Archive for July, 2009

Beer Makes it Better? Masculinity & Race on Display

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 31, 2009 by thebibliophile

President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Gates, and arresting Camridge police officer Sgt. Crowley. Photo credit: Stephen Crowley, New York Times

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama invited Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley to The White House for a beer to discuss the incident in which Sgt. Crowley arrested professor Gates in his own home, as he returned from an international trip to China. This snapshot raises much for me, but the most top of mind reflection, is the way in which gender, and specifically masculinity allows space for forgiveness and bridging of racial tensions. I noticed often, that the dynamic, at least from the outside looking in, between Black and white men, is often mediated of course by masculinity and the attendant (and yes, problematic) notions and stereotypes, that in some ways Black men “out man,” white men, through hyper-sexuality and physicality. Black men are to be feared, posited, cruelly and inaccurately as being animalistic, and thus a threat to the logical minded white man. Some of that has even played out in the reports of Dr. Gates response to Crowley: Crowley was being “rational” and thoughtful and Dr. Gates (understandly the media is quick to say) was exhausted and may have responded irrationally (with his physical or verbal prowess). This analysis seems to suggest that Gates, the Black man jumped to action, while Crowley pondered. I’m sure this psychological trope of response based on racist ideology is also in part why folks responded so virulently when President Obama said Crowley’s acted stupidly. We’re not used to white men (Bush and Quayle’s aside) being called stupid publicly, and certainly not be a Black man, who also happens to be the leader of the free world.

To smooth it all over, President Obama, Dr. Gates, Vice President Biden, and Sgt. Crowley met for a beer at the White House. Somehow this is a particularly gendered event to me – designed to trade on the common attribute of gender: all guys love to kick back with a beer, right? But I find this photo so interesting. Sgt. Crowley looks decidely uneasy (though handsome), Biden, looks distracted and distant, but certainly not present. President Obama as always looks cool and at ease. But Dr. Henry Louis Gates looks as if he might be truly enjoying himself…after all it’s a trip to be an invited guest at the White House, no matter how you slice it.

I have to say, I’m so very curious as to what was discussed.  As apparently were the press corps and every one else according to The Washington Post. Race porn. This country is fascinated with race in the same ways its fascinated with sex. It all leaves me with a question: is it easier for men to negotiate race with one another because they can bond around masculinity? That seems a simplistic question – it isn’t so for womyn of color and white womyn. But it does seem different for men. And if masculine gender does make race different between men of color and white men, what are the reasons for that?

I Heart Break Out in Song

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 28, 2009 by thebibliophile

I love this! Commercial. Gimmicky. A displacement of the fourth wall. Yes, all of the above! I love it. A group called Break Out In Song, stages live, seemingly spontaneous performances of musicals in the midst of the city – from Columbus Circle to Pier 17. I’m particularly fond of their performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

These kinds of performances have been happening for some time in NYC and throughout the country, as the New York Times reported in a recent article. I wonder, however, if the recent economic downturn makes gorilla theatre more attractive, feasible, and an easier sell to advertisers (notice how prominently each locatio and its “unsuspecting” corporate sponsors are featured) and actors/dancers alike. Times are rough, for real.

Consumption politics aside, it’s what I always imagined is possible in NYC, spontaneous singing, dancing, and outrageous talent in every person you meet – who knows you could literally bump into a star.

Snapshot: Internalized Oppression in Action

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2009 by thebibliophile

Wow. Let me make sure I understand this correctly. Chris Brown has pled guilty to assault, and has in fact released a video apologizing and taking responsibility for physically abusing his girlfriend, abuse that includes, strangulation, punching, and biting – and yet, these two female police officers from New York city, sworn to protect and serve, feel the need to have a celebrity moment?

I’ve heard an uncomfortable number of womyn, saying that “some womyn just don’t know when to stop,” saying the things that result in their men hitting them, to asserting that certain ethnic womyn are just known to be wild. And I’ve yet to hear a Black man roundly and soundly condemn physical violence and abuse against a womyn.

But for me, somehow, this picture encapsulates the internalized oppression for some womyn of color – this picture might as well be an absolution.

