Beautiful Black Girls*

(Because it needs to be said)

Image courtesy of satit_srihin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of satit_srihin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I want to say

Just got so say something

About those beautiful, beautiful black girls

Rocking Afro puffs, dreadlocks, and braids

I see you

Making it do what it do

You so fierce

Everyone wants to be like you

What? Don’t tell me you didn’t know!

Tiana, Lamya, Nyla, Lauren, and Nikia

Go ‘head girls!

I see you

Cutting your eyes

Looking so cute

With your beads that match the skinny jeans and the shoelaces and your backpack

For all my smart, sassy, introverted, extroverted

Singing, writing, dancing, swimming, skating

Ball-playing, bike-riding, double-dutch jumping, chess-playing, music-loving

Princesses and tomboys

Keep doing your thang!

Brava, young ladies!

You should know

I’m sitting at home, in the audience, on the sidelines

Cheering you on

With tears in my eyes

For all of you beautiful, beautiful black girls

Rockin’ dope Afro puffs, dreadlocks and braids

©2 Dope Sistahs, 2013

*Inspired by my favorite poet, Nikki Giovanni and her poem “Beautiful Black Men”

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Spoken in Jest: Sheryl Underwood & Afro Hair

“Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”–William Shakespeare, King Lear

Collection of picks from the 20th Century. Denver Art Museum.

Collection of picks from the 20th Century. Denver Art Museum.

Last week’s comments by African American comedian Sheryl Underwood on the CBS daytime show “The Talk” set Black Twitter on fire. In a format similar to the long-running talk show “The View” on ABC, the co-hosts of the show (Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Aisha Tyler, and Sheryl Underwood) include a daily discussion of “hot topics.” Sharon Osbourne introduced the topic of saving unusual things, stating that model and “Project Runway” host Heidi Klum saves her children’s hair when she cuts down their “big Afros.”

Being opinionated is probably a prerequisite for the job, and Sheryl Underwood certainly fits the bill. She asked incredulously, “Why would you save Afro hair? I mean, you can’t weave in Afro hair!” In a moment that was reminiscent of Chris Rock’s comedy-documentary “Good Hair,” she riffed that no one goes to the salon asking for “the curly, nappy, beady” weave. Almost inaudibly, she concluded, “That just seems nasty.”

Co-hosts Sara Gilbert and Sharon Osbourne both agreed that they saved similar mementos from their children. Gilbert mentioned that she had saved the hair from her son’s first haircut. But Underwood interrupted, stating that it was “probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff. That’s not what an afro is.” This, ironically, seemed to make Osbourne and Gilbert defenders of blackness while Underwood attacked it.

Sheryl Underwood’s statements may have passed without much discussion or notice if CBS had chosen a different “encore” episode to air on August 30, the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Many people, who would have otherwise been at work, probably extended their three-day weekend to four days, so they were home on Friday to watch “The Talk.”

By the beginning of this week, Underwood was trying to walk back some of what she said. In an interview with Curly Nikki, she denied calling black hair “nasty.” (Maybe it was a Freudian slip.) She insisted that her comment was really about the practice of “cutting and saving what I consider as dead.”  This is laughable. As a woman who wears wigs and weaves, she knows perfectly well that the hair on her head once belonged to someone else. Is that nasty? She didn’t seem to realize that her suggestion that keeping black (afro) hair was nasty while keeping white “beautiful, long silky” hair was understandable was problematic. It reifies the good/bad dichotomy of white and black.

Locks of love. Saved by my paternal great-grandmother.

Locks of love. Saved by my paternal great-grandmother.

Admittedly, I don’t think I would save hair in this way. It seems a bit quirky, eccentric, or maybe even strange. But I call foul on this college-educated woman, who has been on this planet for nearly fifty years, feigning cultural ignorance.

My paternal grandmother saved a braided lock of hair from each of her seven children in her family Bible. When I found these locks recently, I thought it was sweet and sentimental, not “nasty.”

Underwood has issued a mea culpa for her ill-advised comments, insisting that it was a poor attempt at humor and not meant to hurt anyone. Although I was not hurt by her comments, I am less than impressed with her apology. I tend to think that she let her “jokes” go too far but that some truth also slipped out.

From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization

*This post contains language that may be problematic for some audiences.

King Memorial True Peace is JusticeIn the last month or so, I have been listening closely to conversations on race and racism, especially as they pertained to the Trayvon Martin case, Paula Deen’s racist remarks, and the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. I’ve been troubled by the ways in which the conversations on race have oftentimes been hijacked by racists themselves.

