Trick-or-Treat

PumpkinBasket

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I remember Halloween. It used to be exciting when I was in elementary school. It’s been years since I put on a costume and tramped around the neighborhood filling my plastic Halloween jack-o-lantern with candy. The last time I officially trick-or-treated, I was a chaperone for my cousins, taking them house-to-house when I was in high school. Sometimes, when I was in college, I’d go to my line sister’s house and give out candy in her neighborhood. (Trick-or-Treaters never bothered to come to my apartment building.) It made for a pleasant night–chatting, giving out treats, and checking out the costumes.

jackolantern

Image courtesy of zirconicusso/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Halloween has taken a decidedly ugly turn in the past decade or so. For me, the first hint of it was some years ago when I heard about people dressing as Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush, but in blackface. October has become “the season of ‘acceptable’ blackface.” Every year there are pictures of grown folks, often posted on Facebook pages, wearing all manner of minstrel-inspired outfits. When questioned or challenged about the pictures, they often argue that they were not racist, then claim they did not know it was racist to wear blackface, and finally give an insincere mea culpa apologizing if they offended anyone.

Three years ago, at my former university, there was a Halloween party thrown by dental school students in which some guests dressed in blackface/brownface. The pictures were, of course, posted on Facebook and eventually made it to the chair of Black Studies. Black students, who numbered only nine or ten, were aggrieved and charged that the behavior at the party was just a symptom of a larger problem–the racism they experienced on campus. While there were black faculty who were willing to speak to the administration on their behalf, it is unclear whether anyone did. Eventually, the university issued an e-mail denouncing the students’ actions and confirming its commitment to diversity. The students involved had to write letters of apology to those who were offended.

I was teaching an African-American history survey at the time, and I discussed the incident with my students. Some students were clearly offended. One of my black students argued that “we” should retaliate by wearing “whiteface.” I understood his desire to lash out or fight back in some way. But blackface trades on the history of the nineteenth-century minstrel show, the ridicule of black people, and the imagery and ideology of slavery and so-called black inferiority; dressing in whiteface would make him a mime. It was a false equivalency.

There have already been numerous blackface incidents this year, both nationally and internationally, and Halloween has yet to arrive. A young Australian woman, who incidentally wants to go to Africa and teach children English, celebrated her 21st birthday with an ode to Africa party. Some guests dressed in blackface, another as a Klansman. A Halloween masquerade party attended by the fashion elite in Milan featured some people (more brown than blackface) dressed as slaves, complete with shackles. Several other guests donned their best blackface minstrel outfits  à la Thomas “Daddy” Rice or Al Jolson. All of this was allegedly inspired by the theme “Disco Africa.” Back in the United States, pictures surfaced of “blackface Trayvon Martin,” with a bloody bullet hole stain on his hoody. And finally, Julianne Hough, who was formerly on Dancing with the Stars, paid blackface “tribute” to the television series Orange Is the New Black by dressing as the character known as “Crazy Eyes” for a party last weekend.

Maybe Halloween was always this way, and I was too naïve to know it. Or, maybe the internet has made it worse because people constantly post pictures of every minute of their waking lives. Either way, I’m done with Halloween. It seems to be all tricks and no treats. Racist adults have ruined it for me. There is not much I can do about people who think it’s appropriate to dress up in blackface, but I find some solace in the fact that once posted, the pictures NEVER go away.

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Wacky Wednesday: What Do You Look Forward to Most in Autumn?

Da Hype 1

Scandal

Scandal

For me, autumn signals the beginning of a new season of my favorite shows. I have always looked forward to the season premiere of my sitcoms and dramas and I especially look forward to the conversations that I have with my friends and family about the shows we watch. It’s almost as if watching these shows places me in a special community. At times, we watch our shows, texting the entire time. If it’s really good, we call each other during commercials. In more recent years, I’ve become a part of a community of Facebookers and tweeters who watch and post their thoughts on social media.

So, now I am awaiting the season premiere of Scandal!

Da Realist 1

When I think of fall (or autumn), first and foremost, I think of going back to school. Since

Image courtesy of anankml/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of anankml/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

I was old enough to attend school, I’ve always loved this time of year. School always seemed to be buzzing with activity–new classes, new students, old friends, fall festivals, and the start of football season. Even as a professor, I feel a certain excitement about the fall semester that I don’t feel about the beginning of the spring term.

