Monday, March 29, 2010

A Quick History Lesson

Dear Military Folk,

Read about your idea of requiring "separate bunks for gays" if gay servicepeople are allowed to serve openly.

Wanted to remind you we tried that separate-but-equal thing. It was never equal. It was unfair and stigmatizing.

People grew tired of it and effectively resisted.

The military finally gave it up.

I mean, it was even repudiated legally.

Yet, here you are, contemplating a march backwards. This is wrong for so many reasons, and not solely the ones I mentioned above.

As Vanessa pointed out in another forum, the very premise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, acknowledges that there are already gays in the military. Why do you expect a problem to develop if they are allowed to serve openly? This idea, that gay servicepeople should be segregated, suborns homophobia, particularly, as a colleague of mine wrote, the idea that gays are indiscriminate in their desires and straight people are in danger/in need of rescue. You are insulting your own personnel with suggestions like this which imply they, as a whole, threaten other service people with sexual aggression and potentially, sexual violence.

If only you were as concerned with the actual and significant problem of sexual violence that occurs within your institution.

Though, I suppose you could flip the argument and try to say it was for the protection of gay personnel, especially given the current political climate towards any so-called "progressive" change. In that case, I'd still accuse you of upholding homophobia and some sort of macho-ethic (okay, I'd accuse you of that, anyway).

Why? Because if your solution to addressing the potential danger openly gay servicepeople would face, is to segregate them, rather than address the military culture which allows for that danger, you've totally missed the point.


*And I'm not relying on the opinion of one general as sole evidence that the government would consider this. The article says, "The question of whether changes to housing policies would be necessary is being addressed in a study to determine how to allow gays to serve openly."

Friday, March 26, 2010

That Itawamba County School District is Really Something

Mississippi's Itawamba County School District has recently become notorious for canceling a high school prom rather than letting a lesbian couple attend.

Turns out this wasn't the first discriminatory, hostile act they committed with regards to a student this year. When a trans student enrolled earlier this year, he* was virtually kicked out after attending only one half-day:
[T]he next time [Juin] Baize came to school, according [to] Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, Baize was given a suspension notice and sent home. When Juin returned to school after his first suspension, he was suspended again.

“Juin’s case was a situation where a transgender student wanted to attend school dressed in feminine clothing," said Bennett, "and the school district would not even let him attend school."

This school district seems to be in the business of teaching heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, the "appropriateness" of gendered clothing** and the need to maintain narrowly-defined gender expressions.

And yet, they accuse Constance McMillen and Juin Baize of distracting from the educational process.

The hostile environment that the school district is fostering is disheartening. McMillen speaks of it here and the article about Baize includes this description:
Baize's appearance and the fact that he, unlike Constance McMillen, was perceived as a trouble-making outsider made living in Fulton increasingly impossible. Beverly [Bertsinger] couldn't find work because, she believes, Fulton is a small town and people disapproved of her son. Juin was harassed when he left the house, according to Beverly Baize, so she stopped letting him go out alone and then stopped letting him go out at all.

“I’m so afraid for him,” Bertsinger told me last week. “I support him. I buy him the clothing to wear as a female. I just want him to be safe.”

The result is the continued isolation [and endangerment] of LGBTQ students, expressed so poignantly here:
Whether she intended to or not, McMillen has inspired others -- not just nationally but in her home state, said Izzy Pellegrine, 19, a student at Mississippi State University.

"I thought for a long time I was the only gay person in the state of Mississippi," said Pellegrine. (emphasis mine)

The ACLU is not pursuing Baize's case, in part because he has had to move:
“Juin not being in Fulton makes it difficult for us to pursue any kind of legal action here,” says Bennett. "And personally, I feel it may be a better decision for Juin to relocate and move on with his life.”

That last line leaves me particularly upset; people always suggest that we, who exist simultaneously as southerners and members of marginalized groups, should just leave and move on.

Sometimes, we can't. Sometimes, we have no desire to do so.

In any case, we shouldn't have to.
*The article indicates that Baize prefers male pronouns for now.
**Remember, one of the issues in the McMillen case was the fact that she wanted to wear a tuxedo.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It All Depends on What You Mean by "Safer"

A security guard at Heathrow Airport was issued a harassment warning after he "ogled" a female colleague who walked through a body scanner. The body scanners:
were introduced at Heathrow and Manchester airports to check for concealed weapons and explosives following the failed Christmas Day bomb plot by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a jet over Detroit in the United States.
They're supposed to be a security/safety measure designed to reassure passengers.

