Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
So since I haven't been blogging regularly, I decided that I would show all of you what I have been doing...academic work.
Good times, ya'll. But seriously, here are some book reviews that I have written in the last month or so. One about youth culture in Iran, the other on processes of genocide and sexual violence on Native communities. Check them out and let me know what you think...
Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Cambridge: South End Press, 2005, 244 pg.
In this powerful work, Cherokee scholar and activist Andrea Smith provides a complex, richly layered analysis of the intertwined processes of sexual violence and genocidal state practices on Native communities. Drawing from her experiences as an activist within Native political struggles, Smith explores ongoing genocidal practices against and within Native communities using an intersectional analysis that demonstrates the ways in which gender, sexual, and racial violence are deeply imbricated in one another. Smith argues that it is critical to understand that “gender violence is not simply a tool of patriarchal control, but also serves as a tool of racism and colonialism. That is, colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized (1).” Smith uses the trope of sexual violence not merely as a metaphor for the colonial and contemporary genocide of Native peoples but as the modality through which these processes take place. She explores how discourses of Native bodies, particularly those of Native women, dehumanize them by representing them as dirty, polluting, violent, inherently rapable, and ultimately as expendable. While sexual violence may be readily apparent in the history of rape and forced sterilization of Native women, Smith reveals the multiple ways in which sexual violence plays a role in the ongoing genocide of Native peoples. By exploring the patterns of medical testing without informed consent, internment at boarding schools, environmental degradation of Native lands and the persistent usurpation of Native lands and the dismissal of the sovereignty of Native communities, Smith challenges us to rethink our understanding of the criminalization and erasure of Native peoples.
Smith skillfully outlines the violence that Native communities confront. However, the most innovative aspect of this work is found in the ways that she squarely locates political activism in her analytical work, particularly in Chapter 7 “Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence.” The central question in her analysis of gendered violence is not how to create more effective models (i.e. “culturally relevant,” preventive, etc) for treating sexual or domestic violence but rather, “What would it take to end violence against women of color (153)?” To that end, Smith presents various models culled from her experiences as a political organizer for how we might combat genocidal practices of sexual violence. She offers examples of activism and community justice by referencing the work of numerous organizations across the country such as the Brooklyn-based group, Sista II Sista/ Hermana a Hermana, that works with young women of color; Communities Against Race and Abuse (CARA), which organizes against police abuse and promotes the abolition of the prison industrial complex; and Friends Are Reaching Out (FAR Out), a Seattle organization that which works with queer and LGBT communities of color. Many of these organizations are committed to working with those communities that are marginalized by the mainstream antiviolence movement: queer people, sex workers, women of color, young women, incarcerated women and men, and immigrants. By providing these models, Smith demonstrates how activists and scholars alike might work to adopt antiviolence strategies that are mindful of the larger structures of violence that shape the world in which we live (151).” In other words, fighting against violence solely from a gender perspective is not enough if it doesn’t speak to the entire complex of oppressions that engender sexual violence.
Conquest is a stunning example of the possibilities that emerge from socially engaged and theoretically rigorous scholarship. It is clear that Smith, who is an active member of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, has produced a work that is steeped in radical tradition of U.S. women of color feminisms. It is hardly surprising that Conquest mirrors similar work on the antiviolence movement and the intersections of race and gender in the prison industrial complex being done by Incite! activists and scholars such as Beth Ritchie and Julia Sudbury. Smith’s commitment to utilizing women of color feminist practice and theory is reflected in her ability to describe the particularity of Native women’s experiences of racial, gender, and sexual injustice and place it in dialogue with the experiences of other women of color, particularly Latinas and women of African descent. In other words, while Smith is clear about the particularity of Native women’s experiences of sexualized genocidal violence she locates it within a larger framework of what bell hooks refers to as “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” that diminishes the lives of non-white communities, and non-white women in particular, across the globe. As her work demonstrates, the survival of communities of color depends on how well we can incorporate these insights into our activist work. Conquest as both critique and activist model, presents a vision of how we might struggle for holistic, intersectional justice in our communities.
Roxanne Varzi. Warring Souls: Youth, Media and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006, 290p.
In this innovative ethnography, Roxanne Varzi explores the themes of nation-building, citizenship formation, and subjectivity in the lives of the generation of young men and women who have come of age in the period following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Immediately after the revolution, Iran became embroiled in a war with Iraq (1980-1988) that was used by the Islamic government as a means of consolidating support for the revolution and initiating a project of crafting the national identity to reflect the emergence of the ideal Islamic citizen/subject. Varzi outlines the ways in which education, as well as popular culture and the media, become critical means of fulfilling this mandate, which is fraught with contradiction. She specifically focuses on the effects of this project on Iranian youth whose sense of self is fundamentally characterized by the incongruent relationship between their internal moral values and those imposed on them by the state. Varzi is particularly interested in determining the extent to which (enforced) public practice of Islam results in genuine belief. Describing the conflict that youth confront in their daily lives she questions the extent to which state-produced Islamic reality, permeates and/or constructs an individual’s inner reality and faith. Warring Souls is an analytically sophisticated work that prompts us to think more critically about the way in which state practices are lived in the bodies of its citizens, particularly the ways that the Islamic Republic of Iran regulates the appearance, autonomy, and experiences of its citizens.
State practices to consolidate a national Islamic identity are exemplified in the use of education to socialize Iranian youth. Varzi describes the insertion of Islam into quotidian daily practice and the ways in which young people navigate the contradictions between the Islamic public sphere and the less than ideal Islamic realities of their families and private lives. She observes, “The government propagates Islamic ideology in every possible daily ritual and rule – for example, in elementary school physical education where students are instructed to shout out numbers followed by ‘Allah’ after each move: a side bend, ‘one Allah,’ touch toes, ‘two Allah (138).’” At school, children are shown empty alcohol bottles and asked if they have ever seen them before in their homes; although they may know that alcohol consumption is a criminalized activity, they will not report parents who may be engaging in such behaviors and actually contradicting the validity of such policies (141). From an early age, children learn the value of dissemblance, that is the ability to publicly perform an Islamic identity while also flouting the expectations of the state in their private lives (142). There are however, tangible consequences for those who occupy this space of perpetual dissemblance.
Conducting research with university students living in Tehran as well as her own family from 1991-2000, Varzi attempted to make sense of the ways in which young people develop a sense of self that conforms to societal expectations while simultaneously maintaining a personal sense of integrity. She argues in her work that the project of producing ideal Islamic citizens has led to a split within Iranian youth between baten, the inner-self, “individual senses of reality” and the zaher, the outer-self that performs citizenship (7). Despite the state’s attempts to propagate a highly moralistic Islamic identity to the post-Revolution generation, Varzi suggests that the results of this project have not resulted in the creation of the ideal Islamic citizen, but rather has “further secularized Iranian youth and precipitated a crisis in identity between baten/zaher (173).” Despite the government’s critique of the moral decadence of the West, Iranian youth are increasingly afflicted with rising rates of HIV/AIDS infection, drug use/abuse, suicide/depression, etc (173). The inner/outer split and the inability of many Iranian youth to reconcile the divergent aspects of identity have led to an increased tension between what Varzi refers to as “bi-khodi,” the process of self-annihilation, and “khod-shenasi,” the process of self-construction or self-help (7). If the demands of citizenship require the annihilation of the self in order to maintain the nation, what are the means by which Iranian youth can sustain their will to construct their own self-identities?
