(Lesli-Ann Lewis is a small, queer and brown invader of homogeneous spaces. Fancying herself a burgeoning writer, this is her first piece for Hood Feminism. She can be found on Twitter, all too often: @lesellele.)
Remember several weeks ago when blogger and writer Jincey Lumpkin called Miley Cyrus a feminist icon? Outspoken Black feminists took her to task for ignoring Miley’s exploitation of Black women. The backlash was so fierce that Jincey apologized.
Fast forward to November 13th, an ordinary day made extraordinary by the declaration of Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” as a feminist anthem and her video as a “genius” satire of pop videos. The video swerves into Miley’s lane featuring a relatively covered pop singer surrounded by scantily clad Black women. It features close-ups of Black women twerking, a long-standing hip hop dance for which has bizarrely been given credit Miley Cyrus. Lily Allen herself claims it’s satire but, given her iffy take on the black female body during a spat with Azlia Banks and the lyric “I don’t need to shake my ass for you because I have a brain,” timed right as one of her Black dancers bends over, it’s unclear what she’s satirizing, exactly. What is clear is that Jincey should have never apologized. Miley Cyrus IS a feminist icon and now, so is Lily Allen. They are feminist icons, and that feminism is White, cis, well-to-do and disingenuous.
Black women have been fighting for space in feminism since Sojourner asked anti-abolitionist suffragists “Ain’t I a woman?” There is a long, sad, and complicated history of white women being active participants in the (ongoing) colonization and exploitation of Black and brown women the world over. Funnily enough, Lily Allen sings in her slut-shaming “feminist” anthem “We’ve come a long way, and if you don’t see the sarcasm in that, you’re missing the point.”
We see this history come out to play when mainstream feminism shuns Black celebrities for the very things they laud their White peers for. So far, the list who gets the feminist badge looks very Caucasian and contradictory. Miley Cyrus is a feminist icon for getting naked. Lily Allen is a feminist for slut-shaming Miley Cyrus.
With this happening so frequently, it begs the question: what is the standard for mainstream feminism when it comes to claiming pop singers and celebrities?
It seems that any white celebrity who is both successful and female gets branded as some sort of feminist whether or not she has even called herself one. Looking at the low standard for who gets to be a feminist pop icon, I’m left wondering why Rihanna hasn’t gotten her badge yet. Rihanna has done more work in the field of feminism than any of the pop stars in her age group. She quite eloquently discussed rape and rape culture in her Man Down video. She chose to address domestic violence in her “We Found Love Video.” Most recently she centered the female gaze AND celebrated the athleticism of strippers in her Pour It Up video. Since the infamous domestic violence incident, Rihanna has made a commitment to live her life on her terms. It permeates her every choice, especially the ones we, the public, do not like. That alone is a powerful statement to other survivors of domestic violence, like myself.
All Miley had to do was sit on a wrecking ball, naked.
While almost every White pop star gets rewarded a feminist badge, the list of who mainstream feminism has declared “bad for the movement” looks quite uniform and Black. Beyonce suffers from internalized misogyny. Nicki Minaj is oversexed and suffers from internalized misogyny. Rihanna is a confused, oversexed victim…who suffers from internalized misogyny.
The fact is, Rihanna doesn’t get dubbed as a feminist icon for the very same reasons her white peers do: the black female body is deemed as overtly sexual. So much so Miley Cyrus can derive a sexual identity just by associating with Blackness and Lily Allen can make a critique of hyper sexuality on our backs. Rihanna being Black and female must work from proving she isn’t just a sex object. Miley gets to be naked and feminist because it is presumed that she is “innocent” and that enjoying sex—for White women like her—isn’t the norm, but a revolutionary act. This was the justification for the rape of Black women, the very reason Saartjie’s genitals were carved from her body, to prove our inherently sexual nature and to prove the White woman’s asexual (and therefore, pure) one.
When pop stars are declared to be shining examples of feminism while continuing a legacy of shaming and sexualizing black bodies, mainstream feminism is sending a clear message: we still ain’t women.