But, this incident and learning what, exactly, the machines reveal, make the scanners seem decidedly unsafe. Another article described them in this way:
The full-body scanners take "naked" images, revealing everything under someone's clothes - including a clear outline of genitals.
They violate a very basic sense of privacy and they allow that violation to be repeated over and over everyday.

We learned of this case because the security guard made "lewd" comments to his co-worker after she was scanned and she reported it. What about all the guards who might "ogle" in silence? And I, at least, feel quite insecure, knowing that my body could be on display, to someone I don't know, in a manner I didn't choose. That is the price I must pay to travel? I think it's a bit steep.

Last fall, I re-read a piece by Angela Davis (or maybe I heard her say it), in which she noted how we have increasingly problematic definitions of what will "keep us safe." Her focus was our (U.S.) fascination with locking people up to make us "safer." I've also heard Alexis Pauline Gumbs speak to our reliance on defense and force to make us feel safe rather than things like education, eradication of poverty, community building, and being good global citizens. I think we increasingly face the questions of how to define safety and how much (and who) are we willing to trade in the name of being safe?"

H/T to TheBaldSoprano

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


People always give me virtually sole credit for the parties I do. One thing I try to point out is that, for all my visions of what I want, it takes many, many people to implement and create the finished product. I am overwhelmingly grateful to my family and friends who love me enough to help me do something I dream about. Just think about that for a second--most of them could not care less about party food or decorations, but because I sign myself up, they sign on too.

One of those friends was Ms. Alondra Shenay Coleman. Shenay, with her creativity, neatness, and her recipes, saved my butt at the last minute quite often. I knew her all my life, but came to know her better in the 90s when she dated my brother. We loved "Nay"; she was so funny and talkative and ready to go-go-go. I remember going to Shreveport in her little red car, three of us crammed in the back, and shaking our heads at Shenay in the front because she couldn't make up her mind on so many things.

My brother's children loved her, too. In the years since they broke up, she has always checked on them, remembered birthdays, scolded them when needed. She came into their lives when they were relatively young. My nephew, a toddler, couldn't say her name properly. He called her "Denay." My sister and I have done the same since then.

In the last year alone, Shenay had helped me several times--for a week, we stayed up virtually all night, every night getting ready for Dee's wedding. She'd tell me, "I'm tired. I'm getting old, I can't do this with you." And she was still right there. Half the times I called her for a recipe, she'd say, "Girl, just bring the stuff, I'll do it for you."

But the one thing she asked of us, was not to take any day for granted. She'd had heart problems, including two heart attacks, and she threatened to kick my butt if I didn't get my chest pains "seen about." My chest hurt so bad the week before Dee's weeding, but I thought, "Lord, I'ma have to fall out at the reception, because I can't stop." Shenay asked me everyday had I been to the doctor and fussed when I ruefully shook my head no. Turned out my problem was horrible anxiety and GERD, but I've never forgot her cautioning or her concern.

Earlier this month, I had to get ready for Dee's anniversary party. But Dee and I had miscommunicated--I thought it was the 20th; she set it for the 13th. As I wouldn't be arriving at home until late the night of the 12th, I panicked. I e-mailed Shenay the first week in March with a plaintive, "Help!"

It took her a week to respond, which I thought was unusual, but I pushed that to the back of my mind when I finally got her response which was along the lines of "What you need?" Just that quickly and simply, she was ready to help. I told her about the rush and she said, "I've been sick, but I'll help all I can."

I felt horrible--she'd been sick and I hadn't even thought to ask after her. Conversation with friends revealed she'd actually been in hospital. Ashamed, I vowed not to bother her with yet another hectic event.

She came to the party, though, and I apologized for being inconsiderate. She smiled at me and waved that off.

On Friday, March 19, she posted a Facebook status that read, in part:
Good Morning facebook, I'm on my way to New Orleans, please pray for my safe journey.
She was going to see her dad's family.

But her journey took an unexpected turn. As I was making it home Sunday night, my sister called.

"Girl," she said, then paused for a minute. "Girl, Shenay died."

I really couldn't make sense of that for a minute. I repeated it to Coti, needing to hear the words out loud, to believe them, I guess.