Despite the encroachments of the state, Iranian youth have proven to be adept in developing alternate realities for themselves in the midst of an intense Islamification process – this is particularly evident in the ways that youth transform public and religious spaces and even their own bodies into sites of self-fulfillment – young women who wrap themselves modestly in chadors while discreetly applying makeup or young men who decrease the threat of being stopped by the komiteh by “adorning their cars with quotations from the Quran. Throughout Warring Souls, Varzi demonstrates the ways in which “people occupy the same strict ideological space and yet live in completely different realities (12).” That is, how people challenge imposed social scripts and create alternative ways of being and doing that speak to their inner-selves. She notes that, “In the end, we are not only mediators of our own worlds where we see what we want to see, but we also create that world as it creates us in a simultaneous act of revealing and concealing (5).” Her personal stake in this ethnography is reflected in the creative and imaginative ways in which she represents the experiences of Iranian youth. Varzi draws from the rich cultural traditions of Islamic mysticism, particularly Sufism, and Persian folklore in her reading of contemporary dilemmas within Iran. Warring Souls is a polyrhythmic text that weaves academic analysis, journal entries, personal reflections, and ethnographic field notes to create a lens through which readers can enter the multiple realities of youth living in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Given popular discourses of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Warring Souls provides an analytically rich ethnographic counternarrative that explores the Islamic Revolution and its discontents while skillfully avoiding pathologizing Iranians or Iranian culture. In this work, Islam is not the culprit, since as Varzi points out many Iranians were self-identified Muslims prior to the revolution, rather it is the way in which state practices aimed at producing Islamic citizens has resulted in a problematic inner/outer spilt in the identity formation of Iranian youth. This book is useful tool for helping us to evaluate the role of the state in the development of identity and the need for locating this process within larger processes of socialization and nation-building.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
What Was So Great About Apartheid Anyway?
PW Botha, the man who upheld and defended state-sanctioned white supremacy (also known as apartheid) in South Africa at the height of the anti-apartheid rebellion, has passed away. While I never celebrate death, even of white supremacist clowns, I certainly have a difficult time finding anything positive to say to commemorate this man's passing. While in office, he allowed the slaughter of thousands of Black South Africans protesting apartheid; rigidly upheld the apartheid laws which separated South Africa's population into Afrikaaner, Black, and Colored; and, despite international pressure, refused to release Nelson Mandela from prison (Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his work with the ANC).
So you can imagine my surprise when newspapers from around the world are citing Mandela honoring Botha.
According to Al Jazeera, Mandela said in a statement on Wednesday:
"While to many Mr. Botha will remain a symbol of apartheid, we also remember him for the steps he took to pave the way towards the eventual peacefully negotiated settlement of our country."
Does it matter that he took those steps kicking and screaming? So much so that he was overthrown by his own party and it was his successor, FW de Klerk who transitioned the country into post-apartheid?
Mandela continued stating that Botha's death should be a reminder of "how South Africans from all persuasions ultimately came together to save our country from self-destruction."
I understand respecting the dead. But it seems to me that if the positions you took in life didn't make you a hero then dying shouldn't make you one by default.
It is unclear to me whether Mandela, the consummate diplomat, is simply trying to embody in his actions the principles of reconciliation that the post-apartheid government has attempted to use. Or does he simply not want to ruffle feathers by pointing out the obvious: Botha was at the bottom of it all a terrible human being who died believing in the fundamental superiority of the white race. Don't believe me? Following the end of apartheid, Botha refused to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to address the crimes against humanity committed by the Afrikaaner-led South African state in its brutal repression of the anti-apartheid movement. He was quoted as stating:
"Take me to court if you want to charge me! I will not appear in circuses!"
And he never apologized or recanted his views on apartheid.
And the son-of-a-bitch lived to be 90 years old.
I guess what the old folks say is true.
Some folks really are just too evil to die.
Nelson Mandela, as much as I admire him, in this instance, does not speak for me. I can't say that I am grieved by Botha's passing. If hell exists, I am sure that there is a special spot reserved just for him. And if there is any justice in this universe he'll be forced to wait on non-white folks for the rest of eternity...alright, maybe I went a little too far.
But out of respect for the thousands of South African men and women who were unlawfully detained, tortured, incarcerated, maimed, violated, and murdered under his tenure as the head of state, I will not celebrate a man in death that I despised while he lived.
To read the complete article check out: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/E84E6ACE-5404-4E19-BD2B-3023E204262E.htm.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Not sure what to say...
I have been following the news of the violence taking place in Oaxaca, Mexico. Perhaps not as closely as I should still as a place where I once protested and slept under the arches of the Governor's Palace with dozens of angry campesinos denouncing unfair detentions, it is a place that is near to my heart.
That is why the recent violence has left me unsure of what to say about the situation. According to Mexico Week in Review, the federal goverment has deployed military forces into the area to combat the violence, but this "help" comes weeks, months, even after the original attacks begun. MWR states, "The pretext for the deployment of federal police to Oaxaca was an outbreak of violence on Oct. 27 in which at least three people were killed and more than 23 wounded; one of the wounded died that night, according to some reports. In the morning of Oct. 27 APPO supporters stepped up their protests by blocking Oaxaca city's access to the highway to Mexico City and the road to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. By 10am state police backed by PRI supporters had started violent attacks on protesters. A gang of hooded men tried to attack Radio Universidad, a pro-strike radio station at the local university, while there was shooting on the El Rosario bridge. Five simultaneous attacks on APPO barricades started at about 5 pm. In Santa Lucia del Camino, a municipality a few miles outside Oaxaca city, people began firing on the barricade from inside a house. APPO supporters backed a truck into the house to break down the door, but a group of men, many in red shirts, began firing on them. Oswaldo Ramirez, a photographer for the Mexico City daily Milenio, was grazed on the knee by a bullet while he was covering the incident; the armed men also fired on Raul Estrella, a photographer from the Mexico City daily El Universal but missed him. Brad Will, a freelance journalist and photographer who worked with the Indymedia Center in New York City, was hit twice in the abdomen as he videotaped the shooting. Strikers rushed him to a Red Cross hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival."
It is at the end where I pause, an American journalist killed?
I, like most of the people I know, live in the cyberworld. Knowing he will be interested and appalled I send this information to my partner who is out of the country. He replies at 2am Monday morning. Not only did he know this man from various political collaborations and activist circles in NYC, but I knew this young man.
And then it comes back to me, the baseball cap pushed down over red, unkempt hair. Skinny, tall, laughing over a plate of vegan friendly thai food...and I sit at my desk and cry.
I don't mean to suggest that the life of this man, by virtue of being a citizen of the most powerful country in the world, is more valuable than the many Mexican women and men who have lost their lives or live under the constant threat of death and violence.
All I am saying is that the violence is now at my front door. In my bedroom.
The question is what am I going to do about it?
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Why I Love Bob Jensen (he's the one on the left!)
Life at the University of Texas can be hard for students of color. As if attending a predominantly white university with an irrefutably racist past wasn't enough-- until the 1950s all of the major buildings on campus were built facing south and statues honoring Confederate heroes grace the main mall-- it can be overwhelming dealing with students and faculty alike who refuse to actively confront racism at this University.
One need only look to the law school to prove my point.
About a week ago, about 20 first-year law students threw a "ghetto fabulous party" in which participants dressed in outfits stereotypically associated with poor, working-class Black and Latinos and flaunted what they considered to be ghetto names such as Jose and LaTonya. Some wore gaudy "bling" jewelry while others thought it'd be cute to don gold grills for the evening.
While this is clearly problematic, the truly disturbing part of this whole story is the response of the law school to the event. The dean of the law school responded by reprimanding the students for being "insensitive" and warned that these thoughtless actions might have negative repercussions for their future careers.
Their careers? What about the fact that this party was racist?
This is where my love for Bob Jensen comes in.
In an editorial in the Daily Texan, Jensen made a point to call the party out for what it was. A demonstration of the reality of white supremacy at this institution. Rather than engage in discussions of cultural sensitivity, which seem to dominate any discourse of diversity in institutions of higher education, Jensen redirected the focus to thinking critically about the institutional and personal practices that reinscribe white supremacy as a normal part of American life.
His article is worth quoting at length as he discusses the real problems with this "ghetto" party:
"But whatever the case, should we be stressing to students that the reason they should not be white supremacists is that it might hurt their careers? What does such a message convey to sudents and to the community?
What’s missing in this official response is a clear statement that these law students -- many of whom go on to join the ranks of the powerful who run society -- have engaged in behavior that is overtly racist. Whatever their motivations in planning or attending the party, they have demonstrated that they have internalized a white-supremacist ideology. When these students are making future decisions in business, government, and education, how will such white supremacy manifest itself? And who will be hurt by that?
