De Ana Jones

About De Ana Jones

De Ana (contributing columnist) is a writer and podcaster based in Southern California.

American History: Ida B. Wells and Intersectionality

If you’ve been on Facebook for more than 5 minutes, you’ve probably come across one of two specific types of articles: the “Is Beyonce/Nicki Minaj/Rihanna a Feminist?” article — which criticizes those celebrities, usually for their scantily clad music video performances — or the “Why Lady Gaga/Miley Cyrus/Katy Perry is a Feminist icon” article — which lauds those celebrities, usually for their scantily clad music video performances. These two article types are very popular, especially after major award shows or the release of new music videos.

But the thinly veiled racism behind who gets to be a Feminist Icon, and whose feminism gets questioned has been receiving a lot of pushback on other social media sites. Women of Color are especially vocal, pointing out that much of mainstream feminism ignores the intersections that race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity play in the lives of anyone other than White women.

This fight isn’t new. In fact, Black women in the US have been talking about the intersection between race and gender for a very long time.

ida-b-wellsOne woman who was a very outspoken voice for the rights of Black women was Ida B. Wells, a writer, businesswoman, activist, and suffragette. Ida B. Wells’ work is often framed around race, not just because she was such an outspoken anti-lynching advocate, but also because she was not afraid to speak against the racism she saw happening in the female-dominated Suffrage and Temperance movements for women’s voting rights and alcohol limit laws respectively.

Wells was especially vocal about Frances Willard, a prominent figure of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Willard used racism to try and sway US Southerners towards Temperance and Suffrage. In order to gain Southern support Willard played to their fear of Black economic success, stating that liquor was at the center of it. Willard also claimed that liquor caused Blacks to be aggressive, which could endanger White women and children.

At the time, Black men purportedly being dangerous and aggressive was the reason given for lynchings in the South, but after tireless research and personal experience, Well’s had already known that Black economic growth was one of the main reasons for the lynchings. Wells also knew that Black women as well as Black men were being lynched in the South. In 1893, while both Wells and Willard were on tour in Europe, trying to garner support for anti-lynching and Temperance respectively, Wells exposed Willard’s racism to Europeans who previously couldn’t believe Willard would do such a thing.

This wasn’t the only time Wells had to deal with racism in women’s movements. In 1913 during the World Suffrage Parade, Black women were asked not to march in the parade with White Suffragettes because of fear it would set back progress Suffrage had made with Southern states. Instead, Black Suffragettes were asked to march after several other groups. Although many of the Black Suffragettes agreed to the segregated march, Wells did not. Wells initially was going to boycott the parade, but instead waited in the crowd and joined the parade after it started, making sure to join with the White Suffragettes.

Although the idea of intersections in Feminism may seem new, in reality it isn’t. And although many will tell you that the relationship between major Feminist movements/activists and Women of Color has gotten better, it hasn’t. Wells was considered a “radical” in her time by bothering her contemporaries in issues of race and gender, many of whom disliked the way she fought for her causes — or the fact that she spoke up at all about the issues that she faced as a Black woman.

Nowadays, with the rise of blogs and the internet generally, Black women are given far more access to spaces where they can speak about their issues with people who aren’t aware — and also with each other. The downside, of course, is that with this new access also comes new opposition. But despite all of that, Black women still speak out, just as Ida spoke out.

The White Savior: The Last Hope for POC (According to Hollywood)

Movies need heroes. Whether they’re everyday people or aliens in tights, heroes are the characters in movies that the audience wants to see succeed. They save the day, they help others grow.

Unfortunately, there’s a subgenre of hero movie that is very popular in Hollywood: The White Savior movie.

You’ve seen these movies before, a group of poor, deprived kids of color have potential in something, but that potential can’t be manifested into a realized talent without the main White character showing the kids of color how to focus it. Bonus points if the White savior of the movie spends time trying to participate in the kids’ “weird” culture, much like Kevin Costner does in the trailer for the upcoming “McFarland, USA”, a movie which covers all those bases.

A section of the very telling promotional poster for "McFarland, USA"

A section of the very telling promotional poster for “McFarland, USA”

But that’s not the only type, there’s also the lone White hero in the society of People of Color who seems to be the only person capable enough to save everyone from an impending doom — which in some cases is that White Savior’s own culture, but at times is the implied “backwardness” of the culture he has joined into. Films such as “The Last Samurai” (2003) or “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) are examples.

Crop of "The Last Samurai" promotional poster.

Crop of “The Last Samurai” promotional poster.