When I signed into Facebook that night, I saw this amazing outpouring of disbelief and love. She was really gone.

I didn't want to cry.

And yet, the tears slipped out slowly, all night. They came again, the next morning when I read that my pre-school aged cousin had consoled her mama, another of Shenay's friends with the words, "Don't be a little sad Mommy, Heaven is a good place!"

Shenay loved so much and so hard. Kids absolutely adored her and she had a gift with them. When I told my son, he said, "Shenay that helped us with the wedding? She always talked to me!" She was typically smiling or laughing, sharing a good story, or telling a dry joke in her high-pitched-but-deadpan voice.

Today, I read the quote she'd put on her Facebook page some time ago:
I am blessed and always happy, life is too short.

Way too short, it feels like, at times like this.

We love you, Denay, and we miss you. We always will.

Constance McMillen Wins... Sort Of

Late last night, via a friend's twitter post, I heard that a federal judge had decided that the Mississippi school district that canceled prom rather than allow Constance McMillen and her girlfriend to attend as a couple had violated McMillen's First Amendment rights.

The school district does not have to reinstate the prom, however. Parents have planned a private prom, instead.

The Clarion-Ledger article linked above noted that "all junior and senior students would be allowed to attend, although it was not clear whether same-sex couples would be allowed to attend together." On other sites, I read that McMillen was not invited to the private prom.

If that is the case, the school board wins, too. They relied on an old southern tactic I described in a piece I did for The Guardian's Comment Is Free:
The prom cancellation is reminiscent of tactics from at least a half-century ago: rather than integrate public pools, parks, and schools, southern municipalities often closed them. Sometimes, in lieu of closure, they turned over such accommodations to private enterprises. In defiance of school integration orders, they opened private schools and segregation academies. Such acts allowed them to continue de facto segregation long after de jure segregation was outlawed.

If you're so inclined, please go check out the whole piece!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kindergarteners, YOU'RE DOOMED!!!!

One of the things I most hate is hearing my younger cousins (always female, and I mean elementary school age) bemoan their "fatness" or their need to lose weight. I want to keep them from falling deeper into the pit of despair that is the fatphobic-and-dieting culture.

As of today, I think I have finally lost. I just learned, via the NY Times, that "Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All."

Scientists are worried that their efforts to "end childhood obesity" aimed at school-age populations "may be, if not too little, too late." Too stop the horrible, horrible curse-of-fat, we must begin at birth:
Things are starting to change: late last year an Institute of Medicine study committee was charged for the first time with developing obesity prevention recommendations specifically for the 0-to-5 set. The report, due in about 18 months, will look at the role of sleep and early feeding patterns, as well as physical activity.
I don't have much comment, except to note, there is always room to blame mamas:
Many doctors are concerned about women being obese and unhealthy before pregnancy because, as they point out, the womb is the baby’s first environment


“The intrauterine environment of a woman with diabetes overnourishes the fetus,” said the study’s author, Dana Dabelea, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health. And that, she added, may “reset the offspring’s satiety set point, and make them predisposed to eat more.”
I think this could quickly take on class and color connotations as well, in a society in which the mothering of poor women, particularly poor women of color, is constantly assailed and called into question. One of the doctors quoted worked on a study that asserted "compared with their white counterparts, black and Hispanic children exhibited a range of risk factors related to child obesity."

One of the "solutions" suggested for lowering the "risk of obesity" was breastfeeding. Black women (in the U.S.), in particular, have much lower rates of breastfeeding than other women. This might be tied up in a number of factors like the fact that many black women have low-wage jobs which don't allow for purchase of expensive pumping equipment (or breaks to pump) or the historical stigma attached to forced wet-nursing. But this could fuel the sometimes-present argument in the to-breastfeed-or-not debate that mothers who don't breastfeed don't care as much about their babies' health.

Given the blame-the-fat-mother meme, we can expect the continued condemnation of poor mothers and black mothers, who are more likely to be fat than mothers in other socio-economic and racial groups. Also, poor mothers might be eligible for programs like Food Stamps and WIC (which will provide infant formula), putting them in a position in which many people feel that their food choices should be scrutinized and judged.

Obviously, this is just what we needed: another way to assess how horribly mothers fail.

And, another way to tell kids, at an even younger age, that they fail, too. It isn't as if schools or scientists or Michelle Obama are couching their programs or suggestions in any other terms. "Prevention," "risk," "epidemic," etc. Kids are not clueless--even the little ones know when they've been judged deficient. To be fat is to be bad and immoral.