Here’s what we should say to students: The problem with a racist “ghetto fabulous” party isn’t that it offends some people or tarnishes the image of UT or may hurt careers. The problem is that it’s racist, and when you engage in such behavior you are deepening the racism of a white-supremacist culture, and that’s wrong. It violates the moral and political principles that we all say we endorse. It supports and strengthens an unjust social system that hurts people."
You can check out the rest of his editorial at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=30&ItemID=11203
So this is my tribute to one of the few white men on campus who truly keeps it real, with himself and his community. If Bob Jensen is a fountain of undiluted foolishness (as he was once called by former University President Larry Faulkner) may we all be so lucky to be labeled as such and continue to take an unequivocal stand in the fight for racial justice.
(for the record, the photos I am using do not come from the Law School students' party. I did a google image search and found these. I felt that they illustrated the problematic racial politics of these events. As many of you know, these ghetto parties have been happening all over the country at a number of universities in the last 3-5 years.)
Black Panther Party Turns 40
Just got this link. Here are a number of interviews with members of the Black Panther Party who gathered in Oakland, CA this past weekend to commemorate 40 years of racial justice organizing, black self-determination, and fighting to dismantle white supremacy. It is a reassuring reminder to me that the struggle for justice is a lifelong commitment and the women and men who formed the Black Panther Party are an exemplary model of exactly how we might all do that.
You can check out the interviews yourself at:
http://odeo.com/audio/2180391/view pt 1
http://odeo.com/audio/2180907/view pt 2
http://odeo.com/audio/2181833/view pt 3
Peace and Blessings to you all...
Monday, October 16, 2006
Well, I am back now. Sort of and trying to regain my bearings. It's the second year of graduate school ya'll and guess who's getting a Masters' degree in May 2007?
Don't sleep, you knew it was coming. So I've been a bit swamped. This fall has been completely insane. I'm a teaching assistant (TA) at UT so that's been a bit of a rude awakening. Having to come to campus twice a week on days I don't have class is a bit of a drag and keeps me from playing around and procrastinating the way I used to...sigh, I miss the good ol' days of full funding from the University.
In any case, just a note to let you know that I will be blogging again because I have a brand new WanderLust adventure to share with you: Courtney Does Scotland.
That's right Scotland. You thought the fact that there are no Black people in Scotland (except for one of my all-time favorite homegirls) was gonna stop me from blowing it up? Naw man, I went and you know Loch Ness was at the top of my list. Sadly, I didn't see Nessie, but that doesn't matter because Scotland was truly amazing and beautiful and tranquil and wonderful.
So stay tuned, a full on post is on the way.
by the way: check out my homegirl's blog, Adventures in Negroshire. If you have any sense of humor at all and can appreciate somebody taking on chance on love and happiness you'll love this.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
In short, this trip was good for me, even if it was a little tough.
Bodies At War
Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear my head about this poem about why I can't go out without changing my clothes my shoes my body posture my gender identity my age my status as a woman alone in the evening/ alone on the streets/alone not being the point/the point being that I can't do what I want to do with my own body because I am the wrong sex the wrong age the wrong skin
“Poem About My Rights,” by June Jordan
20 de julio 2006
I learned again tonight what it means to move in the world inside a black female body. It means not being able to defend yourself or anyone else from unexpected violence. It means being forced to make impossible choices between what is fair and what is safe. It means trying to help others and sometimes having to walk away and leave others to their fate in order to protect your own.
As a righteous Black feminist it has always been a great source of pride for me that I don’t tolerate violence against women of any kind. In March of this year, I helped to create Feminists of Color United (FoCU), to protest the appearance of R. Kelly at the University of Texas at Austin. It seemed unconscionable to us that a man who is currently on trial for 14 counts of child pornography (after he filmed himself urinating on a 14-year-old girl) should be invited to perform at the University. I’ve written about my experiences of sexual abuse and work with young women of color to empower them to recognize relationship violence and develop the confidence to walk away from it. Still, violence, as pervasive as I know it to be, continues to alarm and frighten me when I confront it in my political/intellectual/personal life. As a researcher, I do work with Black women activists participating in various political struggles on the South Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. I’ve been coming here since 2004 and every time that I return it is a reminder that the struggle to protect our bodies and spirits from life-threatening patriarchal violence is a global struggle. And even for a self-identified feminist it is a sobering reality coming to terms with this fact.
Angie, a feminist activist and close friend of mine, was hit in the face tonight at a popular club here in Bluefields, Nicaragua. It wasn’t her fault – the man was a stranger. He was angry with his girlfriend, who was sitting behind us. They were quarrelling and when he reached over the bar to hit her, she ducked, and he ended up popping Angie instead. I quickly tracked down the waiter to ask for the cuenta so we could get out of there. The right side of her face was beginning to swell. We find out later that this man attacked his wife because she had gone out with two women friends who are open lesbians. Afraid that his wife is turning into a tortillera, he decides it is time to exercise his phallic power and put her back into her place. My mind is completed stunned at the interplay of gender, sexuality, and power dynamics in this situation.
The woman, a young Mestiza, was petrified, balled up against the wall, breaking down into tears. I ask her, ¿Puede quedar con una amiga esta noche? She replies that she can and before I can begin to suggest that she turn this chump over to the cops she collapses into my arms, sobbing as I console her in frightened, wobbly Spanish. She says that she will stay with a friend tonight and I warn her to take care of herself as Angie and I prepare to leave.
But I am still afraid for her. For all of us.
On our way out of the club, Angie confronts the man who accidentally assaulted her. He apologizes, stating that he had no intention to hurt her. This admission provides little comfort – of course, he didn’t mean to hurt Angie, he doesn’t know her. But this can hardly be considered an accident, since he had every intention of violently beating his wife in the middle of a crowded nightclub. He seems honestly confused by Angie’s anger, and she is violently lashing out, slapping him across the face several times. I have no confusion as to the source of her anger and I feel both ashamed and relieved for breaking them up. He deserved to be slapped, no question about it, but I find myself wondering would this small victory have been worth it if he beat both of us up, or had suddenly pulled out a knife? I hate being compelled to make such choices – survival choices, I call them. During the taxi ride home, I think to myself, it could have been worse.
We leave the club without the girl’s name, her assailant/husband’s name, or having him removed from the club. The slapping may have made my friend feel better, but it won’t stop him from beating the shit out of his wife when she is finally forced to come home. What will happen to her? Could I have done something to keep her safe, instead of fearing for myself and fleeing the club? My conscience offers little consolation.
At home I prepare water, Motrin IB, and a ziplock bag full of ice. I hope that this will help the lump on the side of my friend’s face from turning into an ugly bruise that she will have to explain to friends, co-workers, and family as though it were her fault. She asks me what she will tell her son. “The truth,” I reply softly.
But who can say with certainty what the hell that means?
At home, we sink wearily into rocking chairs, she presses the ziplock bag to her eye, wincing from the cold and the throbbing sensation in her upper cheek. We watch the news. A man in the U.S., enraged by his wife’s decision to leave him, enters her job carrying a Sprite bottle full of gasoline. He douses her in it, reaches into his pocket for a lighter, and sets her fire in her workplace. CNN shows before and after pictures. She is a beautiful young Black woman, whose only mistake was deciding to leave a violent partner and escape an abusive situation. She survives, but there are only colorless patches where cinnamon flesh, thick hair and eyebrows used to be. She survives, but who among us can say how she is surviving? And what of the psychic wounds, the nightmares, the loss of any sense of security, the perpetual fear of violence – will she survive this?
A lesson, hard learned, on what it means to walk through this world in a body that is rendered vulnerable by its sex/gender, race, age. I think of my politics and how they might help to transform this world into one where we don’t have to struggle to stay alive and whole simply by virtue of being who we are. I recall joking with a male friend, a rather tall and strong male friend, as he fumbled with his keys outside of his apartment late one night that he obviously was not a woman. Eyes blank and not quite understanding, he replies, “What do you mean?” I mean, jumping out of your car after the sun sets and having your house key poised and ready to unlock your apartment because the longer you spend fiddling in your purse looking for keys, the greater chance you stand of being assaulted because you weren’t paying attention and didn’t notice the creep watching you from a few feet away.
