Friday, May 20, 2011


Last night, while I was cooking dinner, my son suggested we have hot dogs at some point this weekend. I just looked at him because he knows a hot dog for me means all I'm eating is chili and a bun. I can't stand boiled wieners. He tried to compromise.

"You could grill 'em and burn them a little bit like y'all like."

Now, that has possibilities because I can tolerate a grilled hot dog a little better. But when it comes to grilling, I feel strangely torn. I'll marinate or season the stuff, throw it on the hot grill, but the grilling itself? I can't STAND smoke in my hair and clothes. Someone always starts the grill for me and watches the stuff. I have a feeling my kid is about to become an expert at the latter.

At this point, he's become emboldened by my silence. "You know, if I could have my favorite barbecue meal, it'd be hot dogs, sausage, and some of those brown beans."

And I recognize, this is my child's plea for simplicity. He's been placed in the role of guinea pig and while his palate has expanded a lot and I can get him to try most stuff one time, he longs for just a few things: rice, mac n cheese, fried catfish, hamburgers, and sloppy joes. He'd eat those everyday, but I, on the other hand, want to cook something new or different every night. Plus, rice goes with grits in my mind--why the love? They have no flavor! I understand their role as staples and fillers and recognize the importance of rice in diets around the world, but rather than add a pound of sugar and butter to my diet (as I am wont to do when I have to eat white rice), I just avoid it.

So last night, he watched me butterfly pork chops, stuff them with herbed goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, sear and then braise them in a mix of whatever I felt like throwing in the pan. I also made him try squash with peppers and onions which he thought was akin to losing cell phone privileges. As a compromise, I cooked rice... with a little cheese, broccoli, and butter :-) He mostly ate the rice... and dreamed of hot dogs, apparently.

As he planned his barbecue, I reminded him Friday was out because he has basketball practice. And Saturday is probably out because of a basketball tournament.

"All day Saturday?" he asked.

Here is where y'all should be proud--I totally resisted the urge to tell him "We might be caught up." I almost explained the Rapture to him in a teasing way then remembered how biblical stories like that terrified me when I was a kid.

Hell, I'm terrified now given some of the chain text messages I've been sent. Dear concerned family, you don't have to send any more messages questioning my readiness. No, I'm not. Though there are plenty of people who have gone on that I'd love to see just one more time, I don't know about being caught up with them mid-air.

And what does one wear to be Raptured?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Presentism

Dear U.S. History Student,

I understand protectiveness of your idols, I guess. If I felt someone impugned the figure of, say, Fannie Lou Hamer, I'd be ready to take off the earrings and smear the Vaseline. But I'm weary of your smug responses to any critique of your beloved Founders and/or your racist and sexist and classist grandfathers--the cry of presentism. How dare I or any student suggest that your beloveds were, well, fucked up? We can only come to that conclusion because we're judging them through the lenses of our day. We have to look at the "time in which they lived" (C). We are guilty, in our naivete and lack of understanding, of presentism.

I'd like to point out that your concept of presentism rests heavily in your identification with dominant groups. You may not have noticed, but one of the books I use, that you're supposed to be reading, is called Dissent in America. It's chock full of all kinds of primary sources that show that people in the past also thought your idols were full of privileged bullshit. Your adored historical figures had contemporary critics who were pointing out the same things that your classmates and I are. So, your claim of presentism dismisses all those people, all their arguments, and the history of dissent in this country.

I suppose that saying "The historical figures I admire were understandably a product of their times" is a lot more face-saving than saying "The historical figures I admire held tightly to oppressive systems out of self-interest and an unwillingness to challenge the status quo, thus ignoring the people who suggested that maybe, just maybe, there were problems with said systems." Whatever. Hey, they ignored protest from the margins, why shouldn't you?!