Both of these types of White heroes in movies succeed in doing one thing; making the People of Color involved look inadequate. It’s an old and racist trope that can be found in what a lot of people consider classic literature. The People of Color, whether they are schoolkids or townspeople, are treated as more props than people. Their main purpose in the story is to better the main character or be saved by the main character.

Hollywood knowingly continues this trope. Many movies have been rewritten and even have had production blocked because of a lack of a White main character, like Danny Glover’s “Toussaint” (which I have mentioned on Arsenal for Democracy before). Their reasoning behind this is that having People of Color leads in movies doesn’t sell, and that White main characters are universal and everyone can relate to them.

But they’re not. What Hollywood has failed to realize is that the People of Color in these movies are people, not props, and the cultures that these White characters are navigating or destroying so easily in these movies are more important — and deserve to be more — than a plot device.

This style of movie is one that hopefully fades out as more and more People of Color are using the internet to create alternatives or even express distaste for how we and our cultures are being mistreated in media. Movies like “Dear White People”, which talks about the experiences of Black students at a majority White school, are able to be crowd-funded and go from being a short YouTube trailer to being a theatrically released, full length movie.

Twitter has had several hashtagged calls for more diverse media — and not just movies, but books, video games (full article➚), and television shows as well — that include well thought out characters of color and are created by People of Color.

Hopefully someday in the near future, the next time The Last [Person of Color] won’t always be a White Savior, and if we’re lucky there will be no Last [Person of Color] at all.

#ReclaimMLK: Why We Need A Bigger Picture of the Civil Rights Movement

The narrative around the Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s is very narrow. We’re taught in school that — because of racial inequality — Black people in the South staged peaceful protests to change the world for the better. The specific leaders of the civil rights movement are also treated with the same sterility. This is especially true of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday has just been honored again.

Because everything concerning civil rights is taught in terms of History, we are given the impression that the struggle for racial equality is over. By extension, those fighting today must therefore be merely causing a disturbance and not fighting for their personhood to be recognized, like the noble civil rights organizers of the past. Many using Dr. King’s legacy to shame those protesting today are doing so because of that narrow education around the civil rights movement. They do not understand that protests then — as now — were disruptive, and they do not understand that the protest leaders then — as now — were not automatically well-received, even by “moderates.”

Demonstrations are not effective if they happen at the corner of one’s eye. But in order for people to understand exactly how disruptive the Civil Rights movement was, they have to look beyond the few classroom quotes of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech they learned in elementary school. They also need to understand that the non-violent protests of the past were deliberate acts of disruption.

From late 2014 to present, people have been taking to the streets protesting police brutality and the otherwise unjust murders of Black people across the country. Protesters have shut down freeways and train stations, disrupted brunches, and even managed to close down malls. It’s hard not to look at pictures and videos of these protests and see the similarity between them and the old black and white videos of protests in the past.

If you look specifically at the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example, that was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the status quo fundamentally. It was about far more than just seeking justice for the initial arrests that led up to the boycott, much in the way that today’s protests have become about more than any one victim. The privately-operated transit system lost money from of the refusal of Black people to use the buses for over a year, over its mandated segregation requirements, because Black people made up 75% of the transit system’s business.

Pictured: The Montgomery bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested at the start of the boycott. Now in the Henry Ford Museum. (via Wikimedia)

Pictured: The Montgomery bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested at the start of the boycott. Now in the Henry Ford Museum. (via Wikimedia)

Although the act didn’t involve violence, they also weren’t passive. They were purposefully breaking a law by organizing a boycott of a business, which at the time was illegal under state law. Dr. King was actually brought to court for the boycott and was eventually made to pay $1000 in fines and court fees as well as spend 2 weeks in jail.

Similarly, in 2014 during the Ferguson demonstrations we saw an attempt by law enforcement to silence protests. Protesters were told they weren’t allowed to stay in place and would have to continue marching or leave the protest area. This was an obvious attempt to dispel the protests by tiring out the people involved. The protesters chose to march daily for more than three months. It was later ruled by a District Court Judge that forcing the protesters to continue moving was a rights violation and could not be enforced.

On Monday, January 19th, 2015 in honor of the MLK holiday, protesters decided to #ReclaimMLK. They held marches in several cities, including Ferguson, urging people to continue to speak out. On their website, they made clear demands for what they wanted to accomplish in their protest — and encouraged people to connect and take action in their own cities. Most important of all they were declaring that their demonstrations are just as valid as Civil Rights demonstrations of the past.

The Civil Right movement is far from over. As King himself suggested in his own lifetime, it’s a continual process, and despite the progress that has been made, we still have a long way to go.

