poet kush thompson sings a black girl’s song.
poet kush thompson sings a black girl’s song.
-zora neale hurston
at first, i laughed at rachel dolezal. i’ve witnessed blackness get colonized so many times until i immediately found her blackface antics more pathetic than anything. however, after she sat down for an interview with melissa harris perry and refused to answer any question directly, i’d had enough — my giggles and indifference turned to anger.
what disturbs me about dolezal’s actions is not only the performative aspect of her self-proclaimed black identity or the hate crimes that some say she falsely claimed to be the recipient of, but the fact that she conveniently left one privileged position for another. when presenting as a white woman she leveraged the resources attributed to her whiteness, and as a lightskinned black women, she could leverage the resources attributed to having light skin. whether it was the race or gender hierarchy, dolezal always found herself on top.
for dark-skinned people of color, passing is not an option. race marginalizes us the easiest, acting as the visible embodiment of past and present oppression. beyond skin color is the complicated history around our hair — black women’s beauty has been tied to the tightness of our curls since slavery. dolezal never had an authentic experience with this very painful narrative, yet told melissa harris perry that her hair journey has been “interesting,” claiming:
it also felt like an affirmation of black is beautiful, you know? because for so many centuries, you know, there’s been … the relaxers and the long weaves and the skin bleaching and all that fallout of psychological disorientation and certainly trauma came.
as if adorning her hair like a black woman’s is a tribute to blackness, she even claimed to have become a hairstylist to help black children feel beautiful. guess what rachel, we don’t need you to pretend to be black to make women who were born black feel better about their blackness. that’s called cultural appropriation, and it actually has the opposite effect.
in fact, dolezal’s egotistical analysis around her hair, adopting her younger siblings and activism have all given the white savior complex a new meaning.
whether led by curiosity, adoration or bad intentions, rachel dolezal made a conscious decision to maneuver through spaces focused on black empowerment as a lightskinned black woman. the privilege to choose not only one’s race, but color is power that most racial minorities will never experience. in the face of constant white terror and efforts to democratize standards of beauty, her blackface performance is not only exploitative, it’s despicable.
dear white people, not only can you not touch black people’s hair, but you’re also not allowed to make disparaging jokes about it. fashion police host giuliana rancic learned this lesson after saying actress zendaya coleman’s faux dreadlocks smelled like “patchouli” or “weed” at the oscars on sunday night.
for the record, zendaya was doing it for the gawds at the oscars, wearing an all-white vivienne westwood dress with long dreads. the 18 year-old boldly disrupted the beauty matrix by rocking a hairstyle that some would label too pedestrian for the formal event. it’s taken years for sisters to rock the hair that actually grows from their scalps on the red carpet so faux locks is definitely a milestone. i mean, what’s next? braids? *gasp*
we faced yet another state-sanctioned murder of a black man this week when a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who killed eric garner by using an illegal chokehold. the irony: officers associated with garner’s brutal death won’t face criminal charges, but the bystander who filmed it and shared the footage via social media will.
the word “injustice” doesn’t begin to capture what garner’s family and the black community are facing; so much of this country’s criminal justice system was created to enforce racism and oppression. listen as dj underdog captures what’s on our hearts and minds.
after watching lesley mcspadden’s reactions to the grand jury’s decision not to indict her son’s murderer, darren wilson, i cried with her, sharing pain that only black women know for our born and un-born sons. melissa harris-perry addresses lesley in an open letter on sunday’s show that captured my sentiments exactly (check out the video here):
Dear Ms. McSpadden,
It’s me, Melissa.
Like you, I am the mother of black children. Like so many other black moms I wanted to say something to comfort you this week. But here I stand, still unsure of what to say. For months we have watched you navigate the treacherous, agonizing, and now all too familiar role of a grieving black mother seeking justice for your slain child.
Along with the stoic and extraordinary Sybrina Fulton, we endured the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman who killed her son, Trayvon Martin. Along with the undaunted Lucia McBath, we felt some sense of fairness with the retrial conviction of Michael Dunn who killed her son, Jordan Davis. Along with determined Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, we were stunned by the senseless motivations of gang rivalry espoused by the alleged killers of her daughter, Hadiya Pendleton.
This week, along with you we were broken as we learned that a grand jury found no crime in the killing of your son-Michael. I cannot speak for all black mothers, but I want you to know that many of us felt your anguish through the screen, felt it penetrate our core and break our hearts as we bore witness to your shock and torment.
