Thursday, April 30, 2009

Presenting ¡PRESENTE!

**ETA Scroll to the bottom for pre-made tweets to spread the word**

Our goal is to create a broad-based online community of Latinos and our allies strong enough to make the United States honor its promises and protect our people. We’re starting with immigration, but we won’t stop there—we’ll provide you with ongoing opportunities to make change on the issues that most affect our communities.
And from Nezua:
OVER AND OVER we hear about The Hispanic Vote™ and The Latino/a Vote® and it is a real thing we are talking about in all of this. Our people—nuestra gente—have long been a force in this land, be it under the golden sun harvesting the corn that has for thousands of years fed our antepasados (ancestors) or away from the sun and working hard in US places of business or doing so much to build strong familias together, as las mujeres—the women—among us are known for historically. We are a beautiful and long enduring people, and responsible for so much creation here that sustains us today: Art, Literature, Food, Clothing, Song

And yet, our voices have yet to be utilized and enjoined in a way that can efficiently organize around the issues that affect our communities. Don’t mistake what I say: the Latina/o (or “Hispanic”) community is famous for its ability to organize on the local level, and we are proud of this. And that is why it is time to continue to tie this ability and history together and bring it to an even higher level.

It’s true that while so much joins us, we do come from many different backgrounds and hold varying views on the issues that affect us. We will not always agree, nor should we. What we can agree on, though, is that we should have a way to centralize and engage the politics that affect us on so many levels.

I am involved in launching a site, Presente.Org, that is determined to achieve this very goal. Please stop over and check it out. If what I have written above interests you, please sign up.
Hasta luego!

One note: On my own blog I do tend to speak more to Mexican@s and Latin Americans, because that’s the point at my place. But has a much wider focus as “Latinos” and “Hispanics” can come from a wide range of origins. As far as some of my words above, not all of us have come from farming families, or the hot climates! Though many traditions and struggles do overlap. I just wanted to make clear that while I am involved in the organizing of this effort, there is a variance between my readership and’s intended audience.
For more information, or to take part, please visit

And spread the word via twitter:

To direct people to Please TWEET:
Stand and be counted, Latinas, Latinos, Hispanos, Gente, Amigos and Amigas! Join today. #latino #hispanic #immigration

Stand and be counted. Empower the Hispanic/Latin@ Community. Join today. #latino #hispanic #immigration

To direct people to Nezua's post
The Unapologetic Mexican: Presenting ¡PRESENTE! #immigration #latinas #latinos #hispanic


Para dirigir personas a Por favor
Ponte de pie y seas contado, Latinas, Latinos, Hispanos, Gente, Amigos y Amigas! Unete Hoy! #latino #hispano #inmigración #migrantes

Ponte de pie y seas contado. Apodera a la comunidad Hispana/Latin@. Unete Hoy! #latino #hispano #inmigración #migrantes

Para dirigir personas a este post,
El Unapologetic Mexican: Presentando a ¡PRESENTE! #latino #hispano #inmigración #migrantes

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New Meme: Please Get One

ETA please see Nezua's post at The Sanctuary

I'm preparing to be whipped into a frenzy about the breakout of a mutated strain of swine flu. What I wasn't prepared for was how quickly the "blame the dirty, diseased immigrants" meme would take hold. This, despite the facts that 1)the source of the outbreak could be a CAFO in Mexico owned by our very own Smithfield Farms and 2)"the US was already looking into cases within our own currently designated borders," as noted by Nezua.

But those facts mean nothing to more rabid right-wingers. From Media Matters:
During the April 24 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage stated: "Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico."*


"[C]ould this be a terrorist attack through Mexico? Could our dear friends in the radical Islamic countries have concocted this virus..."


"How do you protect yourself? What can you do? I'll tell you what I'm going to do, and I don't give a damn if you don't like what I'm going to say. I'm going to have no contact anywhere with an illegal alien, and that starts in the restaurants."

During the April 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Neal Boortz asked: "[W]hat better way to sneak a virus into this country than give it to Mexicans? Right? I mean, one out of every 10 people born in Mexico is already living up here, and the rest are trying to get here... ."

In an April 25 blog post... syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin suggested that the outbreak was due to the United States' "uncontrolled immigration... 9/11 didn't convince the open-borders zealots to put down their race cards and confront reality. Maybe the threat of their sons or daughters contracting a deadly virus spread from south of the border to their Manhattan prep schools* will."
"Mexican@s & Latinos already had a hell of a time w/all the hate," Nezua wrote on Twitter.** This flu outbreak gives right wing pundits an opportunity to ramp it up.

