We’re More Than Mermaids and Murderers

The New England Patriots won the Superbowl (again!) in the lowest scoring game in Superbowl history.  I don’t know if it was a good game because the NFL is racist and I can’t fuck with that, but I still enjoyed the other big game–Superbowl ads! For decades now the Superbowl has hosted some of the most expensive TV ad time; this year costS ran at 5 million for a 30-second spot.  That means Cardi B has to make 4,201,681 Pepsis skruuuttt off the shelves to pay for ad time–and that doesn’t even include paying the celebrity endorsers or the manicurist who did that to Cardi’s nails.

Image result for cardi b's nails in pepsi ad

There’s no room here for boring old My Pillow ads or long pharma lists of side effects.  Instead, advertisers bring their A game to the big game.   Critics Monday morning quarterbacking the ads this year said the ads, on the whole, failed to inspire much beyond the same yawn the game did but buried in the boring ads is a glimmer of America’s shifting gender landscape.

Related image  Related image

Taken together, the ads of the Superbowl serve as a snapshot of mainstream American culture, a night when Madison Ave translates the life of the Friday Night lights crowd and sells it back to them with the celebrities du jour.  The tone of the ads is an echo of the mood of the nation, and the best ads push our imagination towards our brighter future. For much of the Superbowl’s 52-year history, the ads revolved around the man’s world–razor ads and beer ads full of “manly men’, women draped across their shoulders like scarves, mere accessories, or crave-worthy objects.  As times changed, ads gave a wink and nod to the ladies who were expected to be at SuperBowl parties, but more interested in the snacks than the sacks.

Image result for old super bowl ads sexist carls jr.

Women make up an increasing share of the fan base of the NFL.  Just like women are getting shit done in Congress, handling business in business, and pushing social change forward, they are also watching football.  The big game means big chances for advertisers to not only speak to women viewers, but to position themselves as a brand able to address women as full humans.  So how did advertisers do ditching the stereotypes and including women in the big game? Here are the big plays:

Same Ladies, New Era

Image result for superbowl ads 2019 mermaids bon and viv

Several of the ads that featured women could claim that they are catering to women viewers, but the ad is really just the same old same old.  Anheuser Bush pitched a new sparkling beverage targeted at women (because real liquor would mess up our little lady minds!) with mermaids twirling beneath the sea.  Mermaids are a hot trend and a cold stereotype.  Sure undulating under the wave is sexy but you can’t run shit if you have no legs.

Image result for superbowl ads 2019Stella Artois went for a land version of a mermaid featuring the demure damsel in a dress Carrie Bradshaw.  Sex in the City aired from 1998 to 2004, just a year after the invasion of Iraq and three years before social media, and Carrie Bradshaw was a woman of her time kissing frogs and holding out for Mr. Big, a guy we would call problematic by today’s standards.  Is this the best they could do for a poster woman to bring beer ads into the 21st century? And then there was Zoe Kravitz with the organic, gluten-free bedroom eyes.  Sure ASRM is science, but its arousal factor is that same old sex-sells storyline.  A beer ad with ear porn isn’t speaking to women, just whispering to the boys.

The call: fumble. Sticking a woman in an ad during a football game doesn’t automatically mean you’re shattering any stereotypes. Recycling the same old themes or celebs, breathless and prettily sipping their drinks misses the moment and the movement that women are in.

Fearless Women With Fight

Image result for handmaid's tale season 3 super bowl

Unlike undulating fish girls, several of the ads spoke to the power that women are taking on as we push towards gender equity.  Two ads promoted upcoming streaming shows: a promo for The Handmaid’s Tale third season on Hulu and one for a new show on Amazon prime called Hanna.  Both show women who are uninterested in being anybody’s sexy mermaid.  Handmaid’s tale is a pointed critique of contemporary gender politics, pulling no punches for the Superbowl crowd, calling on America to wake up.

Image result for hanna amazon prime Hanna also paints a dark world for women, where a young girl is turned into a weapon and must fight to be free.  While this certainly seems different from centuries of submissive and subjugated women, she is still a tool, shaped by a man to have only one strategy–violence. I don’t think this is what Helen Ready meant when she sang ‘hear me roar.’

Image result for superbowl ads 2019Sarah Michelle Geller revises her role as potential home invasion victim as a masked intruder stalks her and her man.  Hiding in the bedroom, her Olay smooth face is too lovely to open her facial recognition phone, but also disarming enough to charm a psychopath.  No kung fu or social resistance here, just a beauty made more beautiful by Olay slaying and staying alive.

The call: false start. Whatever troubled world these three women live in, they have what they need to stay alive without needing to call on a sailor for rescue, but it would be nice if women could do something other than fight off sexual predators.

The New Power Brokers

Image result for super bowl ad female football player toni harris toyota ad

Toyota chronicles the inspiring story of football phenom Toni Harris, East Los Angeles College defensive back–no kicker avoiding the ruffing here. As one of the first female athletes to place college football, her story is certain to motivate a generation of future football stars.  Toyotas and features game footage and off the field shots standard for any up and coming football star a-la-ESPN. She is presented as powerful, positive, and inspiring without pandering or paternalizing.  Here’s hoping we’ll see her on the field in the big game soon.

Image result for superbowl ads 2019

Serena Williams starred in an ad for social app Bumble and served as co-creative director off camera for the campaign as well.  Neither mermaid or murderer,  Serena plays a real authentic version of a contemporary woman in the ad, doing real things like working and spending time with family and friends.  She is not a magical creature, or a fictional femme fatal, just a person looking to succeed and thrive, using a connecting app to connect all the parts of her life, not just dating. The ad speaks to real women’s needs: the need to get shit done without waiting for Mr. Big, the need for empowerment that relies on fresh, decolonized ways of being powerful. Of all the women we see featured in their own Superbowl ads–including the lovely and underutilized Cardi B–Serena seems the most authentically human, and the one that many women who work hard and want to watch the game with her girls are likely to recognize themselves in.  The ad speaks to women in a way that is free from typical patriarchial narratives, and one that doesn’t center sex as a selling point.  The ad really does speak to women as if they are full humans, though I wonder if the NFL would have given Serena a 3/5ths instead.

The call: touchdown! The push to topple patriarchy means women are moving to take their rightful place in our culture; advertisers must keep working to write the new narratives that reflect our changing gender landscape in America.  If the Superbowl ads are any indication, we still have a ways to go to shed the centuries-old stories dotted with damsels and doll-eyed beauties. One thing I know is that when we have women behind the camera and in leadership roles on creative teams we stand a good chance of getting more authentic images, the kind that will woo consumers and inspire girls looking for images that fell like them

Semantics: When a Wall is a Fence

Word are houses built by the speaker, explored by the listener, and decorated with both their ideas, experiences cultural beliefs and ideologies.  Words matter tremendously.  Like lots of social constructs, they are not real things and yet they have massive real-world consequences.   

What is the difference between a wall and a fence?  These days the answer is party affiliation.  In the fight over security at the southern US border, both parties seem deadlocked with no solution in sight.  But recent political shows have been debating the meaning of the word wall–is it concrete like Trump first promised his base in campaign speech after speech, or is a fence with steel slats also a wall? This undercurrent to the debate is strong, though when pressed, both sides dismiss tinkering with the definition of the wall as semantics.  What better place than here at Smntks (pronounced semantics ) to demystify this semantic battle?

