Tag Archives: power

In Times Like These (Ferguson)

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I never feel more black than in times like these.

My natural human inclination to see myself from the inside out flips in reverse and my double-consciousness becomes more tangible than ever.

I can always expect that white American tragedies will be met with a collective understanding of the oppressors and the victims, with justifiable rage, sympathy, and concern.

But not in times like these.

In the wake of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, my interior life as a black person is highly juxtapositional with the white American consciousness.

Black people in America pour over media coverage in anguish, (names of dead kids scrolling across news tickers) which for whites is merely a “special report”, an interruption to the usual programming.

We perform activism in violent social media spaces while they upload cat pics to Instagram.

We vocalize radical outrage while White Liberals derail with colorblind indignation.

We endure the subsequent waves of white hostility at the same time they call for non-violence and respectable lawfulness.

We grapple with the cognitive dissonance of black American “citizenship”; of being forcibly complicit in a state that is allowed to kill us with impunity.

And we do this all while occupying the very same physical space as whiteness. A space of interpersonal relationships; white people as friends and colleagues and romantic partners who live and work around us and yet are hopelessly disconnected from the realities that plague us.

For too long ,blackness has been the invisible/hypervisible subset of the world, removed from anything vaguely human. Yet as multiculturalism thrives, so does the pervasiveness of anti-blackness; the more accessible racial proximity becomes, the more paradoxically isolated we feel.

It’s as if we’re always brushing past one another in opposite directions, close enough to feel the friction of skin without ever actually touching.

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In times like these I never feel more like a black woman, either.

Never more ostracized from an anti-racist narrative that continues to be cis, heterosexual, and male centered. The sons and fathers and husbands who are inexplicably bound in our racialized struggles yet push us to the margins of visibility. The black men who still subject us to acts of violence, even as we stand on the front lines for their victimhood.

The way a Hoodie or hands-up /”dont shoot” now evokes the image of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, or Mike Brown, and yet we have no iconography that embodies black girl pain or the cultural lexicon to even describe it.

They way we can never talk about the vilification of black male hood without undermining the ways in which our bodies are also systematic prey. That patriarchy still leads racial discourse, shapes organizational strategy, and catalyzes movements.

The more marginalized my lived experiences, the more Othered I become. And on the scale that is Ferguson–a global media platform where in blackness is seen but not tolerated (and black womanhood is invisible altogether)–where my powerlessness can be objectively realized but still subjectively interpreted–otherness is magnified by the tenfold.

I’m not suggesting an “empathy gap”, surely we can empathize with people who are not like us. And to attempt to appeal to the moral sense of the oppressor is futile when they do not believe they are acting to the contrary, when the structural and social circle of humanity is so small that anyone outside of it cannot be justifiably harmed. But I am articulating a dilemma between power and the self, and the formers’ ability to remain detached, even as you engage with it in the most intimate ways. How it is terrifyingly oblivious, even when you have its full attention.

So when black men fail to be inclusive in their politics, I am still not surprised. And when Darren Wilson says that he does not regret killing Michael Brown, I believe him. I never expected Ferguson to make black lives matter, I just forgot how lonely it would feel.

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Snoop vs. Iggy Azalea: Beefs, Black Women, and Interracial Relationships

On a personal level, I was mostly disinterested in the recent beef between hip-hop artists Snoop Dogg/Lion and Iggy Azalea.

On a symbolic level, however, I found it to be emblematic of the political dynamics of black men and white women in hip-hop and beyond.

More importantly, I found it to be crucially demonstrative of the ways in which black women inevitably lose in the context of these dynamics. A critique that seemed to be lost amidst bad memes and misguided analysis.

White feminists fell over themselves writing lazy think pieces about the misogyny in hip-hop that ignored the racial and cultural context of the music. Black men derailed conversations about Snoop’s sexism; turning legitimate callouts into rants which seemed to imply that if we couldn’t handle the dog-eat-dog nature of the rap game, we shouldn’t grab the mic. Black women were effectively erased in tug-of-war of gender or racial loyalties.

So business as usual.

If Snoop Lion and Iggy Azalea will represent the figurative marriage between black men and white women in America, this beef might as well be the divorce.

