Policing Black Women’s Emotions and Opinions

The bigger picture framing Nicki Minaj’s frustrated tweets about the VMAs.

Nicki Minaj at the 2010 VMAs. (Photo Credit: Philip Nelson / flickr)

Nicki Minaj at the 2010 VMAs. (Photo Credit: Philip Nelson / flickr)

I’ve said before that there is an unwritten code of conduct that Black women must adhere to in order to be taken seriously, listened to, or even allowed to live.

Most other people will quickly claim it’s the attitudes of Black women that causes us to be dehumanized, but that is untrue. Even when we’re being polite, any disagreement from Black women is treated as aggression. So where and when are we allowed to speak up if we’re being mistreated, when everything we say is considered an attack?

On Tuesday, rapper Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to vent about the VMA nominations. Nicki is by far the most popular female rapper out there right now. She has found major pop success as well. But she has always been very vocal about how Black women in the music industry often don’t get the recognition they deserve for their work.

She’s no stranger to the way the public sees her (and other Black women) either, so in her tweets on Tuesday, Nicki Minaj states plainly her disappointment at her record breaking video for Anaconda being snubbed for Video of the Year. Nicki points out that although her video was a viral success, broke Vevo records, and was even parodied on the Ellen DeGeneres show, her video did not receive a nomination. She also points out that her video was a celebration of women’s bodies, but it seemed that this type of celebration was only acceptable on thinner artists.

Then this happened.

Within the hour, articles popped up all over the internet about a “feud” between the two women, stating that Nicki Minaj had attacked Taylor in her tweets, even though Taylor Swift’s name wasn’t mentioned once, nor had Nicki been malicious towards other artists.

Nicki, in her own words, was pointing out where she saw how misogyny played a part in who was considered worthy of accolades and who was looked over. She was pointing out a complex problem in the most direct way possible. But it seemed that the media wanted to skip over her entire point and instead focus on a non-existent feud between the her and Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift’s tweets did more than just derail a real and important point that Nicki Minaj was trying to make. Aside from being the most obvious case of a hit dog hollering, Taylor’s tweet demonstrated a huge issue that mainstream White Feminism has when it comes to dealing with Black women and other People of Color.

They don’t get that our experiences are different from theirs and often try an chastise us for perceived slights against them, while ignoring the real ones we face. Although Nicki Minaj’s tweets are a criticism of the VMAs, Taylor tries to make it seem as if Nicki is “pit[ting] women against women” for simply speaking about her experience as a thick and Black woman in the music industry.

Instead of understanding that Nicki’s experience as a woman is different from what her own might be, Taylor instead falls back to a very narrow — and White — view of what life is like as a woman.
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Obama’s legacy as a feminist

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha, April 5, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha, April 5, 2015.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Many observers of President Obama — and even those who are not-so-observant — have noticed his recent energy and boldness as he enters into the final year-and-a-half of his second term as President.

From Obama’s unforgettable eulogy at Charlestown to his Supreme Court victories, Obama’s last two years in office are shaping up to be events that our children will read about in history books.

This past Thursday, while holding a press conference geared towards talking about Iran, Obama was asked about Bill Cosby’s Medal of Freedom. Although he could not comment directly on an ongoing investigation and indicated the medal would not be taken away because there was no precedent in place to do so, he left no questions about his thoughts on the events. President Obama stated matter-of-factly:

“If you give a woman, or a man, for that matter, without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape. And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”

 
This comment represents the latest in Obama’s recent fearlessness to partake in social commentary, but also represents the latest in an entire presidency marked by bold feminist statements and policies.

Only a week after his inauguration in 2009, President Obama was depicted on the front cover of Ms. magazine wearing a t-shirt stating “This is what a feminist looks like.”

Since then, he has made waves by putting science toys in the girls section at a Toys for Tots drive, overseen the entrance of women into combat roles in the US military (albeit slowly), used his executive power to adopt family-friendly policies for staffers in the White House, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first bill he ever signed into law.

It shouldn’t be an anomaly to have a politician stand-up and speak-out for women, a demographic that composes over half of the nation’s population, but it is.

At a time when “old men” seem to make up a majority of our country’s politicians and a super-majority of the people who feel called to speak out about what a women’s bodies, it is refreshing to have a respectful, common sense president like Obama.

When the dust settles and the history books are being written, Obama’s feminism might be one of the aspects of his presidency for which Americans can be most grateful.

