a rock. For many quirky black girls, Issa Rae’s character ‘J’ is the black female lead that has been missing in network comedy: witty, cute, ridiculously funny and a little socially awkward. Maya Rudolph also kept audiences in stitches last year with a hit film and a new t.v. show.

What were some of your hits for 2011? Who should we check for in 2012?


from SlutWalk Delhi

Picking up the momentum of over 100 demonstrations worldwide, SlutWalk New York is set to take place in Union Square Park today. The first SlutWalk march occurred in Toronto after a police officer told a group of students if they didn’t want to be sexually victimized, they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.” Kinda like the NYPD’s advice to women residents in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn where a spate of sexual attacks have occurred since March.

SlutWalk NYC is timely for other reasons too, like the victim-blaming that occurred in the highly publicized Dominique Strauss-Kahn case and the acquittals of NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata on charges of sexual assault against a woman (Moreno has since been sentenced to a year in prison for a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct). SlutWalk NYC organizers are planning to address both issues.

The organizers are also intending to address critiques of the walk, like the issues raised by Black Women’s Blueprint in an “Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk” about its failure to address the concerns and acknowledge the histories of women of color when it comes to terms like “slut.” To be sure, black women have been called sluts, jezebels, hos … everything except children of God. And most times it doesn’t matter what we wear, where we are, or what we are doing. My own experiences of street harassment compelled me to support the aims of SlutWalk though I have not been able to attend an actual march yet. I do have trusted friends who are black women and who have participated in SlutWalk events. Black feminist filmmaker, rape survivor, and activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons delivered a powerful speech at SlutWalk Philadephia and Salamishah Tillet, professor, writer, rape survivor and Co-Founder of A Long Walk Home, delivered a stirring speech at SlutWalk DC. Tillet details the mixed-reception of SlutWalk in “What to Wear to a SlutWalk” and maintains that  “None of this negates the fact that SlutWalk has been the most successful protest against sexual violence in the United States since the birth of the Take Back the Night marches in the 1970s,” a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.

The ultimate test for SlutWalk of course will be whether it can shape into a lasting organized movement made up of women and men of various ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality and committed to end sexual violence against women. In other words, it has to really “walk the walk.”

Gloria Steinem Had Strong Influence on Black Women

By Evelyn C. White | SF Gate

Steinem and Hughes c/o MISS

Tonight Home Box Office will air “Gloria: In Her Own Words” – a riveting documentary about the famed leader of the feminist movement. The masterful film augments “The Education of A Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem” by Carolyn Heilbrun, the first full-length biography of the activist/journalist who, in 1971, co-founded Ms. magazine.

Indeed, “Gloria” features hilarious footage of network anchor Harry Reasoner (1923 -1991) deriding the launch of a magazine that he ventured would last “six months before it ran out of things to say.” Forty years later, Ms. boasts a global readership and was recently honored for an article on antiabortion extremists.

Continue Reading @ SFGate

Why I’m Not Looking Forward to The Help

The British cover of Stockett’s novel

By Jennifer Williams | Ms. Blog

I picked up a copy of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel The Help at an airport bookstore. I figured the four-hour flight to Texas would be enough time to absorb 544 plot-driven pages, and reading the novel during one of my frequent trips south seemed appropriate. For some readers, The Help calls up memories of being nurtured and cared for by black women who might have been more like mothers to them than their own white birth mothers. The story conjures for me, however, the labor–and, at times, humiliation–those domestic workers endured.

True, some of those black women also no doubt felt genuine affection for the white families they worked for. But the dictates of race and class strained those emotional ties. Black women entrusted with the care of white households and children were often still forced to enter back doors and use separate facilities. Like it or not, this vexed dynamic of interracial intimacy and dehumanization is one of the founding stories of our nation.

Continue Reading @ Ms.

Spike Lee’s "She’s Gotta Have It" Turns 25

By Salamishah Tillet | The Root

On the hot night of Aug. 8, 1986, a line of young black people wrapped around the corner of New York City’s Cinema Studio 1, eager to catch Spike Lee’s much-buzzed-about debut feature film, She’s Gotta Have It. Eighty-five hot and sexy minutes later, they weren’t disappointed with      Lee’s cinematic achievement.

The following day, the New York Times review said that the movie “has a touch of the classic.” And the Washington Post praised its “rare quality: a sense of place.”

Continue Reading @ The Root

The Real Value of Rihanna’s "Man Down" Video

By Akiba Solomon | Colorlines

Nowadays, when I see the phrase “the controversy over” connected to a black pop culture moment, I tend to tune it out. Too often, the outcry smacks of Christian morality, bougie* respectability politics (“See, now this is what’s wrong with our community…”), and empty role model talk.

Plus, a lot of folks don’t closely watch or listen to what they’re critiquing.

Such is the case, I believe, with the video for Rihanna’s latest Loud single, “Man Down.” The video begins with a tense Rihanna perched in the upper balcony of a crowded train station. When she spots a tall man with a “buck 50” scar on his cheek (in this context, visual code for “badman” or gangsta) she shoots him in the back of the head then winces. Toward the end of the clip, we learn why the tearful singer “shot a man down, in Central Station, in front of a big old crowd”: Because the night before, at a sweaty dancehall, she sets physical limits with him and he retaliates by following her home and raping her.

Continue Reading @ Colorlines