Early signs of what the outcome could be? Already, this flu is being framed as "more of one or another kind of Mexicanicky “spillover.” At Vivir Latino, Maegan suggested that, "swine flu is the new racial profiling," pointing to this summary of Homeland Security Secreatary Napolitano's instructions:
Secretary Janet Napolitano also said border agents have been directed to begin passive surveillance of travelers from affected countries, with instructions to isolate anyone who appears actively ill with suspected influenza.
Then there is the story of Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman's suggestion that the flue be renamed the "Mexican Flu." The CDC has advised against non-essential travel to Mexico--and while I can understand how that might be practical, I cannot help thinking how this advisory will be perceived in a country where Mexico is constructed as hopeless, corrupt, and inadequate.

Reading Maegan's and Nez's tweets on this made me reflect on the long history within the U.S. of categorizing "undesirable" immigrants as dirty and diseased. They were undesirable, of course, because of their racial/ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious differences from the WASP-y mainstream. In the 19th century, much of the anti-immigrant sentiment focused on the Irish and Asians (particularly the Chinese); in the early 20th century, "undesirable" expanded to include the "new" immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, the disabled, and most Asians.

Part of characterizing these immigrants as undesirable was claiming, in no uncertain terms, that they represented a danger to Americans and the "American way of life." For example, here is George Frederick Keller's (in)famous depiction of what the Statue of Liberty's counterpart in San Francisco Bay might look like:

And I borrowed this from here a while ago to show my students:

A few years ago, I wrote briefly about some works that talk about the old "immigrants carry filth and disease" meme:
American citizens tend to impose their own standards of housekeeping and "cleanliness" on immigrants and judge them deficient. Nayan Shah, for example, posits that Americans considered San Francisco’s Chinatown dirty, overcrowded, and unacceptable. From there, Chinese were cast as health hazards, rife with disease and in need of police and medical supervision. Taking this cue, some African Americans in San Francisco complained that, “on the streets of the Chinese section of town… one could find filth actually personified and the stench which arises and penetrates the olfactory nerves is something perfectly horrible.”

Mexican immigrants, too, became a perceived threat to American health and hygiene. According to Howard Markel and Alexandra Minna, the porosity of the border worried U.S. health officials in the early twentieth century. In response to a typhus epidemic in Mexico’s interior in 1915, the U.S. Public Health Service quarantined Mexican immigrants and treated them as if they were “vermin-infested.” Along the border, Mexican immigrants were subjected to invasive, humiliating examinations before they were "certified" disease free. That quarantine extended until the late 1930s, long after the epidemic had passed, a testament to the American perception of Mexicans as infectious germ carriers.***
And now, the "new" immigrants of the 21st century--so labeled because they came largely after 1965 and because, more recently, they are traveling to new settlement areas****--are facing the same attacks. Of course, part of the reason is that they share the label of "undesirable" that I defined above. This is a distinction that, as Liss convincincly argues, is becoming synonymous with "immigrant":
In between the disparate uses and meanings of "immigrant" and "ex-pat" (expatriate) falls everything that underlines the racism, classism, and xenophobia of the immigration debate in America.

White, (relatively) wealthy, and English-speaking immigrants are ex-pats, with intramural rugby leagues and dues-drawing pub clubs and summer festivals set to the distant trill of bagpipes.

Non-white, poor, and non-natively English-speaking immigrants are just immigrants.

Ex-pats are presumed to have come to America after a revelation that their countries, in which any white person would be happy to live, are nonetheless not as good as America.

Immigrants are presumed to have come to America because their countries are shit-holes.

Ex-pats are romantic and adventurous, with wonderful accents and charming slang.

Immigrants are dirty and desperate, with the nefarious intent of getting their stupid language on all our signs.
John Higham posited that nativism ebbs and flows, and we seem to be at a high period (and seem to have been frozen here for well over a decade). Given that, the fact that anti-immigrant sentiment tends to rise during periods of economic hardship, and the long-standing practice of associating certain immigrants with germs and disease, I don't expect the right-wing attacks to stop.

That doesn't make them any less disturbing, however.


Many thanks to Nezua, Maegan, and Liss, for pointing me to links and for their own words which helped me work through my thoughts.