One of my favorite Key & Peele sketches involves two buppie businessmen meeting up in a soul food restaurant in an old, forgotten neighborhood. (Yes, I know the show has issues. Just stay with me, ok?) The two fall into a game of one-upmanship to prove how down they are. Here, watch:
This, my friends, is what popped in my head upon reading this Ms. Magazine essay by Janell Hobson, and this piece by Salon/Crunk Feminist Collective writer Brittney Cooper. From the looks of it, these two brilliant, accomplished black women have–unwittingly, perhaps–fallen into the same sad game. With the Key and Peele sketch, we knew who the intended audience was: the buppies and the sweet, folksy owner/server. But in this case? We’re not exactly sure who the target audience is, and both essays read rather poorly. Cooper spends half of her piece blasting white feminists for attacking the First Lady, then politely finishes their job in the latter half. Hobson spends most of her piece agreeing that there is, indeed, a solidarity problem within feminist ranks and then…calls on “all of us” (read: angry feminists of color) to channel our anger and snark into more positive things.
A lot of people who claim to love black women (some, black women themselves) seem to only love them in the abstract. We can be counted on to provide page hits for the latest “oh no they didn’t” outrage or as fond remembrances in charming little essays we write when we want to regale readers with beautifully crafted tales of our humble beginnings, neatly wrapped in a Nikki Giovanni poem or an Audre Lorde quote. Depending on our usefulness and socioeconomic status, we rank somewhere between God and the nameless sista who bags your collection of Lean Cuisine entrees every week. But here’s the thing: demanding that people recognize our humanity only works if you recognize it, too.
I get that it’s a struggle. There are days when I have to check myself, days when I have to remember that the bathroom attendant I’m tipping isn’t a charity case in need of saving, days when I have to remember that the teenage girls cursing each other out on the train platform probably grew up in a better financial situation than I did. Days when I have to remember that the First Lady is a real flesh and blood human being, not a blank screen on which I can project my hopes and dreams. As others have said, the fact that we dare to exist is an act of defiance. I don’t need to make shit any harder.
There are enough people attacking black women for the lives we lead and the choices we make on the daily. We needn’t any more voices joining the fray. If we’re going to be about the business of improving the world around us, let’s do so without the performance art.
Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right is in no way analogous to asking your boss for a raise. Nor is it the sort of self-promotion that results in anything but a young woman reinforcing the socially-engrained notion that the most valuable thing she has to offer the world is her looks. If culture were encouraging women to be smart, the word of the year would be “diplomie” and the definition would be “a photo of an academic achievement posted to social media.” “Here’s my face!” is not an accomplishment. Feeling pretty is nice, but goddamn — “beauty” far from the most important thing about being a fully-actualized adult human person.
Where would we be without another mainstream feminist site telling us how we’re DOIN IT RONG? In a better place, I’m guessing. Luckily for us, Bad feminist @convergecollide had the awesome idea to start #feministselfie and the rest was hashtag history.
As others have pointed out, self love is a radical act, especially if you aren’t white (or close to it). Given recent conversations I’ve had with friends about self-esteem, daily women-bashing on #BlackTwitter and the huge response to #feministselfie (trending topic, yo), it’s clear just how necessary it is. It is a beautiful act of self-affirmation and if one chooses to draw power from it, more power to ‘em. Check out Mommyish and xoJane for a more thoughtful take.
…and with that, we can now go back to debating Beyonce’s feminism.
Yesterday marked the 15th International Transgender Day of Remembrance. According to the TVT Project, 238 trans people have been murdered worldwide. The Advocate has a moving tribute to the trans women and men slain in the past year, and Janet Mock’s letter to Islan Nettles is still one of the most powerful pieces we’ve read this year. HuffPo offers a beautiful essay from JamieAnn Meyers. Over at Colorlines, Vonn Diaz writes about the barriers trans workers face in the workplace.
You know, it used to take a lot to get me angry. Someone would literally have to be standing on my neck before I’d respond in kind. Then one day, I was introduced to the internet, and I’ve been flipping tables ever since.
