On Michael Brown and the Lives of Black Folk

I’ve been putting this post off for a while. I wasn’t writing too much back when everything exploded and now that the media has decided there are more important things going on dust has settled, reflecting on it all still takes a lot out of me.

So. Maybe you’ve heard of a little placed named Ferguson? You know, sleepy little city in Missouri. Population just over 21,000 folks. Roughly 70% African-American. Home of the late Michael Brown – an 18 year old who was gunned down by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Maybe you saw something in the news about it?

More likely than not, you saw the aftermath. You probably heard about the “looting”, the “riots”, the nightly arrests of protesters. You probably saw the now-iconic photo of a young man with dreads throwing a canister of tear gas.

And in all likelihood, you probably didn’t care.

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Urban Outfitters is Messy (and Other Monday Morning Fuckery)

If Urban Outfitters were a person, it’d be this girl.

Okay, maybe not. Urban Outfitters is that friend who is constantly saying shit like “Well, you people just love fried chicken, don’t you?” and “Wow, it must be like, sooo cool to be Indian. I love wearing headdresses! Does your dad have a hatchet?” When she gets a little drunk, she talks about how much she loves Latino men because “thugs turn her on” and how she sometimes wishes she could be in a concentration camp, because “she’d get like, SO, skinny”. Ocassionally, she drops the n-word, but it’s “like totally harmless and just a word.” She’s always got daisies in her hair and smiles wistfully as she reminsces on the good ‘ole days…which we can only imagine as back when daddy owned a cotton plantation.

We can just file our bff Urban Outfitters under “horrible people who should be exiled immediately to god-forsaken islands”, (along with our friend Justin Bieber).

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On Ray Rice, or, Domestic Violence is (Literally) Killing Us

In case you’ve been living under a rock these past few days (I don’t blame you, the world is a crazy place!), I’m sure you’ve heard that the NFL has indefinitely suspended Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice. Why you ask? Well…

Ray Rice, former RB for the Baltimore Ravens.

On March 27, 2014, our 5’8, 206lb friend was arrested and charged with third-degree aggravated assault for assaulting his then-fiancee in an elevator a month earlier at Revel Hotel in Atlantic City. He received a two game suspension (because, you know, beating your wife is less serious of a crime than taking performance enhancing drugs… just ask Wes Welker). Then, on September 8th, TMZ (those sly devils) went and leaked the video footage. Warning, the footage displays graphic intimate partner violence and is extremely disturbing – viewer discretion is advised. Out of respect for Janay Rice, I will not link to the video – if you feel a need to watch it, I’m confident you’ll be able to find it on the interwebs. Anyway, not too long after, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice. And not too long after that, we found out that they had, in fact, seen the video footage months ago. Uh oh, NFL. Not a good look.

So, you know, everyone is in an uproar. Shock and anger abound. And, as is usually the case when you shine light in the darkest corners, all the little nasty things have begun to reveal themselves. That war against women of color? It’s real. And the patriarchy is so insidious that even I was horrified at some of the things people had to say about Janay Rice.

There was this: (note: it’s been deleted since posting but lucky for us, the internet never really deletes anything).

2014: The Year of the Big Booty?

So this morning on my way to work, I decided to do my daily perusal of the Twitterverse. You know – see what’s poppin’ on #BlackTwitter, who dropped a new album (hint: this chick did. and it’s phenomenal), which of my friends went to the gym today (hint: none of them).

During said leisurely morning reads, I stumbled across this little gem:

‏@pgarcialujan: It’s a big booty world and we’re all just living (and taking belfies) in it: http://vogue.cm/1qD5Sxu

*Insert eye roll here*

Listen – I’m all for this movement. I spent far, far too many years of my life starving myself and flat-ironing burning my curls to try and look like Kate Moss.

Being mistaken for a skeleton was totally in back then.

I never quite got that look down. So am I mad about the fact that suddenly, everybody wants a derriére? Not even a little bit. For curvy women, it’s a glorious time to be alive.

You know what I am mad about though?

Iggy Azalea. Kim Kardashian. Jen-effing-Selter

The audacity of Vogue to laud them as the women who heralded in the “era of the big butt”. As if hundreds of thousands of women of color didn’t struggle to pull clothes over their child-bearing hips and ample posteriors long before Iggy Azalea woke up one morning and bought herself an ass. As if Jennifer Lopez is the only woman of color in the game with an ass. As if the booty wasn’t admired and desired long, long before Kim Kardashian posted hers on Instagram.

What about Erykah Badu? What about Tracee Ellis Ross? Or Selena? Serena Williams? Or any of the millions of other women who flaunted, shook, and embraced their curves long before Jen-effing-Selter began taking “belfies” (that word actually makes me gag a little)? Are y’all effing kidding me?! We’ve been hip to the game. “Take the average black man and ask him that – she gotta pack much back!” (Thank you, Sir Mix-A-Lot).

