On the criminalization of young black and brown boys.

Fifteen years ago, an 11 year-old girl, Ryan Harris, was found dead in a vacant lot on the city’s south side. She’d been raped and strangled. A detective–all too eager to close the case–collared two neighborhood boys. After being bullied for hours and kept from their parents (who had no clue that their sons were being held for murder) they confessed to sexually assaulting the girl, killing her, and stealing her bike. Mass media hysteria soon followed, as talking heads everywhere rushed to vilify the children. Some even called for the death penalty.

Romarr Gipson was seven years old. His accomplice, eight.

A month later the police found the man who would eventually serve a life sentence for the murder. According to authorities, Floyd Durr had left traces of semen on her underwear, something seven and eight year-olds are incapable of doing, as most people who have passed a seventh-grade health class would know. The families of the boys filed a civil suit and were finally awarded $2 mil in Fall 2005.

In Spring 2006, Romarr, then 15, was arrested for aggravated battery with a firearm. He and his older stepbrother accosted two people in a parked car at a Citgo gas station and opened fire. He turned around and looked at the camera with a gun in his hand, one investigator told the Sun-Times. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 52 years in prison in June 2012.

In Fall 2006, Steve Bogira’s Chicago Reader investigative report picked apart what was thought to be an open and shut case; interviews with a number of people on both sides–including Durr, who maintained his innocence–show a case fraught with more missteps and holes than your standard-issue Michael Bay movie. He casts enough doubt to go around, concluding that we may never really know who killed the fifth-grader.

But we do know what happened to Romarr Gipson, and all evidence points to a sequence of events occurring in an interrogation room that changed his life forever.

America has a gift for characterizing troubled children–particularly children of color–as cold, feral monsters. And each day, as thousands enter a justice system filled with dispassionate correction officials, apathetic public defenders, and judges who just want to get to the next case–they quickly transform into the boogeymen they’ve been made out to be. According to a number of studies, children held in jails are twice as likely to be assaulted, five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and eight times more likely to commit suicide than youth held in juvenile facilities. And if they do survive life on the inside, chances are they will return for more serious offenses. They’re also more likely to be black or brown.

Project Nia Founder/Director Mariame Kaba has spent years on the front lines fighting to change toxic policies plaguing the juvenile justice system. “I said at the time that this would have a lasting impact on the children involved,” recalls Kaba. “Anti-black racism plays a role in how kids are punished. It’s so ingrained that it makes it impossible to see our children as human.”

“There’s an unwillingness [on the part of administrators] to read these reports that show how any contact you have with law enforcement is bad for future outcome, and it impacts everything from cognitive skills to school participation,” Kaba continues. “Incarceration should be a last resort.”

But, as a report released last year by the US Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights illustrates, it’s often the first course of action for school officials and law enforcement. And with more schools employing police officers as disciplinary tools, things are only going to get worse.

Actually, we might already be there.

“We’ve got to start conceptualizing violence as structural,” says Kaba, whose Chicago Freedom School educates teens on social justice issues. “It’s out there, and it’s being used against us all the time. Wanting the government to intervene to make our lives livable is somehow pathologized, and then it trickles down to the community where the conversation turns to respectability.”

And we hear a lot about respectability. A. Lot.

But, Kaba maintains, it will take a collective effort to save our kids, a movement of love, compassion and respect. “I want more opportunities for people to talk about structural oppression so that it has somewhere to go. That’s how you understand yourself as an agent, how you begin to realize you’re not alone in this world, and you use that knowledge to change the system.”

You’re only gettin’ half a bar.

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.

On Selfies and TDOR.

So Erin Gloria Ryan, the Jez writer responsible for this elitist schlock, writes a deliciously long tl;dr post about the evils of selfies in response to Rachel Simmons’ Slate piece. She writes:

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.


An Apology.

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.

The Curious Case of Lily Allen’s Horrible Stab At Satire.

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

On bombasts and bullies.

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.

The Performance Feminist.

NARAL’s recent board appointment is just the latest in a series of “OH REALLY WTF YO?” moments in an already-fractured movement, another opportunity for a more inclusive approach falling away. Their new appointee’s failures at intersectionality have been well-documented, yet these missteps haven’t stopped her ability to fail upward.

