Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the Anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid

Let me just say, off the top, I love John Brown. A devoted abolitionist willing to pay the ultimate price to bring slavery to its end? It's the stuff of fantasy.

...for people who think like I. For many other people who have lived in the U.S. since 1859, it's a reason to portray the man as "crazy" and "unstable." John Brown's contemporaries didn't think of him in these terms, according to James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me; instead, this portrayal arose largely to dismiss his efforts, his dedication, and because it is hard for people to imagine that a white man would give his life to destroy the slave system. I tell my students it's the same reason people try to make the Civil War about everything except slavery. White people were willing to tear their country apart and kill each other and "black people were at the heart of it?" Oh, no!

But I, as usual, digress. I admired Brown and didn't believe the characterizations even before I read Loewen's book. I wrote a paper about him during my M.A. program in defense of his sanity. My professor thought I was in denial :-)

As I've grown since, I am trying to think of careful ways to have this argument. If I try to "redeem" John Brown by insisting that he did not grapple with mental illness, am I just, from another perspective, furthering stereotypes about those that we label "crazy?" And so, I want to make it clear that my issue right now is not so much insisting that John Brown was "perfectly sane," but in the common invocation of mental illness to render people and their actions questionable, insignificant, or downright wrong.

Maybe Brown was an extremist in the sense that MLK, Jr. used the term in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Maybe Brown faced that choice MLK talked about, choosing what kind of extremist to be. "Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?" King asked. That Brown may have struggled, a century before, with just such a sentiment is evident in his words:
[H]ad I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.


I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!
I will always love me some John Brown.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Fisher v. UT

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Fisher v. UT.

I'm anxious.

Abigail Fisher claims she was rejected by UT because she was white. I think cases like this get at the heart of who is believed deserving or meritorious or entitled (a word usually used viciously against poor people of color, but Abigail Fisher certainly felt she was "entitled" to something).

Why do I say that? Because it doesn't particularly matter to plaintiffs in cases like this about any other source of perceived "unfair advantage." As Tim Wise noted some time ago,
[F]or every student of color who received even the slightest consideration from an affirmative action program in college, there are two whites who failed to meet normal qualification requirements at the same school, but who got in anyway because of parental influence, alumni status or because other favors were done.

But we don't hear about the unfairness of parental influence or legacy policies.

And, as noted in a brief from UT:
[Fisher] also was denied admission to the summer program, which offered provisional admission to some applicants who were denied admission to the fall class, subject to completing certain academic requirements over the summer. ... Although one African-American and four Hispanic applicants with lower combined AI/PAI scores than petitioner’s were offered admission to the 16 summer program, so were 42 Caucasian applicants with combined AI/PAI scores identical to or lower than petitioner’s. In addition, 168 African-American and Hispanic applicants in this pool who had combined AI/PAI scores identical to or higher than petitioner’s were denied admission to the summer program.

I doubt if Amy Fisher is worried about those 42 Caucasian applicants who got in because we are more likely to think they somehow deserved it. And what of the 168 students of color with scores identical or higher to hers who were denied admission? How is that explained?

No, it’s only an issue when a person of color is perceived to have gained something that rightfully should have gone to a white person. It is rooted in the belief that somewhere out there, there has to be a white person who is better qualified or more deserving or who “merits” more.

It’s the Jesse Helms “Hands” ad writ large.

Like Deborah Archer, I believe that,
Altough America has made substantial progress in race relations, there remains a systemic racial hierarchy that produces and perpetuates racial disparities in educational outcomes. Race-conscious admissions programs, like the one used by UT Austin, are designed to counter this systemic racism and create a vital pipeline to educational and professional opportunities for minority students. The proven success of these programs in increasing equal opportunity serves as compelling evidence of their value and counsels in favor of continuing them.

And, as a professor and a woman of color, it’s why I am anxious.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Well, It's Not Exactly EXTREME Couponing...

Some couponing info: Some of my neighbors know me well enough to just hand me their coupons if we meet at the mailbox. I'll also get extras from the post office that people throw on the table or on top of the recycle bin. Yes, these are typically more than I can use, but here are some things I've done lately:

1) My kids like the Dole Aguas Frescas. A 64 oz carton is $2. I cut out about 15 $1 off coupons and buy 3 at a time. They've been drinking them and making popsicles with them.

2) Leave the extras by the product in the store. For example, I cut out some $2 off L'oreal True Match face product coupons. There aren't many people of my complexion on this side of town, ahem, so the foundation and powder colors that match me like cappucino and nut brown were on clearance at HEB for under $6 (regularly $8-12). The pressed powders happened to be packaged with a free blush. So I got 2 liquid foundations, 2 powders, and 2 blushes for about $16 and left the rest of the coupons on the shelf.

3) Rose Art has a coupon for $1 off 3 or more of their products. Right now, you can get their glue and crayons and stuff for under 40 cents. The crayons are a quarter so I'm thinking I can get four packs free. The glue is 34 cents, so I can get 3 of them for 2 cents. Even if you don't have school age children, you can donate the stuff (that's my plan because I've collected SEVERAL of those).

4) Check for stores that are moving or going out of business or having clearance sales--I cleaned up at a Michael's out here last weekend. Lots of stuff deeply discounted, plus they had a 25% off your total purchase coupon. And when they have those 40 or 50% off one item coupons, I give everyone money and we all buy something, even four-year-old Deuce! Also, I got 4 collage picture frames, a butterfly for my wall, 3 potential centerpieces, numerous candles and other odds and ends at Kirkland's last weekend--my regular total would've been about $230. With clearance and a $25 off $75 coupon, I spent $54.17 with tax.

Yes coupons can be time consuming and can make you buy stuff you wouldn't ordinarily (I fall into that trap sometimes, I will admit), but they can also add up to big savings!

**Ooh, two of my biggest finds right now: 50 cents off Suave Deodorant and 50 cents off carefree, stayfree, and ob products. So you can get the small pack of carefree liners and the small container of Suave deodorant for under 50 cents.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Make Me Blog!

Tell me what you like most about any interpersonal relationship--romantic, familial, whatever!

I'm thinking...

Friday, July 20, 2012

What I Might Be

I've had these thoughts/quotes/ideas/lyrics/words that keep coming to me in the last two weeks. Because I am superstitious, I think I have discerned a pattern.

First, I heard the Lao Tzu quote, "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."

Then, I took my 4-year-old nephew Deuce to the park and watched him attempt the monkey bars. I had a sad feeling suddenly because I remembered that I'd never learned to cross the monkey bars on my school playground. I'd always been too scared to let go of the one bar behind to grab hold of the next one in front.

On FaceBook, I read a friend proclaim, "I am working on being more audacious, shameless, & fearless. Love makes anything possible."

And I heard Erykah Badu croon to me on my Pandora station,

Bag lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold on to
Is you, is you, is you

One day all them bags gone get in your way


Girl I know sometimes it's hard
And we can't let go


Bag lady
Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go

So, I wanted to weave together some deep philosophical thoughts on these things--my feeling that I am being prompted to let some things go to make room for others, to release some of the past so that I may live in the present and dream BIG for my future.

But I'm sleepy and not particularly prosaic this week :-) I do know, however, that I am ready to start the journey to becoming what I might be.

Isn't that an amazing, intriguing, frightening, exhilarating thing--what I might be? I'm ready for a little fearlessness, too, for in the words of the beloved Audre Lorde, "I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I'll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side."

What I might be... I don't know who she is, but I'll bet y'all ain't ready for her!


Thursday, July 19, 2012

This. Pisses. Me. Off.

From Jessica Andrews at Clutch Magazine:

It wasn’t long after a picture of 7-month-old Blue Ivy made its way to the Internet that the slander started. Facebook and Twitter posts lamented the fact that Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter was starting to look like her father. There were mean-spirited jabs about her inheritance of his “big lips” and jaws, and prayers that a “wide nose” wasn’t in her future.


