and every major hollywood film starring Native American characters, played by non-native actors
|—||That’s the number of black women who have been cast members of SNL in the show’s 38-year history. (From: Here’s the Funny Thing About Black Women on SNL.)|
By Tressie McMillan Cottom
August 27, 2013
This may meander.
Miley Cyrus made news this week with a carnival-like stage performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that included life-size teddy bears, flesh-colored underwear, and plenty of quivering brown buttocks. Almost immediately after the performance many black women challenged Cyrus’ appropriation of black dance (“twerking”). Many white feminists defended Cyrus’ right to be a sexual woman without being slut-shamed. Yet many others wondered why Cyrus’ sad attempt at twerking was news when the U.S. is planning military action in Syria.
I immediately thought of a summer I spent at UNC Chapel Hill. My partner at the time fancied himself a revolutionary born too late for all the good protests. At a Franklin Street pub one night we were the only black couple at a happy hour. It is one of those college places where concoctions of the bar’s finest bottom shelf liquor is served in huge fishbowls for pennies on the alcohol proof dollar. I saw a few white couples imbibing and beginning some version of bodily grooving to the DJ. I told my partner that one of them would be offering me free liquor and trying to feel my breasts within the hour.
He balked, thinking I was joking.
I then explained to him my long, storied, documented history of being accosted by drunk white men and women in atmospheres just like these. Women asking to feel my breasts in the ladies’ restroom. Men asking me for a threesome as his drunk girlfriend or wife looks on smiling. Frat boys offering me cash to “motorboat” my cleavage. Country boys in cowboy hats attempting to impress his buddies by grinding on my ass to an Outkast music set. It’s almost legend among my friends who have witnessed it countless times.
My partner could not believe it until not 30 minutes later, with half the fishbowl gone, the white woman bumps and grinds up to our table and laughing tells me that her boyfriend would love to see us dance. “C’mon girl! I know you can daaaaannnce,” she said. To sweeten the pot they bought our table our own fishbowl.
My partner was stunned. That summer we visited lots of similar happy hours. By the third time this scene played out my partner had taken to standing guard while I danced, stonily staring down every white couple that looked my way. We were kicked out of a few bars when he challenged some white guy to a fight about it. I hate such scenes but I gave my partner a break. He was a man and not used to this. He didn’t have the vocabulary borne of black breasts that sprouted before bodies have cleared statutory rape guidelines. He didn’t know the words so he did all he knew how to do to tell me he was sorry this was my experience in life: he tried to kick every white guy’s ass in Chapel Hill.
I am not beautiful. I phenotypically exist in a space where I am not usually offensive looking enough to have it be an issue for my mobility but neither am I a threat to anyone’s beauty market. There is no reason for me to assume this pattern of behavior is a compliment. What I saw in Cyrus’ performance was not just a clueless, culturally insensitive attempt to assert her sexuality or a simple act of cultural appropriation at the expense of black bodies. Instead I saw what kinds of black bodies were on that stage with Cyrus.
Cyrus’ dancers look more like me than they do Rihanna or Beyonce or Halle Berry. The difference is instructive.
Fat non-normative black female bodies are kith and kin with historical caricatures of black women as work sites, production units, subjects of victimless sexual crimes, and embodied deviance. As I said in my analysis of hip-hop and country music cross-overs, playing the desirability of black female bodies as a “wink-wink” joke is a way of lifting up our deviant sexuality without lifting up black women as equally desirable to white women. Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.
The performance works as spectacle precisely because the background dancers embody a specific kind of black female body. That spectacle unfolds against a long history of how capitalism is a gendered enterprise and subsequently how gendered beauty norms are resisted and embraced to protect the dominant beauty ideal of a certain type of white female beauty.
Being desirable is a commodity. Capital and capitalism are gendered systems. The very form that money takes — paper and not goods — is rooted in a historical enterprise of controlling the development of an economic sphere where women might amass wealth. As wealth is a means of power in a capitalistic society, controlling this means of acceptable monies was a way of controlling the accumulation, distribution and ownership of capital.
For black women, that form of money was embodied by the very nature of how we came to be in America.
Our bodies were literally production units. As living cost centers we not only produced labor as in work but we produced actual labor through labor, i.e. we birthed more cost centers. The legendary “one drop” rule of determining blackness was legally codified not just out of ideological purity of white supremacy but to control the inheritance of property. The sexual predilections of our nation’s great men threatened to transfer the wealth of white male rapists to the children born of their crimes through black female bodies.
Today much has changed and much has not. The strict legal restriction of inheritable black deviance has been disrupted but there still exists a racialized, material value of sexual relationships. The family unit is considered the basic unit for society not just because some god decreed it but because the inheritance of accumulated privilege maintains our social order.
Thus, who we marry at the individual level may be about love but at the group level it is also about wealth and power and privilege.
Black feminists have critiqued the material advantage that accrues to white women as a function of their elevated status as the normative cultural beauty ideal. As far as privileges go it is certainly a complicated one but that does not negate its utility. Being suitably marriageable privileges white women’s relation to white male wealth and power.
