Friday, January 30, 2009

If Ever I Needed a Friday... is today. Whew.

I'm never one to keep up with the news like I should (Tren's best efforts aside), but the other day, I saw on the front page of one of the papers in the paper machines, "Obama Vows Republicans Will Be Heard." And I thought two things.

1) Why? We heard 'em for eight years and look at us. And their screechy, doom and gloom voices get on my last nerve anyway. Seriously, did any major Republican official between 2001 and early 2009 say, "Let's vow to listen to Democrats?" No, they did like white southerners did in the aftermath of the Civil War--instead of saying, "Hmm, maybe our cause and beliefs are seriously FLAWED. Maybe the times, they are a changing!" they dug in--I mean, even now some of them are talking about retreating further into their lunacy.

2) Damn, maybe I should be a Republican. I mean, when they win elections, it's a mandate that they are to be heard! When they lose elections, it's a mandate that they are to be heard! It's a win-win situation. You can treat people like shit, ignore (until it's time to reinforce their subjugation) the poor, PoC, women, the LGBTQI community and it's okay because GOD IS ON YOUR SIDE and YOU'RE THE ONLY "REAL" AMERICANS!! Aren't those, like, the most perfectly crafted excuses? Hell, anyone who disagrees with you is either going to hell or unpatriotic.

Anyway, I'm tired and so glad it's Friday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It Does Matter

crossposted at Shakesville

My mom is visiting, which means my T.V. has been on some. I'm having quite the experience. On Sunday, she was watching Keyshia Cole's "The Way It Is." "The Way It Is" is a reality show centered around singer Keyshia Cole's life, but more broadly about a black family reconnecting after having been torn apart by poverty and addiction. Keyshia's sister, Neffie, was speaking to a group of black girls who were pregnant and possibly had high risk exposure to STDs. Neffie shared the story of her own repeated sexual abuse and assault that had begun when she was nine, then encouraged the girls to value their bodies and their sexuality.

One of the girls asked, "What do a female supposed to think, if they've already been touched by eight different people, so it don't matter if I have sex?"

That question, for me, embodied a number of issues, primarily the fetishization of virginity and the horrible silence surrounding the sexual assault of black women.

That girl, 18 and pregnant, believed that because she had "been touched," she no longer had the autonomy, the right to say no. Her "value" was significantly lessened because she was not "innocent."

Every black woman that the camera cut to in that room had tears in her eyes. A symbol of a collective knowing: According to the National Black Women's Health Project, 40% of us "report coercive contact of a sexual nature" by the time we're 18. (Note that's just what is reported.) And no matter our age, we are less likely than white women to report the assault, less likely to seek medical and psychological help.

There are a number of reasons for those facts. Black women have been characterized as "unrapeable" in our society, a stereotype that goes hand in hand with the one that paints us as "insatiable"—always sexually ready and available. These are characterizations that have a long history in the U.S., beginning with the classification of black women as (sexual) property during slavery.

In the aftermath of emancipation, white men justified their continued assault of black women by developing pseudoscientific theories that claimed African Americans were prone to "sexual madness and excess." Thus, while any sexual relation between black men and white women would "damage" white women (because of black men's aggressiveness and large penis size), black women, with their "deep" and "wide" vaginas and their voracious sexual appetites, could not be physically or emotionally hurt by rape.

Rendering black women unrapeable excused the widespread sexual assault and terror that black women and their families experienced during Reconstruction and afterwards. It also thwarted "emancipation"; as Tera Hunter asserted in To 'Joy My Freedom, "Freedom was meaningless without ownership and control over one's own body."

For black women, then, there was no legal definition or protection: "'Rape,' in this sense," noted Angela Harris, "was something that only happened to white women; what happened to black women was simply life."1

This historic lack of legal recourse is but one factor that discourages us from seeking legal justice. Inviting police into our communities is an attempt fraught with danger—they might disrespect us, paint us as liars, dismiss the significance of our assaults, act violently against community members.

Then there are the barriers that African Americans experience in attaining medical and psychological care—our complaints are not taken seriously, many of us don't have health insurance, we are part of a community that has been regarded as "dirty" or "diseased," treatments and interventions have been typically based on the experiences of white women.

There is often a hesitance to bring negative attention to our communities. No, not because we're "obsessed" with appearances or not airing our dirty laundry, but because we know that we will be treated as a monolith, all cast as violent or criminal. And, so often, black women remain silent, even as Aishah Shahidah Simmons noted, at our own expense. (Also see related video at her site.)

Finally (though this list is not complete), there is the persistent stereotype of the black woman as somehow superhuman—able to "take it," tough, affected differently by assault than other women. Within my community, for example, assault and incest are cast as something that black girls and women just have to deal with. It is not just the victims of sexual assault remaining silent, but whole families and communities. It's as if it is "normal," it happens, there's little we can do, so we must learn to cope.