Sweet & Sour: Starburst Gets Foolish with Contradictions of Identity

Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2009 by thebibliophile

I’d never seen this commercial from Mars Incorporated owned company, Starburst. The premise of the commercial is that there are Asian Scottish people, and that this is “a contradiction.” I feel like Burger King has started a truly problematic trend, which I guess Starburst has decided to adopt…

Problems, problems, problems.



Look at This! Looklet Lets You Play

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 18, 2009 by thebibliophile

Great news: there’s another fantastic website that lets you play with different looks, called Looklet on which I’ve just spent an embarassing amount of time.  But it’s addictive. You can select a model and unlike similar sites, you can actually see how the clothes will look on the body, you can also select a bacgkround, and Looklet seems specifically designed to encourage you to buy the look you create (a pro or con depending on who you poll).

I created the look below which I called “An Autumnal Turn.” You can change the background of the style you create – allowing you  to see what it will look lik “on location” so to speak. You can also, in an ingenius move, select shirts, jackets, and pants, deciding whether your model wears it open, tied, or in layers with another item. It’s like having your own access to a high-quality look book.

look image

Education for Liberation: An image

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 17, 2009 by thebibliophile

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

                                                                                                                                                         – Paolo Freire


One More Day, Keep on Shining

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 16, 2009 by thebibliophile
I hope that Judge Sotomayor is everything we hope she is: a wise Latina womyn who will make wise, legal, equitable, empathic decisions on a court lacking all of the above. But we don’t know for sure, do we? All we can watch is the embarassingly sexist and racist media coverage, which seems sure that because Sonia Sotomayor is Puerto Rican, she will be race biased in her decisions. As evidenced by her statement about “wise Latina judges.” The assertion that Sotomayor would discriminate, when every bit of evidence shows that would not be, is similar to pre-Civil War and Civil Rights’ apologists assertions that enslaved African-Americans had to be freed slowly, otherwise they would rise up and massacre white people. A dear family friend is fond of saying, “evil people think evil things.” Now, let me be clear, I am not calling white people evil. So just stop right there. But I am suggesting that once one has gotten accustomed to oppressive behavior, whether one is male, white, wealthy, or in any situation where society gives your group power out of proportion to the actual demographic of the population, and you’ve been able to exercise that power with impunity, it can be quite hard to believe that when the tables are turned the ones you’ve oppressed, won’t resort to punishing those who used to have power. In other words, white male Senators who’ve interogated and been appallingly rude to Judge Sotomayor, are having a bit of crisis – and at the center of that crisis is a question: will they do to us what we have done to them? Will they use their power in the same ways we have used ours? And its unimaginable that people of color, womyn, LGBT, the poor, differently abled people, would act for the interests of everyone – in other words, that with power oppressed people would walk the higher ground of public good and equity, as opposed to following the self-serving model of our founders and the traditionally white and male leaders that have had power in this nation.
“every major United States media outlet has, in one way or another, reported on Republican (and other) fears of Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s potential for “racial bias,” given her Puerto Rican ethnicity and her now infamous comments about a “wise Latina” making better choices than a “white man.” ….That Sotomayor might harbor some bias based upon her Puerto Rican-ness is not an unreasonable thought; we all harbor some biases based upon our backgrounds – it is just that certain people’s biases get to be called “truth” while others’ get to be called “militancy”.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor meets with White House counsels at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House June 1, 2009 in Washington, DC. Judge Sotomayor has been meeting with White House staff members since U.S. President Barack Obama announced her nomination to the Supreme Court on May 26.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sonia SotomayorWhile I don’t agreee with all of Valdes-Rodriguez’s argument – particularly how she takes pains to note that Puerto Rico isn’t as Black as say Haiti or Jamaica (leaving out Cuba- a sublte anti-Black aside), I do think its helpful that she calls out the media for really lacking a nuanced discussion of race and identity – and for pointing out that many of our “leader,” who happen to be white, also happen to seem quite frightened when not engaging with people who don’t share their backgrounds. Instead of being afraid, maybe they should befriend some people of color and they can learn helpful tips from us: code-switching, even-ness, and professionalism in the face of crazy. I also appreciate that she points out who’s background gets labeled normative and who’s background is labeled radical.
The fact is that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is extremely qualified for the role of Supreme Court judge. She is a phenomenal judge who has achieved a great deal.
I am embarassed by and for the Senate.  The lack of professionalism, the paternalistic phrasing and delivery of questions (who cares if you like her, should she jump with glee?), the baiting and switching. If there was any question about why more people of color don’t serve in government or in the higher echelons of the corporate world. It takes an amazingly strong spirit to put up with this kind of nonsense and undignified treatment. Mike Madden in a pleasantly blunt and real article discussed the behavior of Senators for Salon in “When Old White Guys Attack.” I’ve also been reading over at the Uppity Negro blog’s post about Sonia Sotomayor.