How sad that they're getting that message earlier and earlier.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Random Realization

Last night, I was shopping online for dinner plates and ran across this image*:

We've probably all seen similar descriptions before, but sometimes I am struck by how many times, in so many little ways, people of color are reminded that "white," in terms of race, is presumed to be the default or that white people are presumed not to "have" race in the same ways that we are.

We are "other" and the constant reinforcement of that is tiring.

*The image is of two bride-and-groom ornaments. The first, depicting a white couple, is labeled "Bride and Groom Ornament." The second, depicting a black couple, is labeled "African American Bride and Groom Ornament."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Socially Constructed Before Conception

In the fall of 2010, I'm teaching a new (for me) class, the title of which I've whittled down to "A Brief and General Overview of the Construction of Femininity and the Ways in which It Was/Is Reflected, Perpetuated, and Mandated by Popular Culture in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries." Strangely, the class schedule still refers to it by the way too broad, overly-ambitious title, "The Construction of Femininity."

In any case, I am re-reading Emily Martin's "The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male- Female Roles."

Martin addresses the bias present in scientific language and literature, particularly in discussion of reproductive processes. She noted,
That the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female. The stereotypes imply not only that female biological processes are less worthy than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men.

Thus, in scientific and popular literature, menstruation is referred to as "wasteful" and in terms of "losing" and "debris," ovaries are described as "battered," "old and worn out," and the egg is "passive" while the production of sperm is described as "remarkable," "amazing," and "a feat" and sperm are described as active.

That article was published almost 20 years ago, not nearly enough time for the people at National Geographic Channel (NGC) to have heard of it, apparently. Last night, they premiered "Sizing Up Sperm," a show that presented the "epic journey" of sperm from ejaculation to fertilization. Someone sat down in a meeting somewhere, raised hir hand, and said, "Hey, y'all, let's view the female reproductive system through the eyes of sperm!" Because how can you understand anything except through its relationship to "male" systems? I mean the whole journey is called "The Great Sperm Race" as if the woman's body and reproductive system are just incidental.

The process is "scaled up to human size" (or "man-size," as one of the scientists says) so that the sperm are represented as white-clothed (I'm not touching that right now) heroes, "real people," NGC tells us, racing towards the passive prize--the egg. The program describes sperm in the heroic language that Martin detailed. Sperm are "smart," "fun to watch in a petri dish," and are propelled by a "mighty tail." The sperm-producer on the show, Glenn, was clueless about "the miracle of engineering in his pants," according to the narrator.

The woman's body is represented as terrain to be overcome and defeated. Why do I say defeated? Because the narrator describes the process of fertilization and conception as an "epic quest," and "a war," calls the sperm "250 million genetic couriers... about to invade Emily's body" and talks in terms of "securing victory." For sperm, "landing in Emily's vagina is like D-Day."

Anyway, back to women-as-landscapes. There are forests and mountains and oceans. There is a rough, rocky road (aka the floor of the vagina. Yes, seriously). The woman's reproductive system is defined in terms of its treachery or pleasantness to sperm. "Everything in the vagina," says one of the scientists, "works against the sperm's survival." The vagina has a "dark side." The cervix is a "dark, treacherous maze of uncharted tunnels." It is "hell," a "twisted, nightmarish, urban environment." On the other hand, the fallopian tubes are "sperm heaven." But, it's not all sunshine at this point! The egg's short life span presents "a final, fatal hurdle."

"Worst of all" according to the narrator, "thanks to the female immune system, sperm are covered in acid." The leukocytes are black-clothed, scary, masked zombie monsters who kill our heroes in a process of "utter decimation." It doesn't matter that they are protecting the body from possible infection or "invaders"; they are "elite assassins." Who knew an active, working immune system was so evil?

Near the end of the race, two sperm remain--one male and one female--drawn to the egg by "the red carpet" it lays out and by the "lily-of-the-valley" scent it produces. The egg just looms, waiting patiently for the sperm. As Martin wrote
It is remarkable how "femininely" the egg behaves and how "masculinely" the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively "is transported," "is swept," or even "drifts" along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, "streamlined," and invariably active... with a "whiplashlike motion and strong lurches" they can "burrow through the egg coat" and "penetrate" it.