I wonder how much of that this young woman had internalized, this idea that it "just happens," that it's not a big deal.

And I wonder how much she has internalized the idea that her worth as a sexual being is totally defined by her status as "non-virgin."

When her mother was asked what she had taught her daughter about sex, she replied, "Not to have it." That is a response, I believe, rooted in the influence of religion in African Americans’ lives and a defense mechanism, an attempt to combat the persistent Jezebel stereotype that haunts black women. For example, in the first two minutes of this clip from "Luke's Parental Advisory, Luther Campbell not only tells his daughter to abstain under threat of disease, but also explains to her how many partners will put her in "H-O territory," delivering a double-threat of fearmongering and slut-shaming.

So, what happens when we do "have it?" How many of our parents tell us simply not to have it and leave it at that? I mean, there are plenty of people out there telling girls that having sex makes them "used" or "soiled," that virginity is a gift, something that belongs to a future husband long before they've even met him. Once it is gone, they are dirty and have nothing to offer. They are less desirable as partners.

They are worthless.

It's not as if exemptions are made for rape victims. Sure, people speak of rape as more traumatic, more damaging if the victim was a virgin, but survivors of rape are often characterized as damaged or irreparably harmed, less than whole.

Less, in general.

And, as has been so frequently discussed at Shakesville, the persistent conflation of rape with consensual sex means that young women, in particular, who have been told to "hold onto" their virginity and associate their personal value with it, don't make any distinction when they are raped before consenting to sex. They view themselves as diminished not only by virtue of their victimization, but also by having lost their highly-valued virginity. And they are left with no reason to abstain—because no one's ever given them any reason other than fiercely guarding their virginity.

So, what happens when we do "have it?" My black mother told me, "not to have it," too. But that is a woefully shortsighted reaction, especially given that kids who take chastity pledges tend to break them. For black girls, who are sexually active at an earlier age than other girls and who have higher rates of STIs, we need to answer the question.

We need to help them break the silence surrounding sexual assault.

We need to help them negotiate hostile health care institutions—black girls don't report engaging in riskier behavior than their peers, but barriers to health care prevent diagnosis and treatment of STIs in black communities.

We need to talk to them about healthy, guilt-free sex—when I read that teenagers who take chastity pledges are less likely to use birth control methods, it made perfect sense. Birth control requires forethought, an admission that you plan to have sex, something many teenagers who have simply been told "don't have it," can't do.

We need to tell them that no matter how many times they've "been touched," or how many partners they've had, they still have bodily autonomy, the right to say yes or no. That the language used to fetishize virginity—"saving it" or "giving it" to someone—is not accurate. Their sexuality, their bodies are their own.

We need to tell them that their worth is not tied up in their virginity.

I never want to hear another black girl say, "It don't matter."


1 Angela Harris, "Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory," Stanford Law Review, February 1990.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Things Seen 13

You know, I can't decide which perturbs me more.

1) The fact that someone thought this quote was plaque-worthy.

2) The fact that I was shopping for apothecary jars in a store that would sell these.

3) The fact that quite a few of them had been purchased!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Just in Case My Descendants Look Back at this Blog...

...and regard it as a journal of my rather boring life, I don't want them to be like, "Dang, Big Mama/TeTe/Cousin elle/whatever!!, you really were out of it in January 2009."

I didn't observe the 96th anniversary of my beloved sorority on the 13th.

I let the MLK holiday pass with nary a word.

And I was almost silent on inauguration day.

But so the kids won't think I lost it, can I just highlight my favorite part of the day:

Well, Bush leaving and images of Malia snapping pics and Sasha just looking adorable.

I really don't have a lot to say today--I don't have writer's block, exactly. More like I'm lazy--I don't want to do the work to put to paper (or keyboard) all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas I've been having lately. My time has been consumed with work and the Kid.

I'll be back soon. Here and here. That's right--as soon as I get a coherent thought, I'll be writing here and at Shakesville. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Someone Is Almost 9 Months Old...

Deuce and my mom are visiting. I have been unable to get an awake picture because he moves so much! It's hard on this old body keeping up. Here he is, pulling up so that he can type on my laptop. Notice that his face is a blur:

The only time he's still:

He'll be nine months old on the 17th. In addition to pulling up on everything (which he's been doing for several weeks now), he's learned to dance in the last month. I totally humiliate myself singing self-composed works just to get him to flap his arms and laugh.

Things Seen 12

Procured by mrs. o during her countryside travels:

A few incomplete musings (I should probably duck and cover):

1) The pro-choice position is not about demanding the termination of any and every pregnancy.