In elementary school, there was always a lot of preparation around the first day of school. It makes me think of new “school shoes” and “school clothes” that I had to take off when I got home, so I wouldn’t mess them up. And, of course, a back-to-school hairdo was a must! (You’ve got to look right on the first day.) But like any serious nerd, I loved shopping for new school supplies most of all.

How about you, 2 Dope Readers? What do you look forward to most in autumn?

The Name Game

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.–William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Image courtesy of antpkr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, Nikisia Drayton shared her fears about saddling her unborn son with a “black name” on the Motherlode blog in the New York Times. Her friends worried that the name “Keion” would be “too ethnic” or “too ghetto.” (Analyzing the use of the term “ghetto” as if it is synonymous with blackness will have to wait for another blog.) She found that when googling the name, the images that were associated with it were African American men in mug shots. Would this name, suggested by her son’s father, limit his opportunities, or worse, doom her child to appear in one of the aforementioned mug shots?

When I googled “Keion” I found no mug shots, yet I can understand Drayton’s anxiety. Everything African Americans do in this country is scrutinized, including the way we talk; the way we eat; the way we look; and, yes, the way we name children. As the owner of a name, whose non-traditional spelling has caused me a whole host of problems in my time on this earth, I feel you. Why, oh why, couldn’t my mother have spelled “Yolanda” the traditional way? Certainly, I too, have wondered whether my name is some sort of tip-off.

Being a descendant of slaves and a historian, I know that the power to name is extremely important. Our enslaved ancestors could have their names changed as often as their masters. As Olaudah Equiano writes in his slave narrative, he was assigned three different names by different masters–Jacob, Michael, and Gustavas Vassa. After achieving their freedom, former slaves often celebrated and illustrated their new status by choosing new names, different from the ones that they had as slaves. Abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth was known as Isabella when she was a slave.

As this “name game,” is being discussed on social media, I find myself thinking of The Souls of Black Folks (again). Du Bois writes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Some parents are indeed looking at how a child’s name will be viewed through “white eyes,” as if being less ethnically identifiable (on paper) will decrease the amount of discrimination one faces in life. In doing this, we normalize both whiteness and racism. So, instead of seeing discriminatory acts or racism as the problem, we are the problem. We are engaging in internalized “otherness.”

I hate–no despise–no loathe the insidious nature of racism. It can actually cause its victims to contemplate what they can do to neutralize the racists’ behavior. But we can not become so hypercritical of ourselves that we lose ourselves in the balance.

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The Name Game

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.–William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Image courtesy of antpkr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, Nikisia Drayton shared her fears about saddling her unborn son with a “black name” on the Motherlode blog in the New York Times. Her friends worried that the name “Keion” would be “too ethnic” or “too ghetto.” (Analyzing the use of the term “ghetto” as if it is synonymous with blackness will have to wait for another blog.) She found that when googling the name, the images that were associated with it were African American men in mug shots. Would this name, suggested by her son’s father, limit his opportunities, or worse, doom her child to appear in one of the aforementioned mug shots?

When I googled “Keion” I found no mug shots, yet I can understand Drayton’s anxiety. Everything African Americans do in this country is scrutinized, including the way we talk; the way we eat; the way we look; and, yes, the way we name children. As the owner of a name, whose non-traditional spelling has caused me a whole host of problems in my time on this earth, I feel you. Why, oh why, couldn’t my mother have spelled “Yolanda” the traditional way? Certainly, I too, have wondered whether my name is some sort of tip-off.

Being a descendant of slaves and a historian, I know that the power to name is extremely important. Our enslaved ancestors could have their names changed as often as their masters. As Olaudah Equiano writes in his slave narrative, he was assigned three different names by different masters–Jacob, Michael, and Gustavas Vassa. After achieving their freedom, former slaves often celebrated and illustrated their new status by choosing new names, different from the ones that they had as slaves. Abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth was known as Isabella when she was a slave.

As this “name game,” is being discussed on social medial, I find myself thinking of The Souls of Black Folks (again). Du Bois writes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Some parents are indeed looking at how a child’s name will be viewed through “white eyes,” as if being less ethnically identifiable (on paper) will decrease the amount of discrimination one faces in life. In doing this, we normalize both whiteness and racism. So, instead of seeing discriminatory acts or racism as the problem, we are the problem. We are engaging in internalized “otherness.”