So, you can, if you choose, go ahead understating your idols' flaws and bristling at the critique of them. Or you can acknowledge things like the fact that, for whatever else they did, quite a few of your Founders were a bunch of sexist, elitist, racist slaveholders, some people told them that, and they didn't give a damn. Or that it wasn't just some abstract notions of states' rights and strict constitutionality that your southern forefathers were interested in upholding. Etc, etc.

Or you can continue to claim that critiques of them only occur in the present and conveniently disappear people like:

Benjamin Banneker
Abigail Adams
Maria Stewart
Frederick Douglass
John Brown
Chief Joseph
Ida Wells
Mother Jones
Joe Hill
Carlos Montezuma
Alice Paul
W.E.B DuBois
Hubert Harrison
Angelo Herndon
Fred Korematsu
Hector Garcia
Grace Lee Boggs
Bayard Rustin
Septima Clark
Clyde Warrior
Dolores Huerta
Audre Lorde
Vito Russo
Howard Zinn

Yep, I listed all those as a start. Crying presentism erases their historical critiques, their arguments that the world that was, wasn't the world that had to be.

Of course, that version of history is the one for which you probably long. It's safe. You can simultaneously, dissonant-ly claim the U.S. is exceptional and dismiss any problems with "but other people did it as well." Either we're different and special-er than everyone else or we're not; make up your mind. But maybe that dissonance is part of our heritage as well--how could the same person who theorized "All men are created equal" so completely challenge his own theory in Notes on the State of Virginia?

But my God, if your totally complacent answer is "That's just how it is," what limited possibilities must you envision for yourself and your abilities to effect change?


dr. elle

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Breaking News!!!!!!

In a blog post at Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa has come to the totally original conclusion that black women are "Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women." For some reason, Psychology Today pulled down this ultra-objective, ultra-scientific post! You can read it here.

Personally, I'm floored. This is such new, groundbreaking stuff. No one in our society has ever suggested that black women are less attractive than other women! I mean, this is not something you see every day in media outlets.

Oh, wait...

Okay, slightly turning off my sarcasm, I'm just going to post what I wrote to my BFF on when she asked me to find the article and talk about it:
**Yawn** same ol', same ol', Mrs. O. We as black women are too masculine/have too much testosterone AND his "objective evidence" of our lack of attractiveness [as far as I can tell] is based on the opinions of some interviewers who do the longitudinal study "ADD Health." These are the opinions of people who have **totally** not been influenced by a culture that is always positing black women are less attractive and less feminine than other women, I'm sure. Now, while their opinions are "objective" the opinions of black women, who rank themselves as more attractive than other women, are subjective. 'Cause we're not bona-fide experts or authorities or whatever. **Side-eye alert**

But, oh, thank goodness that our lack of attractiveness is not due to our lack of intelligence (yeah, he cites "racial differences" in intelligence, too).

He also pondered if it might be our "much heavier" bodies (surprise!) or our African genetic mutations.

What he didn't seem to consider is that beauty is a standard constructed by and within a sociocultural context. As Kanazawa's colleague explains:
Standards of beauty, like most other beliefs, are socialized and change not only from place to place but also over time. In both the United States and England, (where Kanazawa lives and works), standards of beauty are essentially "White" standards, because whites comprise the majority of the population and have disproportional control over both media and fashion.*


As long as this is understood and framed accordingly, there is no problem with the data Kanazawa reports. What they show is that because Black faces and bodies don't fit mainstream White standards of physical attractiveness, both respondents and interviewers show an anti-Black bias. Unfortunately, Kanazawa fails to consider either sample bias or socializing effects. Even if he believes, as he apparently does, that human behavior is entirely "evolutionary", good science requires a careful analysis of sample bias and an explicit discussion regarding the study's generalizability. Without this kind of methodological analysis, Kanazawa's entire premise -- that there is such a thing as a single objective standard of attractiveness -- is fatally (and tragically) flawed.

What's tragic is that this shit keeps getting published.
*These aren't the only reasons, I'd argue
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...