With that said, I apologize for raging out, Maria Lloyd. I let my emotions get the best of me. I blew up your mentions on Twitter. I said your essay was “irresponsible, irrelevant, and incorrect.” I suggested that you pursue another profession. I said that shaming single mothers for page hits under the guise of fake concern was the equivalent of shitting in someone’s mouth, You Tubing it, and asking for a tip after. Before I came for your neck, I went after your colleague (and co-writer of this post), Dr. Boyce Watkins, calling him a “misogynistic, foot-shuffling moron” for pimping black pathology porn. I also called him a “bully, a fraud, and a hack” and laughed when someone said he was “a doctor of fuck shit and Crown Royal bags.” I feel awful because that’s an insult to real doctors of fuck shit and Crown Royal bags. And I really shouldn’t have told you to seek another profession because we need people like you, Dr. Watkins, and other professional black pathology pimps (Hi, Jason Whitlock!) to be shining examples of what not to do.
It’s important, Maria Lloyd, that you remain here on the front lines, parroting patriarchal bullshit like “ERMAGERD THE BLACK FAMILY IS IN SHAMBLES BECAUSE YOU’RE A FILTHY WHORE” because that’s what we need. We don’t need better policies that ensure the success of Ms. Fields or women like her. We don’t need to offer genuine support. No, no. We just need to berate them for not keeping their legs closed to all the wrong dudes. I’m sure you’ve made ALL the right decisions to make sure you never become a single mom, right? Wait, I shouldn’t be so presumptuous; you and Dr. Crown Royal Bag are better at being presumptuous windbags than I can ever hope to be.
I would point to recent statistics showing that black motherhood is actually on the decline and that “unmarried” doesn’t necessarily mean “unpartnered” because there are plenty of queer black moms out here in healthy relationships. I would even point to the numerous studies showing that economics–not marital status–is to blame for the number of black moms living in poverty. But who needs all those pesky facts when you’ve got a forum to promote? “A Politically Incorrect Conversation About Saving Our Community?” Oooh. So edgy. I’m sure it’ll make Sean Hannity cream in his Jockeys.
So, I thank you–both of you–for making me realize just how important it is to stand up and use my voice. Thank you for reminding me of how valuable people like Tanya Fields and Melissa Harris Perry are, because while you are wasting bandwidth and keystrokes to attack them, they’re out here changing fucking LIVES. They are doing the work you think you’re doing. Thank you for making Hood Feminism necessary.
Also, when we say #openseasononblackgirlsisover? We mean it. Don’t come for us unless we send for you.
It has been a long, emotionally exhausting week, but at least it’s ending on a (somewhat) positive note now that Renisha McBride’s killer has been arrested. Writer/activist dream hampton is just one of many fighting on behalf of the murdered teen and her grieving family, and talks with Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman about the “criminalizing of black corpses” here. Her parents speak out here.
Friend of HF (and thewayoftheid girlcrush) Moya Bailey pens an open letter to Nelly that should have the St. Lunatic in his feelings for a while. Bailey and her fellow Spelman alumnae will be on HuffPo Live Monday, November 18 to discuss it.
First Lily Allen, now Peggy Noland: when it comes to objectifying black women, white women are having the best week ever.
Oh, and we’ve been a little busy writing stuff. You can check out Evilene’s Scandal-inspired post on “homewrecker” hate for Blogher here, and Jamie’s Scandal-inspired post on gratuitous tv rape for xoJane here.
Also, we’re planning another Google Hangout soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
And now, for a little bit of awesome that’s been making us grin all day (despite only getting three hours of sleep):
And a message we can all use:
Have a good weekend.
Ah, Lily Allen. Everyone’s favorite pop ingenue recently released a new video “satirizing” the music industry and the internet is all a-buzz, mostly praise from mainstream feminist sites applauding her wit and edge, all the while neglecting the fact that she’s using black women as props. Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s still country for nuanced criticism. Here are a (HF approved) few:
Lily Allen is a popstar singing about how its “hard out here for a bitch” – in a hip-hop video? Why couldn’t she stick to her own genre and talk about inherent sexism in pop culture. Why? Probably because of the same virus that’s being going around for a long time, where white women just can’t help use bodies of women of colour as props. Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea, Miley Cyrus, the list goes on. - Susuana Antubam (via blackfems)
“There is an incredibly valid critique to be made about hip hop culture and music videos which consistently demean black women, but to ignore her enormous privilege as a white woman and engage in exactly the same racist, degrading objectifying fuckery as Miley Cyrus (who this video was apparently at least partially a “dig” at) is disgusting to say the least.” – BlackinAsia
“But the video is…troublesome. I get this is making fun of Miley and the cultural appropriation and so forth. Certainly the song is making fun of the way women in pop are treated. But it’s still a white girl dancing with a bunch of black girls twerking. Yes, it’s supposed to be ironic. But I’m not sure it reads.” – Anibundel
“From Lorde to Macklemore, it’s a sentiment that’s galling for its popularity: white artists need to stop using the wealth signifiers of rap music to gesture at their self-important “anti-consumerism.” What Allen misses as she washes rims in a kitchen decorated only with bottles of champagne is that it’s not anti-consumerism when it only targets one type of consumer.” – Ayesha A. Siddiqi
(Michelle Bowen-Ziecheck is a writer currently living in Maryland. This is her first piece for Hood Feminism.)
