racism

black women: too loud to ride the train, too black to sip wine

woman-screaming loud. mean. angry. all words embodied by the fire-spitting, gun-totting sapphire stereotype often used to describe black women. captured in blaxploitation films, tyler perry movies and ratchet reality tv, images of angry black women (abw) are abundant.

we were sitting in our high school math class the first time my friends and i were derided for our abw tendencies. we were the only black students enrolled in a mostly white accelerated academic program and frequently navigated prejudice and low expectations. while engaging in our usual banter of shade throwing and quick witted humor, our white-substitute teacher asked: “why do all you black girls act like this? you know…every school i go to y’all are all the same. mean and loud.”

we were confused and upset. not only was his statement a generalization about black students’ behavior, but it was also an ignorant critique of our actions. no one was angry. we were communicating in a way that he didn’t understand, and he used a prevalent stereotype to condemn.

racist and sexist tropes narrate much of black women’s lives. when coupled with other forms of discrimination, few positive images are allowed to exist that challenge the negative narratives. it’s no surprise then that my substitute teacher labeled all black girls as mean and loud or that black girls are suspended at high rates nationally for being loud and “un-lady like.”

the sapphire stereotype should be front and center of a national conversation about 12 black women who were kicked off a napa valley wine train last weekend for laughing loudly.

if the accusation of laughing too loudly isn’t absurd enough, the group is actually a bookclub (i can’t think of a quieter hobby) whose members include an 83-year old woman. this humiliating experience was prompted by what some say was a white customer’s complaint that they were treating the train like a bar. shortly afterwards, the group was met by police who shuttled them back to their cars.

not only did one person’s privilege trump the positive interactions between 12 paying customers, but the company thought a bookclub was intimidating enough to require a police escort.  it’s hard to imagine a group of white customers being treated this way, especially when white women are not stereotyped as loud, un-lady like or aggressive.

it’s undeniable that racism and sexism conflated to categorize the bookclub’s harmless recreation as problematic, even unlawful.  invisible borders outline the truly safe spaces where black women can be ourselves — the napa valley wine train was not one of them. we’re too loud to ride the train and too black to sip wine.

workplace adornment: a rebellious black girl speaks

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 8the idea of ornament does not attempt to meet conventional standards, but it satisfies the soul of its creator.

-zora neale hurston

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the politics of being transracial & light skinned #racheltaughtus

RDat 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 tightnRachel_Dolezal_zpswhmev7y4ess 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.

black women and the politics of being mean

last week, tawoman-cryingmar braxton broke down on her television show the real about facing constant bullying on social media.  the popular singer and reality tv star has been the recipient of verbal attacks by many, including chris brown and k.michelle.  in an era where “shade” and “reads” less than 140 characters can travel at the speed of light, taking shots has never been more toxic.

i’ll always remember the anger in my grandmother’s face when i told her that i was being bullied; however, she wasn’t mad at the bully.  she was mad at me. how dare i come home and cry about being psychologically tormented? at seven years old, my responsibility was to use any ammunition at my disposal to clap back. her anger was my first conditioning into a lifestyle that black women know all too well — not to experience pain when hurt, but to hurt others.

i come from a long line of truth-telling women who annihilate the unworthy with words.  when words don’t work, they’re known to lay hands.  this violent experience of black womanhood is not unique to my family, and represents the mechanism we’ve adopted to survive both patriarchy and white supremacy. our tongues of fire protected us through slavery and racial apartheid, and continue to serve as a safeguard, even when our safety isn’t threatened.  welding negative power is better than having none at all.

such negative power is captured in the “strong black woman” stereotype, a depiction of black womanhood that has taught us strength requires toxicity. affirming ourselves beyond the superficial and practicing self-care is weak. affirming other black women and leading with kindness is extremely weak. what’s most ironic is that given our oppression, black women being kind to one another is actually the strongest thing we can do.

we should be ashamed that tamar braxton was brought to tears on national television because of the black community’s abuse. it’s frustrating that so many of us have been raised to construe negative critiques as love that we deny the harm caused by verbal assault.  until black women change the definition of strength to include self-care and unapologetic kindness, our emotional well-being will continue to suffer.

5 reasons why #blackoutday won

alphablack folks took to the internet yesterday to remind ourselves and the world just what beauty looks like.  from different hues, genders, sexual orientations and physical abilities, our melanin shut social media down. here are five reasons why unapologetically black spaces like #blackoutday are important:

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weekend music: for eric garner…”they call it murder” by dj underdog

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.

dear lesley mcspadden

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):

letter

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…)