I mean, for all the times my grandmother warned me to look under and inside my car before getting in because you never know if someone might be waiting for you.
I mean, for all the times I decided not to take the bus to school, wear a certain dress or pair of shorts, or walk alone in my neighborhood, because catcalls from speeding cars and winos who followed me down Manor Road with sex-starved eyes made me feel vulnerable in my own community.
I mean, for the 21-year-old woman who was found by her parents, in pieces, in a bathtub in West Campus after going out on a “date” with her friend.
I mean, for Ortralla Moseley, 15, whose boyfriend stabbed her to death at 10:30 in the morning during passing period in the middle of a crowded hallway at Reagan High School. Another girlfriend had been forced to transfer schools after this young man’s aggression and jealousy caused her and her parents to fear for her life. Ortralla, citing these same reasons, had broken up with him the day before he murdered her. No one at school, however, seemed to pay much attention to his history of violence.
I mean, for Charlotte Jones, 21, who ran track with me at C.E. Ellison High School and could finish the 100-meter dash in 12 seconds flat. After graduation, she worked at Wal-Mart as a cashier. Her husband, a low-ranking Army soldier, shot her in the face, then shot and murdered their one-year-old daughter, before turning the gun on himself.
I mean, never knowing whether a walk outside, or going out for a quick beer, or checking your mail will mean you can expect to be the victim of sudden violence.
I have no answers, only the clear realization that occupying this body means being in a constant state of war. The only way I can hope to survive is by being prepared, on multiple levels (politically, physically, spiritually, and emotionally) to fight and defend it.
21 de julio 2006
This morning Angie’s right eye is swollen shut. I don’t think either of us will be recovering any time soon.
We clean house, hang wet sheets on clothesline, listen to radio programs. Gingerly press ice onto the ugly bruise. We go on.
 See WanderLust at www.wanderlustwarrior.blogspot.com for additional information on the R. Kelly protest and the FoCU manifesto written in response to his appearance.
 In many Latin American countries, lesbianism is seen as less threatening than male homosexuality because, presumably, there is no penetration involved. It is commonly joked that all women can do is ‘make tortillas,’ that is, rub their vaginas together. I’ve considered disabusing people of the notion that all lesbians do is ‘make tortillas,’ but have not as yet, done so.
 Can you stay with a (female) friend tonight?
Here's a view of the beach from Cusuna, the largest community in Territorio Garifuna. Not to sound too hokey or silly, but I found it very calming and reassuring to be so close to the water. Being in the communities made me realize more clearly the power of the environment and how critical it is that we protect it.
I decided to experiment with temporary art structures on the beach...what happens to the mind of an anthropologist after a few weeks in the field without receiving some much needed lovin'...
So you thought a colored girl from the U.S. couldn't hang in the Global South? Think again, kids. In the communities of the Territorio Garifuna there is no electricity, running water within people's homes, or the comforts we take for granted at home like washing machines and dryers. So you adjust and find that you can manage just fine without them.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
It all began rather unexpectedly last summer, when I discovered a place of indescribable beauty and tranquility in this medium-sized city that I call home, Austin, TX.
I discovered Barton Springs. Now to the uninitiated, Barton Springs may seem like any other swimming hole, but in the stupefying heat of a Central Texas summer it is heaven on earth. A pool fed from a natural spring it maintains a temperature of about 77 degrees year-round. And no matter how crowded it gets on a hot summer day, there is always room for one more weather-weary Austinite.
But this is not about Barton Springs.
It’s about me learning to love and appreciate the great outdoors.
About two weeks ago, my boyfriend convinced me to go camping. He’s an outdoorsy type and I have come to enjoy being outside, working with my hands so I agreed. The plan: drive to Big Bend in his old-school 1982 Chevy Luv pick-up truck. We bring ourselves, a used tent, lots of organic snacks and foodstuffs to munch on, and a lust for Mother Nature.
It was a good plan.
Unfortunately nothing went according to plan.
After a relatively uneventful drive through Austin, San Antonio and Del Rio we arrived on Saturday evening at our first stop, Seminole Canyon.
It was a cool evening and we immediately set up our tent before deciding to explore the area.
It seemed like the responsible thing to do. It was an older tent, slightly used, and after setting it up I noticed that there appeared to be a few small holes in the lining. No biggie, we’d just tape them up in the morning.
Unfortunately, our tent never saw the morning.
The winds of an evening storm grew stronger as the sun went down and before we knew it our fragile tent was engaged in a battle for its life. It lost. My main squeeze and I watched in equal parts horror and amazement as our tent was ripped to shreds before our eyes.
We slept in the truck until the rain from a sudden thunderstorm passed over.
According to one of the (very friendly) Park Rangers, it was the first rain the place had seen since October.
Before running into the truck for shelter, we noticed that one of the tires on the truck appeared to have a slow leak so we popped on the spare just in case we had to bail in the middle of the night. Eager beavers that we are, we applauded ourselves for our foresight and preparedness.
The next morning, with slightly dampened spirits, we gathered our things, climbed into the truck and prepared ourselves to mosy on back to Del Rio buy a new tent, and head to Big Bend for a weekend of R&R. Within 15 minutes of leaving the park to head to Big Bend, the tire exploded and we had to change it again.
We fixed it.
The water in the water pump began to boil shortly after that.
We agreed to turn around, head back to Del Rio, and drive very slowly.
We were totally fine with this when suddenly we heard a loud “THUNK!” in the engine and water sprayed over the entire front windshield.
After pulling over, and taking a look under the engine, my man’s worst fears were confirmed:
The radiator had blown its top.
Need I remind anyone that we were stranded:
On the highway.
In the desert.
At 2:00pm, arguably the hottest time of the day.
And did I mention it was a Sunday?
It took 2 and 1/2 hours for the tow man to reach us.
Following that the camping adventure became a a non-stop adventure of mechanics, auto parts store, walking into Mexico (Del Rio is right across the border from Ciudad Acuna), eating way too many tacos, swimming, and seedy motels. We settled on Best Western and obtained a rental car and went swimming in Lake Amistad, a man-made lake that is the result of the US and Mexican governments’ agreement to dam up the Rio Grande 40 years ago.
However, I don’t want to make this trip sound like a bust. Far from it. Despite, the camping fiasco I had a fabulous time, got to explore the Texas southwest, drink real margaritas in an amazing border town and snuggle with my man in questionable hotel rooms.
I did want to get in touch with nature in the desert but the fates weren’t having it. In the meantime, I stick to familiar waters, beat the heat at Barton Springs, and continue exploring nature with baby steps.
Peace and blessings to all…
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Without a dope blog to vibe to:) I know it's been a minute kids, but on the cool, I have just been incredibly busy and altogether too tired to update the blog. I've been spending the last few weeks struggling to, in the words, of the brilliant performance artist, Laurie Carlos, "hold up my own tits."
And the girls are heavy.
But enough about my mamas, I got to tell you all about Laurie.
Now if you don't know Laurie Carlos, you had better ask somebody. She was one of the original colored girls in Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf as well as one of the founders of the Urban Bush Women.
Yeah, it's that serious.
The girl is bad.
And I get to work with her. Well, me along with 16 other amazing women. She is currently serving as the guest director for a group I am a part of called The Austin Project (TAP). It works to bring together artists, activists and scholars to do the work of healing ourselves so that we can struggle for social justice. After all you can't heal the world if you're running around with a wounded heart. So we write and attempt to work from the places that keep us from walking fully in our path.
And then we mix it all up to share with you folks.
We will be having two performances this month, both this weekend:
April 8 & 9
Saturday location: Winship Building, 2.180 located on the UT-campus
Sunday location: Off-Centre Theatre located at 2211-A Hidalgo St. (it's right off of E. 7th street)
There's a suggested $2 donation but if you can't swing that (and I know how that is) you certainly won't be turned away.