“Now you will notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist have at least one thing in common: they both agree that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible. But there is a third position, there is another attitude that can be taken, and it is what I would like to call the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites while avoiding the extremes of both. So the realist would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But, he would go on to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go. And it is this basic theme that I would like to set forth this evening. We have come a long, long way but we have a long, long way to go.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

France and Nigeria terrorism: Dramatically different coverage

In April 2014, almost 300 girls attending a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped from their school in the middle of the night. They were abducted by an Islamic extremist group dubbed Boko Haram, who have been launching attacks against schools and villages in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

Sadly, they targeted the girls in part because of their belief that the “inauthentic” colonialism-descended education system is a sin. The girls’ schooling was detrimental to their mission to overthrow the Nigerian government in order to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. Making things worse was the lack of media coverage of the kidnapping. It seemed that the information about the kidnapping only reached international headline news after a heavy Twitter campaign, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The little coverage that it did receive was short lived, and in some ways disrespectful. The French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, even depicted the kidnapped girls as pregnant, Black and Muslim Welfare Queens. The cartoon ignores the fact that the kidnapped girls were kidnapped from a Christian school and are most likely Christian themselves. It also belittles the fact that the girls are being forced into marriages and are victims of sexual assault. Instead, the cartoon relies on racist tropes for the sake of “satire” (satire being in quotes because comedy at the expense of the oppressed isn’t satirical and rarely funny).

Last week, 8 months after the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, a shooting occurred at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, and 12 people were killed. The media was quicker to pick up on this story and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie rapidly became a trending topic all over the world, almost drowning out the news that Boko Haram massacred as many as 2000 people and razed 16 villages in a 5-day span the same week as the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Human Rights Watch satellite analysis of Doro Gowon. (Credit: Human Rights Watch)

Above: Human Rights Watch satellite analysis of Doro Gowon, Borno state, Nigeria, one of the towns attacked by Boko Haram this month. 57% of the town is estimated to have been burned down based on this image. Click for full image and article in a new window. (Credit: Human Rights Watch)

The instant support of Charlie Hebdo and the struggle for support for the Chibok girls says a lot about the narrative that the US and European media wants to compose when it comes to which victims are worthy of sympathy. Despite the offensive cartoon drawn about the Chibok girls by the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad – which is the reason why Charlie Hebdo was specifically targeted by the extremists – it seems as if the magazine has been pushed into almost martyr status.

Marches and rallies are happening all over Europe in solidarity with the magazine, while attacks on Mosques in France are being ignored. Cartoonists have even gone so far as to create the hashtag #CartoonistLivesMatter as an attempt to express the importance of their freedom of speech.

There are hundreds of schoolgirls missing, for most of the past year. Thousands have been displaced in just the past two weeks, with possibly thousands more killed. There are entire generations of families murdered in Northern Nigeria.
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#BlackLivesMatter means just that, not that police lives don’t

It shouldn’t need to be said that Black lives matter. If, in the US, all men (and women) are created equal, then it should be a given that Black people’s lives hold just as much value as any other life in this country. However, it seems that with each passing week it’s becoming more and more evident to the public eye that this isn’t the case.

With the murder of Mike Brown – and the subsequent actions by police after – many in Ferguson, Missouri were fed up and decided to take action. Soon after, other cities joined in protest, adding the names of those who had been killed in each location to a long list of Black and Brown people who’d been killed in recent months and years, including Eric Garner’s. All of them by the police who are supposed to serve and protect them.

Yet it seems that many people think that acknowledging the value of Black life — i.e. that #BlackLivesMatter — is in opposition to the lives of the police. That they are somehow mutually exclusive. In many places “pro-police” counter-protests have popped up with the slogan “Blue Lives Matter.”

The NYPD even went on an unofficial protest after they were upset to hear that Mayor Bill de Blasio advised his son (who is Black/biracial) to be careful in his interactions with the police. They say de Blasio teaching his son this fuels distrust in the police and could endanger their lives — and that it indirectly leads to incidents like the shooting of the two NYPD officers that happened in December.

In protest, they stopped making minor arrests, and began instead to make arrests or issue summonses only when absolutely necessary, meaning things like parking violations won’t result in confrontations with police. It also potentially means no Stop-And-Frisk, which Mayor de Blasio hadn’t ended completely, despite that being a central campaign promise.

It seems odd (read: racist) that the idea of valuing Black life is automatically thought of as devaluing the lives of police officers. It seems odder still that while police counter the main protests with the contention that “Blue Lives Matter,” they ignore the fact that many Black police officers – who should also count as “Blue” lives – often feel the brunt of racial profiling done by their own co-workers.