I was especially disturbed when the Trayvon Martin case quickly shifted from addressing the acts of a racist vigilante, who racially profiled an innocent black boy, to address the well-versed discussion on the so-called “black-on-black” crime phenomenon. (See Da Realist 1’s post last week, “The Last Word: President Obama’s Statement on Trayvon Martin”).

What I find most fascinating is how racists are capable of turning the conversation on its head so that they become victims. In this case, “black-on-black crime” allows them to validate their fear of black people and to promote the idea that the vigilantism of George Zimmerman is necessary for white people to survive when interacting with young black boys, who are so violent that they kill each other.

This fear tactic was used to lynch black bodies in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century and was the premise behind the fear mongering in the white supremacist movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915). In so many ways, black people participate in this dialogue, much to our detriment.

This way of co-opting victimhood can be traced back to the Don Imus case, though it goes back much further than that. In April 2007, morning radio and talk show host, Don Imus, eagerly commented on the Women’s College Basketball playoffs between Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee. He made the remark that the women on the University of Tennessee’s team were more attractive than the women on the Rutgers’ team. He cringed while addressing the Rutgers’ women and said that they “looked like some nappy headed hos.”

He proceeded to liken the well-played championship game to Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, by saying it was like watching the “Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes.”

Black people were outraged . . . for a while. It didn’t take long for Imus and others in the media and political arena to say that he was only doing what the rap artists do by using derogatory language to refer to black women. In other words, it was fine for these young black women to be degraded by this man who had the power of the press to publicly attack and humiliate them directly because rap artists offend black women in their lyrics all of the time.

What followed was a new discussion, one that erased Imus’s behavior as problematic and replaced it with conversations about black people’s usage of the word “nigger” and other derogatory lyrics about women in rap music. A local Historically Black College/University held a forum on the subject matter that ended up solely addressing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” In July of the same year, the NAACP, at their 9th Annual Convention, thought it prudent to funeralize the word with a procession and burial.

The women on the Rutgers’ Basketball team were no longer considered victims of the vicious words that attacked their identity and the identity of black women as a whole, but they became transgressors of the wrong-doing initially aimed at them. In fact, we all became transgressors–black women and black men alike–of an offense aimed at all black women. I’m sure Imus breathed a sigh of relief that he was no longer the focus of the conversation.

Fast forward to this year when Paula Deen (who I promised myself I would not talk about on this blog) was exposed for using racist and offensive language. For some reason, folks were surprised that this 66-year-old white woman from Savannah, Georgia, who pours on her “Southern” as thickly as she pours four sticks of melted butter into every meal, dreamed of hosting a wedding party where black people returned to the Antebellum South as “servants” to white people. She also admits using the “n-word” at some point in her life.

Black people were horrified by her racist fantasies and by her usage of derogatory language . . . but, not for long.

Again, the discourse quickly changed! We were no longer addressing the language used by Paula Deen, but we began discussing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” As in the Don Imus case before, the conversation moved from addressing black people as victims of racism to a discussion of us as perpetrators of racist behavior toward each other.

There is a formula for how we engage conversations on race and racism in this country and it goes a little something like this:

1. White person offends a black person/all black people by making racist comment(s). The language is so offensive that people are initially shocked, saddened, and/or sickened by it, at least for a short while. Sometimes, the offender feigns ignorance and claims, for example, that they had no idea that it was racist to pass around an email with a picture of random black folks having a picnic and eating watermelon and fried chicken out of a KFC bucket on the White House lawn, with a caption that reads “the new White House cuisine since Barack Obama became President.”

2. Other racists quickly come to the defense of their fellow racist by making the argument that it is okay for comments that espouse white supremacist ideology to be used toward black people because black people, themselves, use derogatory language when engaging each other all of the time. Somehow, the word “nigger” is invoked in the conversation, even when it was not in the original insult. Apparently, calling an African American a “nigger” is the only way to degrade us. Invoking “nigger” in the conversation is tactical because when there are no specific examples to show black people using derogatory language against each other, the usage of the word in rap music becomes the default for example.

3. In response, black people (including politicians or organizations like the NAACP) jump on the bandwagon and reiterate on every talk show, blog post, interview or media outlet, that we must end the usage of the word, “nigger.” How does one manage such a monumental feat as making sure that no other African American ever utters the word again? By holding a march and burying the word, of course!