Jill and The America's Voice Blog, whose posts I also consulted.
*According to Media Matters, "Officials think they [some NYC high school students] started getting sick after some students returned from the spring break trip to Cancun." Thus the disease was brought to NY by returning tourists, not immigrants.

**Deeky expands on that sentiment here.

***Discussed works:
Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

Arnold Shankman, “Black on Yellow: Afro-Americans View Chinese Americans 1850-1935,” Phylon 39, no. 1 (1978): 3.

Howard Markel and Alexandra Minna Stern, “The Foreignness of Germs: The Persistent Association of Immigrants and Disease in American Society,” The Millbank Quarterly 80, no. 4 (2002): 765.

Similar characterizations were made of Slovak immigrants, M. Mark Stolarik, “From Field to Factory: the Historiography of Slovak Immigration to the United States,” International Migration Review 10, no. 1 (1976): 96-97.

****Most of my knowledge of new settlement areas comes from my work studying the poultry processing industry, so I'll point you to the works of
William Kandel, Emilio Parrado, and Leon Fink.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Trigger Warning

I'll begin the post with the assumption that we know that within the world of hip-hop,
Much of the music and many videos specifically transmit, promote, and perpetuate negative images of black women. All women, but mostly black women in particular are seen in popular hip-hop culture as sex objects.
Discussions of misogyny and sexism in hip hop began at least two decades ago and continue until now. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brooklyne Gipson had recent discussions and Feminist Review just reviewed Ewuare X. Osayande's Misogyny and the Emcee: Sex, Race, and Hip-Hop. You can also find Byron Hurt's Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes on Google Video.

I list those sources because what I want to do, rather than rehash the arguments, is point you to what is a rather disturbing song and video by Mike Jones called Scandalous Hoes. And while you might think the name of the song alone was enough, I'd like to point out that since the days of Bitches Ain't Shit, hip-hop song titles have done much to inure us "shocking" titles.

Mike Jones begins as many of these songs do--by invoking the hybrid Jezebel/Gold-digger* image. He scowls as he looks at the men in the video, being duped by women who are all sex and smiles, trying to lure the men into a (largely financial) relationship. Jones describes:
They see you living twelve cars, all black
American Express, not green, all black
They'll try to set you up
If you let 'em set the trap
I ain't finna fall for that
T-Pain, who guests on the song, adds his own warning:
I don't love 'em
Still don't trust 'em
Get paranoid
Every time that I fuck 'em
As the video proceeds, we see that one poor guy has bought one of the women a car and committed to her. Then, Mike Jones channels Kanye West and raps about the tired cliche of women "tricking" men into getting them pregnant, the result being
Now she got yo ass up in court
Facing child support
For a kid he found out
Wasn't his
And like Kanye, Jones reminds us that because these women are "scandalous hoes," they transgress in serious ways--first, they sleep with other men, despite the fact that a man has made a down payment on her sexuality with his money and his gifts. And then, they continue manipulating a man's feelings, first, by making him love her, then by erroneously telling him he's her child's father. After all, Jones says of the father-child bond in such cases,
You're glued to his soul
Your heart say
You can't leave that kid
Scandalous bitch
But here's where the video becomes like nothing I've seen. We see the "not-the-father" on the couch reading papers--ostensibly, the DNA results--and crying. He's seeing the light about his girlfriend (who had already morphed from a somewhat sweet and smiling Jezebel into a frowning, fussing Sapphire) and once she has been revealed as a scandalous ho, she must be dealt with.


Well, in his righteous anger, the boyfriend understandably kills her:
Some shit is just so so wrong
Some shit I know I can't put up in the zone
Some shit'll get you hurt if it go on too long
Cuz once the nigga gets pissed,
the gun goes click


You shoulda told him, bitch
Before it came time for this
Now the ho getting carried by six
So enraged man kills woman because he finds out his property (her vagina and child) has been trespassed upon.

And it all makes perfect sense.

*Description begins on page 15

Friday, April 24, 2009

Le Sigh

I gave my niece
the car
a grocery list
my debit card
my child (for a trip to the barbershop).

Televisions are off.
Lights are dimmed.
I have
two chocolate chip cookies,
ice cold milk,
a thick, steamy novel.

The weekend:
it begins!

On Having a President Who's Not Like the Others

The first thing I said when I saw the shirtless-Obama Washingtonian cover?