Ngil Mask by the Fang People of Gabon

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15, 2009 by thebibliophile

Ngil Mask, Gabon (Fang People)

This  mask – beautiful for its geometry, craftsmynship, and style is called a Ngil mask and is traditionally associated with the Fang people of Gabon. Traditionally the Fang people used Ngil masks with an extrajudicial purpose in mind – essentially to remind people of their civic, financial, and cultural duties under Fang culture and law. The mask is designed to inspire respect, awe, and a bit of fear. Fang masks greatly influenced European art – particularly modern artists like Pablo Picasso who incorporated the cubism, stylistic aesthetic, and heavily emphasized anthropological attribues (elongated neck or face, prominent nose, emphasized cheekbones) You can see the influence on Picasso, not only in his cubist work, but also in his Jacqueline with Flowers portrait.  


Peabody Library in Baltimore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 15, 2009 by thebibliophile

The Peabody Library in Baltimore, MD

Racism Kills: Health Disparities, the Stressors of Race, & Public Policy

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2009 by thebibliophile

Arline Geronimus

Alternet recently posted an article entitled, “The Hidden Toll of Race,” which discusses the pioneering work of Arline Geronimus, a University of Michigan professor, researcher, and activist , who has studied health disparities between white Americans and Black Americans, with a focus on urban working poor, womyn, and teenage pregnancy.

Geronimus’ work is fascinating and has over her 30-year career faced considerable resistance. Geronimus’ hypothesis, and what her research shows, is that the underlying cause of health disparities among Americans of color and white Americans, is racism. Geronomis points out that public health research has long shown, that stress impacts one’s health. Researches have found that stress increases the production of cortisol, and that production over a long period of time (covering times of high stress) can trigger hormonal reactions that put individuals at risk for hypertension, diabetes, and other serious health issues.

Geronimus draws a powerful and controversial (perhaps to some) conclusion, that because the stress of racism builds over time, that Black womyn who have children during their teenage years, may actually be having children when it is healthier for both mother and child, and that it is the social stigma and lack of support that makes being a teenage parent so difficult.  Geronimus cites data that backs up her thesis, including evidence that Black womyn’s fertility and overall health declines after age 25. Moreover, Geronimus points out that racism causes significant health risks – risks and results that can’t be blamed on Black culture, eating, exercise habits, or genetics. Instead, the health impact is the result of oppression, which suggests that all subjugated populations would show similar health disparities.

It’s a tricky article, and an even more complex thesis. The article is well-written and gives much to think about because it challenges the idea that racism is benign or that we are anywhere near living in a post-racial society. Yet, I can understand why Geronimus’ work could be perceived as threatening, offensive or difficult. For one, it could be perceived as suggesting that Black people,, as Zora Neale Hurston once derisively wrote,  are all “tragically colored,” instead of “busy sharpening [their] oyster knives,” as Hurston herself was busy doing. In other words, suggesting that all Black people do is lament being Black in a society that oppresses Black people, or Black people haven’t created defenses or responses to racism that serve them and protect them from the impact of racism, or that Black people even think or experience racism much.  Lastly, and perhaps most uncomfortable is the role that biology plays in Geronimus’ work. Folks of color are used to biology and eugenics being used to assert that we are less than or somehow defective. And though I feel that’s a real concern to be mindful of when approaching Geronimus’ work, I think that the nuance and opportunity for critical thinking and dialogue posed by her work, is worth review. And it’s an opportunity to turn the biological binary and argument on its head – there’s nothing wrong with Black people, we are not and never have been biologically inferior, but systems of oppression are inhumane, because they impact us all at the very level that makes us all human; our biology. What a powerful paradigm shift in thinking about why social injustice is wrong, dangerous, and bad for us as a society. Not only that, but it certainly creates a quandary for social conservatives and those who say they value life.  If we value life, and we know and understand the impact of our actions, would social conservatives and society be willing to make different decisions. It really requires us to answer the question, whether we as a society intend to value the lives of all people on the planet, or do some people have rights to health, unimpacted biology, prosperity, wealth, and others simply do not. With clear evidence of the impact of racism, would we still create, live in, and reify racism in society?