2) As mrs. o appended to her e-mail, these are not the times of Mary and Joseph, for many of us. Part of being pro-choice is about working towards and respecting women's autonomy. What autonomy did Mary have? She is primarily revered for having been a "vessel."

Her worth was tied up in her virginity--if her unmarried pregnancy had been found out she could have been killed; she was no longer a desirable marriage prospect.

Even carrying a pregnancy that, in the words of Sojourner Truth, man had nothing to do with, Mary found her baby's ancestry traced through her husband and her husband named the baby.

3) One of the things that people who are pro-choice advocate is strong support systems for pregnant women so that a full range of CHOICES are open to women. A literal interpretation of the story of Mary's pregnancy reveals that she, as a girl described as humble and devout, had the support that she would've considered most important--that of her God. Plus, Mary had internal insulation from the slut-shaming that complicates many teenagers' pregnancies.

4) The logic behind the question on the marquee is faulty:

a. It is based on the comparison of Mary with other teenaged girls who have
unexpected pregnancies. Yes, Mary was young, with an unplanned pregnancy, and could have faced death. That last factor cannot be overstated. But Mary had a kind of support (see #3) many girls don't. Because the angel appeared to Joseph as well, she also had the protection of being married before her pregnancy was apparent.

b. Emmanuel Baptist Church uses the argument to "rebuke" pro-choicers and claim that EBC is supportive of "life." But it is who they don't rebuke that demonstrates, again, that the pro-life position is one that is not so much centered on "protecting life," but on regulating how women express their sexuality and how they reproduce. If church members care so much about life, why don't they, when using Mary as an example, critique the society in which she lived--one that would have killed her and ended her pregnancy as well? Especially when that is a danger many women still face.

c. It doesn't work as well if you substitute other parents. I shouldn't say it, but I thought it, and according to my mother, it's the same. Seriously, plug in the names of the parents of someone you believe is truly evil.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Since When... lying on your belly with your hands behind you not a non-threatening enough position?

From Carmen:
Early New Year’s Day in Oakland, Oscar Grant, a 22 year old father, held his hands up and pleaded with the arresting officers not to hurt him because he had a daughter. But once he had been wrestled down to the ground, with one officer’s knee in Grant’s neck area, a second officer stepped back, took out his gun and shot Oscar Grant the back. And then Oscar Grant was handcuffed. And then Oscar Grant died.
And my sister tipped me to this story from near our old home:
It was 2 a.m. on December 31 when [Robbie] Tolan and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, were confronted in the driveway of their home by Bellaire, Texas, police officers. Police officials say the officers suspected the two young men were driving a stolen car.

Bellaire is a prominent, mostly white suburb in southwest Houston.


Tolan's relatives say the two young men had just arrived from a late-night run to a Jack-in-the-Box fast food restaurant.

As they walked up the driveway to their home, Anthony Cooper said an unidentified man emerged from the darkness with a flashlight and a gun pointed at them.

"We did not know it was a police officer," said Cooper. "He said, 'Stop. Stop.' And we were like, 'Why? Who are you?'"

The officers ordered both men to lie down on the ground. Tolan's parents heard the commotion and came outside. Police will only say an "altercation" took place. Tolan's family say it involved his mother.

"The cop pushed her against the wall," said Tolan's uncle, Mike Morris.

Relatives say Tolan started to lean up from the ground to ask the officer what he was doing to his mother. That's when the family says Tolan was shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung and then lodging in his liver.
But don't worry, the assistant chief of police assures us: "any allegation of racial profiling, I don't think that's going to float."

This after the police admitted suspecting that a black man in Bellaire, late at night, had to be a car thief.

And reading the coverage of these shootings, I am again struck by what I noted here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Labor Pains

In 2007, after a very complicated labor and delivery, mrs. o gave birth to a baby boy. There were some issues, however, and he had to be taken to another hospital and placed in NICU.

She was in ICU herself, but when she was finally able to come home, she seemed in good spirits, still preparing their house for the new baby.

Then one day, she broke down. You go through labor and delivery and you expect to come home with your baby*, she explained to me. So one of the emptiest, most hurtful feelings she'd ever had was coming home from giving birth without a baby.

mrs. o could take solace in the fact that her baby would soon be there--a homecoming delayed by two weeks, in the end, but a homecoming nonetheless.

Kalynn Moore of Jersey City has no such comfort. She gave birth to a baby boy who died on 12/21. There would be no homecoming, but she hoped to give him a homegoing.

And now, even that desire may be denied. Christ Hospital, where Moore gave birth to little Bashir, has apparently discarded the baby's body with the trash. From
The hospital says the baby... was delivered stillborn and was placed in the hospital morgue. When funeral workers came to claim the body Friday the hospital could not locate the body.