Even in the marital aftermath, black women had to be ones to ask the more pertinent question: where had black men in hip-hop been when we needed them? Or, as @SorahyaM said on Twitter, “show me one time anyone (other than black women) stood up for a black female rapper when she was being dragged.”

As if the epistemological history of hip-hop was lost on them, black men seemed to have forgotten that it was never been a safe space for black women. Rather, than challenge black male misogyny, it was more often an opportunity for it to become more formidable.

Virtually no one came to Nicki Minaj’s defense when rapper Gucci Mane spread sexually denigrating rumors about her on Twitter. Or Azealia Banks when T.I took to Instagram, calling her a “monstrosity of a maggot ass bitch”. Certainly not Karrine Steffans (aka “Superhead”) who was ruthlessly slut-shamed after authoring the Video Vixen series, which divulged the details of her sexual (and abusive) relationships with black men in hip-hop.

Relatively speaking, hip-hop has been a safer space for white women to enter. Even those like Miley Cyrus whose appropriation of blackness (to the point of caricature) was seemingly less offensive because it took gendered form. It was black female bodies she used as minstrel props in her 2013 VMA performance and her video for “We Can’t Stop”. It was twerking–a catchall for black female depravity–she found “risque” enough to live out her white girl sexual empowerment fantasies.

This is still the honeymoon phase of interracial matrimony, when no one is concerned about having not invited black women to the wedding.

Certainly not Iggy Azalea, whose entire capital appeal lies in her ability to commodify black female bravado, without suffering the social consequences of actually being a black woman. She earns her coins making us palatable to the white audience; a way they might encounter our style, beauty, and culture without having to accredit it. Black women then, must act as the subpar backdrop by which her whiteness can be centered and reaffirmed in black femcee spaces. And we become the wallpaper in the house in which we built.

Perhaps life as newlyweds is so blissful in the beginning because both partners have such high expectations of the relationship.

Black men seek white women for all the obvious reasons: internalized anti-blackness, fondness of Eurocentric beauty, or markers of class status. But also as a consequence of male privilege. White women provide the incentive for fulfilling white supremacist patriarchal ideals. Part of the eagerness in which black men seek non-black women is predicated on the belief of their inherent submissiveness relative to black women. Its the grand hope that they will finally crack the color code of femininity that guarantees complete control. Women who can be tamed and groomed properly, who know how to treat a man, who stay in their place, who stay in the back.

The black male role in interracial relationships is often cast (particularly in pop culture) as unbridled racial worship. But black men only really praise white womanhood to the extent that they provide patriarchal leverage.

Snoop came for Azalea because she somehow challenged black male authority in a way that made her whiteness (as it pertained to him in that moment) obsolete. When she failed to perform his idealization of white femininity she became just another bitch.

White women seek black men for other, more obvious reasons. That is–lust, awe, and respect for which their proximity to white men makes them feel entitled. It was easy to see why white feminists could be indignant about Snoop’s sexism and discern Azalea as the only one of its victims who needed to be rescued. They’d witnessed a type of voracious misogyny they never thought they’d be subjected to.

The pedestal of white womanhood is contingent on its physical and moral superiority (relative to black women) which requires patriarchal endorsement. Their attraction to black men derives from the tantalization of danger and sexual exoticism (via racialized myths) but also by their need to solidify female superiority.

Iggy Azalea was offended not only because the source of the misogyny was black and male, but also because it potentially leveled her with black women. When Snoop failed to do his part to uphold the feminine racial hierarchy he became just another nigger.

To be clear, i’m not suggesting the social and structural power of black men and white women to be equal (obviously white women access more) or that those power differences disappear in the context of interpersonal conflict. But I am suggesting a commonality in the ways by which they seek to climb these structural and social echelons on the backs of black women. Moreover, how the mutual subjugation of black women (and each other) become the litmus test for achieving it.

And its precisely the potential to finally wield white male power–more than the proverbial “forbidden fruit”–that makes the black man/white woman dynamic so inciting. The push-pull of abusive tactics and manipulation that fuels any sick love story.

Inevitably though, there comes the divorce. And like any good divorce, it is messy and public: property is divided, daggers are thrown, sides are taken.

