Friday, March 10, 2006

Rebellion is in Full Swing!

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!"

In Solidarity,
Feminists of Color United
Juli Grigsby
Courtney Desiree Morris
Jacqueline Smith
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 --
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.
Exhibit A:
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...
Exhibit B:
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 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.
Peace ya'll...