Category Archives: Heroes

Black Women in the Military

A couple of days ago, I came across an interesting article in the newspaper.“Photo Controversy Highlights Black Women in Long Gray Line” looked at the uproar over 16 black women graduates of West Point, holding proud fists in the air. The article went on to discuss the overall presence of black women in the military, something very rarely talked about despite black women making up a large percentage of people of color serving our country.

The article gave insight into the homogenized world of the military and the fact that black women often must navigate double oppressions in a white male dominated space (racism and sexism).

As we approach Memorial Day, I thought the article showed the importance of giving homage to black women in the military. It has been noted that the first Memorial Day was started by former slaves. These women are a reminder that black folks have always held respect for soldiers, although we tend to be portrayed as anti-America. Besides Native/Indigenous folks, Black people are America. Majority of black folks like America, we just hate the white supremacy, racism, and anti-blackness that comes along with it. We tend to be oppressed in a country that demands our loyalty, but offers none in return.

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Afeni Shakur

The passing of Afeni Shakur is jarring as her son’s song “Dear Mama” is often used as a shout out to black mamas on Mother’s Day…which is this Sunday.

As many folks have pointed out,  it’s important to remember that Shakur was more than just Tupac’s mom. She was a leader in her own right. “Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams; January 10, 1947 – May 2, 2016) was an American music businesswoman, philanthropist, political activist and Black Panther.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afeni_Shakur.  Also, some folks may not be aware that Tupac’s godmother is Assata Shakur. Imagine growing up with these two brilliant women.

Rest up Ms. Shakur.

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The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls

In the wake of the death of Prince and Beyoncé releasing a new album, The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls made the news with little fanfare. The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls is important as its creating space for the unique challenges faced by black women and girls. The caucus kicked off with a symposium last week.

The symposium, titled “Barriers and Pathways to Success for Black Women and Girls,” will explore the current condition and opportunities to improve the state of African American women via testimony from academics, advocacy leaders, business executives, and media personalities. The convening will provide Members of Congress an opportunity to address organizations focused on Black women, other civic leaders and individuals who are committed to advancing the quality of life of Black women in America. Both events are open to the public.” https://watsoncoleman.house.gov/about/events/caucus-symposium-barriers-and-pathways-success-black-women-and-girls

The caucus plans to look at the issues of safety (domestic violence), opportunities for black women and girls (recognizing economic hardships), the criminal justice system (overpopulation of black women in prisons) health concerns (reproductive justice), and outreaching to black women voters (resisting voter suppression).  https://watsoncoleman.house.gov/congressional-caucus-black-women-and-girls

As our society pushes the idea of the “global citizen” the contributions of black women and girls will be greatly needed. Because America has been heavily invested in the oppression of black women and girls, it has hurt our society as a whole. We are missing out on the wonderful resources/skills/knowledge black women and girls can offer. The lived experiences of black women and girls can give us better insight into the effects of racism, sexism, and other isms as black women and girls are often on the margins of mainstream.

While folks toot the horn of America being number one, the truth is we are falling behind “third world” countries. High rates of illiteracy, poverty, and environmental injustices are destroying this country. Centering black women and girls voices may bring in different ideas and solutions to combating these problems.

Hidden Figures

March is Women’s History Month. It’s a great opportunity to promote the upcoming film “Hidden Figures.”

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now…Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.” http://io9.gizmodo.com/janelle-monae-will-co-star-in-a-movie-about-the-women-b-1763634154

The movie will star Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and singer Janelle Monáe.  I’m happy that Henson will get a chance to play a different black woman character. While I usually enjoy her work, she tends to be typecast. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about the addition of Monáe. She has a song on her album “Electric Lady” dedicated to Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space. Obviously, she was made for this role.

Kevin Costner will portray the head of the space program, so there will probably be some white savior element to the film, but overall it appears the story will focus on these three amazing women. I hope the film is as promising as it sounds. “Hidden Figures” will be released in January 2017.

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Photo from: http://margotleeshetterly.com/hidden-figures-nasas-african-american-computers/

 

 

 

Black Future Month #3

A few days ago, actress Aunjanue Ellis was spotted at an awards show wearing a dress with the words:”TAKE IT DOWN MISSISSIPPI.”