In an additional irony, in their counter-protest, the NYPD seems to have forgotten that Eric Garner’s death resulted from an unnecessary arrest for a minor purported violation. Garner was approached by the NYPD for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, which certainly didn’t warrant the use of force in the attempted arrest. So perhaps this unofficial protest has done more good than the harm they expected. Either way, when people say “Black Lives Matter” what they mean is Black lives matter. They don’t mean that anyone else’s lives matter less. Hopefully soon police forces across the country will realize this too.

Police Chiefs in at least two cities seem to recognize the meaning behind these protests. In Nashville, Police Chief Steve Anderson responded to a message left on the police departments website challenging the commenter’s idea of what constitutes a the city being safe, and expressing respect for the rights of the protesters in Nashville. In Pittsburgh, Police Chief Cameron McLay showed his support for protesters with a sign pledging to “challenge racism at work.” Both are White.

In the latter case, the response to this chief’s display of solidarity with the community has gotten negative attention from the president of the police union in Pittsburgh who says the chief’s stance makes the police force look “corrupt and racist.” Chief McLay stood by the message on the sign.

Whether they realize it or not, some police seem to have stumbled onto the solution to their constant and fatal confrontations with Black people. When people are treated as people and not criminals, crime rates don’t increase, even as the people are policed less. When protesters are treated with respect, there is less likely to be a violent confrontation between them and the police. When Black lives are given the value they deserve, the relationship between them and the police improves.

“The Interview” and selective outrage on cultural censorship

Art as much as anything else is important to society. Art has always been a way for human beings to mark achievements, express emotions, or capture their culture in a single moment for future generations to see. When that expression is stifled it should be considered detrimental to all of us. But for some reason artistic expression only seems to become an issue when certain voices are silenced.

When the news came out earlier this month that “The Interview” wasn’t going to be screened in the US (which was later changed to limited screenings) many people were upset. That news, combined with the news that the Steve Carell vehicle “Pyongyang”, a movie he was doing with Gore Verbinski would not even be filmed, a few celebrities took to Twitter to announce that it was a “sad day for creative expression.” A thousand thinkpieces were launched.

“The Interview” is a Seth Rogen comedy starring himself and James Franco and is about a tabloid reporter and his producer who are hired by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un during an interview they’d managed to arrange with him. Anyone who is familiar with Seth Rogen’s movies already knows to expect the same silly, slapstick movie with babbling and incompetent protagonists à la “Pineapple Express” and “The Green Hornet.” However the added elements of a movie set in Korea that has a cast list of primarily White main characters — and depicts the graphic assassination of a living dictator — should make anyone cringe.

The fact that this movie exists shouldn’t really garner any attention. There are plenty of stupid comedies that come out every year, a lot of them by Seth Rogen. So what exactly made this movie go from being just another comedy to a political statement seemingly overnight? The mysterious hack of Sony, which released sensitive emails and personal information of Sony employees and other celebrities, has been deemed a cyber attack from North Korea, by the US Government. (The North Korea link’s truth is still being widely debated in tech media.) In the emails there is a back and forth between the producers, Seth Rogen, and the CEO of Sony about how the fictionalized Kim Jong Un is assassinated in the movie. This exchange coupled with the cancellation of movie screenings caused many to state that this stifling of creativity means that the “terrorists have won.”

What’s glossed over about the emails is the culture of sexism and racism. In the emails, actresses and female producers are called names and have their sanity questioned for being even the slightest bit demanding. This is a big contrast to the way Rogen is treated about his intended ending for “The Interview,” where he was allowed to re-shoot and work on the until all parties were satisfied. In another email, a producer explains how she doesn’t think African-American actors in lead roles — including giants like Denzel Washington — can garner enough box office success because they believe that “the international motion picture audience is racist.”

It seems that yes, it is a sad day for artistic expression, but not in the way that many would think. Many female and/or POC filmmakers and actors have a hard time getting the backing they need to get their projects done — for example, the Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic that Danny Glover has been working on since 2008, or the Cleopatra movie for which Angelina Jolie was called a brat in the leaked emails — and it seems as if Sony, and possibly other companies, are ok with it.

“The Interview” gaining so much attention for being cancelled after the Sony hack shows exactly who Hollywood thinks has the right to artistic expression and who doesn’t. Sadly when it comes to major motion pictures, it looks as if that sad day is every day.

Promotional poster for "The Interview" movie (via Wikipedia)

Promotional poster for “The Interview” movie (via Wikipedia)