Martin discusses quite a bit the characterization of the egg as "dependent," in need of rescue by the sperm. The egg, unlike the sperm, is not remarkable in its own right--the sperm makes it into something.

Not surprisingly, the male sperm "won." This allows the program writers' to stray into New Testament territory. The sperm, you see, sacrificed itself. But "it did not die in vain"; "it gave it's life to start a new one--a baby boy." Please control all hurl urges; I wouldn't want you to mess up your keyboard.

And oh, while the sperm are shown as "real people," the egg is just a big ol' ball. Apparently, it's easier to envision sperm as human.

In conclusion, I'd like to present to you one of the cutting edge experiments presented in the show. An evolutionary psychologist (ok, y'all know where this is headed, right?) theorized that women have an estrous cycle (which the narrator helpfully described as going into heat) during which the "reproductive processes control woman's actions and man's responses." To test the the theory, he chose to conduct a study in a "gentleman's club." He was amazed by the evidence that he found--women in "estrous" made nearly twice as much money as menstruating women. The reason, he theorized, was that women in estrous are more attractive to men.

More attractive was defined as having more symmetrical breasts and a thinner waist.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Day in The Life...

Ok, more than a day. This is an opportunity for me to say, "Look how tired but happy I am!" and a real diary-like entry for the future.

Friday, I left Texas, en route to Louisiana for Spring Break. My sister and her crew had come to visit for their Spring Break, so we traveled as a mini caravan.

At least, until I was pulled over by the most talkative (but friendly) cop in Texas. I thought the speed limit was 70 because it was daytime. He claimed it dropped to 60 at some point and I was going 74 (yes, speeding either way, I know, I know).

I told him I hadn't seen it drop (I really hadn't) but that I fully acknowledged I was going 74. I don't argue with cops or try to talk my way out of anything. It's a matter of pride for me, even though I cannot afford a ticket. He asked me where I was going.


"Long ride," he said. (Yeah, that's why I was going 74). He then launched into a story of how he had been stationed at Ft. Polk and how far was my hometown from there and the lack of big cities, etc. etc.

I mostly nodded and smiled then drove away happily with my warning. I would only go 72 in a 70 mph zone, I decided. That's a compromise, right?

After two stops and about nine hours, we made it home. Bed, you think?

Wrong! I had a Lemon-and-Lime anniversary party on Saturday for which I needed to decorate. I'd thought the party was the 20th which would give me time to get home to prepare. I was wrong and we were on the clock. It was a relatively casual party, but still!

Coti deserted me, my sister promised she'd come cook the next day, mrs. o was exhausted from her own too busy week. So, Janna, T'niya, Tren, Mama and I went to work in the main room while Dee (one of the honorees) cleaned the kitchen and unpacked groceries.

We made all sorts of lovely discoveries. The last renters of the place hadn't cleaned. It was filthy. We planned to use three tables for a buffet style meal and set up eight for guests. We only set up six, because so many were broken. Below you can see our efforts-in-progress.

I made it back to my parents' at 2 AM and couldn't sleep. I decided to read. Around 4 AM, I dropped that book in my damned eye and realized, it was time.

Of course, I woke up at 5, fell back to sleep, and woke up for good at 8. I was excited about the day and had so much to doooooooooooo.

Coti, in makeup mode, agreed to play chauffeur. I went to every store in town, I swear (which amounts to fewer than ten, but still) for last minute items like pans. And, I changed my mind again and decided I wanted to do a small candy buffet. I had jars; I just needed yellow and green candies. I bought every bag of lemonheads and Andes mints at Dollar General, then bought the little green and white mints from another store. My sister brought green jolly ranchers, lemon drops, and green and white candy rings from a neighboring town. Coti and Tren filled a center vase with lemons and limes, and voila!

But food. I'd decided we'd have sandwiches and salads. Plus, the hubby involved wanted wings. So, our menu (sandwich wise) was mini burgers, mini pulled pork sandwiches, these hot deli sandwiches I make on rolls with a spinach and cream cheese based spread, and chicken salad sandwiches. Salads were chef's salad, potato salad, coleslaw, a fruit salad, and pasta salad. And we were going to have barbecue wings and Italian wings.