Look. I’m not mad that y’all came late to the party and suddenly want to tell your friends how dope it is. That’s cool, tell everybody. But give credit where credit is due. If I show up to your fancy dinner party, have a grand old time eating your food, and the next day wrote a piece in the New York Times about how good your guest’s dinner party was, you’d be pissed. Understandably so. You were the one who dropped 1G on food, the one who spent all morning in the kitchen cooking and then all evening cleaning. All your friend did was show up and eat some food. And now your guest is getting write-ups in the NY Times and making millions off of it!

See why I’m mad?

All Kim Kardashian/Iggy Azalea/Jen Selter/etc. has done is plop her ass down and profit off the assets (pun intended) that women of color have had for ages. We have been paraded around, mocked, deemed unattractive and unworthy, and used as props for decades. We’ve been taught to hate our bodies and our full figured curves. So for Vogue to declare it’s “officially” time to celebrate those same assets because now some white girls went and made it “cool”? Tuh.

This one speaks for itself.

Vogue “columbused discovered” the big booty and conveniently just erased the “color” from it. Oh yeah, they name drop a few necessary women of color (I’m looking at you, Beyonce and Nicki). But by and large, we are removed from the equation; the word “African-American” is darted around, the author blithely coins 2014 as the era of the “big booty” without nary an acknowledgement of the fact that appreciation for curvy women has been around a hell of a lot longer than Vogue has chosen to acknowledge us. “Still, it would be another decade before people were “ready for this jelly” to become the ultimate standard of beauty.”  Shawty, what? Let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we? White folks at Vogue have suddenly realized that “hey, maybe you can be attractive and not wear a size 00”. *round of applause*

So fine. Y’all have realized that asses are indeed fabulous and now you all want to inject botox into your rears and take belfies. Do you, boo. But for heaven’s sake. Title your article some shit like “Today I Woke Up and Realized That I Can No Longer Deny That Women of Color are Dope as F*ck (But I’m Still Gonna Try)”. That would be more accurate a description.

Stay ‘Bootylicious’,

J

The Re-Up

Whew… I haven’t written on here in a while. And a LOT has happened since I last did. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be writing about all of it (expect a series of posts in the next few days), but first, a brief explanation of my almost six-month hiatus.

I have been sorting myself out.

That is to say, I’ve been trying to figure out what happens when the path towards Corporate America I’ve been happily trudging down is revealing itself to be lined with the bodies of my people. What happens when the things you’re most passionate about run perpendicular to the career path you’ve chosen? Do you stay silent? Swallow those respectability politics? Be the “good Negro”? Or raise hell, knowing you’re burning down the whole damn building you’ve worked meticulously to build? 

In the United States, we’re all expected to play our part. If you want to ‘make it’ in Amerikkka America – Be complacent. Don’t make waves or call attention to the nasty little demons in the corner. Smile. Be nice. 

It’s exhausting.

There have been so, so many horrific things happening across our country. So many of our people being bruised, battered, murdered and I for one, am tired of being silent. There is nothing radical about caring about my people. There is nothing radical about giving a voice to the voiceless or deciding that enough is enough. There is nothing radical about getting good and angry.

So this is the re-up. Take two. I’ve decided it’s time to start writing again – no matter how small my voice is or how much it shakes. 

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

 

Peace and love,

J

Hashtag Activism; Or, Don’t Be a Cynic in South Central….

The world has enough cynics.

I don’t say that lightly. You can’t. As a young WoC growing up in NYC, you have to be just plain foolish to believe that everyone is your friend and no one wants to harm you. I think it’s physically impossible to grow up in this city, in this era, and NOT believe that some people are just not good people. But with that being said, I think an important part of maintaining your sanity is not being a cynic.

It’s so easy to be jaded. We live in a country where people freeze to death just miles from the White House, where people advocate for our “right to bear arms” in the midst of seventy-four school shootings, where people really think being a rape victim is a “coveted status“, and where culture vultures like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Macklemore are given awards for… I’m not even sure what. It’s disheartening. Sometimes I just want to stick my head in the sand and never pull it back out again. Most times, I do.

Someone buy me one of these, please.

Someone buy me one of these, please.

But then again, we also live in a country where this happens. And this woman exists. And we have something called a ramen burger, so the world can’t be all bad, can it?

Recently, one of my faves – Shonda Rhimes – gave a speech at Dartmouth where she said some stuff that kinda got under a few people’s skins. Imagine that. People having ideas and opinions we don’t all like!

Now, here’s the thing about hashtag activism. Shonda’s right – a hashtag doesn’t change anything. It’s a hashtag. And I can sit on Twitter all damn day long and wax poetic about #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls and #Kony2012 and nothing is going to change. Nada. But you know what it does do? It piques peoples’ interest. It gets their attention. And that’s the powerful thing about ideas – all you need to do is plant the seed. If social media wasn’t changing the world, why does the White House have a Twitter? Why did President Obama just do a Q&A with Tumblr?