The cultural dominance of a few acceptable brown female beauty ideals is a threat to that privilege. Cyrus acts out her faux bisexual performance for the white male gaze against a backdrop of dark, fat black female bodies and not slightly more normative cafe au lait slim bodies because the juxtaposition of her sexuality with theirs is meant to highlight Cyrus, not challenge her supremacy. Consider it the racialized pop culture version of a bride insisting that all of her bridesmaids be hideously clothed as to enhance the bride’s supremacy on her wedding day.
Only, rather than an ugly dress, fat black female bodies are wedded to their flesh. We cannot take it off when we desire the spotlight for ourselves or when we’d rather not be in the spotlight at all.
This political economy of specific types of black female bodies as a white amusement park was ignored by many, mostly because to critique it we have to critique ourselves.
When I moved to Atlanta I was made aware of a peculiar pastime of the city’s white frat boy elite. They apparently enjoy getting drunk and visiting one of the city’s many legendary black strip clubs rather than the white strip clubs. The fun part of this ritual seems to be rooted in the peculiarity of black female bodies, their athleticism and how hard they are willing to work for less money as opposed to the more normative white strippers who expect higher wages in exchange for just looking pretty naked. There are similar racialized patterns in porn actresses’ pay and, I suspect, all manner of sex workers. The black strip clubs are a bargain good time because the value of black sexuality is discounted relative to the acceptability of black women as legitimate partners.
There is no risk of falling in love with a stripper when you’re a white guy at the black strip club. Just as country music artists strip “badonkadonk” from black beauty ideals to make it palatable for to their white audiences, these frat boys visit the black body wonderland as an oddity to protect the supremacy of white women as the embodiment of more and better capital.
My mentor likes to joke that interracial marriage is only a solution to racial wealth gaps if all white men suddenly were to marry up with poor black women. It’s funny because it is so ridiculous to even imagine. Sex is one thing. Marrying confers status and wealth. Slaveholders knew that. Our law reflects their knowing this. The de rigueur delineation of this difference may have faded but cultural ideology remains.
Cyrus’ choice of the kind of black bodies to foreground her white female sexuality was remarkable for how consistent it is with these historical patterns. We could consider that a coincidence just as we could consider my innumerable experiences with white men and women after a few drinks an anomaly. But, I believe there is something common to the bodies that are made invisible that Cyrus might be the most visible to our cultural denigration of bodies like mine as inferior, non-threatening spaces where white women can play at being “dirty” without risking her sexual appeal.
I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground.
I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance. The whole point is that those round black female bodies are hyper-visible en masse but individually invisible to white men who were, I suspect, Cyrus’ intended audience.
No, it’s not Syria but it is still worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the women who look like you are the dancing elephants.
Copyright © 2013 Tressie McMillan Cottom.
|—||Angela Davis. (via theblacksophisticate)|
At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.
No black man or woman has the right to stand their ground in this country. They never have. Because in the eyes of white people, this isn’t their ground upon which to stand.
He didn’t even get manslaughter
You can hit somebody with a car by accident and still get manslaughter
You can build a bad house that collapses and kills the people inside years later after the fact and still get manslaughter
You can not wash your hands cooking food just once and still get manslaughter
He chased down a child after being directly told by 911 not to exit his car and shot him in the heart
AND HE DIDN’T EVEN GET FUCKING MANSLAUGHTER
White privilege is O’reilly having guests on the show to discuss how it’s a double standard that Jamie Fox didn’t receive any blacklash for wearing the Trayvon Martin T-Shirt on the BET awards, while a white guy would have been “Paula Deen-ed” (their words) for wearing a Zimmerman shirt. Because you know, how dare we give a white person a hard time for supporting a murderer? Just how dare we?
|—||Toni Morrison (via uglygirlsclub)|
So, putting armed policemen in schools is pretty much the best idea ever. I mean, I assume that when they’re not dealing with exceptionally rare school shootings I assume they just kinda mind their own business, and would never try to justify their existence by turning trivial disciplinary issues into criminal charges, right?
Yet the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.
“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
Oh. That’s surprising! But I assume once affluent suburban parents get sick of having their kids dragged away in handcuffs for sassing back at the teachers, it will all stop?
Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to recent reports from civil rights groups, including the Advancement Project, in Washington, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York.
Wow, this discretion is enforced in a selective and arbitrary manner against the relatively powerless? You learn something new every day!
NAACP President Ben Jealous: Putting people in jail ‘is how we solve almost every problem’ in America
Without slavery, however, the survey maps of the General Land Office would have remained a sort of science-fiction plan for a society that could never happen. Between 1820 and 1860 more than a million enslaved people were transported from the upper to the lower South, the vast majority by the venture-capitalist slave traders the slaves called “soul drivers.” The first wave cleared the region for cultivation. “Forests were literally dragged out by the roots,” the former slave John Parker remembered in “His Promised Land.” Those who followed planted the fields in cotton, which they then protected, picked, packed and shipped — from “sunup to sundown” every day for the rest of their lives.