No way could I do that, all alone in, a day, in a kitchen with one really small stove. I had so much help. Coti cut up meat and cheese for the deli sandwiches, ran to the store, and stopped at everyone's house to pick up miscellany. Tren made chicken salad, she and Mama made sandwiches, and assembled deli sandwiches. My sister made the green salad, patted out some of the hamburgers and she and Tren fixed up the punch. Tesha made half the coleslaw, seasoned the chicken, made potato salad, cut up lemons and limes. Mama cut up the honeydew (we wanted green and yellow fruits for the fruit salad with a few strawberries to make it "pop" but we didn't know how to approach that honeydew :-). Mrs. O peeled potatoes and sliced rolls. I seasoned the hamburgers and patted out most of them, made coleslaw, cut up strawberries, made a pasta salad, made limeade and lemonade, made the spread for the deli sandwiches, prepared the roasts for the pulled pork, and made barbecue sauce. I also made pitchers of way too strong margaritas, mojitos, and lemon drop martinis (I was serious about the yellow and green, y'all). That stuff was so strong, I didn't touch it. I don't like to taste alcohol in my alcoholic drinks. Initially, I planned to mix and pour as the night proceeded, but my cousins said no, we were not going to run and serve the whole night. So we set up cups and set the pitchers and ice out. I also had two punchbowls, one with a limeade based punch and the other with a lemonade based punch.

I was on my feet for nine hours, on four hours of sleep. And the night before, I'd gotten about five hours then taught and drove all day. You know where this story is going, right?

My back! My ankles! I couldn't bend over by the time the party actually started. The hot shower didn't help as I hoped it would. I kept my cute little open toe heels on for all of ten minutes before I retreated to the kitchen and my house shoes. It was lovely and we were all in good moods, but Dee and Mike like blues music and I can't get down with it.

I made it until midnight. I had to come home and have mama rub my back with Bengay. Muscle aches beat my cute black dress and shoes! I'm getting old, y'all, for real.

I was supposed to go to Family and Friends' Day at my cousins' church. Church started at 11. I rolled over at 10:52, thought about making it, realized my clock was an hour behind and flopped back over.

I finally stumbled up, my eyes full of sawdust (I didn't drink the stuff I made. I did, however, have Malibu coconut rum and pineapple juice), and my body aching. I ate a plate of collard greens so I could have something on my stomach to take three ibuprofen for my poor body. A few hours, a coke, and this long story later, I feel better.

I could go again! But I think I will just climb in bed with this book I found.

No use in overdoing it :-p

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Past Is Present

ETA: My best friend, who taught at our old high school, and my sister corrected me. The school did eventually sponsor off-campus proms, however, “tradition” meant that students quickly left (usually after taking pictures) to gather for their own separate (in terms of race) functions.

Dear Mississippians,

I find it amazing the type of symbolism with which y’all manage to imbue high school rituals like prom. I mean, some of you held on to racially segregated proms well into the 21st century—although some progress has been made there.*

Now I hear others of you would rather cancel prom than allow a lesbian couple to attend. This, just a few months after your execution of a flawless southern swoon at the idea of a high school senior challenging the norms reinforced by gendered clothing.

I don’t know if it’s nostalgia for the good ol’ school days. I don’t know if you're scared that Anita Bryant's predictions have come true and proponents of the radical homosexual agenda™, have infiltrated the schools and are recruiting your children.

But, really, stop. Time will not stand still. You cannot re-create your youth or what you envision as the glorious past through your children.

Your fellow southerner,

*My own Louisiana high school did not have integrated proms and, only shortly before its closing, did it stop the practice of having a homecoming court with one white and one black representative from each grade.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

One Guess...

As to why I grumbled at this Ebony cover featuring Gaboure Sidibe:

It's the caption.

Because when I see the words "Gabourey Sidibe... What's precious about her? Read on..." what I read is "Let us tell you what's 'precious' about her, because you obviously can't see it from just looking at her."

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Things of which I Am Tired

Number One: Racially-charged/racist incidents on/around campuses. See:

A) UCSD reacts to racial incidents

This began with the "Compton Cookout" party for which hosts "invited students to dress and act in a way that encouraged racial stereotypes, mocking Black History Month." Text of the invitation here, but it included helpful details like:
For guys: I expect all males to be rockin Jersey's, stuntin' up in ya White T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU, Ecko, Rockawear, High/low top Jordans or Dunks, Chains, Jorts, stunner shades, 59 50 hats, Tats, etc.