Was it supposed to be cute? Daring? The editors have defended the image by noting that President Obama isn't like other presidents, by which they almost certainly mean he's generally regarded as more conventionally attractive than most American presidents, or "hot." But that's clearly not the only way in which Obama is different than every other American president -- and, while it might be new to have a black president, there is nothing new about objectifying black men and focusing on their sexual "hotness." It is undoubtedly more convenient for them to ignore that context, so they might pretend they're not playing into it.

There is a long history of black men being reduced to the physical, being defined in terms of their (often exaggerated) sexuality. Hell, the mindset of Southern whites for centuries—and especially after 1865--rested partially on the notion that pure white women had to be protected from the irrepressible urges of the oversexed, black male savage.*

This is an image we have internalized. In the case of black men, they face the dilemma of living in a patriarchal, heterosexist society, that demands that they prove their manhood, and a racist one, that denies them the traditional means of proving it—namely through the roles of “provider** and protector.” They are often left to demonstrate their “manliness” through physical and verbal violence (though I would argue that this is true across race and class lines) and sexual prowess, determined by the number of female “conquests” they’ve made.

In those respects, this cover disregards history. But it also captures a very present-day phenomenon—the projection of an aura of “casualness” around the Obamas. I get that people want to make them seem approachable in a they’re-just-like-you-and-me way. It’s a way to ease a country in denial about its racism into the reality of having a black first family. There’s another effect of this “casualization” though, rooted deeply in racism and classism. While the Obamas are commonly compared to the Kennedys, what goes unspoken is that they lack the pedigree, the lifelong experience with “the formal” that John and Jacqueline had. What I read over and over, from people who critique Michelle Obama's fashion sense, is the implication that she is too casual—she does not know how to dress appropriately. I believe the Washingtonian cover reveals a similar sentiment about President Obama.

Finally, I’d like to point to the Washingtonian’s narrow definition of hot that focuses on the physicality of the President. Now, of course, we live in a country obsessed with appearances and operating with a very narrow concept of attractiveness, so the Washingtonian is not alone. But I think some of the “hottest” things about Obama are his intelligence, the respect and love he seems to have for his wife, and the alternative image of black masculinity he represents—no shirtless image required to portray any of that.

*Neither is there anything new about putting black bodies on display to titillate or entertain or to determine their physical desirability.

** One interesting thing to note is that while black men might play the provider, it is cast in a different context than white men’s role. Black men might shell out money, but it is in a context in which black women are assumed to be playing the role of the greedy gold-digger who "sells" herself to a temporary “provider.” As Lisa Jones noted, “Between rappers turning ‘ho’ into a national chant and [the movie Waiting to] Exhale telling African Americans that our real problem is the shortage of brothers who are both well hung and well paid, I’m getting to think that all we can offer each other is genitalia and the paycheck.” Quoted in Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Another 11-year-old child, Jaheem Herrera, has hanged himself "after enduring extreme daily bullying that included antigay taunts."

This is how his best friend described Jaheem's agony to Jaheem's mother:
He told me that he’s tired of everybody always messing with him in school. He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself

Dear Lord

I haven't done the bargaining prayer--"Dear God, if you let 'a' not happen, then I promise I will never again 'b' "--in a long time, but I'm on the verge.

As soon as I can figure out what "b" will be.

I have the beginning worked out, though:
Dear God, please don't let this woman become a martyr, sacrificed on the evil altar of teh radical homosekshul agenda.

I realize that it might be easy for her to overlook the absolute lack of clarity or logic in her I-am-brave-enough-to-stand-up-against-political-correctness answer, or the competition she faced in Kristen Dalton, Miss North Carolina USA, but dear Lord, if you will 1) disabuse her of the notion that her answer "did cost me my crown," and 2) stop marriage equality opponents from spreading the meme, I promise that I will never again...
That's where I get stuck.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Support Justice for Angie Zapata

From VivirLatino:
Angie Zapata was a transgender woman who was brutally murdered in Colorado last year. Next week, her killer goes to trial, and an online campaign by ProgressNow Colorado is encouraging us to remember Angie’s life and death at this difficult time.

Light a Candle for Angie is a Facebook application designed to draw attention to the issue of hate crimes. If you are a Facebook member, why not join the iniative?

If you are a Twitter member, you can follow all of the activities around the online campaign by adding Justice for Angie, or searching #zapata for other online conversations around anti-hate activism in Angie’s name.
H/T bfp

Ancient history through a very modern lens *

Archaelogists believe they may have found the site that holds Cleopatra’s tomb. Among the treasures found at nearby digs are coins that bear Cleopatra’s image and a bust of her.