Eighty-five percent of the cotton Southern slaves picked was shipped to Britain. The mills that have come to symbolize the Industrial Revolution and the slave-tilled fields of the South were mutually dependent. Every year, British merchant banks advanced millions of pounds to American planters in anticipation of the sale of the cotton crop. Planters then traded credit in pounds for the goods they needed to get through the year, many of them produced in the North. “From the rattle with which the nurse tickles the ear of the child born in the South, to the shroud that covers the cold form of the dead, everything comes to us from the North,” said one Southerner.
As slaveholders supplied themselves (and, much more meanly, their slaves) with Northern goods, the credit originally advanced against cotton made its way north, into the hands of New York and New England merchants who used it to purchase British goods. Thus were Indian land, African-American labor, Atlantic finance and British industry synthesized into racial domination, profit and economic development on a national and a global scale.
When the cotton crop came in short and sales failed to meet advanced payments, planters found themselves indebted to merchants and bankers. Slaves were sold to make up the difference. The mobility and salability of slaves meant they functioned as the primary form of collateral in the credit-and-cotton economy of the 19th century.
It is not simply that the labor of enslaved people underwrote 19th-century capitalism. Enslaved people were the capital: four million people worth at least $3 billion in 1860, which was more than all the capital invested in railroads and factories in the United States combined. Seen in this light, the conventional distinction between slavery and capitalism fades into meaninglessness.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel,
We are the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools. We are a student-led organization fighting to save our schools.
You have not done enough to help our schools!
We represent the thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools thatwill be directly affected by school closings.
These closings will force us to cross gang lines that will result in more violence and more children dying. This is unacceptable. Almost every school that will be closed is in a Black, Latino and low-income community; this is a racist decision. This is unacceptable! And we, the students, have had enough!
1) An immediate moratorium on all school closings;
2) A better way to use the TIF funds and to actually be used for our schools;
3) And an elected school board
We expect to hear back from you soon. If not, you should expect that we will be back! This is our first action but will not be our last. This is our school, and we are taking it back!
Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools
54 Chicago schools are slated to close. 90 percent of students at closing schools are black, even though they make up only 40 percent of Chicago students.
if you’re not sure of the veracity of these claims, this this american life piece is a good primer showing what it’s already like for an already underfunded mostly minority-attended high school in chicago. and all rahm wants to do is make it worse. wtf.
|—||Joseph Weinberg & Michael Biernbaum, Conversations of Consent: Sexual Intimacy without Sexual Assault (via velvet-woods)|
During oral argument last week in Shelby County v. Holder, the constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts asked, “[I]s it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” Solicitor General Verrilli responded, “It is not, and I do not know the answer to that … .” This post offers a preliminary answer to the Chief Justice’s question, using recent data. Our initial results suggest that the coverage formula of Section 5 does a remarkably good job of differentiating states according to the racial attitudes of their nonblack citizens. There are essentially three schools of thought about how best to measure racial prejudice using survey questions. Some researchers favor explicit measures of prejudice (“old-fashioned racism” or stereotyping), based on agreement with statements like “blacks are less intelligent than whites” and “blacks are lazy.” Others favor symbolic measures of prejudice or “racial resentment,” based on questions about affirmative action and whether blacks have gotten “more than they deserve.” Still others favor measures of implicit or subconscious bias. For the results reported here we use explicit stereotyping, as it remains disputed whether racial resentment measures capture prejudice as opposed to conservatism, and it is uncertain whether implicit bias predicts political behavior. We created a binary measure of stereotyping that roughly captures whether a person is more prejudiced toward blacks than is typical of nonblack Americans. Our data source is the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES), which asked non-black respondents to rate their own racial group and blacks in terms of intelligence, trustworthiness, and work effort, on a scale of 0-100. On average respondents ranked their own group about 15 points above blacks on each trait. We coded respondents as holding “prejudiced” views with respect to blacks on a particular trait if the difference between their rating of their own racial group and their rating of blacks exceeded the national mean difference for the trait. To create an overall measure of prejudice for each respondent, we summed the number of traits on which the respondent was more prejudiced than the national mean. Finally, we converted this sum into a binary variable, coding as “prejudiced overall” those respondents who exceeded the national mean with respect to at least two of the three traits. To be clear, a respondent whom we have coded as “not prejudiced overall” may well be quite prejudiced. But the Chief Justice’s question—whether “citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North”—is a question about relative prejudice, and this is what we are trying to capture. We provide two estimates of the proportion of adult, nonblack residents in each state who are “prejudiced overall.” The first is based on simple disaggregation of the large NAES dataset (N=19,325). This method should work pretty well for the largest states but may yield unreliable estimates for smaller states, which contribute relatively few respondents to the NAES sample. For the second estimate we use multilevel regression with post-stratification (MRP), a recently developed statistical technique that has been shown to yieldremarkably accurate estimates of state-level public opinion. We model prejudice as a function of individual-level covariates (sex, race, age, and education) and a set of state-level predictors (black population, percent of blacks in poverty, segregation, and income inequality).
Using either technique we find a strong positive correlation between Section 5 “covered status” and anti-black prejudice, but with MRP the correlation is truly stunning.