So if you got some time and want to be moved come check out a bunch of women of color, white women, lesbianas, transgender, young, old, righteous women trying to heal themselves and heal the world with art and activism. It's event that's not to be missed.
In other news:
I will be posting updates on the R. Kelly protest, the future of FoCU, watching Latina/o youth defy the man and cut skool to protest wack immigration policies, my thoughts on the Cynthia McKinney craziness, as well as some musings on the rape of a young black women by three white lacrosse players at Duke last week.
So much things to say ya'll...
Take care of yourselves...
Friday, March 10, 2006
So we are off to a great start with the R. Kelly protest that we've been working on. Today we had an open letter to the University and Performing Arts Center administration published in the newspaper and we have a ton of stuff to work on before next Friday. In any case, the response to all of this has been rapid and a bit overwhelming. But I have to say that it is so encouraging to see so many people support the work that Feminists of Color United (FoCU - yes, the acronym reads like "fuck you") is trying to do.
In any case, I wanted to give you all a chance to check out the open letter we published in the Texan. We will be submitting a hard copy to the PAC so if you or any organizations that you are a part of would like to sign on to this work, leave a comment on this post and I will gladly add you.
Peace and Blessings to All, I'm afraid I'm full of revolutionary love tonight.
To the University of Texas at Austin Administration, UT Performing Arts Center Administration, University students, faculty, staff and the greater Austin community:
We are a coalition of women, men, students, faculty, people of color and white allies. We are taking a stand against the University's decision to allow an accused child pornographer to perform on our campus. We are taking a stand against sexual assault and exploitation of women of color on our campus and in our communities.
We discovered that the UT Performing Arts Center (PAC) invited R&B singer and accused child pornographer R. Kelly to perform at the Bass Concert Hall. We are offended that money generated from student fees to support the arts on campus are being used to sponsor a performance with an individual who has a history of dodging allegations of child pornography, statutory rape and exploiting young women sexually. After speaking with a representative of the PAC we were informed that they invited Kelly to perform despite his background and the fact that he is currently on trial for 14 counts of child pornography. Their reason: Kelly should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Regardless of his guilt or innocence, as women and men of color who attend and work at this University we are appalled at the use of University funds to support such an individual. In order to make our case more clearly perhaps it is necessary to know the background of the Kelly case as well as our political position. In February 2002, a videotape depicting a man who appears to be Kelly engaging in sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl. Kelly was indicted in Chicago in June 2002 with 21 counts for charges of soliciting a minor for child pornography, seven counts for videotaping these acts and seven counts of producing child pornography. Kelly was further indicted in January 2003 on 12 counts of possession of child pornography in Florida. Currently 14 of the 33 charges still stand and, despite his busy touring schedule, Kelly is on trial for these charges.
Although we are specifically targeting Kelly, because he is coming to our campus, we feel that it is critically important not to lose sight of the larger issue in this matter: sexual violence against women of color and sexism in communities of color. The fact that there has been no collective critique of the Kelly case either by prominent black or feminist leaders clearly demonstrates the lack of value that is placed on the lives and general well-being of women of color. While it is necessary to fight against the racism that affects both men and women of color, we feel it is our responsibility to also fight against the sexism within black, Latino, Asian and indigenous communities, as well.
In the tradition of Fredrick Douglas, as a community we must acknowledge and act upon the reality that the structural oppression of racism is both historically and contemporarily informed by gendered violence against black women. We recognize that until men of color deal with this reality they will continue to reproduce terror upon women of color. Sexual assault against women of color in the U.S. is a pervasive social reality that we all must struggle to overcome.
By inviting Kelly to perform, the University and the PAC demonstrate a lack of awareness of the reality of sexual assault against women of color and in so doing, implicitly support the perpetuation of this particular and pervasive form of violence.It is time for those of us who believe in freedom, justice and the right to a safe and healthy life to stand up for ourselves. As women of color (and allies of women of color) who are a part of the University community we are appalled at the University's blatant disregard of sexual violence against women of color.
We are here to stand up in defense of ourselves, our lives and our communities!
It is clear that the PAC has no intention of retracting their invitation to Kelly or canceling the show. Barring such a response we demand the following:
* That the PAC contact Kelly's publicist/manager and invite him to participate in a dialogue with Feminists of Color United. FoCU will be hosting a Sexual Assault Teach-In at the Center for African and African American Studies, Friday, March 17, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
* That FoCU be given space in the concert program to share our concerns with people attending the event.
* That we be given a brief time slot prior to the show to directly address the audience and present our analysis of this situation.
* That we be granted space to host an informational demonstration outside of the Bass Concert Hall as the audience arrives and be permitted to distribute educational literature.In this manner, we believe that we can truly shed light on the critical issue of sexual violence against women of color while also holding the University responsible for its actions.
If the University administration and the PAC truly believe in making this University a space where all people can thrive and feel safe, these demands should cause little problem.
Regardless, we will be at the Bass Concert Hall on March 17, letting R. Kelly and everyone else know that we are serious in our criticism and our outrage. Sexual assault against women of color and sexism in communities of color must stop. And we know that it will only stop when we stand up for ourselves and say "Enough!"
Feminists of Color United
Courtney Desiree Morris
Sonia dos Santos
Raquel de Souza
Damien Schynder, ally
Monday, March 06, 2006
Unpacking the Pimp Myth...
Now it may very well be true that it's hard out here for a pimp.
But I'll tell you one thing -- the payoff is a motherfucker.
That, my friends is the lesson that we can learn from the 78th Academy Awards. Last night, the Tennesee-based hip-hop group, Three-6 Mafia, made Oscar history when they become the first African-American hip-hop group to snag a little gold man with their song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The song was featured on the film, Hustle and Flow, which follows a pimp/drug dealer's (Terence Howard) attempt to break into the hip-hop industry.
As if the song (and its partner film) weren't offensive enough by itself, the performance that accompanied the song only excacerbated the matter. Of course, the fellas from the Three 6 Mafia were there, as was Taraji P. Henson, the actress who sang the catchy and questionable hook to the song in the film:
"You know it’s hard out here for a pimp/When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent/For the Cadillacs and gas money spent/Because a whole lot of b- talkin’ s-"
But no worries, mainstream America -- the good folks at ABC made sure the song was sufficiently edited and sanitized for television. Still, it makes me wonder: Are pimps, hoes and gritty street life fun family viewing provided there are no curse words involved? Does content matter at all? The performance also featured women dressed as "hoes" dancing around, enticing men, stealing their wallets, getting shaken and reprimanded (presumably by their pimps) and then slithering off the stage with their clientele. It concluded with Henson, shimmying down a small set of stairs, taking center stage and belting out in opera divaesque style --
"IT'S HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIIIIIMMMMMPPPP!"
Not exactly art, but apparently good enough for the Academy of Arts and Sciences...
In any case, this may absolutely be the last straw. I love hip-hop and I even like some of Three 6 Mafia's tunes (who among us can forget that Dirty South Classic, "Tear Da Club Up" ? Sigh, it brings back such memories). Still, I have to wonder about what kind of message is being sent out when a song that glorifies sexually abusing and exploiting women can be recognized by the Academy as a noteworthy piece of art? In the Academy's (no doubt heartfelt, but misguided) attempt to be broad and "diverse" could it be that they selected the song despite their better judgement? I mean, really, have we forgotten who pimps really are and what they really do? Would the song still be cute, if it was your daughter that was getting pimped? It might be hard out there for a pimp, but I'm sure it's a whole lot harder for those women who are getting pimped.
Alas, all rhetorical questions that no one at the Academy can answer. Still they're worth asking . After last night I'm starting to think that we're all getting pimped and we'd better wake up and stop rewarding people who make their living on all our backs.