The criticism of full lips, “nappy” hair, and wide noses in our communities is weighted. Some people would have you believe attractiveness is subjective, but the truth is our collective view of facial features is tangled in the web of racism. In our social imagination, European features set the standard for what’s beautiful, rendering broad noses and big lips ugly.

I am sooooo sick of colorism (or what people in my hometown call "bein' color-struck"--so in awe of someone with fair skin and straight hair that one is struck silent. And, Lord, don't let the fair-skinned person have non-dark brown eyes!), what it reflects about our beliefs, the deleterious effects on the esteem, psyches, relationships and opportunities of people of color. I've written about colorism before, am currently reading literature that argues that the effects of colorism are not only abstract, but may have very real effects on economic, educational, and political opportunities. So, I don't have a lot to add, except shame on the people who keep trafficking in this and quadruple that shame for people who do this to little ones.

But, of course, as my friend Black Amazon has noted, girls of color rarely get the chance to be girls.

It also really sticks with me that the picture that started the comments shows little Blue Ivy in her mother's arms, often characterized as one of the safest places a baby can be. Not so for babies of color who have been routinely ripped from their mother's arms to be sold, exploited, and separated from their families. Suddenly, I'm thinking Beyonce and Jay don't cover their baby just to be coy or secretive, but as a much-needed, protective gesture.

And I just have to leave you with this:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What the hell...

...is this?

I can't figure it out. Here are my fledgling ideas on what we are meant to learn from Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's inane comments:

1) Your long-time single friends are probably gay. (Hey! Stop looking at me! :-)

2) Only black women who look a certain way "engage in relationships like that."

I don't know what that means exactly. At first I suspected she was referring to possibly two things

A) herself as attractive, thus recycling the stereotype that lesbians are "ugly" "man-hating" women who are really gay and bitter because they can't "get" a man and

B) herself as a fairer-skinned (at least fairer-skinned than the woman who says she saw the Lt. Governor in a "compromising position") woman of color, which supposedly marks her as "more" attractive and desirable, bringing us back to point A.

But there is so much more going on in Carroll's words and expressions and laughs. The larger point, I believe, is that she is asserting that people who have "those kind of relationships" look some certain, identifiable way.

And it is not the way "normal" people like her--you know, people who have spouses and children and are physically attractive or whatever--look. Her knowing glances and smiles undergird that--I get the feeling she is saying, "Come on! You know what I mean!"

But what does she mean? That black lesbians aren't mothers or political leaders or don't fill myriad other "normal" roles that are apparently the domain of heterosexual women?

I still don't know what the hell Carroll is saying exactly.

But I do know that, whatever she means, it speaks to a long, hurtful history of othering.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday...

...to the fierce and brave Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Today is the sesquicentennial of her birth. A social justice activist, Wells-Barnett was active in struggles for women's and African American's civil and political rights. But she is perhaps best known for her anti-lynching work. Her work and her writings led to her virtual exile from the South and yet, she continued documenting and protesting lynchings. Here are some of her more controversial statements as recorded in her book Southern Horrors (available as an e-book via Project Gutenberg):
The greater part of what is contained in these pages was published in the New York Age June 25, 1892, in explanation of the editorial which the Memphis whites considered sufficiently infamous to justify the destruction of my paper, the Free Speech.



Wednesday evening May 24, 1892, the city of Memphis was filled with excitement. Editorials in the daily papers of that date caused a meeting to be held in the Cotton Exchange Building; a committee was sent for the editors of the Free Speech an Afro-American journal published in that city, and the only reason the open threats of lynching that were made were not carried out was because they could not be found. The cause of all this commotion was the following editorial published in the Free Speech May 21, 1892, the Saturday previous.

Eight negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke(?) into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., one near New Orleans; and three at Clarksville, Ga., the last three for killing a white man, and five on the same old racket—the new alarm about raping white women. The same programme of hanging, then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out to the letter.

Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread-bare lie that Negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women

The Daily Commercial of Wednesday following, May 25, contained the following leader:

Those negroes who are attempting to make the lynching of individuals of their race a means for arousing the worst passions of their kind are playing with a dangerous sentiment. The negroes may as well understand that there is no mercy for the negro rapist and little patience with his defenders. A negro organ printed in this city, in a recent issue publishes the following atrocious paragraph: "Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread-bare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful they will overreach themselves, and public sentiment will have a reaction; and a conclusion will be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women."

The fact that a black scoundrel is allowed to live and utter such loathsome and repulsive calumnies is a volume of evidence as to the wonderful patience of Southern whites. But we have had enough of it.

There are some things that the Southern white man will not tolerate, and the obscene intimations of the foregoing have brought the writer to the very outermost limit of public patience. We hope we have said enough.

The Evening Scimitar of same date, copied the Commercial's editorial with these words of comment:

Patience under such circumstances is not a virtue. If the negroes themselves do not apply the remedy without delay it will be the duty of those whom he has attacked to tie the wretch who utters these calumnies to a stake at the intersection of Main and Madison Sts., brand him in the forehead with a hot iron and perform upon him a surgical operation with a pair of tailor's shears.

Acting upon this advice, the leading citizens met in the Cotton Exchange Building the same evening, and threats of lynching were freely indulged, not by the lawless element upon which the deviltry of the South is usually saddled—but by the leading business men, in their leading business centre. Mr. Fleming, the business manager and owning a half interest the Free Speech, had to leave town to escape the mob, and was afterwards ordered not to return; letters and telegrams sent me in New York where I was spending my vacation advised me that bodily harm awaited my return. Creditors took possession of the office and sold the outfit, and the Free Speech was as if it had never been.

The editorial in question was prompted by the many inhuman and fiendish lynchings of Afro-Americans which have recently taken place and was meant as a warning. Eight lynched in one week and five of them charged with rape! The thinking public will not easily believe freedom and education more brutalizing than slavery, and the world knows that the crime of rape was unknown during four years of civil war, when the white women of the South were at the mercy of the race which is all at once charged with being a bestial one.

Since my business has been destroyed and I am an exile from home because of that editorial, the issue has been forced, and as the writer of it I feel that the race and the public generally should have a statement of the facts as they exist. They will serve at the same time as a defense for the Afro-Americans Sampsons who suffer themselves to be betrayed by white Delilahs.

Wells-Barnett maintained that the southern men's cry that they lynched to protect the honor of white women was a lie, often not even supported by the alleged victims of the assault. In fact, in A Red Record, she noted that white southerners "compelled to give excuses for [their] barbarism" offered a number of false reasons for their merciless, ritualistic slaughter of black people:
From 1865 to 1872, hundreds of colored men and women were mercilessly murdered and the almost invariable reason assigned was that they met their death by being alleged participants in an insurrection or riot. But this story at last wore itself out. No insurrection ever materialized; no Negro rioter was ever apprehended and proven guilty, and no dynamite ever recorded the black man's protest against oppression and wrong. It was too much to ask thoughtful people to believe this transparent story, and the southern white people at last made up their minds that some other excuse must be had.

Then came the second excuse, which had its birth during the turbulent times of reconstruction. By an amendment to the Constitution the Negro was given the right of franchise, and, theoretically at least, his ballot became his invaluable emblem of citizenship. [...] The southern white man would not consider that the Negro had any right which a white man was bound to respect, and the idea of a republican form of government in the southern states grew into general contempt. It was maintained that "This is a white man's government," and regardless of numbers the white man should rule. "No Negro domination" became the new legend on the sanguinary banner of the sunny South, and under it rode the Ku Klux Klan, the Regulators, and the lawless mobs, which for any cause chose to murder one man or a dozen as suited their purpose best. It was a long, gory campaign; the blood chills and the heart almost loses faith in Christianity when one thinks of Yazoo, Hamburg, Edgefield, Copiah, and the countless massacres of defenseless Negroes, whose only crime was the attempt to exercise their right to vote.