I want you to know: your son’s life did matter. No decision by any jury, anywhere, can ever change that truth. (more…)
according to a new york times article critiquing television writer/producer shonda rhimes, viola davis is less “classically beautiful than kerry washington.” the star of rhimes’ new show, how to get away with murder, stopped by the view to respond to the negative comment:
“I’m glad that Shonda Rhimes “SAW” me and said “Why Not.” That’s what makes her a visionary. That’s what makes her iconic. I think that beauty is subjective. I’ve heard that statement (less classically beautiful) my entire life. Being a dark skinned Black woman, you heard it from the womb. And “classically not beautiful” is a fancy term for saying ugly. And denouncing you. And erasing you. Now…it worked when I was younger. It no longer works for me now. It’s about teaching a culture how to treat you. Because at the end of the day, you define you.”
just as christopher columbus “discovered” the new world, high fashion magazines and celebrities continue to appropriate black culture, naming things like big butts and gelled edges the newest trends.
despite vogue’s article titled ‘we’re officially in the era of the big booty‘ and gelled edges being spotted on this season’s runway shows, neither round backsides nor prominent baby hair is “new.” in fact, black folks kinda invented both. while we appreciate the rare occasions when mainstream society recognizes our contribution to this country’s very existence, especially pop culture, the kind of appropriation pictured above is offensive. why? because it involves failing to recognize the history of an act, as if its originators are invisible. this fact is especially problematic for black people who are often denigrated for the very things that white americans can espouse as displays of “coolness”. using black vernacular, rocking gold grills, twerking — and now gelled edges and big butts — breed street cred for whites and limited socioeconomic opportunities for blacks. this skewed dichotomy is emblematic of larger society and goes far beyond the fashion and entertainment industries.
despite columbusing’s macro origins, one chip in cultural appropriation’s armor could be having more black models, writers and bloggers to fact check these egregious claims and ensure a more responsible cultural exchange. however, until that happens, i’ll continue to feel mocked and exploited by katy perry’s braids and vogue’s recent “discovery” of the beauty of big butts.
these thoughts from my partner about the protests occurring since michael brown’s murder reminded me that many folks may want to join the movement to end police brutality, but aren’t clear on the importance of political organizing or the steps to take.
i’m sending encouragement and love to those new to movement building and share the recommendations below on how to capitalize on this critical moment:
1. know the facts. it’s important that we know the facts surrounding not just mike brown’s murder, but also those of countless other black men and women who have fallen victim to the police. for quick references, check colorlines, the root, salon and an amazing article titled “this is why we’re mad about the shooting of mike brown” on jezebel.
2. be critical. what do claims of looting and mike brown stealing cigarellos from a convenience store (that didn’t call the police) have to do with his murder? be a critical consumer of information and notice how those in power will criminalize a victim before taking decisive action to pursue justice.
3. go beyond mainstream media. some of the most comprehensive accounts of what’s happening in ferguson aren’t coming from fox news or cnn, but folks who are on the frontlines and reporting live. these twitter accounts are my favorite sources: @antoniofrench, @felonious_munk, @awkward_duck and @trymainelee.
4. use social media wisely. hashtags are an invaluable resource. by simply clicking #fergusonsolidarity, #ripmikebrown, #mikebrown, #handsup, #dontshoot and countless others people around the world can get the latest news and stay connected. it’s also a channel to display demands to elected officials.
5. plan an action. but first, pay attention to those in ferguson. take the lead of those on the ground in ferguson when planning a solidarity action in your city and determining your demands. i highly recommend checking out the dream defender’s tips on the subject.
6. remember power concedes nothing without a demand. this brings me to my next point: rallies can galvanize the masses and bond those pursuing justice; however, they should not just be chanting sessions. while you have a microphone and people’s attention, state your demands clearly. here’s a list of the initial demands from community members in ferguson that was shared on twitter:
7. brace yourself. if you plan to play a leadership role in a direct action or protest, plan beyond the actual event. those protestors who are inspired to do more will need to know your next steps. don’t lose the momentum.
8. make a financial contribution. reach out to those on the ground in ferguson via your direct connections or social media and find out how you can help fund their movement. there are suggestions going around on twitter if you’d like to learn more.
9. stay woke. there are interlocking systems of oppression facing black and brown communities throughout this country, and your hometown or neighborhood could be the next ferguson, missouri. get involved now with organizations serving youth, pursuing food justice, seeking to end police brutality and other causes to serve as an agent of change.
10. never forget. now that your consciousness has been raised about the plight black people face in american society, never forget. righteous indignation should propel us to pursue social justice by any means necessary. as a voter, consumer and community member, seize your power.
let’s stand in solidarity with the residents of ferguson and force the world to end the system of white supremacy by recognizing the value of black lives.
hip hop artist j. cole has released a heartfelt song titled “be free” in response to mike brown’s murder. reminsicent of nina simone, he sings “can you tell me why/every time i step outside i see my niggas die?/ i’m letting you know, that it ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul…” the song gave me chills.
here’s what he had to say on his blog:
There was a time in my life when I gave a fuck. Every chance I got I was screaming about it. I was younger. It’s so easy to try to save the world when you’re in college. You got nothing but time and no responsibility. But soon life hits you. No more dorms, no more meal plan, no more refund check. Nigga need a job. Nigga got rent. Got car note. Cable bill. Girlfriend moves in and becomes wife. Baby on the way. Career advances. Instagram is poppin. Lebron leaves Miami. LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a fuck if it’s by police or peers. This shit is not normal.
I made a song. This is how we feel.
slow clap for a black artist who’s motivated to use his influence as an entertainer for his community’s well-being. salute j. cole.
A Guild for Creative Subsistence and Crafty Tomfoolery