I hate–no despise–no loathe the insidious nature of racism. It can actually cause its victims to contemplate what they can do to neutralize the racists’ behavior. But we can not become so hypercritical of ourselves that we lose ourselves in the balance.

Related Articles

Movie Review: “The Butler”

Author Wil Haygood is also an associate producer of the film.

Author Wil Haygood is also an associate producer of the film.

I knew that seeing the movie “The Butler” was going to be a challenge for me, but I decided to see it anyway because I wanted to write about it for 2 Dope Sistahs. As my husband and I waited to go into the theater, a woman with tears in her eyes came up to us. “You gotta see ‘The Butler’! You just gotta see ‘The Butler’!” she implored. Then she asked, “Are you going to see ‘The Butler’?” I rolled my eyes, sighed, and let out an audible “Oh, Lord.” My husband, on the other hand, was less irritated and told her yes. She assured us that we would love the movie then moved on to spread the word to others in the lobby. I thought about leaving right then and there, but we had already paid. I was hoping for the best.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was “inspired by the true story” of Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House for 34 years, eventually retiring as a maître d’ in 1986. I was relieved to see that the movie did not purport to be the “true” life story of Allen although much of the publicity surrounding the film seemed to hinge on the connection with the “real” butler.

Forest Whitaker is “The Butler,” Cecil Gaines; Oprah Winfrey is his wife Gloria; and David Oyelowo is their son Louis. The film tells the story of the parallel, yet connected lives of father and son. After his father’s death, Cecil Gaines begins his “career” as a domestic worker in the plantation house where his family sharecropped. He takes great pride in his work. After landing the job at the White House, Cecil has close and seemingly intimate encounters with the presidents. He is present at pivotal moments in American history, and the presidents seek his input, especially on matters of civil rights and race.

While Cecil doesn’t seem to have much interest in civil rights, Louis is eager to be involved. He wants to attend an event where Mamie Till, whose son Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, is speaking, but his father forbids it. Louis decides to attend Fisk University in Nashville rather than Howard University in the nation’s capital in order to be close to and involved in the civil rights movement. Louis has little time for school because he is busy taking part in EVERY major civil rights protest of the 1960s. In one particularly heavy-handed example, Louis is in Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King when he is assassinated. In his room at the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King informs Louis of the importance of domestic servants in African-American history.

Cecil and Louis are engaged in a classic generational conflict. The father doesn’t understand the son, and the son doesn’t understand the father. Not to worry, though. It all works out in the end.

“The Butler” featured great performances by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, although I was puzzled by her character’s alcoholism and extra-marital affair. I also enjoyed the performances of Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, and Elijah Kelley as Charlie, the Gaines’ younger son. These performances, however, do not make up for a simplistic story that fails to capture the complexity of the lives it portrays. But in case you’re wondering, my husband absolutely LOVED it.

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.

Tuesday Re-Post/Re-Mix: Blackness on Exhibit: Choosing to Objectify Our Own Bodies

Saartje Baartman

Saartje Baartman

I remember sitting in Dr. Carter’s African American History class in undergrad, when he passed around a picture of Saartje Baartman. There was silence in the room as he told the story of this woman who was from the Khoi tribe and how she was hunted and captured. Baartman, whose large buttocks were unlike anything her captors had seen, was considered a commodity–someone whose body could be used for profit in ways other than the traditional use as chattel.

After her capture in 1810, Baartman was quickly ushered off to London, where she was placed on exhibit because of her large buttocks (steatopygia) and her her elongated labia. Over the next few years, she became an “exhibit piece” in London, France, and other places in Europe, where people were welcomed to touch and examine her body as they chose.

Five years later, she died in France.

As if what happened to her while she was alive was not sickening, her genitals were preserved and placed on display at Paris’ Musee de L’Homme until 1974. Her native South Africa requested her remains from the museum so that they could bury her with dignity, but France did not acquiesce until 2002.

slave auctionThe hypervisibility and objectification of black bodies were exemplified by the slave block, where black bodies were made available to be picked, poked, and jabbed by potential purchasers who examined slaves’ bodies for bondage.