4. The focus of the conversation has now successfully shifted. We are no longer addressing the issue at hand: in the case of Imus, a white man with a public platform attacks the character and identity of black women. This original issue is no longer being addressed.

5. Not only has the discourse been redirected, but so has the victim’s rights to be victims. The Rutgers’ basketball team is no longer the victims of Imus’s public ridicule, but they are now the perpetrators of the transgression that victimized them because, “they probably listened to rap music anyway.”

Tracing this history of how we converse about race makes it very clear for me how the defense of George Zimmerman successfully painted the picture of Trayvon Martin, the victim of murder at the hands of a racial profiling vigilante, as a marijuana-smoking, violent black male. This is consistent with the way this conversation has been had for so long. Black people are only seen as perpetrators of crimes and wrong-doing, but never as victims.

There is certainly space for conversations on violence in black communities and conversations on how black people engage each other, but the Trayvon Martin case is not that space. The facts: Trayvon Martin was killed by a white man (not a black man), in a predominately white (not black) neighborhood. That white man (by the way, his official government documents identify him as white) has walked free because a jury could not imagine Trayvon as a victim.

Wacky Wednesday: What book made you fall in love with reading?

Da Realist 1

“I just thought you’d like to know I can read. You got anything that needs readin’, I can do it.”–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

three-little-pigs

I wish that I had an interesting story about a book that made me fall in love with reading. I remember liking “Harry the Dog” and “Encyclopedia Brown” books, but, according to my mother, my love of reading preceded even those childhood favorites.

Mom says I have been “reading” since I was two years old. Well, maybe not reading exactly, more like memorizing. My great aunt bought me a set of five Little Golden Books, and I loved them. I carried them wherever I went, pestering anyone and everyone to read them over and over. (Even then, I always had a book in my hand!) Apparently, my favorite read was the Three Little Pigs. After a while, I had memorized every page, and I began to amaze everyone with my ability to “read.” Then, instead of people reading to me, I began to read to them. I don’t know what it was about those pigs and their houses of straw, sticks, and bricks that thrilled me so, but I’ve been a bookworm ever since.

So, what about you, fellow bibliophiles? What book got you into reading?

Reading Frederick Douglass’ “Fourth of July Oration”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, circa 1847-1852

Da Realist 1

Every year on Independence Day, I try to re-read Frederick Douglass’ “Fourth of July Oration (1852),” or “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” I can’t take credit for this idea. My good friend from graduate school, Tiwanna, told me that she read the speech every year. I thought it was such a great idea that I decided to make it part of my holiday as well. (So, now you know what we historians do for fun.)

I always wonder what the people in the audience must have thought of his bold statements. Douglass employs a forceful critique of Christianity, a recurring theme in his anti-slavery writings. He charges American Christianity with being “a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man stealers, and thugs” for its support of slavery and the domestic slave trade. There was a similar kind of denunciation for false religion in the appendix of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, where he writes that there is a difference between the “impartial Christianity of Christ” and the “corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land.”

Da Hype 1

Thanks to Da Realist 1, I too, read this speech each year. What is most fascinating to me about this speech is the structure in which it is delivered. It has to be one of the most cleverly written speeches I have ever read.

Douglass begins speaking in a very humble manner. He tells his audience, who includes the President of the United States, Millard Fillmore and other white dignitaries that, he doesn’t know how he, an ex-slave, will be able to deliver a speech to a crowd such as that. The irony in the statement is that he had given speeches to many in that crowd before and to a crowd that size in the same arena. It became clear to me that, not only was he was stroking the egos of the white men in the crowd, but that he had much trepidation about delivering this particular speech to this crowd.

And shouldn’t he, an ex-slave feel some kind of way about delivering a speech about freedom and independence to a crowd of white men who either participated in the institution of slavery by owning slaves or supporting the idea of its existence, or to men who sat idly by while black men, women, and children in their nation were treated as animals?

Anyway, just as the white men in the crowd had become comfortable with the way Douglass engaged them, he delivers an eloquent “smack down.” Douglass, proceeds to talk about independence and freedom by using the pronoun, “you.” “Your independence.” “Your freedom.” He tells his audience that the the Fourth of July belongs to them, not him because of the great shame that America has looming over them, in continuing to enslave his brethren.

In answering the question, what to the slave is the fourth of July, Douglass responds, “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless . . .”

So, we have shared some of our thoughts on the speech, but we want to know what our 2 Dope readers think. Let us know!