During the beef, Snoop recognized Nicki Minaj as a successful hip-hop artist who is “sitting with other female rappers” a diss which implicated Azalea as a less reputable femcee. He did this while caricaturizing her blondeness in a meme which compared her to the film White Chicks (where black actors Shawn and Marlan Wayans disguise themselves as white bimbos).

Ironically, her Barbie image (the very thing black men fetishized) was now a justifiable reason to criticize her lack of realness and talent in the game. It was only when he needed to instigate female competition (using Nicki as the crux of offensiveness) did black women become visible at all.

Azalea’s response to Snoop was pointedly feminist. She tweeted: “women are supposed to sit back and let men shit on them,” then “If we question it, we are ’emotional’, ‘butt hurt’, or just a BITCH. nothing new tho.” A response made absurd by her history of racist/homophobic/transphobic comments in regards to women. It was only when she needed a (black) scapegoat to frame her victimhood in a misogynistic attack did she illicit Sisterhood.

Upon the demise of their political courtship, it’s as if all the things they once loved about each other become the spawn of bitterness and broken hearts. And black women, of course, must be there to pick up the pieces.

The black man will need us to be the Patient Ex-Wife who held it down when he left her for bigger and better things, so grateful to have him back she’s willing to forgive it all. They will need us–as always–to forge racial allegiance at the expense of ourselves. To help curate black male misogyny because for once we aren’t its primary target.

The white woman will expect us to be the Supportive Girlfriend who listens while she bitches over cocktails about all the ways he fucked her over; hoping to be seen, hoping to finally be let into her super secret feminist club.

Inevitably, the Snoop Lions and Iggy Aszleas of hip-hop will find themselves squaring off for a battle of dominance that neither can ever really win. Like the black men and white women who find new partners to walk down the aisle in search of bigger power, only to end up bitter and empty-handed.

Black women will continue to pose a threat to these unions, for which we must remain silent and invisible for the sake of the relationship. Until they need our help to fix it after it’s gone.

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A Feminist Freak: What Sex and Politics Look Like

I love sex.

More specifically, I love kinky sex. I love to get my hair pulled while I’m being fucked doggy style or bent over a knee for a spanking in a Daddy/Daughter roleplay. I am turned on, at times, by submissiveness; being tied up or held down by my partner during a rough pounding. I masturbate to gangbang porn. I like to deep throat on my knees and swallow after I’ve finished. I love the satisfaction of being sore the next day.

I’m a freak. I’m also a feminist. And the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The way that feminism and sexuality intersect divide itself into two polarizing ideologies. The first, carved out of second-wave radical feminism, is mostly characterized by anti-sex. It renders sex work, sexy clothing, sexual public display, and pornography (especially hetero/mainstream) as demeaning and objectifying. It implicitly encourages women to detach themselves from conventional ideals of patriarchal beauty and sex appeal; to inhabit a sort of asexuality to be seen for their intellect as opposed to their bodies.

But rather than freeing women, what develops is a form of feminist respectability in which women are expected to present modestly to challenge the male gaze. An ideology that erroneously blankets all female sexual expression as self-denigrative regardless of context, and performs benevolent slut-shaming of its own. It claims to “protect” women from objectification through policing sexuality but only repositions them in a space of objectivity; wherein sexuality is still validated (or invalidated) via patriarchal proximity. It continually “rescues” women from sexual choices with the assumption that those choices can never be made for their own benefit.

The oppositional ideology (embraced by younger feminists) is vehemently pro-sex. It rests on the notion that women are empowered by brazen sexuality; that through nudity, raunchy sexual expression, and masculine sexual imitation, they subvert feminine expectations of chastity and reclaim ownership of their bodies.

But this ideology, too, is ineffective. It mostly benefits cis, straight white women whose privilege allows the adaption of “slutiness” (unlike LBTQ women or women of color) without the stigma of sexual deviance. It automatically conflates sex with power which fails to acknowledge that sex in and of itself is not inherently progressive for women.