You’d think these coins would be treasured primarily as priceless ancient artifacts or mementoes of a beloved queen. But they are valuable for another reason. A couple of years ago,** scholars examined another coin bearing Cleopatra’s image and determined: “The popular image we have of Cleopatra… that of a beautiful queen,” was wrong. Apparently, the news that Cleopatra might not have looked like Elizabeth Taylor was shocking to some.

Thus, we have the problem of figuring out what to do about Cleopatra--when you tie most of a woman's achievements/activities to her "incomparable" beauty, how do you now, when she is (ridiculously) judged by current standards to be "ugly," tell her story? How does it change? To what do we attribute Caesar's and Antony's "weakness" (as affection or regard for a woman is so often called)? Surely, Cleopatra's intelligence or cleverness or personality could not have been enough?

These new coins rescue us, again, from those questions.
Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, said the coins found at the temple refuted "what some scholars have said about Cleopatra being very ugly".

"The finds from Taposiris reflect a charm... and indicate that Cleopatra was in no way unattractive," he said.
So she is, indeed, worth our continued fascination.
*Though ancient cultures had their own beauty standards and such ephemeral things as beauty standards are subject to change.

**Though the debate about Cleopatra's beauty predates this.

I've Referenced This Book Before...

...but I'm so glad, Wednesday, 15 April 2009, a Terrible, Horrible,
No Good, Very Bad Day
, is over.

Usually, my solution is to go to bed and relish starting over, but I'm going to watch some totally mind-numbing T.V.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Notes from the Academy

My colleagues and I talk a lot about students’ sense of entitlement and (depending on where you teach) privilege. Some of the things they ask demand are unbelievable.

I want to share a story with y’all, a bit of what I alluded to at the beginning of this post and here. I spent quite a bit of time talking about the freedom movements of the 1950s and 1960s in my post-45 class. I heard by way of one student, that another older, white, male student liked my class, but since he’d “lived through all of that,” he’d really wanted to hear more about Sputnik and the space race than I’d offered. The student who relayed the story to me said that she asked him, “Did you look on the history site and see what her specialties are?”

I was glad for her little nudge, but this is something I’ve encountered repeatedly, albeit not always so nicely worded. In my first set of evaluations eons ago, I had a student say, “She’s a good teacher, but she talks too much about race.” I also “focus a lot” on gender. I get related comments often—if not in bulk (one or two a semester, at most).

Those comments used to get under my skin. I now take them as a compliment of sorts. Somewhere along the way, I had a moment of clarity. I won’t say that students can’t help determine what I teach—I love when they ask to hear more about a subject, for example. And I try to give examples that are relevant to where they are (Texas)—in my survey, when we talk about other ways PoC tried to better their conditions during the Depression (since they were so often left out of the New Deal), we spend a nice amount of time on the San Antonio pecan shellers’ strike and the revitalization of the NAACP in Texas during the 1930s.

But for students to think that they can demand that I, a black woman historian, teach in a way that excludes or doesn’t “focus a lot” on race or class or a number of other factors, when my syllabus lists as an objective “To enable you, as a participant, to… recognize the role factors such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability have played in shaping policy, institutions and relationships within the U.S.” is ridiculous.

In a sense, they are asking me to teach a history that disappears me.

I'm starting to think that my life in the academy will teach me as much about race and gender privilege as my life in a rural, southern town.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gentle Reminder...

Have you gotten your SPEAK! CD yet?

Well, why the hell not?!!!

Really, Steven?

Trigger warning

Dear Mr. Ward,

I will admit that I don’t watch your show, Tough Love. I think I am exceedingly glad that I don’t.

Still, I was quite nonplussed when I read that you opined that one of the women on the show, Arian, was going to end up “getting raped” if her present pattern of behavior—raunchy and inappropriate, I believe were your words?—continued. She enjoys taking risks, said you, putting herself “in that position,” and there are consequences! Arian should be more “classy!”

Hmmm, I thought, is Mr. Ward really suffering under the ildelusion that “classy” women don’t get raped? That rape occurs because “raunchy and inappropriate” women “ask for it?” Surely not!

But, in case you are, I’d like to point you here (or here or here) and here, where the entirety of the blog deconstructs and proves the fallacies of rape apologies like yours.

And I’d like to challenge you, Mr. Ward, to realize that “in that position” often means existing as a woman or anyone perceived as weaker or more vulnerable in a rape culture.

Yes, a rape culture.