Semantics is the study of language and the way that we construct meaning from it, so when Trump says the difference between a wall and a fence is just semantics, he says in effect, “the difference between the words will be how I make sense out of each word, and the meanings I construct with them.” This is one of Trump’s favorite weapons. His manipulation of language endears him to his base and makes it hard for his opponents to nail down an argument with his ever-shifting lexicon.

Semantics helps us unpack the connections between objects or referents, words, and the thoughts, ideas, and concepts we attach to them. Words themselves are actually disconnected from the things they describe–that’s why different languages can refer to the same object with different words: cup, taza, and kikombe all refer to the same object. semantic triangle.004

We can use the same diagram (a semantic triangle) to see how Trump connects the word wall to racist and nationalist ideas.  It’s not about the bricks–it is about the narrative that others are invading our country, connecting the object to Trump’s nationalist ideology.

semantic triangle.001

Now Trump is swapping out words that are similar, and allowing for a change in the object, but he is doubling down on his racist rhetoric. If a fence can be defined as a wall, the symbol at the heart of his nationalist approach can stand intact, the meaning unchallenged even if the fence is steel instead of brick.

semantic triangle.002

On the other side of the aisle, if a fence can be a wall, the reverse is also true:  a wall can be a fence.  So when the Democrats agree to an outlay of cash for ‘border security’ instead of a ‘wall’, even knowing that Trump’s argument for the need is based on his demagoguery, they can still claim victory.  We didn’t give in to a wall but we do agree to a fence and sometimes a fence isn’t a wall, so our fence isn’t his wall.

The problem is there is not enough energy directed at challenging Trumps racist and xenophobic rhetoric.  Studies about where terrorists and drugs are really entering the US–hint: legal ports of entry and airports–show that a barrier at the southern border is not a priority.  A compromise bill will mean Democrats cave to Trump’s racist conception of Mexico. Trump has hammered this point from the moment he descended into the race for president on his golden escalator and is likely to keep crowing about the wall/fence victory straight through 2020.

semantic-triangle.003-e1547052860433.jpeg

We may seem to just be playing word games, but the important thing that gets lost when we dismiss semantics is that what words mean matters tremendously. Both groups are using semantics to manipulate their bases into believing they have won a nonsensical battle in which all taxpayers will be the losers, paying for an unnecessary wall, and caving to imagined emergencies.  Instead, both teams will have fresh fodder to fling at dazed and confused voters meandering through the fog of words from both sides.

Communication is the way we construct reality, so the person who holds the power to define the words gets to define reality. This is the power of semantics–use wordplay to cement your power, use your power to redefine words–a vicious cycle that supercharges demagogues.  The further down the rabbit hole we go the more meaningless everything becomes, the more difficult for us to return to a normal that is daily redefined.

The technology we use also helps shape our words and the way we talk.  The brevity that came with the rise of the internet also leaves little room for specificity or complex definitions and long elocutions.  Our shorthand discursive environment has led to snippets of communication that leave lots of room for interpretation, letting audiences fill in our own ideas, making rhetoric a weapon that we sharpen on ourselves. Trump’s phrases “somethings going on”, or “we all know what will happen, folks” are examples of how he uses vagueries to fire up the base.  Supporters fill in his abstractions with their own fear, experiences, and prejudices.  Our shorthand culture helps people manipulate language and then hide behind misinterpretation.

170421105703-trump-favorite-phrases-large-169.jpg

It may just be semantics, but in a culture that is obsessed with the semantic houses we build, words and the meaning we ascribe to them are everything.  Think about the words of late that have tilted our culture into the future:  me too, black lives matter, make America great again, yes we can.  These simple phrases now carry deep complex and layers meaning history and evocations.  Semantics helps us understand the way that a tear-filled victim statement or a die-in shivering in the snow become attached to these words. Moments in history that evoke strong emotion in us are triggered by phrases, like a pavlovian ding that molds us and into an ideological stance charged with emotion.  In some cases, we can scarcely articulate what these things mean to us as they are so broad, a few words that mark a destination far at the bottom of the iceberg of culture, where our deepest beliefs and values lurk beyond the parlance of the common man.

Image result for iceberg of culture

Word are houses built by the speaker, explored by the listener, and decorated with both their ideas, experiences cultural beliefs and ideologies.  Words matter tremendously.  Like lots of social constructs, they are not real things and yet they have massive real-world consequences.  We move in a material world based on the words we use, and the meaning we assign them. Be careful how you move through the house of cards built of politicians’ words.  Don’t be fooled that you live in a meaningless world.  Be clear that semantics matter. Stay woke to the ways of words and the walls they build.

Surviving Patriarchy’s Soundtrack

Surviving R Kelly, a docuseries on the victims of the R and B singer, has laid out six grueling hours of salacious stories of Robert Kelly, accused child molester, intercut with people gushing– sometimes reluctantly–about how genius, how amazing, how visionary R Kelly was as an artist. Sadly, this tale lit anew by the #MeToo movement sparked less empathy that internet debate about whether he is canceled or not.  Guess not since downloads of Kelly are up a whopping 16% on Spotify following the special.  Still, one of pop culture’s favorite games is whose fault is it? The Twitterverse is alight with alternative theories of who is to blame as if that title can only belong to one person in this sordid story.  Sure enough, there is blame to go around–and around and around.

Let me be clear, Robert Kelly is wholly responsible for his pedophiliac behavior. Though he was molested as a child, he was still responsible for not working to heal his childhood trauma, and instead of inflicting it on someone else, knowing how painful and confusing it could be for the victim. Fame does not make predatory sexual behavior okay. His behavior, his fault.

04-surviving-r-kelly-clarys.w700.h700

Kelly is the star of this blame game, but there were many other playing supporting roles to his behavior, each of them to blame for their contribution to the situation. I think a better question to capture the nuance and complexity is what role did ___ play? Plenty of characters in the R Kelly story played a part in letting what happened happen, from the handlers that turned a blind eye to his mall trips, to the coworkers that knew what was going on, to the fans that keep his financial empire afloat and fund his legal defense. Let’s not forget the soup that all the characters were swimming in: culture, the stage that we live on, the constant backdrop of every life, informing our beliefs and values, giving rise to our norms.

In a culture that places children over powerful pedophiles, R Kelly would have been ostracized when he married an underage Aaliyah.  Instead, they turned their ‘love’ story into hits.  Why not? Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis had burned up the charts with a child bride by their side so the wedding of a music star to a child barely registered a complaint.

maxresdefault.jpg

These performers were stars both to fans and to the shareholders looking for profit. Capitalism has one end goal and that is to earn money.  Men who are part of this machine are protected by it as long as they continue to feed the beast. In the music industry, a hot track could melt any moral opposition to child marriage or sexual abuse.