The white man's victory soon became complete by fraud, violence, intimidation and murder. The franchise vouchsafed to the Negro grew to be a "barren ideality," and regardless of numbers, the colored people found themselves voiceless in the councils of those whose duty it was to rule. With no longer the fear of "Negro Domination" before their eyes, the white man's second excuse became valueless. With the Southern governments all subverted and the Negro actually eliminated from all participation in state and national elections, there could be no longer an excuse for killing Negroes to prevent "Negro Domination."

Brutality still continued; Negroes were whipped, scourged, exiled, shot and hung whenever and wherever it pleased the white man so to treat them, and as the civilized world with increasing persistency held the white people of the South to account for its outlawry, the murderers invented the third excuse—that Negroes had to be killed to avenge their assaults upon women. [...] Humanity abhors the assailant of womanhood, and this charge upon the Negro at once placed him beyond the pale of human sympathy. With such unanimity, earnestness and apparent candor was this charge made and reiterated that the world has accepted the story that the Negro is a monster which the Southern white man has painted him. And today, the Christian world feels, that while lynching is a crime, and lawlessness and anarchy the certain precursors of a nation's fall, it can not by word or deed, extend sympathy or help to a race of outlaws, who might mistake their plea for justice and deem it an excuse for their continued wrongs.

White southerners would never admit the real causes, Wells-Barnett insisted, for murdering black people: the determination to keep black people in "their place," silenced by fear, and barred from progress in almost any field of endeavor. Indeed, they worked hard to solidify belief in the reasons they offered.

But the work of Ida B. Wells-Barnett served as a counter to those claims and she kept writing and speaking and opining at the risk of her own life. Described as "uncompromising" and a "crusader"--and not always in a flattering sense by those exasperated by her determination and dedication to her vision.

As a black woman and a historian, I admire her greatly for her efforts to write a historical narrative that countered the commonly accepted stories and to center the experiences of the marginalized.

This Writing Thing... Again!


This week begins my effort at this disciplined writing thing. I am moving away from binge writing (as much as 20 pages in a day then nothing for a month :-), mood writing (I can only write if I'm in a good mood/not worrying about anything else), and past writing habits that were less than fruitful.

I'm starting slowly. My rough goal now is that, within 2 hours of waking, I have to have written something on one of my academic works OR my blog OR my "Great American Novel."

We'll see!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Gardens and Growing, Sowing and Reaping, and LOVE!

"Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love," Hosea 10:12.

My dissertation/manuscript was heavily inspired by Jacqueline Jones's Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow. In the dedication, I thanked my mama for sharing her life story and told her, "I always knew we were your labor of love. I hope that you are proud of the fruits."

For some reason, I am heavily invested in those kinds of metaphors, the ideas of people planting and sowing and harvesting, particularly the idea that we sow now to provide a bountiful harvest for our children. One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 126:5--"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

I also love John 4:37-38--"Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” And every time I was called to do the devotion, I read Ecclesiastes 3, including, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted."

My mother STILL will keep me in line with warnings like these:

"Whatever one sows, that will he also reap," (Galatians 6:7)

"As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same," (Job 4:8)

"Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail,"(Proverbs 22:8)

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind," (Hosea 8:7)

What's my point on this Father's Day? Here it comes: I've given my mother a lot of credit for planting and tending and weeding and nurturing us. But my dad was an excellent gardener, as well. Because this is just my second Father's Day without him, there is still so much I am working through. I have to bite my tongue when friends talk about their relationships with their dads sometimes--my dad would frown heavily upon the feelings of resentment I have and my desire to say, "SO???? My daddy loved me and did things for my over-grown ass too!"

But I have come to the point that I remember more often with smiles than tears. And I want to thank my dad, via the words of an old poem, for his wonderful work sowing and reaping. I think we're some okay harvests :-)) I hope he knows that we take his model seriously and are always planting for this generation of grandchildren he loved so.

Happy Father's Day!

Our Father Kept A Garden

Our Father kept a garden,
A garden of the heart;
He planted all the good things,
That gave our lives their start.

He turned us to the sunshine,
And encouraged us to dream,
Fostering and nurturing
The seeds of self-esteem.

And when the winds and rain came,
He protected us enough;
But not too much because he knew
We would stand up strong and tough.

His strong and good example,
Taught us right from wrong;
Markers for our pathway that will
Last a lifetime long.

We are our Father's garden,
We are his legacy.
Thank you Dad, we love you,
Because you sowed our dreams!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Today, so far:

7:00 AM Mama is moving around, preparing for Sunday school. I wake up and try, vainly, to go back to sleep

7:15-7:30 AM Mama and I talk and sip coffee. The big boys are all away and Deuce is sleep. I love quiet moments, even when it is MORNING.

7:31-7:45 AM I realize no sleep is forthcoming so I might as well get the day started. I take down meat to thaw for dinner, do some surface-level straightening up, and sort laundry.

7:46 AM As mentioned, the boys are not here. I have decided that my first load of laundry will be towels. I realize that I must bravely approach the area of their greatest science experiment: their bathroom. (Suspenseful music plays in the background. Largely in my head, but you get the drift).

7:47-7:54 AM I don my makeshift haz-mat suit which consists of a scarf to protect my hair from odors, a large towel to cover my mouth and nose, Mama’s reading glasses for my eyes, my black house shoes because they can be washed, a straightened wire hanger to lift anything that should not be touched by human hands, elbow-length gloves and the sense of steely determination that has gotten mothers through thousands of years of messy children. I take a deep breath—I dare not breathe once I venture beyond this innocuous looking door. I look back at my mother, a bit of fear slowing my steps. She nods encouragement, clasps her hands together and waits. I pull down my towel long enough to tell her I love her and I couldn’t have asked for a better mom. I want her to know that before I venture into the bowels of hell. Slowly I turn the knob.

7:54:32 AM As a good social scientist, I make quick observations to later record in this journal. The first was the scent for which neither my towel nor the artfully placed wallflower was any match. I am horrified to realize I didn’t even hold my breath 30 seconds. Note to social scientist self: work on stamina, girl. My eyes water beneath the glasses, but they still manage to take in carelessly tossed toothbrushes, four tubes of toothpaste, some purloined from my bathroom, the fiends! They squeeze them in the middle and then take more long before their tube has run out.

7:54:48 AM I ease past mounds of clothes toward the item which is the heart of their science experiment and the greatest source of my fear: their toilet. I look on in horror. I believe that, once, the linoleum surrounding it was the shame shade of white as that in my bathroom. It has taken on a strangely golden hue. I turn my head quickly, almost dive toward the tub and any towels.

7:55:01 AM The tub is strangely white compared to the rest of the once-white room. It’s almost as if… as if it is barely used! Imagine that!

7:55:05 AM I see towels. On the towel rack. On the side of the tub. Balled up into a corner that I dare not stretch to reach in case I slip and land on their almost-bronze floor. “Be brave!” I tell myself. I extend my hanger. After a few fruitless tries, I hook them. One by one, I fling them into the hallway.

7:56:15 AM I dash drunkenly from the bathroom, almost overcome… but… alas… I am safe! My mama sighs her relief--I hold up my hands as she approaches me. I dare not let her touch me. “Oh, daughter,” she says, tears shining in her eyes, “I have never been more proud of you than I am at this moment!” I know that is what she said, but muffled by the towel, it sounded a lot like, “Girl, pick them towels up and take them in the laundry room!”

8:00-8:05 AM I deposit the towels in the washer, add a bottle of detergent, a half-gallon of bleach, some baking soda and pine oil. I turn the water to hot. I run to my bathroom, carefully strip out of my protective gear, and put it in a plastic bag to de-contaminate later. I turn the shower on as hot as my skin can stand. I wash with Dial, with Nivea, with vinegar, then Dial again. Finally, I emerge, checking myself for any symptoms.

8:20 AM I direct Mama to watch me carefully for the next 24-hours for any signs that I have contracted a dread disease. She does not seem to understand the seriousness. She kisses me and leaves for Sunday school. I must now monitor myself… Hopefully, Journal, this will NOT be my last entry.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Mama and the Storm

My mama is the kind of devout, sanctified-church-raised Christian who "gets the Holy Ghost." She claps her hands. She cries out. She dances. She might run. Whatever she feels the spirit moves her to do.