How else would you describe a culture in which the logical consequence of acting a certain way or wearing a certain thing is understood to be the violation of one’s bodily autonomy?



P.S. Oh, and expect more letters.

H/T Alessia via belledame on twitter

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Weekend Question Is Back!!

For the wise ones, how do you let go?

Y'all would not believe the things I obsess over at night while staring at the ceiling. One example, I showed pictures of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and one of my students asked how far did it extend into the sky. I didn't know the answer off hand. I worried about that.

Okay, I shouldn't paint it as an isolated event that I went crazy over--the survey class I have this semester has a knack for missing the point, sometimes, and asking me all sorts of questions like that. My old advisor told me, "Tell them that's something that they can easily look up on their own."

But while I don't get a malicious feel from them, I am aware of the fact that because I am black, a woman, and young-looking, some students take it upon themselves to "prove" I don't know everything, and I'm not at a point where I can be as dismissive as advisor advises. :-)

Y'all would believe that I've blown this semester into the worst-thing-ever to the point that I can't even hear the students who tell me "This is my favorite class" or "I love when we do so-and-so" or "I never thought about that." A thicker skin, my female colleagues advise me, will grow.

In the meantime, I obsess.

Tell me how not to!

More than Words

Trigger warning

Via Maegan and Noemi on Twitter, I heard about this story:

11-Year-Old Hangs Himself after Enduring Daily Anti-Gay Bullying
An 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hung himself Monday after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay, despite his mother’s weekly pleas to the school to address the problem. This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year.
I am a former elementary school teacher. I am a current parent. Bullying is not just harmless words--that sticks and stones shit is for the birds, and I get pissed every time I hear about teachers and school officials ignoring it.

There are all kinds of excuses, of course. Children who bully are just being kids. There's nothing a teacher can do because it will continue out of our eyesight in the quiet corners of playgrounds and bathrooms. And all too often, teachers' disdain turns toward the victim of bullying: "Toughen up," "Don't be a tattle-tale," or "Get over it, people are always going to talk about you." (Re: that last excuse, I swear I heard this from teachers and parents: "They even talked about Jesus; why are you any different?")

The author notes that Carl did not identify as gay*, an effort to drive home the point that
[Y]ou do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language. ... From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers.


Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students.
Most of the kids who are bullied and harrassed never report.

They've learned that their teachers and administrators will not effectively address the abuse.
*Of course, there are many reasons that he might not have identified as gay--I don't mean to dismiss the possibility that he was. I am struggling with that part of the article. I get that the intent is to show the anti-gay bullying can hurt anyone, but I also get a slight, "This is even more tragic because he might not have even been gay" sense from it--not that I think it was intentional.

And there you have a peek into this meandering mind.

this from Petulant's round-up at Shakesville.


Trigger Warning

So said Nez when he tweeted about this story: Police chief fired for using taser on wife (News video there).

From the AP:
OAKWOOD, Texas (AP) — The chief of a small Central Texas town's police department has been fired and jailed for allegedly using a Taser gun on his wife.

Former Oakwood police chief Oly Ivy is in Leon County Jail in Centerville on Wednesday, charged with aggravated assault. Bond is $100,000.
I don't have a lot to add--we know that abusive police officers prey on vulnerable and marginalized people and communities. So it's no surprise that women who live with men who are abusive and who are trained how to restrain people and how to use deadly force, are at risk.

They might be, as this fact sheet describes, "uniquely vulnerable."


Thursday, April 09, 2009

I Just Realized How Country I Am

I just yelled at my kid to "Go get a bath!!"

I forgot that was even in the ellexicon.

Bless my heart!

Really? Could You De-center for a Moment, Even?

What I think she really wanted to say:

"See, this is why I mumble and grumble about 'indigestible immigrant blocs' (and I don't give a damn if you've been here five generations, you're still not really American) and the fragmenting of America and how our totally homogeneous culture is being lost.

You expect me to learn your name? That'd be like learning your difficult language, and I totally don't have to learn another language, cuz I'm American and we are the center of the woooooooooooooooooooooooorld!!!!!!!

God Bless America!!"



When I went to the Organization of American Historians conference, I attended a panel by black women professors telling their stories of what it is like for us in the academy—the challenges, the classroom questioning of authority, the dismissal, the please-can-you-serve-on-every-committee, the isolation, the feeling of being an impostor.