In a culture that prioritizes the safety and sovereignty of all individuals, especially the most vulnerable, we would not weigh Kelly’s singing skills in the balance of this case.  We would not mitigate his behavior by talking about the value he could add to a young girls career.  A man’s success at any given talent would not carry more weight than the dignity of another human, an certainly not more than a child.  But we live in a culture where the rule is powerful men are allowed to engage in taboo sexual behavior.  And the more powerful the man, the more taboo the behavior can be: teachers and teens, priests and altar boys, cigars and biting and urine.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_9d9659fa-a083-11e8-8dd0-114e457a16b3

Coincidentally this week I am reading Pat Barkers the Silence of the Girls, an excellent novel about the sacking of Rome told from the perspective of a woman captured in combat and awarded to Achilles, a world where the women traded like trophies.  Like R Kelly, men on the battlefield expected to be rewarded with women to use, sex slaves, body slaves, subservient to every whim.  Between Troy and  Trapped in the Closet is a continuous line, year after year in Western history where power came with a side of women. Medieval kings? Check.  Conquistadors? Si. Plantation owners? Yessir.

first-night

Powerful men reward themselves with the power to sexually control others without consequence: it is an unspoken rule enforced for centuries, dealing violence to those who dare challenge their right to the spoils of power. In every era of patriarchy powerful men have engaged in sexual terrorism to cement and celebrate their dominance. In our own modern day, we have celebrities instead of royalty–or perhaps they even are royalty.  Jaquee notwithstanding, you could easily argue R Kelly was the king of R and B, and maybe still, despite years of accusations.

surviving-r-kelly-sparkle-on-the-lifetime-series-1672573

Why did so many people stay silent?  Why is he still popular after decades of accusations, stories that clearly implicate Kelly, not to mention the video evidence of him urinating on a young girl?  Why do we keep seeing this happening?  The unwritten rule is powerfully silencing.  Though unspoken, it is acted out in all our grand stories–first, you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the girls.  The end of the story–where powerful men face no consequences for their actions–is often repeated, letting victims know that coming forward won’t end well for them.

With so many men accused, so much of the art and accomplishment that is central to our culture is being removed from the cannon.  For god sake, we can’t even sing Baby Its Cold Outside.  But this is what it is: in a patriarchal culture, our very songs and stories reinforce the ideas of women as property, chattel.  Yeah, almost all of them.  Even the great ‘classics’ such as the Iliad, Beauty and the Beast and Blurred Lines, the content at the very center of our culture, are stories about powerful men using their power to trade women like so many cows.  Make enough money, conquer enough territory, rule enough men, and you can do what you want to women.

surviving-r-kelly-sparkle-isn-t-the-only-person-to-make-allegations-against-r-kelly-1672577

When we try to tear down the patriarchy we find it is made, brick by brick, of the stories and songs we have come to love.  To usher in a new world, we have to dismantle the old.  We can never live in a new world based on the stories and songs of men whose greatness is sung to the tune of the degradation of others.  We can’t keep believing that the bodies of young black women are the raw material of the harmony of life.

We’ve seen 6 hours of trauma drenched stories:  we don’t need the law to tell us when to turn our backs on Robert Kelly. We need is the moral sense to say we’ve stepped in the name of love for the last time.  So I’ll ask you–is he still in your library? Stay woke, this won’t be the last artist you have to delete.

2019: Resolve To Stay Awake All Year

I’m a big fan of new beginnings.  The more jaded among you may say that January 1 is just another day—random if we were to be honest.  The sun and stars don’t recognize the new year.  Not even every human culture celebrates the new year on January 1.  But right here, we do.  We are cyclical creatures: birth, life, death; spring, summer, fall, winter; eggnog, more eggnog, never drink eggnog again. So the new year finds us making promises, buying new gym shoes and tidying up our life for the new year to come. The number one resolution is to become healthier.  If you’re like most people, you have indulged a bit in all the culinary joys of the holiday season.  Maybe you’re looking more like Santa than a snack.  Perhaps you’ve raised too many glasses.  So it’s gym time, veggie trays instead of lasagna.

Cs7S71bVIAAYS1v

Healthy living is hard to do in a world marked by injustice.  Looking back on the biggest challenges of the last year, racism has to be near the top of the list.  From the ridiculousness of BBQ Becky and Permit Patty to the sublime white nationalism coming from the White House, America’s struggles with racism were front and center.

trump-nationalist-4

The daily drip of terrible stories felt overwhelming and unstoppable. ‘Stay woke’ isn’t just a catch phrase, it is a real challenge to remain conscious under such an onslaught of daily micro and macro inequities.  It is easier to limit our focus to ourselves, to stop paying attention to the ongoing injustice around us and retreat into a narrower consciousness. It is not hard to turn your self-care routine into a self-segregating wall, tuning out too long to stay awake, settling back into the comfortable routine of focusing on getting the bag, treating yo’ self, and ignoring the dumpster fire that rages across cable news every day.  This not-normal world is becoming the new normal.  We’re settling in to watch our country burn like it’s a Netflix special—put on your comfy pants and pass the popcorn.

its-really-cool-to-be-alive-in-the-west-at-29205678

Just like too much eggnog, tuning out of the resistance will leave you foggy and full of shit.  Turns out, lactose and systemic inequality are not natural or healthy for humans to consume. So a new year is just what we need to clear out the fog and recommit ourselves to creating a better America.  Just two years ago at this time, we were measuring our heads for pussy hats and painting signs for the Women’s march.  We’ve come a long way since then with active and difficult conversations about racism and transphobia both in the women’s march and our country, and we still have so very long to go.  Time to fire up the knitting needles and stab them into the white supremacist patriarchy. Like your health goals for 2019, it’s good to start with truth beyond the myths of conventional wisdom and a few tips to get you started.

Myth #1 Racism has always been around and will always exist

False.  Racism is a man-made social construct, and as such can be dismantled by humans.  Race as we know it—black, white, Asian, latino—is a modern construction.  In fact, the printing press, fireworks, and Christmas are all older than racism.  We didn’t always have race; it is not inevitable that racism continues forever. We can dismantle the system of racism in America.

Myth #2 Racism is the fault of bad racist people

False.  Racism is a system that is used to structure power dynamics and is maintained in our culture by laws, rules, cultural norms, and interpersonal dynamics.  Each of us in America lives in this system. There are many behaviors of well-intentioned people that perpetuate this system. We all have the responsibility for working to change rules norms and practices that confer power in ways that are unjust:  we can educate ourselves, vote, speak out, listen, support, lead, confront, and collaborate with others to change the social structures that perpetuate racism.

Myth #3 Racism is perpetuated by old people; when they die so will racism

False: People of all ages can and are racist.  This picture alone from Charlottesville reminds us of that.  Proud boys, white nationalist groups, white terrorists all count young people among their members. Racism is not generational.  The heated battles over race take place on many campuses across America; racially motivated violence plagues schools across the country; white nationalist organizations continue targeting youth for recruitment. Racism is not going to die out unless we kill it.   

Myth #4 Racism is a problem for people of color

False.  Racism in America negatively affects all Americans.  People of color are the primary victims of racism in America, and white people are systemically advantaged. But the impact of racism extends to all the people who live within its system.  Unfair systems of advantage keep our nation divided, hurt people in marginalized groups, and prevent all people from experiencing the benefits of a unified population. We cannot know what we could have become if we chose the best leaders, and rewarded the brightest minds, not just the whitest minds.  With massive challenges ahead like climate change, we will need to be a country united to battle challenges, striving to make America the country it said it wanted to be. 