And my sister and I, who are not particularly demonstrative or particularly religious, look at each other. Sometimes, I make a dry comment which irritates my beloved best friend who tells me gently, "You don't know her story. You don't know why she gets happy."

Last night, someone posted the words to the song "I Told the Storm" on Facebook. Every time I hear that song, I think of my mama's praise. My BFF is right; I don't know her whole story. But I know a few of the things she has come through and it is enough to make someone "shout."

My mom was born to a single mother in the rural South in 1949. Now, having felt stigmatized myself as a single mother a half-century later, I can't imagine how hard my grandmother's life and the lives of her children were. But my mama has told me about the nights when there wasn't quite enough to eat, the days when someone else fed them, the clean but patched and repaired clothes, the condescension of her step-grandmother who once told a social services caseworker that my grandmother and my mother wouldn't amount to much, because my great-grandmother hadn't been worth anything before she died.

My mama has told me, for my book, about her work in an industry that was physically and emotionally demanding, exploitative, and exhaustive. She has told me about her unrealized dreams of being a teacher or a hair dresser.

And she didn't have to tell me about the ups and downs of negotiating a four-decade marriage. I witnessed enough. I adored my father, love him still, but being a good father didn't always make him a good husband. That is not my story to tell, but my mother endured much.

I have seen my mother sacrifice so much for her family, for us--her hard-headed, smirking, dry-commenting children. I've seen her weather storms--money problems, job loss, caring for and losing a sick parent and sibling, settling arguments, rescuing cash-strapped children, diabetes etc, etc. So when I hear, "I Told the Storm," I think of my mama.

And I cry.

But these are good tears. Because I don't know her whole testimony. But I know she has survived with her smile and her spirit intact. She's still clapping her hands. She's still crying out. She's still dancing. She's still running. She still has faith, not only in her God, but in the worth and goodness of people. And she's telling her storms just what the lyrics say:
Wind stop blowing
Flood stop flowing
Lightning stop flashing
Breakers stop dashing
Darkness go away
Clouds move away
That's what I told the storm

Death can't take me
Job can't make me
Bills can't break me
Disease can't shake me
You won't drown me
My God surrounds me
That's what I told the storm!

My mama has that kind of joy another old song refers to: unsinkable joy that the world didn't give and the world can't take away. I believe part of Psalm 30:5 is inscribed on her heart: "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

Y'all, I adore my mama.
I can't even explain how good she has been to and for me.

I Told the Storm Lyrics:

Even though your winds blow I want you to know
You cause me no alarm cause I'm safe in His arms
Even though your rain falls I can still make this call
Let there be peace now I can say go away
I command you to move today
Because of faith I have a brand new day
The sun will shine and I will be okay
Thats what I told the storm
(the storm, the storm)

I told the storm (oh yes i did)
to pass (ohhhhh..)
storm you cant last (go away)
go away (I command..)
I command you to move today
(oh storm)Storm (when God speaks) when God speaks
Storm (you don't have a choice in the matter, you have to cease)
You have to cease (yes thats....)
thats what I told the storm (what I told the storm)
(repeat once more)

I told the storm
(No weapons formed against me shall prosper I dont have to worry about a thing)
I told the storm
(Im more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ, and he's gonna bring me out alright)
I told the storm
(It's amazing grace thats brought me safe thus far, and grace is gonna lead me home)
I told the storm
(I stood on solid ground and told my storm and you need to tell your storm today)

Vamp 1
(Oh wind) Wind stop blowing
(Flood stop flowing) Flood stop flowing
(Lightening stop flashing) Lightening stop flashing
(Breakers stop dashing) Breakers stop dashing
(Darkness go away) Darkness go away
(Clouds move away) Clouds move away
(That's what I told...) That's what I told the storm

Vamp 2
(Oh death) Death can't take me
(Job can't make me) Job can't make me
(No matter how the fares of this world...) Bills can't break me ( may seem to way me down)
Disease can't shake me
You won't drown me
My God surrounds me
That's what I told the storm
(repeat vamp 2 one more time)

That's what I told the storm (repeat until end and fade)

Sunday, March 25, 2012


"It is as if ancient graves, hidden deep in the shadows of the psyche and the earth, are breaking open of their own accord. Unwilling to be silent any longer. Incapable of silence. No leader or people of any country will be safe from these upheavals that lead to exposure, no matter how much the news is managed or how long people’s grievances have been kept quiet. Human beings may well be unable to break free of the dictatorship of greed that spreads like a miasma over the world, but no longer will we be an inarticulate and ignorant humanity, confused by our enslavement to superior cruelty and weaponry. We will know at least a bit of the truth about what is going on, and that will set us free. Perhaps not free in the old way of thinking about freedom, as literal escape from enslavement in its various forms, but free in our understanding that our domination is not a comment on our worth."

-Alice Walker

A Look into My Mind...

You wonder how the mind of someone with an attention deficit works? Let me tell you my last three hours:

spontaneously decide to go for breakfast,
write, write, write,
daydream about a jazz song I used in my civil rights class,
go to Abbey Lincoln on youtube,
think about Elle Varner and switch to her,
stern admonishment to myself to focus,
write, write, write,
see a reference to the Great Dismal Swamp,
wonder what's the difference between a swamp and marsh,
realize I can't define either,
look both up,
began reading a dissertation about the melding of cultures in the Great Dismal Swamp,
intrigued by the existence of maroon colonies there,
began to search for more info on that,
FOCUS, elle!
write, write...
hey maybe I need a break,
read 10 pages, the heroine in the book roasted some tomatoes,
ooh that would be good!
let me go to foodnetwork.com and look up a good recipe...
hey, the Neelys baked tomatoes yesterday--let me see when that comes back on, is there a bug caught between my blinds and window?
why yes there is! somebody come kill it!
focus, girl.
take time from what I am working on to jot down more words for the blog post I am writing out by hand about Trayvon Martin
I am now appropriately medicated, but that is going to make me soooo sleepy. But until then, write, write, write...
Uh-oh, my nephew just asked me to help him find baseball movies on Netflix...

I don't know how I get anything done.

No Apologies

If you haven't, you MUST read the entire post over at The Black Snob:
"If you have a child, what do you tell them? Especially him. What do you tell him? How do you tell him as his mother or his father or his grandmother or grandfather that you, the person he loves and trusts and believes in more than anyone in the world, that you can keep him safe? How does he believe you now? He knows you're full of shit now. He's on Facebook. He's heard and read about Trayvon. Someone who looked like him. Someone who was "good." How do you tell him that if he just stays in school and is "good" it will be OK? How do you tell him to handle something like this? Not a cop, just some guy. Some crazy self-appointed neighborhood watch guy with a gun who thought he was Batman that night? If you're a good parent you tell your kid that if some guy, some scary guy is following them, you tell him to run and if he can't run, to defend himself. Bad men in cars to terrible things to children and teens. You tell your son, if you can't run, if you can't get help, do whatever you have to do to stay alive. Fight, run, call out for help, make yourself trouble. Go down fighting, if you're going down. Don't do the thing the stranger in the car with the gun wants you to do.

But that doesn't keep you safe.

...there is no path that promises your child will be safe. And this is the world that we live in."

And that terrifies me.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Thinking about and sadly inspired by Trayvon Martin. More to come.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Really, Rush?

When called out for a hateful, misogynistic tirade, please have a more original response than, "One of the greatest illustrations of [a double standard] is that rappers can practically say anything they want about women, and it's called art."

Sunday, March 04, 2012


"Hope is a song in a weary throat."
-Pauli Murray, 1970

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Cause We Represent!

Just because I love it and I wish I could dance like this...

Yes, I know that part of the amazement and cheering is probably because, "Wow, they're big and they can move like that?" because fat people don't move and dance and exude such confidence, of course. But I like to pretend that it's an ideal world and the cheering is all because this is some bad-ass dancing by some bad-ass women.