The actress was protesting Mississippi’s state flag which includes an image of the confederate flag. I was introduced to the beautiful Ellis after watching the film “Book of Negroes.” A relative was always trying to get me to watch the movie, but I would decline. I think it’s important slavery movies are made. But I tend to be weary of most slave films as they tend to consist of the same narrative of the downtrodden/beaten slave. I thought for sure it was going to be another one of those depressing tales.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The “Book of Negroes” tackled the issue of slavery from a unique perspective. The fictional movie is based on a novel based on a true account of black slaves called “Black Loyalists.”

“The Book of Negroes is a historical document which records names and descriptions of 3,000 Black Loyalists, the African-American slaves who escaped to the British lines during the American Revolution and were evacuated by the British by ship to points in Nova Scotia as freed men. ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Negroes

Ellis plays Aminata Diallo, a young African girl stolen from her family. She is sold into slavery and experiences the horrors that fell upon many slave women (abuse, rape, and children sold away). The story takes a turn as Aminata, who was taught to “catch” babies or help birth babies by her mother, has adventure after adventure due to her talent. She is also admired for her intelligence and literacy abilities.

I enjoyed “Book of Negroes” because it brought a freshness to the slave story and features a courageous black heroine. What I also liked about the film, it showed what happened when some slaves were able to make it back to Africa. It was rather heartbreaking, as they were not returning as the same people and struggled to adjust. It was foreshadowing of the conflicts that often happens between African-Americans and Africans today.

While black folks look to our future, we definitely should never forget our past. There are so many people who had to suffer for us to live today.

 

Truth and Power

“Truth and Power” is a new series that “tells the stories of ordinary people going to extraordinary lengths to uncover breaches of public trust by governments and private institutions.” http://www.pivot.tv/

The first episode focused on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The activists shared stories of how they’ve been tracked by the government. One talked about being at a protest rally and a police officer calling her out by her twitter handle. Scary. But the truth is anyone who has written/played a part of the BLM movement is probably on a list somewhere.

I’m a conspiracy theorist at heart, so this show was right up my alley. The BLM movement is unique in that it was founded by three queer black women and has been mostly sustained by the activism of young black women. They are not the cliche older black male clergy leaders who usually dominate and are more willing to compromise with “the man.” BLM activism is unconventional. These young black women’s persistent resistance is definitely a threat to the status quo.

#blackgirlmagic

Since black folks have been brought to this oppressive country, black women/girls have tried to find ways to create self-affirming spaces for themselves. The fascinating thing with a lot of white folks is they are never happy with what black folks do. When we try to be part of their groups/neighborhoods they go out of their way to be racist/make it uncomfortable for us. When we say “screw it” and do our own thing they get mad and start hollering “reverse racism.” This has been the case with the current controversy over #blackgirlmagic.

What’s “Black Girl Magic?” Check out this video to learn more.

I don’t engage too much in the #blackgirlmagic hash tagging. I tend to see it as a positive movement for mostly younger black feminists. Hell, good for them for taking back their image/voice from a society that only wants to represent them in stereotypical ways.

Why #BlackGirlMagic Makes Me Proud to Be a Black Woman in 2016

There has been criticism that “black girl magic” borders the strong black woman trope.  I can understand this to a certain extent as #blackgirlmagic celebrates highly accomplished black women/girls. This could possibly be overwhelming to those who feel it’s one more thing they have to live up to. However, I really don’t think that’s the intent. I think “black girl magic” has just been a fun way for younger black feminists to show love to black women/girls they think are fly. I see nothing wrong with that.

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My #blackgirlmagic inspiration–MJB!

‘Underground’ TV Series

Really, slavery set to the background of rap music? It seems someone has watched Django too many times. The  new ‘Underground’ TV series features Jurnee Smollett-Bell the cute little girl from “Eve’s Bayou” (well, I guess she’s a grown woman now).

The show will debut in early 2016.

“Get ready for an escape drama like no other. Underground is set in the pre-Civil War South and follows a group of plantation slaves as they search for freedom, by any means necessary, with plantation owners closely following behind, and paying mercenaries for their return. The WGN America drama highlights the Underground Railroad, which consisted of a secret network of men and women who put their lives on the line to help slaves escape the South.”