StructuralRacismTRoseGraphic.png

Like dieting, there is not a shortcut to ending racism.  Even if we all decided today that we would like to end racism, the laws, policies, norms, and practices all need to change.  That takes effort. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try—we can see from the daily news headlines that we have to try or surely the new normal will become future terror. We need to build a system that is fair and equal, one where each person is truly free to pursue the life they choose.  Ending racism is a life-long pursuit, and like any healthy lifestyle change, it can have long-lasting positive effects on us and on those we love.

So let’s pledge to work with dismantle racism right where we live.  You don’t have to be a professional organizer to take on the job of tackling racism. You don’t need superhero skills to make a difference. Whatever your skill level you can take regular action where you are with what you have.  Let’s start slow:

Research—ideas about race are shifting as our knowledge about history, culture, and science expand.  Pick a book, article or even a video to help you learn more about what race really is and how it operates in the US.  Educating yourself is a good action to start with, especially if you haven’t learned about race in a while. Got a great read? Share it along with this article or in the comments.

Do your own personal survey—how inclusive is your world? Studies show the majority of Americans spend time with people of their same racial group.  Be aware this week of the kinds of people that you surround yourself with:  who is in your home? your town? your workplace?  Examine the vertical relationships you have—who are your peers, and who are people with less and more power than you? Journal out your own environmental scan and look for places where you can grow.

Set your intentions—It’s not enough to dislike racism.  We have to be clear with ourselves about what it means to be anti-racist.  Do we want to just send hopes and prayers, or do we want to take an active role this year to address the issues of race in our own community?  The new year is a good time to affirm our commitment to justice.  If you’ve been unplugged, tune in.  If you were drifting into the new normal, wake up? Add antiracism to your list of 2019 resolutions.

Experts say the average New Years resolution lasts until about January 17, but not us baby.  I’ll be here with ideas and inspiration to keep you working to build a more inclusive world all year long, so be sure to follow me here and across my social at #inclusive2019.  I hope you will keep thinking, learning and acting to end racism in your own life, so we can meet here same time next year to usher in 2020 with clear vision and loving communities.  Stay woke.

Mom, Me and Question 3

Three women sat in the descending gloom of the first day of daylight savings time. The hour was early but leafless trees scratched the windows to say how very late it was. Three generations sat in a circle in the sewing room, mom, daughter, granddaughter. Mom grew up in the 50’s in the mythical America of winged cars and sock hops where my dad, voted class wolf, wore greased back hair and cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. The daughter, me, was born in the years between the high of civil rights and the low of bussing in Boston. The granddaughter, my brother Andrew’s daughter Seba, was born in days of cacophonous change when homosexual became gay and lesbian and queer and trans and became a fight for equality we thought we’d nearly won.

The sewing is done and we have finished stitching out the news–how is school, and what will we do for Thanksgiving, and aren’t little brothers just the worst. Three women sat in a room: a white woman who had the great joy of a life full with family, of middle-class dreams paid for with sweat equity and houses painted with her own hands, an American experience that spawned a million MAGA fantasies; a black woman born biracial and living half a century in predominantly white spaces, dancing along the heartbreaking ridge of America’s color line; a young woman, a girl still, brave and bold, president of her school’s gays straight alliance that she helped to found, trick or treating as the gay superhero for Halloween, trailing a rainbow and trans flag behind her.

“So,” my mother begins, calling to order this unplanned meeting in her sewing room. “how are you voting on the questions,” she says in reference to Massachusetts’ three ballot questions.  Question one is hard to decide, and we talk about the arguments being put up by both sides while Seba, the granddaughter watches us ping-pong back and forth.  “I’m too young to vote,” she reminds us, free from having to figure out the complexities of mandated nurse minimums.

“And three? ” my mother asks, like a host who has finally gotten to the juicy part of the interview. We three exchange glances, pausing to see who takes sides. Question three is about recent protections the state put in place for trans people, allowing them, among other things, to use the bathroom of their choice without fear of consequence. A “no” vote would roll back protection while a “yes” vote would ensure that protections stay in place. Sometimes similar bills are dubbed bathroom bills, but the stakes for trans people aren’t contained in the stall alone.

We talk about the incidents of sexual assault resulting from someone taking advantage of gender misidentification.  There are none.  My mother seems skeptical at first but agrees that she has seen the reporting.  We talk about what a gender-neutral bathroom looks like.

We talk about sexual assault. Do you really think that sexual assault will be curtailed by this bill?  One in four women are sexually assaulted, and no one seems to care about all the places where that happens.

We talk about the false narrative of people “claiming” trans to get some mysterious benefit–what? bathroom privileges? the joy of trans discrimination?  Seba tells about her trans friends who worry about violence at school and violence at home.

“How do they know they are trans?” my mother asks. I ask her when she knew she was straight. We talk about decades of changing ideas about what “makes” someone something.

We talk about suicide rates and school bullies and trans men and trans women.  We talk about trans people we know, trans people we love and the struggles we hate to see them go through. We talk about history and the not so distant past. “We didn’t use to have trans people,” my mother says.

“Because they died.  Or they hid. It wasn’t safe, but they were always there,” I say.  We sit for a moment with the heaviness.

Seba turns our mind to ancient history and cultures that had three-four-five genders. I talk about the forties and fifties when sexual orientation and pedophilia were lumped together in the deviant sex category by a psychology field in its infancy, and how much we have learned since then about the human body and mind in our evolutionary times. This is a good debate.  We talk calmly. We work to inform each other with solid information.

Seba, with the prescience of children, sees first the rising tide of my tears.  My mother can smell my emotions, suddenly surging, threatening to flood our most civil debate.  I see myself wound tight reflected in the concern in their faces.  I did not plan to have this conversation. I can feel myself mount the bull of all the anger and sadness about racism I cage.

“You know,” I begin.  I don’t want to go on because I feel the tears and I’m fighting them because I don’t want to. I don’t want to cry and I don’t want to make this personal but it is personal and it’s too late and fuck it so with love I remind her.

“You know how hard it was.”  I don’t have to finish.  I don’t have to remind her how hard it was to grow up the only person of color in my community, my class, in my family. “And her, ” I motion to Seba. My mother sees in real time her beautiful brave rainbow butterfly emerging from her cocoon in a world that is not quite ready to love her yet.

And my mother knows.  She is a white woman who wore gloves, and saddle shoes, a Hancock girl in a tony Back Bay dorm waiting for marriage to sweep her up into her life of raising a family.  She is also a woman who whispered to me of a great grandmother’s kitchen table abortion and quest for a college degree, who loved my father–a second generation American who’s Irish father emigrated when “No Irish” signs dotted Boston’s streets, who adopted a biracial child even when others whispered about her black baby, who knit, just this month, a rainbow-colored scarf for Seba ringed with a neon green as bright as her cherished granddaughter. My mother has soothed too many tears caused by discrimination to be unfamiliar with a world of pain she may not frequent.

“And you’re a woman,” Seba reminded her.  For all my mothers many happy years, she too has never lived in a country that granted her full equality.