There are two kinds of “Women of Color.” The first is a resident of Africa City, a destitute woman from a non-specific brown country who barely has the energy to keep flies from the corners of her mouth. The second is the woman of The Ghetto in a “developed” country; poor, uneducated, just keeping her head above water, perhaps pausing occasionally to watch the asphalt grow.
The women of Africa City are noble. Unspoiled. Close to The Earth. They have much to teach us about The Old Ways, or they are lamentably, garment-renderingly out of touch with them. If they are out of touch, this has nothing to do with colonization or white racism (maybe just a little bit, but that’s in the past). If they are Close to The Earth, this is also because they have somehow escaped colonization and racism.
If you are a progressive in the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to promote the idea that “natural is better.” Talk about women who toil in the fields, squat down to give birth and return to picking rice. Or peanuts. Or anything else that can be picked. After all, the women of Africa City are resilient! Strong. So strong that they do not even require support from the other women of Africa City. Or medication. Or comfort. This example–of giving birth in the field–illustrates how over-reliant “we” have become on useless technology. Of course, you don’t expect “us” to be quite that strong. We are not beasts of burden, after all. But from the comfort of our leather computer chairs, we can still make time to pay our respects to the women of Africa City for their unwavering and superhuman strength.
If you support natural childbirth or homebirth, use the women of Africa City to illustrate the point that birth usually goes well without medical intervention. Talk about the Old Ways. Quote white people who were made honorary princesses and priests by the women of Africa City. If you can’t quote those white people, quote white people who paraphrase those white people. Use Wikipedia.
If you oppose the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to remind “us” of how bad “we” used to have it, before all of our live-saving medical advances. If women die in childbirth in Africa City, it is only because they lack the Modern Technology we should be grateful that every last one of “us” has unfettered access to. Use infant mortality statistics from the most war-torn countries to argue why a healthy woman from Portland shouldn’t give birth in her bathtub with a midwife who carries oxygen and a cell phone. Redact all mentions of Africa City women who are not hopelessly impoverished. Ignore those who are systematically abused with Modern Technology, sacrificed as Guinea pigs on its altar. All bad outcomes in Africa City are due to the lack of Medical Technology, never unrelated to it, and certainly never caused by it.
No need to implicate colonization or white racism for the desperate state in which they find themselves. Be sure to use passive language.
The women of Africa City are pitiable. They wish for nothing more than to have access to all of “our” miraculous advances. They spend every moment of their hunger-induced-hallucination-tinged waking hours praying for cold metal stirrups, off-label Cytotec and coin-flip-accurate fetal monitors mandated by legal departments. These wretched waifs need more access to things like emergency C-sections and Pitocin for post-partum hemorrhage, and they are willing to give up any semblance of autonomy and respect to get them. Because they are good girls who know their place. The women of Africa City, like other beasts of burden, are easy to control.
Now we come to the women of The Ghetto. Per the above, if you oppose the Natural Childbirth Movement, be certain to emphasize the fact that Ghetto women are not interested in this debate at all. They are too busy being fat and sassy so they don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies. Their white teeth shine between fat, sassy lips as they cackle about them crazy white ladies who love them some homebirths! Ghetto women don’t care about how they are treated in “Western” hospitals. They’re just grateful they’re not in Africa City. Why they’re not in Africa City is best left undiscussed.