Must be nice.

Though plenty of good people are on the front lines waging wars against “-isms” daily, social media has unwittingly given birth (and a considerable amount of real estate) to a new breed of feminist agitator–one who isn’t so much invested in fighting the good fight as she is, say, getting a spot on The MHP Show. She is lively, verbose and blustery; her showmanship could put the late P.T. Barnum to shame. She is…the Performance Feminist.

Equipped with a Twitter account, a WordPress blog, and an arsenal of quotes from Very Important Feminists at the ready, The Performance Feminist can be seen holding court in the public forum of her choice (though it’s usually Twitter.) She may be an academic from the Dirty South, or a charmed New Yorker with an Ivy League pedigree and a breadwinning husband. She may have cut her teeth writing about sexist tropes in Joss Whedon shows for a popular blog, or she may be a rookie, fresh out of her Women’s Studies class and ready to take on the world–in front of a camera, of course.

While The Performance Feminist claims to be all about fellowship and sisterhood, once she latches on to her cause du jour, civility and thoughtful engagement are on the midnight train to Georgia. Instead of reaching out for an honest conversation, she will man the torpedoes, taking to her blog to assail the characters of any and all perceived foes, real or imaginary. She will rally her troops to petition, boycott and march, all the while patting herself on the back for her good work. She will create conferences and collectives under the guise of sisterhood, all the while neglecting large swaths of girls and women who aren’t in the right age or tax brackets. She will take credit for creating online feminism when, in fact, it predates her involvement. When faced with legitimate criticism, she will dismiss it as jealousy and infighting, or respond with an ill-conceived plan to address the lack of diversity. She will shame and dismiss those who do not fit her arbitrary definition of Feminism, and will take to penning open letters to let her disapproval be known.

She will pay lip service to diversity and intersectionality as she readies herself for her new writing gig, where she will be counted on to offer the “feminist perspective” on a number of recycled, navel-gazing topics: Can a woman have it all if she takes her husband’s name while wearing skinny jeans? Are wearing skinny jeans feminist? What about wearing skinny jeans while watching porn? Meanwhile, other, more pressing matters receive scant attention.

The Performance Feminist never shies away from a topic, even if she doesn’t know much about it. Image is everything; as long as she appears informed no one has to know that her treatise on Chicago violence was based on one interaction with a homeless guy at a Harold’s Chicken while in town visiting a beau. People will praise her for passion and bravery, for her commitment to make the world a better place. It will make her big television debut that much sweeter.

Which is great. For her. The movement, not so much. These antics drown out other voices, like the ones rallying to save broken public school systems across the country, or the ones fighting on behalf of indigenous rights. Or the ones working to improve the conditions of mothers everywhere, working and non. It means little-to-no shine for issues affecting millions of people who don’t live in New York City, whose only means of online access may be through a prepaid cellular phone. It means that the people most at risk will continue to be overlooked.

So how does one avoid being a Performance Feminist? As the famed poet Dewayne Michael Carter once said, Real Gs move in silence, like lasagna. Let your work speak for you. When advocating on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, remember that they are human beings, not a cause to be advanced; let them tell their own stories in their own words. Use your online platform to facilitate discussions in good faith. If someone calls you out, graciously accept the criticism and learn from it. Talk less. Listen more.  Don’t let your naked ambition alienate those who could potentially change the world.

Of course, all of these things have been said before. But a little reminder always helps.

Why the government shutdown is a feminist issue.

When the clock struck midnight on Capitol Hill, nearly 9 million mothers and children were left to fend for themselves, their WIC support suspended. Since there was no approval for additional funding, the 53% of American infants and 25% of expectant mothers currently covered by the program will stop receiving clinical care and food benefits in the next week or so, unless the states can pony up. (SPOILER ALERT: Most of them can’t.)

And with women making up 44% of federal employees, this infographic (courtesy of WaPo) illustrates how many could be left in dire financial straits as the shutdown continues.

People in need of emergency assistance won’t be able to rely on TANF, either. (h/t @AmandaMichelle)


We’ll start posting whatever information and resources we stumble across here.

Feeding America has a few ways to give.

Or check out Catholic Charities.

Or this national food bank directory.

The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics can help you find a clinic in your area. And they’re in need donations and volunteers.