“In the end, there is only one question–do you believe everyone deserves the same rights?” Arguing for the rights of trans kids, I find myself arguing for my own liberation, feeling like that awkward second grader, my afro floating like a balloon amongst my all-white classmates.  I see my mother recognize the girl in me, a little girl that she would do anything to protect from discrimination.

We had exhausted the talking points, finished arguing with our heads. The argument of the heart simply and sweetly settled the debate. If you love me, you want the best for me.  If I deserve it, everyone else’s child deserves it. There is no debate.

“I know.”  My mother is unequivocal. Her answer was a vote not just for a ballot measure for trans children, but also for her own daughter and the racism she faced, and her gay granddaughter, and for herself.  Empathy is not easily compartmentalized: enough of it will spill into all areas of life,  a rising tide that lifts all boats.

“This is very different from what it used to be like,” my mother says, no nostalgia, merely observation.  We balance the weight of change between us. It is hard, we agree, to sometime wrap your mind around ideas that are different from what you have always heard. But life is this, listening, learning, shifting. It takes time, like growing the loveliest flower, to let new ways of thinking take the place of outdated dogma. Seba and I watched my mother bloom, opening up to see clearly her daughter and her granddaughter and her own self stretching towards the light,  towards justice.

So we sat, three women in a room, three generations, three different identity groups, bound together by a mix of blood and love and time.  Bound now by a renewed commitment to each other’s freedom.  Three women who loved each other dearly bound by an explicit commitment that we would none of us be free until everybody ‘s child was free, seeing each other clearly in the rapidly darkening night.

Why Blackface is Wrong (Annual Installment)

your intentions do not change the meaning of culturally established stereotypes; you alone don’t get to decide to wash history clean and declare post-racial victory. When you put on the costume found in the toolbox of white supremacy, you do the work it takes to keep the narratives of antiblackness alive.

It’s almost Halloween and that means it’s blackface season–that special time of year when white celebrities declare their love for black people by dressing as their favorite racist stereotype.  This year Megyn Kelly declared it open blackface season in a segment on her show that laments when she was a child–probably back when America was great again the first time–blackface costumes were okay.  And besides, what’s the harm?

By afternoon, Kelly had issued an apology citing a difficult political history to blackface that she must have momentarily forgotten in her dream dress as her favorite Supreme.  Blackface season closed.  But with a week left to Halloween and so many dope black people to stereotype, it will be hard for the masses of asses to resist the siren song of sweet, sweet blackface.  Twitter, and thankfully Padma, are here to remind the Megyn Kellys of the world that blackface is deeply offensive and finds its roots in America’s dark early days.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 10.47.45 PM.png

In Kelly’s not-so-surprise apology, she says that we need to be more sensitive these days and that the wounds around blackface were “too deep”.  Her apology positions blackface as offensive to individuals because of past representations during minstrelsy.  She’s basically saying too soon for Jim Crow jokes with the snowflakes.  Blackface is deeply offensive–it always hurt my soul to show students the hurtful and racist origins of blackface–but feelings aren’t the only important reason to refuse to black it up for Halloween.

Blackface is skin blackening, and it is also a host of small symbolic elements that combined make up the projection of blackness through the white gaze.  Physical features like darkened skin, engorged or red lips, “nappy” hair, big white eyes, hypersexualized bodies, and big hands and feet.  Blackface also includes character traits like lazy, stupid, horny, animalistic, and backward, as well as status markers like class, education (always lack thereof) or citizenship.  Blackface characters are poor or pretending to be wealthy, criminal or threatening, here to steal your chickens, your girl, or your country.  Even today’s celebrity-wanna-look-alike blackface costumes often emphasize the stereotypical aspect of black stars.

In short, blackface isn’t a black person, it is a stereotype of blackness, a symbolic construction, a representation of blackness weaponized by white supremacy and used to perpetuate antiblackness in political, economic and social spheres. These negative portrayals of black people constructed out of white supremacist talking points are rhetorical weapons used to teach audiences what black people are like and what they deserve.  The ubiquity of blackface-based portrayals reinforces the normalcy of antiblackness and anti-black policy. The purpose of blackface is to stoke support for the oppression of blacks.

Early minstrel shows traveled the country reinforcing the idea that blacks were wild and terrible. Black characters were stupid and brutish, criminal and childlike.  These depictions encouraged audiences to support the system of slavery.  In the time before movies and TV, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America. Anyone with a penny to pay to see the show would know that enslaving those animal-like black people was what any good, Christian would do to protect our budding country.

Blackface imagery during Jim Crow encouraged white audiences to see blacks as the enemy, ape-y tricksters that had to be kept in line.  White audiences would see blackface all around them, from their darkie toothpaste to their little Sambo children’s books to early movies depicting barely-human blackface characters.  These characters were whistling at white women, stealing from the white man, and making America not-so-great. In a world of racist representations like this, lynching seems like a natural and logical response to protect whiteness.

A hundred years on from Birth of a Nation and negative stereotypes of black people have barely changed. Despite the New Black Renaissance flooding our timelines and televisions with Black magic, negative stereotyping of black people remains remarkably consistent: the Jezebel, the brute, the uppity negro, the magical negro.  Still today negative stereotypes of black people support dominant cultural narratives around what black people deserve.  And still today those stereotypes are cited as fact by racists: the alphabet soup of white women calling 911 on black people,  Colin Kaepernick haters, the thin blue-liners.

With very little substantive and reflective dialogue between black and white people, media portrayals of black people serve to teach white audiences who black people are and what they deserve.  White audiences too often see new versions of the same of old step and fetchit stereotypes with no black people to provide a real-world counter-narrative. A white person’s blackface costume may be the closest some people get to talking to a black person all year and the story that blackface costume will tell is a lie.

C’mon, killjoy, Megan asks, what if you just looooove Diana Ross?! If you didn’t know blackface was racist then I’m going to guess you don’t love black people as much as you claim you do.  Drunk white people dressed in Afro wigs are generally not talking about the recent spike in black women earning Ph.D.’s or the rise in black homeownership. Besides, your intentions do not change the meaning of culturally established stereotypes; you alone don’t get to decide to wash history clean and declare post-racial victory. When you put on the costume found in the toolbox of white supremacy, you are doing the work it takes to keep the narratives of antiblackness alive.

Blackface was born in the stories told by white people to other white people to make sense out of the barbaric economic system they relied on.  Like Hitler’s depiction of Jewish people and Trump’s depiction of Mexican people, Blackface’s stereotypical (mis)characterization is used to justify and encourage the violent and oppressive treatment of black people. Blackface is problematic because is it a cultural tool that encourages people to ACT: vote to support slavery, fight for the south, enforce Jim Crow, lynch, fight desegregation, vote against civil rights, hate Obama, support stop and frisk, support police brutality, gerrymander, call 911, regentrify, disregard BLM.  There are real consequences from the continued use of blackface representations.

So yes, its too soon for Jim Crow jokes, and no you can’t wear blackface now or ever. Ever. There is too much at stake for us to have to have the blackface argument anymore.  We can’t afford you ghouls out here this year trying to scare up votes based on fear. We won’t tolerate your costumeized cultural assassinations. We see under your mask. And hood.