If Ghetto women are not sages in their own, simple-minded sort of way, then they are willfully ignorant, insolent, indolent and not worth including in any debate that requires higher brain function. That nearly everyone you encounter in the Natural Childbirth Debate seems to be white is clearly due to the fact it is not salient to the women of The Ghetto. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Be sure to emphasize this indisputable fact no matter which side of the debate you fall on. If you are a detractor of the movement, use it to underline how far on the fringe and out of touch the movement is. Use sexism to shame others for their racism. Make sure to point out that the nonexistence–well, as far as you’re aware, anyway–of Ghetto women on the side of the movement is indicative of how silly and trendy and insubstantial the so-called movement is. Kind of like Brazilian waxes or platform wedges. If defenders get indignant, helpfully suggest that they’re probably premenstrual.
Pointing out that the movement is white is a particularly good strategy for a detractor, as “progressives” hate to be accused of not being “inclusive.” Never mind that you never, ever notice (or comment) on the dominating presence of whiteness in any other context. It’s fine to use it as a one-time strategy to discredit people you dislike, though you would balk if accused of something similar. Your keen eye for racism is best suited as a rhetorical weapon against your white progressive enemies. Remain colorblind, should anyone bring up the fact that Ghetto women are far more likely to be subjected to unnecessary medical interventions during childbirth than white women. That’s playing The Race Card. You’re the only one who should be doing that.
If you’re a supporter of the Natural Childbirth Movement, you, too, must concede that Ghetto women simply aren’t talking about childbirth. They have so many children and so many limitations, they are barely even aware that they give birth. Be sad about this. Use words like “regret” and “unfortunately” and other terminology that convey both a sense of sincere liberalism and futility. This will ensure that you don’t actually have to do anything about your own racism. Your intentions are clearly good.
Defend yourself against accusations of exclusivity and whiteness with a two-pronged approach. First, offer proof of your complete and utter lack of racism. A Cherokee Princess great-grandmother may not be enough. A Mexican grandmother could work. Or time spent in the Peace Corps, preferably in Africa City. Second, argue that Ghetto women WOULD care about childbirth, they just don’t know they’re being oppressed. Talk about how you’re planning to educate them. Make the plan as vague as possible. No need to follow up.
Then, as quickly as possible, recede into colorblindness. The very idea of race makes you uncomfortable. Which is why you don’t have one. If Ghetto women are not discussing these issues with white women, it cannot be because white women have dominated the conversation and alienated many of them. White arenas are not white—they are just regular. Colorblind.
Someone may suggest that perhaps Ghetto women ARE discussing these issues—just in terms and contexts that were not created and defined by white people, thus rendering their discussion invisible. This is simply not possible. Refer them to the tree and the forest.
(Don’t worry about the women of Africa City in all of this. They are either illiterate or too busy communing with The Earth to be a part of the discussion at all.)
Hopefully this guide has clearly demonstrated the correct use of women of color in the debate regarding Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter). If the guidelines are too confusing, simply remember this: “women of color” are entirely theoretical. The word “women” is misleading. They are not people– merely rhetorical strategies. Use them properly in service of your political agenda, and they’ll be sure to disappear entirely.
This is yet another post I have wrestled with for days. Originally, this was to be another post about the follies of performance feminism, in which I was going to invite women who build their brand on attacking other women (and my friends) to kiss every square inch of my beautiful brown ass. Because as much as I am tired of white feminists undermining and devaluing the work of WoC, I am really tired of certain self-serving WoC who use their bully pulpits to sabotage other brown women in the name of “sisterhood,” and have seen enough of that this year to last me a lifetime.
But ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.
Besides, most takedown posts–no matter how honest–have little impact on the reputation of their targets. And they don’t make said targets any more remorseful or reflective. If anything, it adds to their legend. It lends credibility to their carefully crafted narrative. It turns villains into superheroes. Better to let them continue getting high from their own supply, to let them claim victimhood as they hide their own bloodied hands. Sooner or later, the mask will slip and people will see you for what you really are.
And with that, back to business.
Next Thursday (November 7), Hood Feminism–along with few of our friends–will be hosting our first Google Hangout on pro-blackness, respectability, and colorism. We’ll be kicking things off at 7pm EST. If you’re interested, come through. We’d love to have you.
Jamie and Mikki talk about street harassment, with a little help from Fake Steebie J.