And speaking of full figured and beautiful...

Yeah, I know :-p

Friday, March 02, 2012

Easing You Into Women's History Month...

My godson Myles on the wonderful Marian Anderson (It's worth the time to listen to Myles AND scroll through the Penn exhibit linked.)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I'm A Believer

Nickelodeon made me a HUGE Monkees fan. RIP Davy Jones, who died today.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sweetest Thing I've Ever Known...

While we were at home for my son's grandfather's funeral, my nephew told him, "I hope you don't cry."

I got ready to fuss at him. "Why? It's okay if he cries. It's his grandpa!"

"Because," my nephew said, "When he cries, I get tears in my eyes. I want to cry to. I don't know. Like when he hurt his nose in basketball and he was lying on the court, I cried, too. It's like we have the same power."

And of course, I melted. "That's love," I told him gently.

And he was right. Love is the sweetest power. I am so glad my son has someone who loves him so much. They've pretty much been raised like brothers (my sister and I lived together for years and now, my nephew lives with me) but just to hear that love put in halting, eleven-year-old words...

It's the sweetest thing I've ever known.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


was in Louisiana almost a week. so many thoughts. things to post tomorrow :-))

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Guy

For 13.5 years, my kid has had a variety of nicknames. His dad and I call him Mooch; my mama calls him Toot-a-loo (he gone kill me for that one), my brother calls him LuLu, and his PawPaw (Mr. S) called him "Big Guy." Once upon a time, when he was a little bitty thing, he rejected all the nicknames, and instructed people to call him only by his first name. He hurt his PawPaw's feelings. Now, I am a big believer in calling people what they choose, but I knew Mr. S was coming from a place of love and affection. I asked my little one if he had a particular objection to "Big Guy." He said no. I told him that PawPaw called him that because he was growing up so fast and was such a big boy that the name fit. He liked that idea so much that he went to tell Mr. S that he could resume calling him "Big Guy" ASAP. :-))

Yesterday, the voice that so lovingly called my little man "Big Guy" was silenced. My child has no more grandfathers walking this earth, but I am so glad for my son that he had grandfathers that loved him so. Rest In Peace, Mr. S. Thank you for your kindness and for loving my child so completely. My sympathies to the family and a special hug and kiss to my son's little brother, who shared a special kind of companionship with his PawPaw.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sadie T. M. Alexander

My black history "shero" for today is my Soror, Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander. Born in Philadelphia, she became the first black woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D., earning the degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. However, sexism and racism prohibited her from finding work in her field. Later, she would remember the excitement and precedent-setting occasion of her graduation day and contrast it with the reality of being basically barred from her chosen field: "All of the glory of that occasion faded, however," she said, "when I tried to get a position."*

Undeterred, she worked for a while at an insurance company before re-enrolling at Penn, this time, in the law school. Her successful completion earned her the distinction of being the first black woman to earn a law degree from Penn.

During her successful career as an attorney, her life proved to be a litany of firsts. You can read more about them here.
*Francile Rusan Wilson, " 'All of the Glory... Faded... Quickly': Sadie T. M. Alexander and Black Professional Women, 1920-1950." in Sister Circle: Black Women and Work, ed. Sharon Harley and the Black Women and Work Collective (Rutgers University Press, 2002), 166.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Addie Wyatt

Because I study a meat processing industry, I've spent way too much time reading about the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Union. One of the stories I encountered in studying the Amalgamated was that of Reverend Addie Wyatt. A meat packer, she worked in Chicago's well-known meat packing industry and was active first, with the United Packinghouse Workers, then, in the Amalgamated, becoming the first woman elected International Vice President of the Amalgamated. Her work would continue in the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Reverend Wyatt is what Robert Korstad would call a "civil rights unionist." Her work reflects her understanding of the interconnectedness of economic, political, and civil rights, access, and opportunity. She was active in civil rights struggles in Chicago.

You can read more about her here and read one of her sermons and an interview with her here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

California's Prop 8 Unconstitutional

First, the good news:
A federal appeals court on Tuesday declared California's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

Then, the not-so-good news:
[B]ut [the federal appeals court] agreed to give sponsors of the bitterly contested, voter-approved law time to appeal the ruling before ordering the state to resume allowing gay couples to wed.

"Sponsors" and supporters of Prop 8 have had their way/say for virtually all of the rest of California and U.S. history. What do they need more time to rehash their tired, discriminatory "appeals" for??? Their arguments are not going to be any less discriminatory and unconstitutional months from now.

Not-So-Trivial Trivia

Do you know the name of the first black woman to argue before the Supreme Court and serve as a federal judge?

Constance Baker Motley.

Read more about her here.

Monday, February 06, 2012

I'm Here

I'm still here. Busy, but persevering. Feeling this song. I have a connection with Ms. Celie, after all.

"I'm Here"

I don't need you to love me
I've got my sister, I can't feel her now
She may not be here, but she's still mine
'n I know, she still loves me
I've got my children, I can't hold them now
They may not be here, but they still mine
'n I know
I know I still love them
Got my house
It still keeps the cold out
Got my chair
When my body can't hold out
Got my hands doin things like they s'post to
Showing my heart to the folks that I'm close to
I got my eyes though they don't see as far now
They see more 'bout how things really are now
I'm gonna take a deep breath
I'm gonna hold my head up
Gonna put my shoulders back
And look you straight in the eye
I'm gonna flirt with somebody
When they walk by
I'm gonna sing out
Sing out yeah
I believe I have inside of me
Everything that I need to live a bountiful life
With all the love inside of me
I'll stand as tall as the tallest tree
And I'm thankful for each day that I'm given
Both the easy and the hard ones I'm livin'
But most of all
Yes I'm thankful for lovin' who I really am
I'm beautiful
Yes I'm beautiful
And I'm here
Yes you are, you are here.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


"Nobody's free 'til everybody's free." -Fannie Lou Hamer

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happy Black History Month!

So I am a day late with the greeting and as a historian, I am vaguely ashamed of myself. But I have been working on a presentation that I am giving tomorrow about black women activists. I think, for Black History Month, I will highlight some of them here. First up, Maggie Lena Walker, who drew on her belief in the power of community and mutual aid to convince her neighbors to invest in what would become the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank. The bank offered loans to African Americans who were often denied credit at white-owned institutions and helped them build homes, in hopes of encouraging the building of equity in the community.

Read more about her here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Slip, Slip, Slip

Today is already the last day of January. I am so tired, but it is not necessarily in an unpleasant way. But I am amazed sometimes by how time seems to slip, slip, slip by me. I want to throw up my hand, plead to catch my breath, rest for a minute.

We don't get that option. I am torn between one of my father's favorite sayings, "You can sleep when you die" and my desire just to be perfectly still for untold moments.

I don't know how to make peace between those two.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Black Like Me

I re-read the book a few weeks ago because I am teaching it this semester. I have issues with, but I think it can be a valuable text. Who's read it? Anyone wanna discuss it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


"Some of Us Did Not Die
We're Still Here
I Guess It Was Our Destiny To Live
So Let's get on with it!"

-June Jordan (inspired by Auschwitz and Fallersleben survivor Elly Gross, who proclaimed in an interview, "I guess it was my destiny to live.")

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Which I Try to Share a Recipe, Sans Pictures or Close Care to What I Am Saying

Warning: This is not a "healthy" recipe, and I am a fat chick. If you think that you might feel compelled to judge or wish potentially devastating illness upon me, please read no further.

Did I tell y'all about the best scalloped (maybe au gratin) potatoes ever that I just made?

I didn't?

Let me rectify that.

So, I needed a side dish and was totally unmotivated to go to the store. I took stock of what was here. Potatoes, half and half, packaged shredded cheese, onions, bell peppers, garlic and some other staple-y stuff.

I know! I'll make scalloped potatoes!