We live in a culture that glorifies misogyny, hip-hop is only the most flashy culprit. Is it any surprise that this song was chosen when we consider it a compliment to call someone a pimp? Or where a video with Nelly and the St. Lunatics chasing scantily-clad strippers around a mansion can enjoy the highest circulation on BET? Second-wave feminists used to say that we live in a rape culture -- I'm inclined to disagree, at least in a rape culture we pay some attention to the people who are victimized by rape. In the pimp culture that we call home, only the perpetrators are given attention. In glorifying the pimp we are conveniently able to ignore the issue that is hidden in plain view: the systematic, normalized devaluation of women's bodies and lives. And there is nothing artistic or sexy about that.
Friday, March 03, 2006
The Lesson for Today:
Even Revolutionary Bad-Asses have to take a break once in a while. And when my body is tired and indicating to me that there is really no more that we can do, that's probably because we are tired and there is really no more that we can do.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Big Pimpin' and Student Elections on the 40 Acres...
In an attempt to get more work done, I have taken to leaving my house at strange hours in the evening and working at coffeeshops. Historically, I tend to be more productive at coffeeshops, mostly because I don't get distracted as easily or decide to quit reading theory and opt instead to crank up the M.I.A. and dance around my apartment.
But I digress.
As I was in the middle of working at JP's Java, I took a bathroom break and, as I am wont to do, took a copy of the paper, The Daily Texan, with me.
Tonight's lesson for me is that ignorance may indeed, truly be bliss. In reading the paper, I found that there are a great many things that I could stand to go without knowing if for no other reason than that I am infuriated by so many goings-on nowadays.
It is revealed that in the elections for Student Government one ticket, Impact, which has by far the strongest likelihood of winning, has spent a whopping $7,000 on campaign expenditures. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised, last year's winning ticket, Connect spent a disgusting $8,500 campaigning -- good job kids. If you're gonna swamp the competition, go for the gold! Now, forget the fact that these SG idiots have spent enough money on t-shirts, stickers, flyers, etc. to put a UT undergrad through three semesters of school. Forget the fact that their closest competition, I-ROC (Independent Renewal of Campus) spent only $650. Let's focus on the fact that they spent all of this fucking money to get elected to a governing body that is effectively a dog that is all bark and no bite. It's not like SG resolutions change the world and the miniscule representation that SG does manage to wrangle in administrative affairs at the University are, at best, milquetoast concessions that allow students to have dummy representatives on influential committees, etc.
Which leads me to my next source of frustration...
For years, UT students have lobbied for a student representative on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, the administrative body that decides the fate of every student in the UT System from Austin to El Paso to the Texas Panhandle. Our peer institutions such as the University of California System and the University of Michigan have had student reps for years. Well, after years of strategizing, setbacks, and struggle we finally got one. The Regents relented and agreed to have a student rep.
The compromise? The student regent would serve as a representative with no voting power. This concession, which Student Government acquiesced to, was a slap in the face to all of the students who have advocated for meaningful representation on this powerful Board. Still, in the end, a foot in the door, is a step in the right direction.
So since the student regent can't vote, what does he get? Our current rep, Brian Haley (more on that some other day), is the proud owner of a brand new Blackberry. Now he can use state-of-the-art technologically to schedule dates for all the meetings that he won't be able to vote at -- SWEET! In addition to this slamming consolation prize, Haley also enjoys perks such as a parking pass for every UT system school and free tickets to a number of University events. Evidently these are perks that all of the regents receive because they are not paid for sitting on the board. I could explain why this explanation is a farce but just check out the Board's website at http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/regents.htm and you'll see why. All of these cats are up to their longhorns in wealth.
I can't help feeling that somehow the interests of UT students have been totally pimped out and our right to representation has been quietly tucked away and replaced with a Blackberry and free courtside seats.
In any case, I have officially decided that perhaps in the interests of maintaining my overall mental and emotional well-being, I had better stick to reading the Texas Travesty or Mad Magazine when I'm in the john. At least that way, I'll know the material I'm reading was meant to be a joke.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Opened my email today and discovered that acclaimed science fiction author Octavia Butler passed away on Saturday, Feb. 24 from head injuries she suffered outside of her Seattle home.
As someone who just recently became acquainted with Butler's work I am deeply saddened by the loss of this truly brilliant mind. I have always enjoyed science fiction but to finally come across a Black feminist sci-fi author who crafted beautifully complex, kick-ass black heroines in her work was truly a blessing. I was fortunate enough to have a friend share her work with me and I hope that all of you will do the same and keep the work of this amazing writer alive.
In any case, I wanted to share this with all of you and encourage you all to check out an interview that LiP magazine conducted with Butler in 2004. Amazing.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Keeping it short because I'm tired and really should be in bed, but I got this from a friend and wanted to encourage all of you to check this out. I know I'm going to try.
The Dildo Diaries is a documentary that explores the laws regulating the sale and distribution of sex toys in Texas and the legal loopholes that those us of committed to getting off have to jump through.
Now for those of you don't know, sex toys are illegal in the state of Texas. Being the bastion of moral righteousness that we are, Texas does not allow the sale of sex toys. Why? Because it's obscene, you pervert!
At least that's what the law says.
I'm not making this up.
Section 43.23 of the Texas Penal code clearly states, "A person commits an offense if he ... possesses with intent to wholesale promote any obscene material or obscene device. A person who possesses six or more obscene devices ... is presumed to possess them with intent to promote the same."
Deep in the heart of the Lone Star state we don't like people using battery-powered, plastic phalluses to get their rocks off.
But we're big on education.
In order to get around this many sex shops, ahem, educational facilities, refer to such items as educational models, instructional materials etc. to avoid being slapped with selling obscene materials and/or devices.
Seems like a lot of hassle to go through to keep adults from getting off.
In an act of defiance against the state, I plan on taking my education into my own hands as often as time, energy and battery power permit. I encourage all of you to do the same...
For additional information about The Dildo Diaries check out the filmmakers' website at http://www.dildodiariesfilm.net/. The film will be screening here in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 9:45 pm. See you there!
Monday, February 20, 2006
This is a trial run.
In a former life I was the news editor of my high school newspaper and the Daily Texan News at the University of Texas at Austin.
I love layout.
And so I have to know if it is possible to sex up this blog with better layout and my eye-catching design.
It's past midnight ya'll. Just humor me.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
More disturbing signs of the times. I saw this after spending an absolutely glorious day at Pedernales Falls. It reads "If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a soldier." Nothing like insane U.S. nationalist bumper stickers to remind you of the need to turn off the T.V. and stay plugged into alternative media.
In my last entry I ranted about the fact that R. Kelly is coming to UT to perform next month. After posting the blog I proceeded to complain about this fact to every person I know from my very patient and tolerant main squeeze to my friends and colleagues at the university. Basically I forced all the people who loved me to indulge my silliness and listen to me bitching about this outrage (and make no mistake, it is an outrage).
But then after I had exhausted myself whining, I sat down in my office and thought to myself -- "No really somebody should do something about this."
The late, great Black feminist poet, June Jordan, wrote in "A Poem for South African Women" that "We are the ones we have been waiting for."
In short, it's time for colored girls to stop looking to others to save us and get to work saving ourselves.
With that said, I want to let everyone know that we will be hosting a teach-in on sexual assault on women of color and sexism in communities of color and then staging a demonstration at the performance in front of the Bass Concert Hall. I had a ridiculously painless time convincing other women of color graduate students to get on board. In fact, all truth be told, the teach-in belongs to Juli Grigsby, who brought me back to down to the planet after I suggested holding a two-day symposium.
Hey, I like to dream big, if not always rationally.
In any case, as women of color who live in Austin and are connected to the University we don't have to put up with anything that threatens our lives, our bodies, and our communities. Including pedophilic pop/R&B singers.
So tell a friend, drag your boyfriend/girlfriend, daughter/son, or anyone who you think either 1) is already down for the struggle and needs to get involved or 2) should be educated about the reality of sexual violence against women of color. After all, we can all move beyond bitching by educating others to fight against sexism and resist being either a victim or perpetuator/perpetrator of this violence.
With love, solidarity and a healthy dose of optimism...
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Fiddling around on the Internet this afternoon I came across a most disturbing piece of information.