I have thought about Ms. Baartman lately, and I thought about countless other slaves on the auction block when I heard about an exhibit in New York City, where black women volunteered to have their hair touched by strangers who were curious to know what black hair felt like. This exhibit was sponsored by Un-ruly.com. Antonia Opiah, one of the organizers of the event says in Huffington Post, “In an effort to ‘take one for the team’ and to further explore the tactile fascination with black hair, Un’ruly will be holding an interactive public art exhibit in New York City . . . dubbed You can Touch My Hair.” She invited strangers to walk up to her and her team and touch their hair and explore what it felt like.

Through reading social media, I learned that this exhibit pissed off countless black women (and men, alike), who were horrified that black women were allowing themselves to be a part of a petting zoo. I have to agree with that sentiment.

Another thought occurred to me: After the Saartje Baartmans, after the auction block, after our Grandmothers and their mothers worked in white people’s kitchens where their bodies were still made available to the sexual exploitation of white men (and sometimes women), why are we still such a curiosity to white people?

If you are interested in seeing some images from the exhibit, check out the post from a blog I follow, Colorlines.

Oh, and, for the record: touch my hair without an invitation, and you’ll come up with missing fingers. Ya heard?

Blackness on Exhibit: Choosing to Objectify Our Own Bodies

Saartje Baartman

Saartje Baartman

I remember sitting in Dr. Carter’s African American History class in undergrad, when he passed around a picture of Saartje Baartman. There was silence in the room as he told the story of this woman who was from the Khoi tribe and how she was hunted and captured. Baartman, whose large buttocks were unlike anything her captors had seen, was considered a commodity–someone whose body could be used for profit in ways other than the traditional use as chattel.

After her capture in 1810, Baartman was quickly ushered off to London, where she was placed on exhibit because of her large buttocks (steatopygia) and her her elongated labia. Over the next few years, she became an “exhibit piece” in London, France, and other places in Europe, where people were welcomed to touch and examine her body as they chose.

Five years later, she died in France.

As if what happened to her while she was alive was not sickening, her genitals were preserved and placed on display at Paris’ Musee de L’Homme until 1974. Her native South Africa requested her remains from the museum so that they could bury her with dignity, but France did not acquiesce until 2002.

slave auctionThe hypervisibility and objectification of black bodies were exemplified by the slave block, where black bodies were made available to be picked, poked, and jabbed by potential purchasers who examined slaves’ bodies for bondage.

I have thought about Ms. Baartman lately, and I thought about countless other slaves on the auction block when I heard about an exhibit in New York City, where black women volunteered to have their hair touched by strangers who were curious to know what black hair felt like. This exhibit was sponsored by Un-ruly.com. Antonia Opiah, one of the organizers of the event says in Huffington Post, “In an effort to ‘take one for the team’ and to further explore the tactile fascination with black hair, Un’ruly will be holding an interactive public art exhibit in New York City . . . dubbed You can Touch My Hair.” She invited strangers to walk up to her and her team and touch their hair and explore what it felt like.

Through reading social media, I learned that this exhibit pissed off countless black women (and men, alike), who were horrified that black women were allowing themselves to be a part of a petting zoo. I have to agree with that sentiment.

Another thought occurred to me: After the Saartje Baartmans, after the auction block, after our Grandmothers and their mothers worked in white people’s kitchens where their bodies were still made available to the sexual exploitation of white men (and sometimes women), why are we still such a curiosity to white people?

If you are interested in seeing some images from the exhibit, check out the post from a blog I follow, Colorlines.

Oh, and, for the record: touch my hair without an invitation, and you’ll come up with missing fingers. Ya heard?

Do you Remember the time?

Michael JacksonFour years ago today, my family and I were taking a trip to the beach. Since we had to go through the Atlanta metropolitan area to get to the Atlantic Ocean, we decided to visit with family. We were stuck in Atlanta traffic and Michael Baisden interrupted the music to say that there were reports that Michael Jackson was dead.

With no disrespect to Mr. Baisden, I did not believe him. Over the years, there had been countless rumors of Michael Jackson’s death and I assumed this was another hoax. Besides, he was the King of Pop, he couldn’t possibly be dead!!

I checked CNN on my BlackBerry and they were saying the same thing! I couldn’t believe it. When we finally arrived at my cousin’s house, the stories were all over the news and on the Internet . . . Michael Jackson was indeed dead.@

We were shocked and hurt. Our entire vacation was filled with his memories and songs.

Today is the fourth anniversary of his death. R.I.P King of Pop. May your legacy live on.

Where were you when you heard Michael Jackson had died? Tell us your stories.