So I did. It was a day that I didn't have to go on campus, but I still had errands to run. I grabbed 5 or 6 or so Idaho potatoes( which I typically hate because they are so dirty, but they are the least expensive and I have 3 boys to feed), scrubbed them, and sliced them on the mandolin. I put them in a bowl with water, a little salt, and a little white vinegar and put them in the fridge. I also diced maybe a quarter of a yellow onion (or a half, I love onion) half of a particularly small bell pepper and two cloves of garlic. Put them in bowls with tops and refrigerated.

Errands, errands, errands.

I returned a few hours later. Began with my cheese sauce--heated 3 tablespoons of butter (not margarine!), added 2.5 tablespoons of flour (no I don't do exactly equal because I am scared of being overpowered by flour). Whisk, whisk, whisk on a low to medium low heat. Keep it moving and keep it blonde. You do NOT want a burned roux. Just... yuck, trust me. In the meantime, I heated 2 cups of half and half with 1.5 cups of 1% milk (no particular reason for this mixture, that's what I had here) and turned my oven to 375 degrees. After about five minutes, I added my warmed dairy products to my roux. You can turn up the temp a little. Stir, let it thicken, stir, etc. When it is just about right (after several minutes is all I can say) add two cups of shredded cheese (cheddar blends work here--I had one called a cheddar melt. I also like the American and cheddar blend. Had it been for a holiday, I would've done one cup of cheddar melt OR American/cheddar blend plus one cup of gruyere), and a dash, I mean a dash--no more than two, of nutmeg. I can't stand for nutmeg to be too strong in cheese sauces. Now taste for salt. Do this after you add the cheese because cheese is salty.

While your sauce was thickening, you know what your lazy self should've been doing? Arranging your potatoes in a greased baking dish then tossing them with your onion and bell pepper and garlic and maybe a a half teaspoon to a teaspoon of seasoned salt. At this point, you can pour the cheese sauce all over them and mix all well. Cover with foil. Put in your preheated oven for 50 or 60 minutes. Remove the foil and, just for the hell of it, sprinkle some of the mozzarella you had left from pizza day on top. Bake a few minutes more. Then let that mozzarella bubble and do amazing, delicious things under the broiler.

Be prepared for your children and/or other loved ones to weep upon your feet.Link

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's Up?

Give me some news! Interesting links! Good gossip! Delicious recipes!Anything :-)

This is the beginning of the semester and I have 3 classes this time. I haven't been keeping up with the world!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Not a lot to say right now. But I sat down. And I wrote. And since I am off today, I hope to come up with something else. But count this as my obligatory post-every-weekday-until-you-get-back-into-the-habit post.

21 days to develop a habit, I heard.

I'm on my way!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just Edit the Bad Parts Out!

Ran across this: Tenn. Tea Party Demands Slavery Removed From Textbooks:
Regarding education, the material they distributed said, “Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”

That would include, the documents say, that “the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy.”

The material calls for lawmakers to amend state laws governing school curriculums, and for textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
I vote that last sentence be included in upcoming dictionaries as a definition for "white privilege." Let's obscure "minority" experiences so the "majority" can come away looking angelic and declare that "the truth."


And this little bit about their rationale:
Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.

“The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at,” said Rounds

Wow, wow, wow. Apparently, it is okay to dismiss the parts of history that make your heroes look... well... less heroic, to prioritize the image of some over the experiences of others.

As for "liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed," dude, your founding fathers' fathers were the primary reasons there was a notable shortage of liberty 'round these here parts.

They weren't all that revolutionary. They were a bunch of privileged white guys that laid out a system that supported their privilege as wealthy, white men. They did not and did not want to bring liberty to everybody.

This reminds me of one of my many issues with the idea of "colorblindness," that if we pretend not to see and refuse to talk about things, from skin color to differential treatment to patterns of inequity, that they will magically disappear. No one will have to be uncomfortable. No one will have to acknowledge the perpetuation of inequality and discrimination. And, oh, if you bring those things up, well, you're the racist.

Also, I am faintly amused by the way they use words like "truth" and "made-up."

Life in our post-racial world.

Monday, January 23, 2012

After Almost Four Decades...

...why are we still having to fight for this, and so many other aspects of reproductive freedom? From a statement by NOW President Terry O'Neill:
As we celebrate the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade [which was January 22], the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman's constitutional right to legal abortion, we can't forget how many times women's lives have been put at risk in the past year. Legislators in 24 states passed 92 anti-abortion provisions in 2011, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

These new restrictions included waiting-period requirements, onerous and unnecessary clinic regulations and cuts to family planning services and providers because of their connection with abortion. Thanks to a newly energized grassroots coalition, voters defeated the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, a measure that would have legally defined personhood as beginning at fertilization in the state's constitution. But that fight is far from over.

Far, far from over, unfortunately.

I'm Tryin'

Well, I've already surpassed the number of posts for all of 2011. And I've re-set my blog as my browser's home page, so I have to think about it.

I am hoping that this perseverance rolls over into my academic life. I've been on a writing hiatus since early-December. I really need to work on an article that is bugging me.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


"Your silence will not protect you."- Audre Lorde

Friday, January 20, 2012

This Story Is Too Bootylicious for Me

The fascination/fetishization of black women's backsides... will it never end???

From the Associated Press:
A newly discovered horse fly in Australia was so “bootylicious” with its golden-haired bum, there was only one name worthy of its beauty: Beyonce.

Australian researcher Bryan Lessard, 24, says he wanted to pay respect to the insect’s beauty by naming it Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae. Lessard said Beyonce would be “in the nature history books forever” and that the fly now bearing her name is “pretty bootylicious” with its golden backside.

This is not an honor. He is not doing her a favor. In fact, Lessard is evidencing an ongoing, problematic fascination with black women's bottoms. Dr. Janell Hobson, in an essay in which she analyzes "the prevalent treatment of black female bodies as grotesque figures, due to the problematic fetishism of their rear ends," (88) on the history of this bullshit:*

[A] history of enslavement, colonial conquest and ethnographic exhibition-variously labeled the black female body "grotesque," "strange," unfeminine," "lascivious," and "obscene." This negative attitude toward the black female body targets one aspect of the body in particular: the buttocks (87).
Dr. Hobson delves into the longstanding fascination with/assumptions about black women's alleged hypersexuality, a hypersexuality symbolized by our deviant bodies and an "emphasis on the black female rear end, with its historic and cultural tropes of rawness, lasciviousness, and 'nastiness'," (97). And though this history extends much farther than two centuries into the past, she highlights the heartbreaking and dehumanizing display of Saartje Baartman, arguing that "perhaps no other figure epitomizes the connections between grotesquerie, sexual deviance, and posteriors than the 'Hottentot Venus'," (89), put on display primarily for the " 'strange,' singular attraction" of her rear end (88). As crunktastic notedm over at the Crunk Feminist Collective, about Lessard's naming of the fly in Beyonce's "honor," "The legacy of Saartjie Bartmann lives."

Lest you think this is purely a compliment (I say purely because I am sure, in some strange way, Lessard meant it as such), ponder Dr. Hobson's words on Sir MixALot's Baby Got Back:
This so-called "appreciation"of black women's bodies does not necessarily challenge ideas of grotesque and deviant black female sexuality. Interestingly, both the song and video uphold and celebrate the black body precisely because it differs from the standard models of beauty in white culture, (96).
Substitute "the naming of the fly" for "both the song and video."