I think many within communities of color have known this for some time: that racism, and more specifically, the stress of racism, the daily racism that makes life not only more difficult, but that also can prevent one from getting and having what one needs in life (like adequate medical care) all contributes to the health of Black Americans. Certainly, nearly every person of color, who is honest with themselves, can cite personal experience in which the experience of racism (not receiving an earned promotion, being ignored or followed in a store, flippant comments made by co-workers) hasn’t impact them – made them sad, anxious, or angry. Or that witnessing the disparity between how whites and non-whites plays out doesn’t cause a certain level of despair. The article reminds me of a harsh joke (read social commentary) from Dave Chappelle. In the joke, “How Old is Fifteen Really?” featured in Chappelle’s For What It’s Worth, performance live in San Francisco, Chappelle highlights America’s lack of empathy when it comes to how we think of and treats 15-year olds, depending on whether they are Black or white. He cites Elizabeth Smart, a7-year old girl, a 15-year old in Florida convicted and sentenced to life in prison, and R. Kelley.

Please note the clip has explicit language, and a what may be construed as an offensive argument to some. 

Geronimus, like Chappelle, also discusses this cognitive dissonance, of treating Black and white people in fundamentally different ways, albeit in far less controversial terms and without blaming the victim. What both Geronimus and Chappelle are saying, however, is that America does not respond with empathy to people across race in the same way. It does not protect children in the same way. And more often than not, people of color are blamed for their lives or for being hurt or harmed, in ways we never think about holding white Americans accountable. What’s more, our society is constructed at a psychological level, to stunt empathy, so that many non-people of color, or people with money, are completely unaware of the very real stressors of people of color and the poor. This in turn shapes our public policy.

Geronimus points out that given the health struggles, particularly of Black womyn, that having a child before the 20s is not necessarily an unwise decision for the health of either the mother or the baby, and that it is our public policy, and attendant cultural lenses, beliefs, and societal preferences that demonize Black teenage pregnancy. On the one hand, we live in a society in which some individuals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to conceive, and yet chastise womyn who conceive naturally, but at a time society feels is inappropriate – in the case of Black womyn, too young, in the case of white womyn too old (past 40). Dorothy Roberts explored the legal and public policy implications of this in her book Killing the Black Body, which examines the way that government attempts to regulate Black female sexuality and reproduction, by codifying racist ideologies and laws, many remaining from U.S. slave society, into modern-day lawKilling the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

 I always knew racism was deep, I didn’t realize how much research was being done on how racism impacts health. Though I know organizations such as the Black Women’s Health Imperative, have been organizing and working with Black womyn around health for some time. This recent article brings both a sense of relief – in seeing the issue discussed, and deep sadness.

But I also wonder: would Geronimus get press if she weren’t a white womyn? I think that practitioners, particularly health practitioners of color have long known about this, perhaps through anecdotes,  but known about it nonetheless. Why is it that the voices of people of color, identifying the need or wound of the community are ignored? Why is community knowledge, whether knowledge of womyn, people of color, differently abled people, LGBT people ever considered valuable information. We write tomes on the ideas, motives, thinking and psychology of Nixon to Madoff, but somehow a whole community speaking, seems only to create a sense of apathy and silence.

I am glad that Geronimus is doing the work that she is doing – and hope that she can, in doing the work, also highlight practitioners of color who have been doing similar work. 

Key phrase for this week: paradigm shifts are needed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.