What Kanye West Has in Common With Susan Collins

Yesterday Kanye pulled his struggle bus into D.C. for a stop at the White House where he proceeded to deliver a cringeworthy soliloquy where he asked Donald Trump to love him like the daddy he wished he had in exchange for absolute fealty and an iPlane. The bizarre moment was broadcast live, sometimes with a split screen of communities wiped out by Hurricane Michael because America.  Kanye’s rant was so full of crazy soundbites it broke the internet like Kim K’s….nevermind. Clickbait?  For sure.  But don’t dismiss Kanye’s diatribe as meaningless.  Kanye, clearly, is struggling with his recent bipolar diagnosis, but what Kanye is saying is actually a window into how the elite think as they play human chess with ideas, disconnected from the material effect of oppressive ideologies on you or me.

ct-met-kanye-west-white-house-20181011

Kanye’s recent epiphanies about the black community aren’t crazy original, or even just plain crazy–they’re conservative talking points, Fox News’s daily mainline of ignorant and ahistorical bullshit regarding black people and the black community.  Its the elite, not the Illuminati, that fertilized Kanye’s mind with fantasies of black people living high off the welfare hog.  So before you cancel Kanye (wait till the end of the post) and erase all that he said, I suggest you take a listen to it, and a lesson from it.  Everyone is lining up to condemn Kanye (valid) but Kanye is just cutting samples from the ideas that circulate among the wealthy and white–the people he is around every day.

If you can’t stomach–or follow–the long winding tale of the tape, here are some of the highlights of Kanye’s lowlights: racism is a liberal invention to foster victim mentality in black people–effective in Kanye’s word because “we are an emotional people”; blacks are overly reliant on welfare; black on black crime is the real problem of the black community; some stuff about the 13th amendment that even I couldn’t make sense of. Painting black people as poor, violent, and not totally deserving or able to be free is a page out of the Willie Lynch playbook.

Kanye also had a lot to say about the captains of industry and their mythic position as the heroes of America.  He painted Trump as a lonely warrior on a Joseph Campbell-esque quest to make America great again.  These are not the random musings of an outlier, this is the sacred text of America’s holy trinity of capitalism, white supremacy and masculinity.

mp550x550glossfffffft-3.jpg

What we’re hearing from Kanye is raw uncut American hegemony. Think of hegemony as the net of ideas that produces and normalizes the social, political, economic and cultural relationships and processes that make up the world we live in.  In order for any culture to function, we have to have a shared understanding of what is happening, but what if someone decided to write the world in their own favor? One way that people in power remain in power is they set up the rules of the game for the rest of us–and ensure that they conserve the best resources for themselves. They hide the strings of the puppetry behind stories, myths ideas, and beliefs that normalize the structures we have as the only way that things could or should be.  In a word, hegemony is the process that determines “just the way it is”.

hec_all_ranked2.jpg

But it’s not just the way it is.  Science tells us every day of the expanding boundaries of our universe, a million stars with their own worlds.  Developing nations around the world develop in ways different than the colonization process that sprouted our own country. In a world where Kanye West and Donald Trump are hugging over the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, we must concede that anything is possible.  Hegemony is the factory where our current imbalanced and unsustainable systems to keep mashing up young black and brown men in the prison system, and where the response to #MeToo is ‘so what’ and where American dream is deserved only by the wealthy and not by the millions of Americans who generate that wealth with sweat and blood and time and life energy.

We don’t have to want that anymore.  It is right and proper to reject people who parrot the tales of a dying empire built by slaves on land stolen from Native Americans and nurtured by women and wave after wave of immigrants.  It’s cool to cancel Kanye (ready..now!).  While we’re at it, let’s vote out Susan Collins who would rather vote for her senate majority masters than stand up and vote for her sisters.  Like Kanye, she allowed her desire to align herself with power to be more important than standing in solidarity and unity with women across the country demanding justice free from patriarchy.

b9e70bdd-247b-48d0-b9b9-b403612cd67b

Kanye’s comments are mostly shocking because he is black, and not just black but George-Bush-doesn’t-care-about-black-people. We expect that all people of color are woke enough to know when their own interests are being trampled but that’s not true.  Members of oppressed groups drink the same hegemonic kool-aid that everyone else does and have to do the work to free their mind from the ideas that bind them.  Susan Collins is also speaking kool-aidese, her hour-long speech echoing of the statements of her male counterparts.  Shocking because she is a woman. But both of them are seeking to be in close proximity to power, and it is power, not identity that drives their madness choices.

kanye-west-to-attend-music-modernization-act-bill-signing-white-house

When we get angry at the paper tigers or dismiss them as irrelevant outliers we forget it is the hegemonic ideology they are spouting that is the real villain.  Kanye is symptomatic of an elite celebrity class living disconnected from history and reality even as they cast the net for the rest of us. In addition to auditioning with Trump to be the mouthpiece of ‘Murica, Kanye is also a person who is struggling to accept a diagnosis, who needs the time and space to learn how to take care of himself.  He doesn’t need cameras, he needs care.  The kindest thing you can do for him is cancel him.

Anyone can ring the bell of hegemony–whatever your race or gender, you can parrot the ideas of a culture that oppresses people who look like you.  But the reverse is also true: anyone can join the resistance and seek new ideas to build a better more perfect union. You can say no to the Davey Crockett version of Trump.  You can tell people that it’s not just Kanye or Susan Collins, but the culture that they represent, the culture of power, and money, white supremacy and toxic masculinity, built on the backs of everyone that’s not them that creates these deplorable ideas. You can work with us to dismantle that castle in the sky, brick by brick.  Call out every person who stands up for oppression.  Vote them out. Stop buying their shit. Stop covering their antics. Don’t be their supporters. quit being their friend. Unfollow, block, delete. And of course, stay woke.

When They Tell You Who They Are

The looming approval of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination comes barely a week after he raged and yelled and cried in front of a Senate committee, half of whom were drawing hearts with “B.K.” and their initials in it when his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford presented her case. The FBI, who has enough resources find all the lost socks in the world, presented the findings of an investigation where neither accuser nor many others interested in offering information were interviewed.  For a representative government, this seems like a good time to ask who they really represent.

Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.” That is good advice in another week when women some women people who care about sexual assault victims are pleading to be heard and have their experience recognized.  Kavanaugh supporters have spent the last weeks dragging out every reason to minimize, dismiss and silence sexual assault victims. Thousands of victims shared raw powerful stories of their own experiences to try to help senators and their supporters understand.

Image result for protesters kavanaugh

Stop.  Stop sharing your feelings and your deepest pain with the people who care more about power than people.  Stop trying to help those whose spirits are set on sleeping, illiterate in their own humanity.  No carefully crafted explanation you give will make them change their beliefs. They are not seeking to understand. They do not want your help.  They want to be insulated by their hate and ignorance.  More than anything, they want to rule the world, at any cost. They demand to keep living in their nostalgic America–the America of Big Dan’s and sexual abuse in the back rooms of churches, days when a woman who wanted a voice just needed to be reminded of her place.