Social media is our future. It’s creating a world that is globally interconnected in a way our parents never could have even imagined. And it comes with a host of problems, which is to be expected. But it also is providing a whole new corridor of doors to explore. I’m confident that there are solutions to some of our world’s greatest issues hidden amidst this burgeoning field of technology. It’s exciting! And it’s empowering. Because quite frankly, Bring Back Our Girls wouldn’t be such a widely known thing if someone hadn’t started a hashtag. For heaven’s sake, Teen Vogue did an article about it. Say what you will, 4 million tweets gets someone’s attention.

Do I think #HashtagActivism will change the world? No. I think there is something to be said for being physically involved in a cause you care about, whether that be protesting or building houses or teaching orphans. Sitting at your computer or on your phone hashtagging causes isn’t bringing water to rural villages. And there are plenty of white privileged people  who are content to pat themselves on the back for a few inspiring tweets with aptly chosen hashtags. The White Savior complex becomes more prominent and profitable with every #Kony2012 tweet. I deny none of these things.

But listen, the world has enough cynics. Let’s start looking at our glass as half full. No, #hashtagactivism may not save the world, and yes, it is in so many ways just a ploy for attention and profit and to ease some of the nation’s oozing guilt over its own privilege. But it’s also informing the masses about the social issues that 30 years ago, only a select handful would ever know about or pay attention to. And it’s subverting a power that has controlled our society since the dawn of mankind – the media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are social-driven – meaning that what “trends” and what is “popular” is based off of what the masses deem relevant, instead of what the newspaper editors deem relevant. Meaning that when 276 girls are kidnapped halfway around the world and American newspapers don’t report it, we take matters into our own hands. We tweet about it. We share updates on Facebook. We create an uproar so powerful that suddenly, Teen Vogue is writing articles about it. This cultural shift is slow but powerful; as it gathers steam it will snowball, and once it begins rolling, nothing will stop it.

We are at the forefront of massive change. Stop fighting it. Embrace it.

Peace and love,

J

 

Wake Up Mr. West

Facts: I have loved Kanye West since he dropped The College Dropout. I think I have his entire discography on my phone, and I listen to it all the time. Suffice it say, I love me some Yeezy.

That being said, I think our dear friend Mr. West needs a wake up call. ‘Ye has some brilliant ideas – not just as a businessman looking to sell to his consumers, but as a creator. Nevertheless, I think he’s lost touch with reality. He’s become a mockery to many of his fans, which is saddening: for a man of his creative caliber and intelligence to become a laughingstock on Scott and Todd just breaks my heart. How has this happened?

Well, we can start with some of his more recent … misadventures.

There was this interview:

And the infamous “You ain’t got the answers, Sway!

Remember the time he tried to pull this off?

kanye west confederate flag x17

And those are just some of the numerous instances. Oh, Kayne.

There’s an underlying thread in all of this. To me, Kanye is the epitome of the black man who doesn’t want to see race. We all have that friend, don’t we? The one who doesn’t want to acknowledge that his race could ever have anything to do with how he operates within the world, who blatantly overlooks the delicate intersection of race and social interactions in favor of a more “color-blind, Utopian society”. It’s not that this friend doesn’t know he’s black. And it very well might be that this friend understands so intrinsically what many non PoC don’t seem to get – that race and skin color have absolutely no jurisdiction over how well an individual can perform. But what our friend doesn’t realize is that it does have a say over how well that person is allowed to perform. And this is where Kanye has hit the glass ceiling.

He has said it himself, so many times in so many, many ways.

“Yo, why won’t you let me be great!?”

But here’s the thing. I hear you, ‘Ye. It’s tough when you hit that glass ceiling and you suddenly realize that no matter how effing awesome and brilliant you are, you will always first be a black man in the public’s eyes. Even if you suggested leather jogging pants six years ago to Fendi. Even if you sold Air Yeezy’s for $90,000. Even if you put in your “10,000 hours.” Mr. West, you’re not going to get the attention you want screaming like a child throwing a temper tantrum. This has nothing to do with respectability politics. I am not saying you should sit down and shut up. I am saying you’re giving them a way to infantilize you. And let me tell you something – if they can make you a child in the eyes of the public, you suddenly pose no threat to anybody. Kanye has become so wrapped in his own ego and his own head he’s lost touch with his people and his roots. He wants so badly to force people into seeing him first as an entrepreneur and creative director instead of as a black music artist that he’s distancing himself from everyone – not just the “powers that be”, the big players who don’t take him seriously because of his race, but also those who have supported him for so many years but are getting a little fed up with the tantrums. We want to see you break that ceiling too, ‘Ye, but you’re going about this all wrong.

“There wouldn’t be no Kanye West without Michael Jackson … I’ve got to a point that Michael Jackson did not break down. I have reached the glass ceiling, as a creative person, as a celebrity … and I’ve been at it for 10 years. I look around and I say, ‘Wait a minute. There’s no one around here that looks like me. And if they are, they’re quiet as fuck.’ So that means, wait a second—now we’re seriously like, in a civil rights movement.”