R. "I like to piss on underaged black girls" Kelly, will be performing at the University of Texas at Austin next month.
While I realize that this news may bring joy to the hearts of many a mindless pop/R&B fan I have to say that I am disgusted and appalled that people are still listening to this fool. It makes me wonder what kind of world we live in when people can turn a blind eye to a celebrity being charged with 21 counts of child pornography and pedophilia, starring in a homemade sex tape that features him urinating on teenage girls, and dubbing himself the "Pied Piper of R&B." Don't sleep on that last one ya'll, do you remember the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin? He played his flute and led all the children away to his secret hideaway -- you never heard what happened to those kids did you?
That's because all of the records have been sealed and they agreed to an out of court settlement.
There is something very wrong with R. Kelly and I have made it my personal mission to call that Negro out every chance I get. I strongly urge each of you to boycott this damn show and tell all your homies to do the same.
Besides, I saw R. Kelly when I was 18. Aside from him prancing around in his underwear and dry humping his dancers on stage, it wasn't much of a show. Save your money.
And for those of you who want to make the argument that I should ease up on the R because he's a musical genius I have two words for you: Stevie Wonder. Now, that is a musical genius. R. Kelly is a semi-literate clown with great production and choir boy vocals. Nothing special at'all.
Of course, I think we all realized that we had been duped by Mr. Kelly when he gave us musical gems such as "I Like the Crotch On You" with 12 Play and "Thoia Thoing." I am Black woman with a degree -- please don't insult my intelligence.
So kids, it is each and every one's responsibility to take a principled stand against 1) mind-numbingly awful R&B music; 2) sexism in the Black community; and 3) Teflon-Don celebrities who do incredibly fucked up things and refuse to take accountability for their actions. It's time for us, The People, to make them accountable. In the meantime, I will be singlehandedly planning the Lockdown the R campaign here in Austin -- feel free to join me in this positively righteous Black feminist holy war. Alright ya'll...I think I feel a protest coming on.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
I mean it is really, really hard.
When I speak, if at all, I am forced to speak slowly, carefully pronouncing words that don't quite fit in my mouth. I stumble, trying to make my English tongue do things it simply has been accustomed to doing.
I think more about what I really want to say and the words in my ever expanding vocabulary arsenal that will enable me to express myself. What do I really mean, what is that I really want to communicate? This is language stripped naked, down to the bare bones, and sometimes, I can't even manipulate this simple language.
I speak slowly, communicate more with my hands, eyes, my whole body. Lean in closely, devote my full attention on whoever is speaking -- I can't afford to miss anything. When attempting to reply, I stumble, often confusing tenses, pronunciation, and gender.
In short, Spanish makes me humble in a way that I never could be in English. I often don't like who I become in Spanish. A simple girl, quiet, to herself, struggling to communicate even simple things -- I need deodorant and toothpaste, sir. I miss the confident woman that I am in English.
Spanish makes me apologize. Leaves me vulnerable to criticism and correction. Like the friend, who, after reading my blog, gently pointed out to me that since I used ano and not año in one of my entries, I wished all of you a fabulous, happy new anus. Accents can be the line between clarity and confusion in Spanish, one simply cannot afford to forget them.
Sigh...and just when you think you're making progress.
The completely insane thing is that this stumbling with Spanish doesn't inhibit my ability to read the language at all. And I've become a reasonably good Spanish to English translator. Pero, por favor, don't ask me to do this process in reverse.
Coming to Nicaragua is good for me, because it makes me slow down, learn to accept and own my shortcomings, and not be afraid to admit that I am wrong and start over. Good skills to have in an unpredictable world.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
I am sitting in a bedroom with Scooby Doo curtains and a spider larger than any I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo. He’s kind of furry and when I took a photo of him, he had red-eye. I think he’s interested in me and wondering who this long-legged, funny-looking creature is. Right now, I’m tired and a bit out of it and too tired to either call for help or attempt to shoo him out. And I don’t want to kill him, somehow that just seems wrong.
I was sitting in a rocking chair this evening watching the news and it occurred to me that watching U.S. news coverage outside of the U.S. is a bit like having an out-of-body experience. Sort of like the feeling you have when you are having a great conversation with a person you just met and are really, really high. The significance of the conversation and this new person you really dig is not lost on you and yet you can’t quite take it seriously. Your head is floating into the ceiling and it’s like you’re watching this experience happen to somebody else who looks just like you.
Ariel Sharon, a man who has made life miserable for so many and in the last year has done a political about face that has confounded even the most cynical political scientists is in an Israeli hospital fighting for his life. It’s difficult to know whether to celebrate or mourn. Funny, I didn’t feel this strangely when Reagan died. That was clearly a time to celebrate.
More than 130 people dead in Iraq in the course of a single day. Suicide bombers strike again. Bush meets with old advisors, a tired Colin Powell attends, and the leader of the free world affirms yet again that the decision to invade, sorry, liberate Iraq, right or wrong, must be defended. We must succeed or the terrorists will. Somehow, I think they already have.
New York City experiences an unseasonably warm day. I wonder if people I love living in Harlem, Queens, and the People’s Republic of Brooklyn went outside to enjoy the weather.
I sit in Nicaragua watching the news and feel unbelievably disconnected. As if distance were an anesthesia that numbs the horror I feel at the direction our planet is going in. There are no words. These body counts, these lives are real and somehow, I can’t seem to force myself to believe that right now in this moment, in this wet, isolated corner of Central America that these events touch me, the lives of people I care about, the names and faces I know so well. My mind has floated off somewhere and I am numbly watching these things happen to people who are just like me.
Continuing in the vein of out-body-experiences…I took the bus from Managua to Bluefields and sometime between 6:30 Wednesday evening and 8:00 Thursday morning I was in Bluefields.
The trip went something like this:
Arrive at bus station at 6:30 pm – the Managua/Rama express is a tricked out school bus that probably took kids in Delaware to school in the 1980s. Still, you can’t knock the hustle, so I chill out, pull out a book, and wait to start loading the luggage. I meet a few Black bluefileñas who pull me into their conversation. Before I can correct them they assume I am a Bluefields daughter come home from the States. You look good, they say, and I can tell they’re trying to guess what family I belong to. Hudson? James? One of the women, who now lives in San Andres, Colombia tells me elaborate tales of bus choques, plane crashes and all manner of traveling devilry. But, she urges me to ask God for safety. Earnestly, she asks, Are you a Christian? Moravian or Baptist? I reply Baptist, my grandfather would be pleased, and shuffle off to see if we can begin loading our luggage. I’m just not mentally prepared for a theology lesson tonight.
6:50 or so -- Load suitcases onto top of tricked out school bus, which is named Beholden, after one of the oldest predominantly Black barrios in Bluefields. Solid.
7:15 – get into bus. Wait for two and a half hours. Tricked out bus is supposed to head out at 9 pm sharp for the El Rama, but…
Depart for the Atlantic Coast at 9:50 pm. Ni modo…
Drive for three hours. Stop to eat and pee in Juigalpa.
Nicaraguan drivers are amazing – we leave Managua nearly an hour late and arrive to our destination nearly an hour early. Increíble…
Wait at the wharf for two hours to board the next panga, that’s a dory with a motor, which won’t leave for another two hours. Fade in and out of consciousness with one leg wrapped around my luggage and the other in the legs of a plastic chair.
Panga arrives and I’m so tired I can’t even fully appreciate the beauty of the Coast. Palm trees, miles and miles of green hills, wooden West Indian style houses that perch over the moist soil on spindly, wooden legs. My God, even in my sleep-deprived delirium I am amazed by the wonder of this place.
Arrive to Bluefields around 8am and am greeted by an ever-reliable and patient homegirl who promptly takes me home and throws me into bed. It’s nice to be loved.