Police later informed Moore that her son's remains had been thrown out with the garbage.
The article states that Bashir was "misplaced."


My first reaction was that this story, even with no other details, is horrific.

But I am waiting for more details because I think there is a lot more behind this story. I do not know anything about Christ Hospital, but these things stand out to me.

1)Kalynn Moore is black. I think of the historic (mis)treatment of people of color by the medical establishment and, specifically, how reproductive freedom and justice have been denied women of color.

2) Kalynn Moore might be a single mother. Though her son seems to have been named for his father, the articles I've read have said things like, "a son was born to Moore" or "Mom demands answers." There is no mention of the baby's father--when the articles talk of family, they mention Moore's cousin. That is not to say that Bashir's father is not there, but that in a society that constructs married parenthood as the-only-way-to-go, 1) he might be being disappeared as not a "real father" and 2)the validity of their family unit is quietly denied. Similarly, I wonder how the treatment of Kalynn Moore might have been affected?

3) The baby was born on December 21, but the funeral home did not come to pick up his body to January 2. Because the hospital says he was stillborn, there was no autopsy. Even given the holidays, is 13 days a long delay? (It would be where I'm from). I ask, because I wonder if there were financial difficulties--an issue that would have definitely affected how Moore and her baby were prioritized and treated.

*Such is the case for most women, though I do not mean to discount the experiences of women who place their babies for adoption or who know, before delivery for various reasons, that their newborn's life will be short.

**This post calls the situation a "bizarre mishap," this one (by one of the authors of the first linked post and with the appalling title, "Dead Baby Trashed"), a "hospital blunder." Euphemisms, gotta love them.

Feeling Sort of Meh...

A combination of things:

1) Post-holiday down feeling

2) A touch of homesickness

3) Writing a syllabus and school starts next week!

4) Feeling the upcoming semester already:

---- MWF classes for the first time ever, which takes away my long weekends (during
which, I actually do get work done).
---- Will it be hard to trim down to a 50-minute class?!?!?!

---- Teaching an honor's class, had a special project outlined that now I'm worried about. Thinking of ditching it in favor of a longer paper--but don't want their project to be "just" a paper.

---- My son has after-school extracurriculars out the ass--choir, skippers, Spanish, basketball, and maybe math tutoring. He wants to take guitar lessons--I'm thinking of looking into it because I want to encourage any interest in music. Can any one say frazzled single mom?

5) Presenting at the OAH and I want to seriously re-work that paper.

---- My department will reimburse me for some of the trip expenses, but have I mentioned that I'm not just rolling around in the dough yet?

6) Dee's wedding! Two months to go, and it's the little things that are stressing me.

7) Time to finish revisions on what I hope to be my first article. Really, it just is.

8) Feeling pressed for time and unable to keep up with blog-worthy topics at this moment.

9) Just finished "The Wire." Post to come. DRAINING.

10) The month of March--that's wedding, a panel I'm sponsoring, OAH, evaluations time. My spring break that month will be irrelevant.

Making that list made me feel better.

Send/leave me links to things you think I should read!!! I hope to be back up in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Things Seen 11

Some people, for lack of a more accurate, clever phrase, really need to get a life or a clue.

My son and three of my nephews were watching Nickelodeon videos on youtube. I sent them scattering to straighten up my mom's room, the preferred location for video gaming. They left youtube open. My dad and I were in the kitchen, when all of a sudden, we hear "Taps" playing

"What in the world were they watching?" my dad asked.

"I have no idea."

"That is a sad, sad song," he said.

I gave some little noncommital agreement, then went back to cooking. I asked him was it only played at funerals and he said, "Oh, no. Sometimes when you get back from a battle, they play it in honor of those who died. It's especially hard on you when it's a good friend. I got so very tired of hearing that song in Vietnam."

I never think about things triggering my largely stoic dad, but this song had done it. After he went into the living room, I came to the computer to see what the kids could've been listening to that would've included the song. They had it on a Nickelodeon playlist.

The video was called "RIP Nickelodeon 1979-2004." Apparently, whoever posted the video was grievously upset by the decline in quality of Nickelodeon programming.

So upset, that not only did s/he inappropriately use "Taps," s/he likened the decline to rape.

Yes, you heard correctly; offering poor programming = rape.

The exact words:
There once was a time were [sic] a kids network channel awesome... Until it was raped and ruined... by these assholes...
At which point, the offenders are listed.

The belittlement and misappropriation of the word and the meaning of such a violent act make me both furious and frustrated.

There are no comparisons to be made--rape is like nothing else. It isn't funny, it isn't some rare occurrence that women largely makeup.

My point is, it is not something that we should be casual about.

And it is most definitely NOT like the alleged decline in Nickelodeon's programming.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...