While it is true and important that the #MeToo movement has brought important conversations about rape culture to a wider audience, the senators who will vote to support Blackout Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination are uninterested in cultural transformation. The question raised by an enraged constituency–would you confirm a bellicose liar (31 lies and counting) who also is a potential sex offender–is answered with a simple yea.  The end game for them is power, a court that will lean conservative for years to come.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation won’t take years to pay off, though.  While lots of people are thinking the rush is on to beat the midterms, there is another, bigger fish on the line.  The Supreme Court will hear a case on double jeopardy that has potentially massive consequences for Trump and the Mueller investigation according to the Congressional Research Service:

The Gamble case may nevertheless have significant collateral legal effects … A win for Gamble could also indirectly strengthen the President’s pardon power, by precluding a state from prosecuting an already-pardoned defendant who has gone to trial on an overlapping offense.

And there it is: save the supreme court nominee, save Trump’s world. Looks like Trump and Kavanaugh have more than sexual assault allegations in common.  Their conservative leaning on this case have them in la-la-love and rushing to get to the spicy part where Trump helps tank the FBI investigation and Kavanaugh ensures Trump’s pardon powers.

In these days of change, we rightfully resist.  We demand that previously marginalized voices be heard. We work to create space for new ways of being that foreground compassion, humanity, and empathy.  We think we can appeal to the humanity in others–if we just say the right thing, show them our wounds, beg them to remember we are family they will finally see the light and usher in utopia with us.  We all want the same thing: to be safe, to be free, to have a healthy family that can thrive, and the resources we need in the pursuit of happiness.

Image result for trump  rose garden

But we have a blind spot. We forget that there are people who are wholly willing to kill for safety, to enslave others to create their own freedom.  There are people invested in keeping the narrow definition of family in order to center their traditions. There are whole systems set up to funnel resources from the many to the few.  This is not a drill–this is really who they are and no amount of tragic personal narrative will stop them from working against everything we believe in. We can’t reason with them; we can only remove them.

The Black Lives Matter movement has gone through these growing pains. While many massive peaceful protests did focus attention and grow the movement it was only the beginning. After Trayvone Martin’s killer walked free, and video after video showed cops kill people with no subsequent consequences, after die-ins and marches and the occupation of Ferguson, there was no come to Jesus moment when America suddenly recognized the humanity of black people and called for widespread change.  You can’t win systemic transformation by appealing to people who are invested financially and ideologically in your oppression.

Working with community members to solve problems seen as the most effective tactic to help blacks achieve equality

The tactics of the BLM movement didn’t stop at protests alone. Our liberation was never going to be born the love child of white supremacy and our demands for justice. Instead of begging our oppressors, we are building ourselves. In fact, there is a solid case to make that we are in the midst of an unprecedented black renaissance.  Our activists are moving from the streets to the halls of power, becoming elected officials with the ability to make change Our artists are creating a vision of the new world in film and TV, illuminating our path. Millions of black people are doing what they can with what they have where they are: starting businesses, growing community, getting educated. Most importantly, black people are talking to each other, working to create unity and help our sleeping brothers and sisters wake up. This is how we get free.

Whatever the result of Kavanaugh’s nomination, the past few weeks have shown us who the right is.  Conservative men AND women have dismissed sexual assault as just a teenage rite of passage or a privilege of prep school boys who later rule the world. They do not care about women’s equality.  They do not care about holding men accountable.  They will not change their mind even when they find your case compelling.

It’s time to stop begging and keep building.  Lingering on your anger over Kavanaugh will not help.  Instead, take stock of what you can do and do it.  Vote, create, build and talk.  Talk to the people that matter, and work with the willing.  Work to get the fence sitters to come to the right side of history. Remind them there are many more of us than there are of them.  Numbers are on our side and the stakes are sky high. Tell them as you tell yourself: none of us is free until all of us are free.  Stay woke.

Privilege: Kavanaugh’s Cloak of Invisibility

America is gripped this week by the Supreme Court hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, a salacious episode of reality TV involving sex, power, and privilege. Tomorrow, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will testify that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when the pair were in high school in 1982.  Even as more accusers come forward–two three five as of this writing–tomorrow’s testimony is set up to be a battle of the he-said-she-said–but there is a third element to this story we can’t ignore: the power of privilege.

Image result for school shooter and video games

Watch any crime show and you will see the weight we put on the world of the perpetrator to mold their criminal ways.  Shoot up a school? Let’s see what video games you played.  Black criminal? a product of the streets.   It’s not unusual–and in fact is too often standard to replace evidence with character and culture when adjudicating criminals. That is until it comes to those prep school boys and their boys-will-be-boys antics. The prep school of Kavanaugh’s narrative is a virginal version of academic heaven; surely no harm can happen there? The violence of power and control that is shaped by a competitive environment where privilege protects bad behavior could not possibly have any bearing on a man 30 years after, right?

Old-Dominion-Fraternity-Photo.png

The world of frat boys gone bad is a familiar trope in American culture. Movies like Skull and Bones, Animal House, and Private School (released in 1983 during Kavanaugh’s school days) and TV shows feature a world where boyish behavior crimes are common but consequences and parents are absent.  Hidden behind the Ivies, violence becomes tradition and assault becomes kidding around.  This rapey frat boy thing is not mere fiction: a long litany of actual news events feature young men who used their power and privilege to get out of the consequences of sexual assault, their lives deemed more important to not disrupt than that of victims, forever disrupted by a justice system that refuses to let their wounds heal.  We are surrounded with a long tradition of tales that stage whisper to us that sexual assault is a normal, if not a traditional part of private school that frat boys believe are part of their rites of passage into toxic masculinity–also know as the old boy’s network.

Neither the overreliance on environmental factors–like the Marilyn Manson theory of school shooters–nor the erasure of anything from the past as some would like to see in Kavanaugh’s hearing provides for the complex factors that make any person who they are. When we examine someone’s integrity, the past is a part of who they are.  When we are validating accusations, circumstances matter. Brett Kavanaugh’s environment in addition to Ford’s testimony should factor into verifying–or denying–her claim. We should hear from others who were there and who say they are familiar with the incident.  Hmm, we need some way to gather all this information.  Wish we had an FBI–oh we do!  A full investigation will make sure that all voices are heard and we have a tapestry of voices, not just two.

Cosby-Mugshot.jpg

One trait of this trope that you may notice is that this is a long list of white men.  While the GOP is bending over backward to avoid investigating old accusations about Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby is sentenced to 3-10 years in prison and is labeled a sexual predator.  As powerful as Bill Cosby once was, it was not impossible for the court and the court of public opinion to see past years of Cosby’s family-friendly work and find him guilty:  he was after all a black man, and America has a long legal tradition of finding black men guilty of being sexual predators.  Cosby lacked a prep school to blame his behavior on.  Black fame without white privilege gave his accusers a chance to be heard, and, after enormous effort, justice will finally be done as Cosby enters jail.

There is no such legal legacy when it comes to white men.  Too often white men win in the court of public opinion long before they are held to legal account. Before a word of testimony regarding the Kavanaugh’s situation is heard under oath Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising to “get through this.” Kavanaugh’s accusers are denied an FBI investigation that would examine evidence related to their claims.  The best they can hope for is that the man that perpetrated their alleged assaults doesn’t also decide their healthcare rights. The cloak of whiteness protects the old boy’s network from scrutiny; crime is redefined as horseplay, jokes, hazing. It’s easy to bend the rules in favor of the old boys’ network because the old boys are by and large the ones who get to make and interpret the laws.