For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes... They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave... They... speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face.

When overly-sensitive, politically correct, free speech stifling people [/snark] objected, a campus group called KOALA defended the party on the university's television station, and "one student used the 'N-word' to describe critics of the Cookout."

The university then held a teach-in, but students walked out, feeling that the method was ineffective for addressing or healing the problem or underlying issues like the dearth of black faculty or students.

Then, a student strung up a noose in the campus library. Students, again, demanded that campus officials effectively and actively address the incident.

Let's see what happens.

B) 2 MU students apologize for cotton ball incident The "incident" involved the students "scattering cotton balls outside the black culture center at the University of Missouri in Columbia."

C) A Towson University adjunct, Allen Zaruba, was fired for describing himself, in front of his class, as "a nigger on the corporate plantation."

Number Two: The disavowal of racist intent.

The noose-hanger says she had no racist motivation.

The two students at the University of Missouri in Columbia described their actions as "part of a series of foolish acts."

Zaruba pointed out that he serves in a prison ministry and that his stepfather was black. ("One of my best friends...") And it's not that I believe that Zaruba's intent was like the other two cases, but I resent that he fell back on that trope.

I just have more respect for people who own their shit. In what other context do the first two incidents make sense? Black people protest disrespect, lack of representation and support, and systemic racism, and a noose is hung? That's not even original. Cotton balls outside the BLACK CULTURE CENTER?!

Number Three: How quickly the comments on any post on any of these incidents turn to "This is PC gone mad/this is unfair because white people can't say/do what black people say/do!!!/Is this really a racist incident?" etc. Even in the f*cking Chronicle of Higher Education comments!

Really? Are those the primary issues? That some black people say the n-word or called someone cracker, so we must never protest incidents like these? That it's unfair that *everyone* can't bandy around the word "nigger?" Do you want to? Because if you do, I'm sure you already are.

I just want to fire off a snarky letter that begins with, "I am so sorry that our desire to work and study in less racially hostile environments inconveniences you!"

And to all my academic colleagues defending Zaruba on the basis of the "appropriateness" of his comparison:

Adjuncts are overworked and underpaid with little job security. The circumstances under which many work are appalling and I know that I'm fortunate to be on the tenure track.

But I can pretty much guarantee that being an adjunct is markedly different from being "a nigger on a plantation." For some reason, I'm pretty certain of that.

I am reminded of the exasperation my colleague, an Africanist, feels when people say they are working like a slave. Few of us can even imagine the reality (and horror) of that.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Nothing Good (Things Heard 3)

What if you heard a commercial that used language like this (words in brackets indicate a paraphrase to heighten your suspense!) :
There’s nothing good about [ __________ ]. They don’t [engage in beneficial activities]. All they do is [cause a specific problem]. That’s their sole contribution to mankind.

And that’s why, they have to die.

It’s that simple. You cannot rehabilitate [ __________ ]. You have to kill him, his little friends and the [reproductive capacities of “his” community].

What you need is a quick, easy extermination plan. [One simple step] and you’re done. And here’s the really good part: everybody dies!

And while there is joy in all creatures living in harmony, it’s nothing compared to killing [ __________ ]. Now, that’s a rush.

What would you think filled in the blanks? What would you think of the language? What would it remind you of?

Don't worry; this was just the style of a fire-ant-killer commercial I heard Friday. Still, it bothered me so much that I came home and looked it up to see what the hell was creeping me out.

This commercial is supposed to be funny, but in talking about exterminating fire ants, it relies on language and imagery used throughout history to talk about the extermination of people, as well. Think what you will about my fascination with language and animals-as-stand-ins-for-humans in media, but really, how many pest extermination spots have you heard delve into the intrinsic worthlessness of pests? Annoyance and inconvenience, sure. But no-contribution-to-"mankind?" I don't run across that everyday.

I'm also hearing the commercial in a historical context as well, I suppose. I've talked previously about how media outlets reinforce connections made between people of color, particularly immigrants, and vermin/pests. Late 19th/early 20th century cartoons often portrayed Chinese Americans as living with/eating/making pets of rats and the queues of men of Chinese descent were drawn to look like rats' tails. Another example is the racist comparison of people of Mexican descent to cockroaches. And think about the ways we talk about immigration, in terms of "swarms" and "invasions."

Anyway, you can hear the commercial here.