If you're still leaning towards, "compliment," think of this: The recent "global desirability of a Black girl’s ass" is not complimentary; it grows out of a history of othering and "exotifying" black women's bodies and "excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair," you know, the still grotesque and "ugly" parts of us.** But the appeal of black women's butts is not always enough to "excuse" our deficiencies/lack of beauty in other categories. In fact, a curvy backside becomes even more desirable when it is not attached to a black woman. As Dr. Hobson notes,
[P]erformer Jennifer Lopez offers a slightly different take on rear-end aesthetics. Her Latina body, already colored as "exotic" in a so-called changing American racial landscape, bridges the desires of black and white men, because she can serve as the "racial other" for both. More importantly Lopez's derriere does not carry the burden of Baartman's legacy.
Dominant culture came to celebrate Lopez's behind as part of a recognition of "exotic" and "hot" Latinas, women perceived as "more sexual" than white women but "less obscene" than black women. In this way, Lopez's body avoids the specific racial stigma that clings to black women's bodies (97).
Or, as I read in my Facebook feed the other day,*** part of the adoration/fascination with Kim Kardashian is the desirability of having physical features typically associated with a black woman unencumbered by the history of racism, colonization, and devaluation.

I guess what it boils down to is the naming of this fly as symbolic of a culture of what crunktastic calls "disrespectability politics":
This is a world where disrespectability politics reign, a world where black women’s bodies and lives become the load-bearing wall, in the house that race built, a world where the tacit disrespect of Black womanhood is as American as apple pie, as global as Nike. (Just do it. Everybody else is. ) In this world, Black women have moved from “fly-girls to bitches and hoes” and back again to just, well, flies. Insects. Pests.

Please spare us honors like these, Mr. Lessard.
* Janell Hobson, "The 'Batty' Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the Black Female Body," Hypatia 18, no. 4, Women, Art, and Aesthetics (Autumn - Winter, 2003): 87-105.

** From this sentence by crunktastic:
"In this world, the global desirability of a Black girl’s ass excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair." I know, I know; someone might argue that full lips are all the rage, but remember they can't be too full and they are much "better" on a non-black woman--hello, world's fascination with Angelina Jolie!

***paraphrased from a note or article posted by one of my friends for which I have searched desperately and cannot find. Please let me know if you know the citation. (Update: Here it is! Hat Tip to checarina at Shakesville, where this is crossposted)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Continued Erosion of Reproductive Rights

From s. e. smith:

The attack on reproductive rights in the United States is likely to heat up in 2012, and we have an early entrant in the race to the bottom in the form of a court decision that went through on Friday, ordering the immediate enforcement of a mandatory sonogram law in Texas. More specifically:

The law, enacted in 2011, requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on pregnant women, show and describe the image to them, and play sounds of the fetal heartbeat. Though women can decline to view images or hear the heartbeat, they must listen to a description of the exam…unless she qualifies for an exception due to rape, incest or fetal abnormality.

This is not the first state with such a law and I fear it’s going to become a growing trend in the US, right along with dismembered fetus anti-abortion ads on television. The right wing is bent on making abortions as difficult to access as possible through every possible means, and that includes coercive, invasive, and unwanted interference from their medical providers. As spelled out under the law, this is yet another hoop in the series people with unwanted or dangerous pregnancies must jump through to get access to medical care, and it’s a humiliating and shaming one.

Says Texas Governor Rick Perry:

The Fifth Circuit’s decision requires abortion providers to immediately comply with the sonogram law, appropriately allowing Texas to enforce the will of our state, which values and protects the sanctity of life.
Texas "values and protects the sanctity of life," said, I am sure, without irony.

But... this is Texas, number one in the number of executions carried out in the last 35 years and the state where the legislature hoped, just last year, to gut education, health care, and social services.

I guess, however, with regards to a state in which lawmakers "slashed family planning funding by two-thirds," we should not be surprised at the continued erosion of reproductive rights.

Doesn't make it any less scary.


Went outside and the passenger side mirror on my car was broken. I just had both of the door mirrors replaced last February!

Grumbly elle is grumbly.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Your Resident Sistorian

Saw this at Mai'a's and had to repost. Of course I, your resident Sistorian, find this to be just about the the coolest thing ever. Of course I do!

Following the Tumblr chain, I think I need to give credit to this post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Already Know

The downfalls of going to a small, independently owned liquor store:

I have a weakness in which I indulge every weekend: Sour Apple Martinis. I like cosmos. I love margaritas. Malibu w/pineapple is my bar drink. And my girls are turning me into a flavored-Ciroc fan. But when it comes to what I am going to mix at home, it's all about that sour apple, for some reason!

Friday night, I walked into my friendly neighborhood store for my "weekend libation."

"I want something new this weekend," I proclaimed.

"Mm-hmm," said the clerk.

I walked all around, with this silent perusal: "Do I want rum? I don't feel like rum! Ugh, gin makes me sick! No vodka! I'm tired of weekend martinis!" Etc. Etc.

I walked to the counter and looked behind there.

"I really want something new."

"You say that every time," the clerk reminded me.

I stood, indecisive, while she asked me about my son. "13, right?" said the store's owner.

"And going on 23, tall as he is!" said the clerk.

I sighed. The clerk decided to make it easy on me. "I already know," she said. She grabbed the sour apple pucker and some vodka. "Go to the grocery store and get your juice. It's too expensive here!"

I couldn't do anything except laugh...

And pay for my stuff.

The Horror

**Bear with me as I ease back into this and thus, jump in midstream on a number of issues. There are very real and very important critiques that have been made of the "Occupy" Movement, beginning with the problematic nature of the use of "Occupy" in the first place. I am not ignoring that.**

So, someone in the Occupy Memphis movement flew the U.S. flag upside down.

Feelings of horror ensue, including words from service people (with details of their service and their decorations) who were offended by the display, one of whom declared, "Over 1 million men died protecting that flag." (Emphasis mine, for, well, obvious reasons.)

I never can understand how people are more disturbed by the "mistreatment" of a flag than of people. Like, "We're not bothered by the fact that people feel compelled to protest to draw attention to the very real social and economic injustice that is characteristic of this country, but they flew the flag upside down? The Horror!"

Another of the interviewees equated this to a declaration of war. I think one of the main claims of people involved in this movement is that war has already been declared and has been viciously waged against the majority of us for sometime now.

And then the caption contains this:
The United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 176, under "respect for flag," reads: "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property." It is a fair assumption that the protesters camped on Main Street are not facing "extreme danger to life." They are in no danger of an attack from enemy forces or even at risk of being run over by a trolley. They are just messing with the system.

First, I'd argue that many people, pressed to the wall and on the verge of economic ruin, might feel that there is an "extreme danger" and that they are being attacked. Also, are you really expecting dissenters to follow the carefully laid out rules? To be as heavily invested in your national symbols when they are telling you that your nation is not what it claims to be?

As to that last insightful sentence I quoted: Why yes, yes, they are trying to mess with "the system."

I don't think they see that as a bad thing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Soul Looks Back...

Everything has me weepy today on the observation of MLK, Jr.'s birthday, feeling sentimental as an African American historian and a product of the rural South.

Everything. Like, in the midst of re-reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow (I'm teaching it (again) this Spring), I have (previously) run across Cara's review of the book and, just today, this interview with the author and other scholars bearing the grim subtitle "How a Racist Criminal Justice System Rolled Back the Gains of the Civil Rights Era." This article also centers the book and the school-to-prison-pipeline that acts in some of the same systematic ways as the old system of Jim Crow. As I read them, I am disheartened, overwhelmed, teary-eyed. And I thought, "My God, so far to go!"

Everything. Like the fact that I have never watched The Great Debaters but today caught the last ten minutes of it with my boys. I was struck by the young man at the end who spoke of our duty to resist unjust laws, of the fear and shame with which African Americans lived, of a world in which you could stumble upon a lynch mob and do nothing but hide, hoping to save your own life. As I watched, I felt awe-struck, angry, teary-eyed. And I thought, "My God, how far we've come."

Far enough that I, the granddaughter of domestics and sharecroppers, will get up tomorrow and go to my job as an assistant professor at a public university after making sure my kids are safely off to school, once upon a time little more than a dream for most teenaged black boys whose lives were dictated by agricultural needs.

You know, I've never known for sure if the words to that old song are "My Soul Looks Back in Wonder" or "My Soul Looks Back and Wonders." I don't worry about it much, because either is fitting when I look back over the course of the history of people of African descent in this country. So far we've come. Every once in a while, I do take a moment, reflect, feel gratitude, feel strengthened, realize the resilience that comes from past victories and defeats. This is one of those days.