I tend to have mixed emotions about slavery movies. I think it’s important to tell the stories from this time. Our country is too quick to act like slavery was just an “unfortunate act” and not the exploitation/abuse/rape of human beings for hundreds of years (and then subsequent years of anti-blackness/oppression via Reconstruction/Jim Crow/lynchings, etc.) or as Texas textbooks tried to rewrite history that slaves weren’t slaves just “workers.”

However, the chosen narrative tends to be that of the downtrodden slave. I don’t only want to see whippings/abuse of slaves, it often tends to border on torture porn. How about a film on slave revolts/rebellions? Nat Turner has still not got his due. Or women slaves who resisted rape/selling of their children by engaging in infanticide as depicted in Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved.”

Hopefully, ‘Underground’ goes in this direction. And please bring some dignity to the character of Harriet Tubman.

India’s Daughter

A few years ago, I got the opportunity to travel to Southern India. It was a community service course offered via my graduate program. We traveled from Chennai to Madurai. The cities were beautiful as well as the Tamil people.

The purpose of the trip was to learn about the roles/lives of Indian women. We attended lectures at a women’s college and engaged with the students around/off campus.  One of the more interesting lectures we attended was on dating/love relationships. Basically, those things just didn’t happen in India culture. Arranged marriages are still dominate in India and a young woman has a lot to lose if it’s even suspected she likes a boy, let alone actually talking or going out in public with one.

Of course, as a feminist I was annoyed by this but many of the young women saw nothing wrong with it. This is the world they have been raised and conditioned in.  Even if they didn’t like it, why risk being rejected from your family/society. The consequences were too great.  However, there are Indian feminists/activists who are resisting the oppression faced by women in India.

You see that activism in the PBS documentary “India’s Daughter.” The film chronicles the horrifying gang rape/murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh. The film interviews one of the rapists and defense attorneys. Their rationale for the young woman’s assault is disturbing. Basically, she had no right to be out with a boy late at night. The boy was actually just a classmate and “late at night” was only around 7-8pm. One of the attorneys even stated he would light his daughter on fire if she ever did such a thing.

It was a hard film to watch, especially as it brought back memories of my time in India. I meet so many dynamic young women, who because of the reinforced rape/anti-woman culture, will have a hard time living lives free from abuse.

Yet, one can’t get too smug about “those” people being uneducated, etc. The fact of the matter is male violence against women is a worldwide problem. This is illustrated in the ending credits highlighting the staggering statistics of sexual assault against women in different countries.

I mean we just had a Canadian judge tell a young teen to close her legs when being sexually assaulted.  Or the Georgia police chief who said women can’t get raped they’re just stupid. Or the U.S. representative who said a real rape victim’s body knows how to shut down a pregnancy. Ignorance knows no cultural bonds.

“India’s Daughter” will be available online until February 13, 2016.

Rest in peace Jyoti.

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A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde

March is Women’s History Month.

“Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8, and during October in Canada, corresponding with the celebration of Persons Day on October 18.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_History_Month

While we tend to be a bit more open talking about racism in this country, we fail to discuss the hatred of women that permeates in our society. It’s not hard to pick up on the loathing via mainstream media.

As a Black woman, I often have to navigate high levels of anti-blackness/femaleness in my daily encounters with white folks/men.

Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey coined the term “Misogynoir” to speak to the unique form of hostility that is geared towards Black women simply for being Black and women (Yes, Madonna and Patricia Arquette you can be both).

While I haven’t been able to do too much for Women’s History Month, I was able to attend a film showing of “A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde.”

Audre Lorde tends to be revered in feminists communities. After watching the documentary it became clear why the self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” is loved. Lorde was a great creative spirit/orator/intellectual.

It was hard to watch the latter years of her life, as she battled cancer. There was one scene (I can’t remember if she was with her daughter or a friend) but even as she could barely speak/was weak from cancer, she was brainstorming how to put an activist conference together. Her daughter/friend told her “No, I wanted us to talk about you doing something fun.” Lorde titled her head slightly and let out a soft sigh.  She had a small smile on her face. She was a thinker/organizer until the end.

I highly recommend the film. The documentary made me realize that Black women intellectuals don’t get enough shine in or out the Black community. Pop stars, actresses, fashinonistas do…but not our Black women intellectuals. Black women pretty much still have to be oversexualized or playing Mammy to get some love.

If you do nothing else this Women’s History Month, at least check out this documentary 🙂