Below is an actual transcription, with links that help provide context as to what I found so unsettling.
There’s nothing good about fire ants. They don’t pollinate your roses, they don’t make cute little sounds when they rub their legs together. All they do is build a big mound in your yard and bite the hell out of anyone who gets near it. That’s their sole contribution to mankind.

And that’s why, they have to die.

It’s that simple. You cannot rehabilitate a fire ant. You have to kill him, his little red friends and that big fat queen down there making more fire ants.

What you need is Orthene Fire Ant Killer from Ortho. You put one tablespoon of Orthene over the mound and you’re done. You don’t even water it in. The worker ants track it back into the mound. And here’s the really good part: everybody dies, even the queen!

And while there is joy in all creatures living in harmony, it’s nothing compared to killing fire ants. Now, that’s a rush.

Orthene Fire Ant Killer from Ortho. Guaranteed to kick fire ant butt.

Now, do I think the Ortho people are operating from the same place as this turn-of-the-century company?

No. I'm just saying that language matters. Ortho's advertising people might not even be able to pinpoint what made them write the ad in this style, but for me, the cultural influences seemed obvious.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Too Early in the Day... be reminded of how dangerous it can be to be a woman who displeases a man/men. I swear, I was reading news links sent to me, and here are three of the first five:

Doctor guilty in wife's cyanide murder:
[Yazeed] Essa laced his wife's calcium supplements to escape a loveless marriage.
Man killed ex-lover over Facebook photo with new man:
A woman was stabbed repeatedly by her ex-lover after he saw a picture of her with her new boyfriend on Facebook.

Paul Bristol, 25, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of murdering Camille Mathurasingh, 27, at her east London home in April 2009.

The IT technician, who lived in Trinidad and Tobago, flew to London within two weeks of seeing the picture and killed the accountant.
Bartender says exotic club demoted her because she was pregnant:
Due to the tough economy, [Jennifer] Paviglianiti says she needed this specific bartending job and feared she'd soon be out of work. To protect herself, she decided to secretly record her boss on tape.

On those recordings [John]Doxey can be heard saying, "Customers don't wanna come in and see a pregnant woman behind the bar!"


In other recordings, Doxey is heard suggesting that Paviglianiti's appearance is hurting business. "Maybe they don't go there because the bartender is pregnant and doesn't look sexy."
I know this woman could possibly lose her livelihood, not her life, like the other cases, but imagine losing your job, with a new baby in this economy. And if you have never had a workplace environment that you felt was hostile, let me tell you it can be one of the most draining, self-doubt-inducing, literally depressing things in the world.

In addition to the second story, I also received two links to stories about how Facebook can work against women wrt their lives and their jobs:

Teacher killed herself after ex-boyfriend posted naked photos on Facebook:
A British teacher working in the Middle East killed herself after an ex-boyfriend posted naked pictures of her on Facebook, an inquest heard yesterday.

Emma Jones, 24, drank poisonous cleaning fluid after confiding in friends that she feared she could be jailed in the Muslim country [UAE] over the explicit images.
And lots of female colleagues have been circling this one, warning each other to be on guard:

Professor Fired for Disgruntled Posts on Facebook:
Last week Gloria Gadsden, an associate professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania who had been telling her FB followers stuff like "Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete hitman? Yes, it's been that kind of day," was put on indefinite paid leave when the school found out about it.
When I first heard of it, I thought, "Why is she even using language like that?" then wondered about the risque things I say (not violent, but my friends and I discuss "sexy" topics all the time). Of course, that FB account is under my pseudonym, but it's not like I'm all that well pseudonym-ized. What really has my colleagues and me cautious is this observation that Gadsden made in another article that reported on the case:
Gadsden... says that university officials have been discriminating against her ever since she wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education saying universities don't do enough to retain minority faculty.
Those kinds of political games are what terrify me about this profession.

Now, I hope I made your day as bright as mine :-(.

It Occurs to Me...

For all my dreams of taking pastry-making classes (after I finish culinary arts school after I get tenure and on and on--my life is all about "afters"), I'm never going to be much of a baker because I hate getting flour on my hands and counters because it usually ends up on my clothes and floor.

And I HATE sifting.

But I still want a shiny red, top-of-the-line standing mixer with a dough hook attachment.

And I'm still probably going to make my nephew a cake today, even if I cuss while doing it.


elle, the kitchen gadget lover
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...