That’s the bare bones of the trip. Next time, I will stick to flying. Still, I’m not entirely sure how I got here (since I floated in and out of consciousness throughout the trip) but here I am in Barrio Pancasan playing with my friend’s son, Ricky and watching Tom y Jerry. It’s funny how I remember some things so well and forgot other things about Bluefields so quickly. The wetness, for example. Bluefields is located on the southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and is one of the wettest places on the planet with an annual rainfall that exceeds 2000 to 4000 mm. It rains all of the time, and I do not exaggerate. Technically there aren’t really even seasons per se, the climate is judged by the shift in levels of rainfall. So rainy season v. rainier season.
So it’s no wonder that no matter how much I shower, lounge around in front of fans, or do any manner of little things to keep both cool and dry, I always feel wet. My skin carries a slick shine and my clothing sticks to my skin in damp patches. I have a theory that the damp is good for my skin and hair since they are so moisturized from the climate, I have to do relatively little to either. Still, the damp has its drawbacks. Books, for example, simply can’t survive. You see them in offices or personal libraries, the pages and covers curling around the edges, the spines deteriorating. And technical equipment, like laptops, digital cameras, mini-DV cameras, and that phat iPod your Mama gave you for Christmas are constantly under attack. So I’ve taken to wrapping all of my techno-gear in plastic. I find that the plastic bags you get from the market work just fine.
But I’m back in Bluefields and apart from the wetness, feeling okay. I’m staying with my friend, Angie Martinez, an altogether inspiring and amazing individual (as you can see I make it a point only to surround myself with people who motivate me with their talent and spirit). The first Black woman I ever met in Nicaragua who proudly called herself a feminist, and I’ve been in love ever since. Being the rowdy feminist that she is, she is involved in a number of activities from running the only Black women’s radio show on the Coast to conducting research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on amas de casa to helping run a multiethnic women’s research and studies center at the URACCAN, one of two universities in the Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur (RAAS). That’s right kids, chop off 7 years and the adorable son, and you have found my freaky third world twin in Bluefields, Nicaragua. I suspect that this is why we are such good friends.
In any case, being so busy Angie hardly has the time to do the things that other women here spend much of their day doing – namely, being domestic. Cooking, cleaning, all of that gets done – eventually. So after waking up from my nap, doing a little reading and playing with Ricky while Angie stepped out for dinner with a friend, I decided to give her the gift that I’ve always wanted from others – particularly this semester when I was so consumed with doing well my first semester of graduate school that I cursed having to sacrifice 20 minutes of precious reading and writing time to showering and brushing my teeth in the morning.
I washed a sinkful of dishes.
Good gift, no?
Sending you all love with damp pajamas and dishpan hands…
My spider man just left. Perhaps he had another pressing engagement.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
PROFUNDIZAR: [pro. fun. di. sár] v. to deepen; to go deep into
Go on ahead and say it. Roll it aroud on your tongue for a bit. You are starting to like how it sounds...profundizar. ¡Muy Bien! Now try to use it at least once in a sentence today.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Sunday, January 01, 2006
¡Feliz Nuevo Ano! It’s a brand new year and I was able to celebrate the coming of 2006 in Managua with friends and Flor de Caña. I’ve been pretty busy down here and tramping around the Pacific coast, a side of the country with which I’ve only recently become better acquainted. The day after I arrived my friends and I visited Granada, a beautiful old colonial city only an hour away from Managua. We had a glorious time and as proof of my self-proclaimed status as a bad-ass I think you should know something.
I hiked a volcano.
And I’m not talking about no small volcano neither my friends.
I am talking about Volcán Mombacho, an active volcano that looks out over the city of Granada. When you reach the top you can see all of Granada; Lago Nicaragua, one of the largest fresh bodies of water in the Americas, and the Isletas de Granada. At our peak we were more than 1500 km above sea level. We took a guided tour through the volcano and there were two options: an abbreviated tour and a lengthier full tour that was about four kilometers. Being the true adventurers that we are, we, of course, chose the long tour. Three hours of pure jungle and natural beauty. I must admit I’ve never seen anything like it. After the insanity that is Managua, it was really quite wonderful to be enveloped by the silence of nature, hearing only the crunch of the ground underfoot, the songs of congo monkeys climbing through the trees, and the wind rushing through the forest. It was slightly damp as we walked through the jungles that surround the volcano and I was afraid that I would be cold. But by the end of the trip I was so flushed, sweaty and exhausted I couldn’t even think about being cold. I was so overwhelmed being there and blessed by having been able to experience this place with my nose, my hands, my eyes, my ears. Using the camera lent to me by my friend, the brilliant and beautiful filmmaker, Krissy Mahan, I filmed as much as the life of my battery would permit. Perhaps after editing all of this material, I’ll have a mini-screening at my home and folks can check out my journey to Mombacho.
I’ve only recently begun to appreciate how beautiful and necessary the environment is and I realize how important it is to do all that we can to protect it. Nicaragua, it seems, might make an eco-activist of me yet. Imagine that, a radical black ecofeminist. My parents have been quite tolerant of all my political changes over the years. I wonder if they’d ever get their heads around that one. Still, I appreciate their patience and their acceptance of my need to grow and expand my politics as I see and feel necessary. And given my growing love affair with Nicaragua I’m sure they’d understand.
In any case, as it turns out Mombacho is also an area protegida, which means that although there are people who live in the area (admittedly very few) everything that is done from coffee-growing to bathrooms must be environmentally sound and sustainable. The staff of the Mombacho Reserve are doing a fine job, the place is spotless, not a water bottle or cigarette on the ground anywhere. This place, like many other protected areas throughout the world, is constantly under threat and needs the support of people who recognize the importance of biodiversity, sustainable development, and protecting the environment. You can find out more about the Mombacho Reserve at www.mombacho.org.
But alas, like all good things, our time in Granada came to an end and we had to return to Managua. Even the night before we returned people had begun celebrating the coming New Year, shooting off fire crackers one after the other for hours of end. They went off in rapid succession, like gunfire. We returned to Managua to my friend Yamila’s house and scurried our funky selves into the nearest shower to prepare for the New Year’s Eve party her parents host every year. It’s a small gathering of family friends and I felt quite happy to be there.
Yamila’s mother, Doña Sonia and her husband Juan were excellent hosts who saw to it that a sister got straight borracha before the night was over. It was a wonderful party and I spent the night talking, dancing, drinking, and getting chased around the house by a handsome and charming man old enough to be my grandfather. Don’t worry I behaved myself. It was flattering, to be sure, but also a little disconcerting to have a man flirt with me so blatantly in front of his wife, who seemed (or at least pretended) not to notice. She was very nice to me, however, and after giving me a back rub stated that I carry a lot of tension in my back (which is true) and offered to give me a massage/acupuncture session at her clinic here in Managua when I return from the Coast. My septuagenarian suitor was also curious because his wife was clearly significantly younger than him, at least 20 years, perhaps more. So the idea that he was interested in someone as young as me was a bit disturbing. It’s moments like that where I really begin to think about how race and gender (and in this case, age) dynamics come together in how people interact with one another.
This man spent the entire evening talking about how special the Atlantic Coast is and later in the evening used the same word to describe me: “Es una mujer muy especial – y lo sabe.” Perhaps, but I had to wonder. And when he kept asking me to dance, only to sit down sipping his Stoli, and watching me move I realized that perhaps there might be more to this than I had initially imagined. In Nicaragua, like in the U.S., the myth of the black seductress is alive and well. Black women from the Coast are imagined as being hypersexual and available as demonstrated in the inviting way that they move (how they walk and dance). It’s assumed that they are less inhibited in bed than Mestizas and make better lovers because they are sexually aggressive and indiscriminate. These common sense beliefs around black women’s sexuality inform daily interactions and perceptions of our bodies and shapes how people (of all races and genders) engage us. Benign comments then about they way one moves or one’s (sexual) desirability are always already implicitly charged with latent racialized understandings of the black female body.
Was I this man’s costeña fantasy? Perhaps, and the struggle is learning how to navigate the desires and discourses that are projected onto my black female body – a lesson I’ve been struggling to learn since the first time I came to Nicaragua. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Until then, I’ll stick to seducing men closer to my age and politics.
Happy New Year to all, I wish you the very best.