And then I remember, So far we have to go. And I get back to business.

Foodie in the Making!

The kid and I were watching Paula Deen and one of her sons talking about their years running "The Bag Lady." He was inspired. First, he told me he'd take my food and sell it door-to-door or at businesses. Aware of his own charm, he said, "I'd get ridiculous prices for it, too." Then he said, "We should get a van and drive it around the city and cook."

"Like a food truck?" I asked.


"You know the health department is all over those. We have to work hard and keep it super clean!"

I figured that would change his mind, he-of-the-science-project-on-growing-random-things-bedroom. But who I am to discourage my child's entrepreneurship/ideas? Maybe he'll really do it one day!

An Observation on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day


I often decry the sanitizing and beatification of MLK, Jr., because it makes him all conveniently palatable and ripe for consumption. It makes him safe for white people to admire and accept and celebrate.

But I don't often mention the flipside of what that means for his image. The quote above was written by one of my cousins. I've heard the same derision repeated by students in my classes. They think of MLK, Jr. as obsequious, unreal, too willing to compromise, the polar opposite of their image of the fierce, uncompromising Malcolm X (and I should talk about the construction of him at some point). They claim to respect MLK, Jr. and his work, but they feel that he could have gone farther and that he too easily said "what white people wanted to hear."

And, after a mental eye-roll and side eye, I ask them, can't they imagine, given all they've learned over the course of an "African American History from 1865 to the Present" class, that there would've been people who thought of him as uncompromising? Who didn't want to hear his messages of social and economic justice and equity? Who thought of him as a threat? I also ask them to define militant. Is it a term that has to be rooted in the willingness to take up arms?

Typically, I can at least get them to re-consider. But the idea that I, as a "progressive" historian, am considered the ridiculously "revisionist" one?

I think, in the future, I will have my students spend a few minutes juxtaposing my cousin's quote, their own perceptions, and this article by Fred Grimm, which notes:
The icon of the national holiday, the Disneyfied hero celebrated by school kids, a replica of the original made into someone palatable to business and civic leaders across the political spectrum, hardly resembles the righteous rabble-rouser who inflicted so much discomfort on the American establishment.


[M]odern powerbrokers, in their prosaic tributes, tend to forget the Martin Luther King Jr. whose causes would have a stinging resonance in 2012 America.

After a year when some political leaders have tried to gut public worker unions, they might find it a bit inconvenient to recall the Martin Luther King who was gunned down in Memphis in 1968 during a campaign to organize the city garbage workers.

In a time when the American middle class has noticed that the one percent was scarfing up an ever greater portion of the nation’s wealth, while its own relative buying power has been frozen since 1970, King’s demands for economic justice might seem just a bit too contemporary. (Someone might also notice that his movement’s Resurrection City, the shanty town protest against economic disparity, erected a month after his death, might as well been called Occupy Washington.)

Amid so much apprehension over the lack of judicial restraint in the use of roving wiretaps and other surveillance authorized in the Patriot Act extension signed by President Obama, our political leaders would rather forget about the Martin Luther King whose home, office and hotel rooms were bugged, for years, by the FBI. (J. Edgar Hoover explained the “unshackled” surveillance of King as a way to track, “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.”)

After a decade of war in Afghanistan, with that long, bloody, pointless diversion into Iraq, it’s doubtful that the we’ll hear our President or congressional leaders from either party quote from King’s anti-war speech in 1967, when he called the United States, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

Certainly, the politicians behind the coordinated campaign in 14 states (including Florida) to enact new voting restrictions, would be vexed by the Martin Luther King who fought to bring voting rights to the disenfranchised.

And I will remind them that King himself acknowledged and accepted the fact that, in his time, he was considered "an extremist":
...though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. [...] The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? [...] Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

The one-dimensional, heroic caricature that we have made MLK, Jr., into does a disservice to the legacy of our creative extremists and the work of dissenters in shaping and re-shaping this country.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

I used to love this commercial--well, the song in particular.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Your life was a gift, treasured and beloved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Manifatso

From Liss:
It's like a manifesto, but filled with fat.

[Content Note: This post contains discussion of fat hatred and disablism.]

I've spent the past two hours (give or take) tweeting my fingers off about fat hatred and the fact that, no, Paula Deen allegedly having diabetes is not, in fact, "justice" for her particular culinary oeuvre, which centers food associated with fatness.

(Yes, it's true that rich foods make some people fat and/or unhealthy; it is also true, however, that rich foods do not make other people fat and/or unhealthy; it is further true that foods not associated with fatness make some people fat and/or unhealthy. You may detect a patten here! A pattern that suggests people are not Bunsen burners!)

Anyway! Because I'm a motherfucking progressive optimist and shit, I wanted to end on an upbeat note, so now I'm busily tweeting my manifatso. And here it is:

I want to be in the world, and I will participate, and I will take up the space that I need without apology. Also: I may occasionally eat butter. But mostly: I will be publicly, shamelessly, unshakably fat and happy. Happy-Go-Lucky, in fact! I am a fat woman, and I will matter—to me and to you.

Read the rest here.

And I just have to add: Diabetes as justice? As what fat people or people who eat certain food deserve? I wonder if @baratunde has seen diabetes in action, if he knows what it can do?

Maybe I should tell him about how my father and grandmothers and uncle lost their kidney function and had to go through the exhausting process of dialysis every other day.

Or maybe I should tell him how frustrated my father and MamMaw were by sores that wouldn't heal, that turned gangrenous, that took their limbs.

Or maybe I should tell him about my grandmother losing sight in one of her eyes and my mom's terror now that all the changes she's made mean little in the face of worrisome reports from her eye doctor.

Or maybe I can bring up my niece, who, just out of her teens, dropped from 130 lbs to 94 lbs (on a 5' 11" frame), was unable to walk more than a few steps, and was perpetually tired, her (gasp!) thin frame ravaged by diabetes?

Or maybe I should tell him, how, as I lay in bed sick with other ailments, my dad's dialysis shunt came out, bringing with it copious amounts of blood, a flow that no one could stop, that ultimately took his life... while I, she-who-thought-she-could-fix-everything, had to lie their, unable to move, and listen to him ask people to hurry to help him. Listen to my family's sounds of panic and uncertainty and urgency. Listen as people came to help me get dressed and I knew, if they were rousing my grievously sick self from bed, that he must be gone.

Is that how justice is defined now?



“I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” — Zora Neale Hurston

I love her.

That is all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Link Love

So many of my friends have moved on to other venues; my blogroll was primarily a list of dead links or archived writings (valuable in their own right and I want to re-link).

I'm starting fresh! Give me ideas--I'll re-post this for a few days because I assume most people have more exciting lives than I on a Friday night. Who should I be reading?

Please Help


Ran across these last night (the baby's story was updated around 6 this morning, so I assume he is still missing.)
An Amber Alert has been issued for a missing 18-month-old who was in a car that was stolen at a Walmart store off South Gessner.

Houston police say Evan Montgomery Lamar Miller was in the back of the Jeep when it was stolen around 5:44pm from the parking lot of the Walmart store at 11200 S. Gessner.


The stolen vehicle is a green, 4-door, 1996 Jeep Cherokee, Texas license plate BP2N042. The car has a "Baby on Board" sticker on the back window.

Police say Evan was last seen wearing a blue knit cap, a white T-shirt, a gray sweatshirt, hunter green sweat pants with stripes and tan hiking boots.

Evan is pictured below. On the left is a sketch of his suspected kidnapper.

More here.

**Missing Teen in The Newark Area** PLEASE REPOST

Attention Newark & surrounding areas... Amber Torres has been missing since yesterday. If anybody know’s of her whereabouts or has info please call Newark Police Dept

The blogger says Amber's ex-boyfriend has been stalking her. He's pictured below:

Please help bring them home!
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...