20100409_Diversity_SCOTUS.source.prod_affiliate.91.jpg

Neither the age of the allegations nor Cosby’s massive fame and fortune stopped the accusations from negatively affecting his life–as justice would require.  To be clear, this is not a defense of Cosby. He is now a convicted sex offender, while Kavanaugh will not have any judgment rendered regarding the allegations themselves.  Instead, this is a chance to point out the often invisible way that privilege works to advantage those in power.  Even as Cosby was being labeled a sexual predator for drugging women and sexually assaulting them, Trump told the media that Ramirez’s accusations of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault are not to be believed because she was inebriated. The difference between the narratives surrounding one case and another highlights the privilege protecting wealthy white men accused of sexual assault that prevents them from the scrutiny–and just process–of a trial.

images.jpg

Look carefully not at the sordid details themselves, but the falling action, where boys lives are deemed relics of a past to be forgotten, where their behavior becomes an inconsequential drop in an ocean of what-boys-do.  Not only are these acts normalized by their sheer frequency, but they are excused with weak slaps, or condoned, simply a nod to tradition that remains unquestioned and un-consequenced.  We can and must do better.

America is designed to be a nation of laws, not (white) men. What’s good for the comedian is good for the supreme court judge who will make decisions that will affect women for years to come. Let Cosby’s conviction be tomorrow’s lesson: ignore the privileges that come with power. Believe the women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sisterhood of The Unraveling Rants

This weekend saw plenty of black girl anger on display from Serena’s throw down on the court to Cardi B’s blow up at Nikki Minaj during fashion week.  Seems like everywhere you turn a black woman is getting kicked out or called out for being angry. Before you start with some respectability politics a-la-well-calm-down, remember Black women are often stereotyped as out of control, but with a world on fire, acting nice is a privilege they can ill afford.  I’m not saying you should start ripping off wigs but beyond soundbites and stereotypes, anger has a place in every black girl’s arsenal. 

Serena Williams’ journey to capture her 24th Grand Slam title stopped short when she received a game violation for verbal abuse, effectively ceding the match to first time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka.  The high drama played out on the court with Williams accusing a judge of sexism for issuing a rarely-called penalty for coaching.  Unlike her brooding and unrepentant male counterparts who made screaming at refs their brand, she was penalized for her verbal outburst, costing her any remaining focus she had and the game. 

She complained bitterly that the rules were being applied differently for her versus her male counterparts–textbook sexism–and has been supported by many of her peers from Chris Everett, covering the Open as it happened to tennis and sexism expert Billie Jean King.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 9.01.15 PM.png

Despite having a point about sexism in tennis, Williams lost the match and of course faced the usual hateful representation as an angry ape/child. Oh, and she was fined for her outburst about unfair treatment of women–she’ll pay $17,000.  Also textbook sexism

DmjIAJSV4AEJHku.jpgAcross town in a less athletic display of rage, Cardi B threw a shoe at Nikki Minaj in a scuffle best described as rap beef with great dresses.  In a scene right out of Love and Hip Hop, Cardi B pulled up on Minaj at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons party at New York Fashion Week.  The fight garnered lots of buzz throughout the weekend with bloggers turning history professors as they run down the back and forth between the self-proclaimed Queen of rap and the newcomer for the throne. 

But it wasn’t an episode of reality TV–it was two women who have more in common with each other than they have with many of the other party goers.  Both are entrepreneurs doing their best to ride the wave of celebrity before time and the next big starlet leaves them on the shore.   While their public beef will help drive records sales and blog hits this week, this is just another chapter in the ho-hum tale of ghetto girls acting badly.  Their out-of-control anger over some she-tweet-she-said is exactly what is expected out of both stars and out of angry black women in general.  This didn’t happen backstage at a Migos show–this was a show they put on for the international fashion crowd-tres boughetto. What ever happened to go high, ladies?

Before we chalk up this weekend to the same ole angry black women story we always hear, let’s not.  When we talk about how angry black women are, we ignore that black women, in reality, are not angrier than their white counterparts.  What we are repeating is an old stereotype that was used to justify oppressive practices to keep black women in check. Black women do–and have a right to–respond to attacks on their community and character with anger.  But the conflation of their temporary mood and their permanent color is classic racism, providing an easy excuse to invalidate any given black woman’s righteous anger as just a character flaw of the race.

 

In fact, recent studies show that white people are more likely to describe themselves as angry than members of other racial groups. The poll should come as no surprise: everywhere we look we see internet videos of white women going off at Starbucks, on the street, at Michael’s–and let’s face it, if crafting makes you angry you really need help.  But we don’t call them angry white women–we refer to them as Barbeque Becky, or the lady freaking out at Michaels, but their whiteness is not a key descriptor in their internet moniker like it is for Serena.  Go google angry white women, and then angry black woman–what difference do you notice in the results?

It’s not just the women who are mad as hell–there was no shortage of male violence competing for airtime this weekend–from real stories of shootings, rape, and murder to hours of news with men yelling at each other in silk suits or a day reserved for men running full speed at each other and knocking each other’s memories out of their heads on the football field. Male aggression is nothing less than the great American pass time. The consequence for men who act aggressively is winning.  They are rewarded on the field, in the workplace, and in the White House for acting aggressively, threatening and pushing, dominating and snarling.

We are a sharply competitive nation who prizes the flash of sharp teeth and the rule of the bone.   To give up your anger is to put down one of the most powerful tools in American culture, and to silence your own voice in the face of oppression.   Still, public displays of anger by black women have little benefit for them beyond being weekend clickbait and conversely carry the consequences of hundreds of years of history.  What’s a black woman to do?

8803203F-BD8E-4273-8BEC-78A78A131938_w1023_r1_s.jpg

Anger is a valid and valuable human emotion.  Like any weapon, you have to be careful with it: using it to try to right the wrongs of the world is a solid move, even if you don’t always land you blow.  But using your anger to slide into a petty feud best left in subtweets is like bringing a knife to a fist fight.

Screen-Shot-2018-09-08-at-11.49.05-AM.pngUnlike Cardi B, never, never let them see you sweat over the next b.  Cardi B has been riding a wave of love for her plucky weird vibe from bump reveals to Met Gala Virgin Mary glam.  Being something other than a wild rapper is what’s getting her invited everywhere.  Don’t lose your seat at the table fighting over scraps.  There’s no black girl magic in playing out the same tired trope of hood chicks who don’t know how to act.  Best to keep your knives virtual and your bag–and your plus 1–secure.

Image result for serena at us open

But anger has a place and black women have the right to display anger, to call people out with their anger, to wield their anger like everyone else in America.  We know that sexism is unlikely to disappear with a whispered “excuse me, please.” Like Serena, don’t let them talk you down when you are busy pointing out systemic inequality.  Serena may have lost the Grand Slam but she proved herself a superhero in a tutu scoring again in a match against sexism.  She kept her anger directed at a system that wasn’t treating her fair. Instead of attacking her young opponent she lifted up her sister with grace and love, despite her being all the way in her feelings.   She showed us rage done right: a new play that has room both for fierce competition and for grace and respect for the winners.