But that is another post. I bring up that panel because of what happened to me when I heard Dr. Ula Taylor speak. She spoke about all those pains and about the hurt that results from the much-too-soon loss of black women like VeVe Clark and June Jordan. But she also spoke about healing, about how she soothes and comforts and heals herself by swimming.

And I started to cry. Because for the longest time, I have wanted to write about water.

Yes, water.

Because of my heat- then chemically-straightened hair, I was taught that water was my nemesis. I could not lie back and pretend to float in the tub. My sister and I could not run under the water hose or the sprinklers on sweltering Louisiana summer days. I could not play in the rain. On Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, when our family went to the park, the girls could only go so far into the water.

And I could not swim. Never even learned.

I wanted to so badly, because somewhere along the way, I realized I loved water in my hair, on my scalp. I think it was when I first had to wash my hair on my own—I’d always believed I didn’t have the expertise necessary to deal with that “difficult” part of me, but college-induced poverty changed my mind.

That water on my scalp--the first warm rush, the later, slow trickles--made me think longingly of swimming. What it would be like to immerse my whole body, to have water move in its gentle lap-lap-lap as it caressed my skin?

But my "whole body" was the other issue. How could a fat girl learn to swim? What would I wear? I was (am) too fragile to reveal myself like that. I do not want the pitying, disgusted gaze of others.

I am afraid the pitying, disgusted gaze will be mine.

So I learned to suppress the desire to swim.

Mostly. Sometimes it overwhelms me.

Like when my son is swimming and I dangle my feet in the pool, bathe them in the cool, silky water while the sun warms my back.

Or when we spend holidays near the water and I, very quickly, trail one of the babies’ feet or hands through it. Just so they’ll know the delicious feel of it.

Those moments are fleeting, subordinate to my attachment to my bone-straight hair and my internalized body shame.

But I want to be like Dr. Taylor. I want to find healing and peace in the water. It's not that I think water is somehow magical. The appeal is rooted somewhere in something both literal and figurative--how the weightlessness we feel in water is a temporary reprieve from all that we carry, all that brings us/holds us down. So, I know there is something there for me.

Why else would I crave it so?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Timely Video...

..considering my post yesterday on skin bleaching. Via Kameelah, a clip on "A Family of Skin Bleachers in Jamaica."

No transcript, but I want to point out a few things the daughter says:
Nothing sells in town like rubbings [meaning the skin bleach], hair, and clothes. Even food doesn’t sell as much as bleaching. Everyday you talk about being hungry, but if I have $1.50, I will go and run to buy one of them. They say beauty brings pain. Style is what we want, so we just have to bear it.*
And later, she smiles as she describes how the bleach has its desired effect:
…nobody can say anything; we are white*.
The video also talks briefly about men who have begun bleaching.

*All emphases mine

"Whites Only"

Recently, when I asked my students an exam question about World War II and pre- and during war mobilization, I began with the statement, “During the first half of the 1940s, Americans found themselves confronted with the paradox of fighting racism abroad while sustaining a racially/ethnically stratified system at home.” Of course, that is a broad statement—you could argue, for example, that given the fact that the military was segregated, the U.S. sustained racism abroad during the war, as well.

And now, the BBC has found another way in which the U.S. “sustained racism abroad” during the war:
Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory.
Much of the Free French fighting force (65%) was African, and they had made tremendous sacrifices:
By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.

Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.
But the U.S. and the U.K. were dismissive of their service. When the liberation of Paris seemed possible in 1944 and Charles de Gaulle insisted that the French lead the liberation,
Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.

In January 1944 Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, "confidential": "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.”
To create the “whites only” illusion,
Allied Command insisted that all black soldiers be taken out and replaced by white ones from other units.

When it became clear that there were not enough white soldiers to fill the gaps, soldiers from parts of North Africa and the Middle East were used instead.
In a sense, this is not surprising for the U.S.—a nation that had always downplayed black military personnel’s service, that relegated black service people to menial duties, that until World War II, excluded them from certain branches of the military. The degradation of African Americans military service went so far that, in 1925, the Army War College issued a report detailing why African Americans were unfit for combat and could never be pilots.

But this seems somehow, particularly low, that in the midst of what was supposed to be a great triumph, the U.S. took the time to strengthen and assert policies that were supposed to be the very antithesis of what it was fighting for.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lighter Is Better

I cannot pinpoint the moment that I, as a little black girl, began to absorb the messages about the desirability, the attractiveness of lighter skin. There were all the moments my mother admonished me to stay out of the sun, a lifetime of growing up with the knowledge that, of my three aunts, the fair-skinned one with the green eyes was considered the “prettiest,” the childhood argument/fight experiences in which adding “with your black (meaning dark) self!” made an insult even worse.