The Oscars and the Pitfalls of White Feminism

After the initial controversy about the lack of diversity in the nominations for the Academy Awards, you would think that the awards show and everything associated with it would have done a better job of keeping away from controversy. Yet it seems the opposite.

Despite their extensive advertising coverage featuring videos of Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington, and Viola Davis being their elegant selves at previous shows and rehearsal recordings — as if to say “Hey! We do have black friends!” — it seems that the show couldn’t help but make one misstep after another. The host, Neil Patrick Harris, opened the show with a very awkward attempt to make fun of just how White this year’s nominees were, and later on baited David Oyelowo into making yet another unnecessary joke about Quvenzhané Wallis’ name. Sean Penn also made an extremely racist joke about Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu that would not have been made about any European, British, or Canadian nominees.

Another terrible incident that happened was some of the comments made about one of the attendees. In an Oscars Pre-Show, Giuliana Rancic made comments about the faux dreadlocked hairstyle that actress Zendaya wore for the awards. In her comments about the actress (which was later revealed to be actively scripted) Giuliana stated that Zendaya’s dreads made her look like she smelled of “weed and patchouli.” Giuliana later apologized for her statements after Zendaya released a statement addressing the disparaging comments. This comes just weeks after several blog posts praising Kylie Jenner and her faux dreads as edgy and innovative.

Although the aforementioned incidents are ghastly themselves, another incident is equally offensive though it tried to hide itself in a positive speech. Patricia Arquette during her acceptance speech called for wage equality for women, a speech that excited many of the folks watching. Backstage, when she received the award and was asked by the press to elaborate, Arquette stated that “men who love women, gays and people of color that we’ve fought for need to fight for us now” (video). She didn’t explain who “us” were, but in her initial speech she was speaking about wage equality for women and in the press conference she seems to be listing the people outside of that group who she believes should be allies, so it’s not a huge leap to assume that in Ms. Arquette’s mind she was referring to White women.

Pictured: Patricia Arquette, file photo. (Credit: HeartTruth.gov / Wikimedia)

Pictured: Patricia Arquette, file photo. (Credit: HeartTruth.gov / Wikimedia)

I’ve written before about what does and does not get to be seen as Women’s or Feminist issues in society, and this is a new case of that classic problem. Wage equality for women is definitely a challenge, but to say that gays and people of color “need to fight” for wage equality ignores the fact that they’ve been doing it all along. Solidarity is important, but you add insult to injury when you ask people who are already working towards change to work harder. Calling for solidarity makes sense, but it’s insulting to demand solidarity from those already showing it and from those who are themselves part of the movement.

Moreover, Women of Color have always had a particularly strong disadvantage when it came to work and wages. Even today Black, Native American and Latina women make less money than even White women, earning $0.64, $0.59 and $0.54 respectively for every dollar a White man makes. In contrast, White women make a total of $0.78 per dollar a White man makes. While that still is unequal, it doesn’t make sense to turn around and tell those less fortunate to help you make it to the full dollar when you may or may not have helped them get only halfway there and seem to believe their struggle is complete.

It’s a shame. In the year 2015, Women of Color, especially Black women, are still not considered part of the movements that should include us. Our fashion and style is considered unique and interesting only when it’s not on our bodies, and our hard work is only used to help folks with more than us to get ahead while we suffer in the background. This shouldn’t be happening — not in media or in any other fields we get into. It’s a shame. It’s a travesty. And it needs to stop.

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.

You can’t invade your way to women’s rights

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

We’ve had compelling, public evidence for at least five full years that the minuscule progress achieved for Afghan women just after the invasion had already been rolled back to essentially square one by about 2008.

Nevertheless, over the past five years, Afghan women have been rhetorically — usually not even visually or in person — trotted out as props to justify a continued (failed) U.S. presence. Even now, women are cited as the only reason the U.S. invasion and occupation was a justifiable success, despite the fact that this is itself a blatant lie.

Here’s an article on the pseudo-feminism of the American war effort, by Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for Pakistan’s “Dawn” newspaper.

Backlash mounts on Spanish abortion rollback

spainBill and I have already discussed Spain’s proposed abortion law, the Ley Gallardón, which would restrict abortion in Spain to cases of rape or long-term harm to the mother.

Opponents of the proposal have created a satirical website called “Bebés de contenedor” (“Dumpster babies”) advertising a fake startup that connects hopeful adoptive parents with the babies that will be abandoned because of restricted abortion rights.

The site states (all translations in this post are my own):
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