Patriarchy socializes women to see sexuality as inextricably linked to reproduction or self-worth. We don’t possess the male privilege needed to sexually operate in heteronormative masculine spaces; to have sex in the mechanical ways in which men are expected. We approach sex cautiously, for pragmatic reasons—fear of unplanned pregnancy (cis), or the threat of danger from unknown partners—but also because it’s entangled with messages of shame, respectability, and male pleasure that hinder our sexual autonomy differently. Our sexual choices don’t always empowering because they’re so often made in relation to men: I want to fuck him, but I want him to respect me or I don’t want to fuck him, but if I don’t he might cheat or he paid for dinner, so I guess I have to fuck him. LBTQ womens’ sexuality is deemed irrelevant altogether unless it can be re-imagined for a male audience. So women generally do not pursue pleasure—as men are trained to do—but negotiate pleasure with the Rules of femininity. Framing sexual liberation as role reversal only recaptures women in equally restrictive expectations of sexual rapaciousness and emotional detachment.

Pro-sex feminists also refuse to critique sex by painting it as “natural” and apolitical; a separate entity somehow untainted by social conditioning and power dynamics. But if we believe that heteronormative socialization is the site of womens’ oppression (as most feminists do) we can’t also hold that private spaces of sex, love, and relationships are somehow exempt from its effects. Sex is so irrefutably bound up in womens subjugation—rape, (social control via sexual violence) reproduction, (state sanctioned sexual control) beauty standards (social control via male pleasure)–that to render it benign and neutral, to claim it’s “just sex” underestimates its weight in dangerous ways.

I think feminist sex is somewhere in the middle. It’s that sweet spot between political prudishness and uncritical hypersexualization. Those flashes of pop cultural lusciousness— Janet Jackson moaning orgasmically in the interludes of a track, or Lil’ Kim bragging about her Head game in the “Magic Stick” or Ciara twerking in the “Ride” video—that conceptualize the potentials of sex-positivity. That crevice of unapologetic libidos and unveiled lust that women can rarely occupy.

Feminism isn’t dogmatic. It’s not reductive to any specific individual behaviors but a collective environment in which women are human and free; so our sex and our politics are able to coexist through the presence of erotic agency.

Agency is what allows me to enter to the un-feminist parts of sex. The ambivalent, politically incorrect, problematic bits of sex without cognitive dissonance. It’s how I can be fully aware of the misogynistic implications of any particular sex act or fantasy with which I engage—to interrogate it intellectually—and simultaneously admit that it turns me on at the most primitive level. I neither (guiltily) ignore my politics nor forfeit the self-care that comes from a complex and enjoyable sex life. Agency is how I make a truce between the battles  of consciousness and self-indulgence, a feminism—as Joan Morgan put it–“that’s brave enough to fuck with the grays.”

The concept of erotic agency also reminds me that submissiveness and powerlessness are not always the same thing. One can take on a submissive (or objectifying) role from a space of power if they also see it as a sexual identity unrelated to the self, to be used for the fulfillment of fantasy and pleasure. The difference between sexual empowerment and exploitation can’t be determined by a woman’s subordinate positioning at any given time, but whether or not she is limited to it, by virtue of gender. If we only ever contextualize feminism in dom/sub binaries, we essentially see domination (and masculinity, by extension) as the only source of legitimate power; that a woman’s failure to be anywhere but on Top is an affront to her politics and her self. But if women don’t have agency, even if they engage in the kind of egalitarian sexual cliches that Good Feminists are supposed to; they are still trapped, still marginalized, still powerless.

And I think feminism has done the work of articulating the many things women don’t want, but we sometimes neglect to think about what we, in fact, do want. How when we have agency in the context of pleasure, it is inherently radical because it rejects the notion that sex has some bearing on our morality, our politics, our personhood; that our bodies and the private things we chose to do with them are still up for public discussion.

When women are allowed to inhabit sexuality in the pursuit of raw pleasure or self-expression–when we can revel in it with utter selfishness without the burdens of shame, censorship, or inhibition, when we can focus on how sex feels, instead of always what it means—that is empowerment.

There’s no real paradigm from which to measure feminist sex because it is tricky and fluid and changes through context–but there are markers of it’s existence.

I know I am having feminist sex when I can unwrap my desire from all of the patriarchal ambiguity, pinpoint it, and act accordingly. When I don’t hesitate to tell my partner how to please me and when or if they’re doing it wrong. When I refuse to fake an orgasm for convenience. When I’m not preoccupied with the way the male gaze perceives my body when the lights are on. When I don’t feel like a slut or a saint or a hypocrite for doing it whenever, however I chose. When I am ultimately fucking for me, and no one else.

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