There were the times I watched pregnant women in my community grab the hands of straight or curly haired, light-skinned people and rub those hands across their stomachs—so the “good” hair and light skin would rub off on the baby. There were the times people asked my sister and I if we had the same father, because I was lighter than she. There was also the fact that I was an early romance-novel reader; I wish now I had a nickel for all the mentions of “pale” or “alabaster” flesh (quivering flesh—it was always quivering flesh!)

And then there was the media—I was bombarded with images of black women who were attractive because of their long, straight hair, fair skin, and non-brown eyes.

The message sank in early—one of my first school memories is walking to my kindergarten classroom, hand-in-hand with my white classmate, Robin. I remember looking down at our clasped hands and wishing mine was more like hers.

I was four years old.

I began with a personal story, but the belief that lighter-is-better is a problematic one throughout black communities, particularly for black women. I remember, as a child, watching a Whoopi Goldberg monologue in which she was pretending to be a little girl. She, too desired lighter skin, and decided to try with chlorine bleach. “All I got,” her character said, “Was burned.” The character was half right—chlorine was not the solution, but bleaching was. And the agent of choice, increasingly in the U.S., was hydroquinone.

Flipping through old black newspapers and magazines, you can see the ads for Fashion Fair’s Vantex, Ambi, and Dr. Palmer’s. Back in the day, they were more to the point, promising to lighten and whiten the skin. In the aftermath of black pride movements, they promise that their 2% hydroquinone formulas will fade or lighten discolorations and give you a more even skin tone. How can we argue with that? Unspoken, of course, is that the undesirable “dark spot” in need of fading/lightening is the entirety of our brown and black skin. (Though, given the image at the top of this page, and the name of the product, you can give “Fair & White” credit for being honest, I suppose.)

I cannot pinpoint the moment that I realized that the lighter-is-better issue was an issue for many other WoC, either. In grad school, my friend Jesse—who was Mexican American—told me a story about his mother’s despair that his sister looked “native” while he himself was fairer. His uncle had tried to console his mom by reasoning, “At least she’s pretty.”

And then I began to read stories about various African countries in which skin bleaching was unbelievably popular—even after hydroquinone and the mercury used in some products caused burns, and other painful ailments, and were linked to conditions like ochronosis, which is marked by
marked by the darkening and thickening of the skin, as well as the appearance of tiny dome-shaped bumps and grayish-brown spots.
Women in Mali reported being shunned if they didn’t use the product. And a hairdresser in Tanzania explained her use of skin bleach:
You hear that if you want to look beautiful, then you have to look like a white person and to look like a white person you have to use these creams.
Asian women are targeted, as well—a couple of month’s ago Women’s E-news described an ad on Hong Kong’s public transit system:
One video you might easily find yourself staring at promotes lingerie and is made by the Japanese company Wacoal.

In the lingerie ad, a serious young man first runs his hands over the bosom and buttocks of a thin woman with dark hair. He is then shown working in a futuristic laboratory crafting undergarments from his observations. In the final scene, an Asian woman with long blond hair and light skin wears a diaphanous gown to highlight her newly sculpted hourglass figure and turns to smile seductively at viewers: She has taken on Caucasian features.
And if you have the heart (and the stomach), you only have to click over to youtube to look at some of the Fair & Lovely ads for India.

Being lighter, being closer to white, makes PoC more successful, more confident, more attractive. That message is drummed into us over and over. So when Maegan drew my attention to the Ponds’ Flawless White series on youtube that posits that being lighter also helps you win your lost love! (and being darker makes you greedy and evuhl), I should not have been surprised.

But, well, damn. And so, without further ado, I bring you this nightmare*:


Ponds Flawless White
Reduces dark spots and lightens skin in just seven days
Ponds Flawless White
Love’s Helping Hand

*I am also interested in the ways this intersects with class. In one of the articles I read about skin bleaching creams in Asia, the author noted that darker skin was associated with working outdoors and manual labor, a designation many women didn’t want. I am aware of a similar sentiment in my community. Then, in one of the articles about Africa, a doctor expressed the belief that skin bleaching was more prevalent among the less educated. This is problematic for lower socio-economic class women whose low wages mean they turn to cheaper products (often black market) that are even riskier and that they may spend a disproportionate amount of their income on these “beauty” products.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...