Past Is Prologue: Whitney Houston, Black Music, and The Importance of Historical Memory

I wrote this post over a year ago, at the behest of a then “Friend” who was supposed to write a companion piece to it. This person did not. And for some reason, I just let this get buried deep within my Word files. I read it tonight, and I realized how salient it still is. For Whitney.
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Last night – February 11, 2012 – at approximately 5:15pm, my brother entered our kitchen where I was eating dinner to inform me that singer, legend, and icon Whitney Houston had died. I think I uttered two words before I grabbed my dinner plate and RAN to my room, to my computer, to log on to Facebook. I did not do so in hopes of being the first of my Friends to announce and comment upon Whitney’s death; I did so because I was instantly overcome by the feeling that I needed to confirm this news and connect with others around this tragic loss. Whitney Houston was dead. And I could not believe it.

One would think that I was Houston’s biggest fan, perhaps even President of one of her copious Fan Clubs – this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I’ve rarely thought about her as of late, and had even actively avoided reading recent commentary that I had seen posted about her. But upon hearing of her death, I was affected on a level that was both visceral and deep. Moreover, upon logging on to Facebook I found exactly what I was seeking – a community of people who were as overwhelmed and aggrieved by her passing as I was.

I was immediately beset with posts from Friends who made statements ranging from, “Oh My God! I just can’t BELIEVE it!” to “This is hitting me really hard…and I don’t know why!” Certainly, Houston’s untimely death was compounded by other recent losses in the World of Music – Soul Train innovator and host Don Cornelius had taken his own life only ten days earlier on February 1st, and the legendary Etta James had only lost her fight with cancer on January 20th. And while Houston’s life was famously fraught with difficulties brought on by her addiction to drugs, I found only a few extremely insensitive folks who chose to focus on the causal factors which may have lead to her death. The People were grieving…HARD. And many of them were not able to pinpoint exactly why this was the case.

Of course, we had all grown up with the music of Whitney Houston. She was undoubtedly a major contributor to the Soundtrack of our collective youth. But not since the passing of Michael Jackson in 2009 had I witnessed such overt mourning, such a tremendous outpouring of grief over the death of a Celebrity. Few of us actually knew Whitney Houston personally, and yet we were all blindsided by the news of her death as if a member of our own families had lost their lives. When I awakened this morning, still gob smacked by this loss, I struggled to understand why the death of Whitney Houston was resonating within me – and so many others whom I know – so deeply. At the behest of a close friend and ally, I will attempt to work through this moment in writing.

What I have come to is this: the death of Whitney Houston represents so much more than the loss of a phenomenal voice, vestiges of my youth, or even the reminder of so many others whom we have lost in the past year. In fact, her death represents something much more profound and deeply spiritual. Her voice – that crystal clear, wide-ranging, utterly beautiful instrument that she possessed – was forged in a rich vocal tradition that finds its roots in the Black church and ultimately in the African tradition of music and vocalization as expressions of celebration, mourning, and humanity. We feel her loss so deeply because this loss represents the strange historical moment in which we are situated – we have lost another performer, a key vocalist, who was able to effectively and poignantly channel the struggle and tenacity endemic to the Black experience in this country. Moreover, Houston was able to channel the depth of emotion, the very soul of those who were descendants of enslaved Africans…those who created and claimed the Black church as a kind of Sanctuary in which they could free themselves from Earthly bonds and celebrate their own struggle and survival. The very space where Martin Luther King, Jr. organized and launched a world-changing political movement, and where Aretha Franklin found her voice; the space where countless Black people found the strength to endure and overcome unfathomable oppression. And more importantly, the space which would serve as a launching pad for spiritually based creative expression that would transform the very landscape of this country and the world, for people from all racial, ethnic, and spiritual backgrounds.

Before the revelation that Whitney Houston had died, the biggest story leading into the Grammys – which airs tonight – was the return of white English singer Adele to the stage. By music industry standards, Adele was the most celebrated and successful artist of the past year. Her youth, attitude, moving lyrics, and stellar vocals took the industry by storm. It is no coincidence that Adele firmly situates herself in a vocal tradition that was forged by Black American artists who came before her, whom she openly cites as inspiration – Etta James among them. And the truth is that there would be no Adele – or the late Amy Winehouse, who lost her own struggle with substance abuse this past year – without Etta James, Whitney Houston, the Black church, enslaved Africans, or Africa itself.

Recent commentary on the success of Adele and her white British contemporaries who have chosen to appropriate a vocal tradition innovated by Black artists – forged in their struggle for dignity and humanity and birthed by enslaved Africans and their prodigious progeny – has been focused more on the assessment that they (white British artists) have now succeeded in reclaiming Black American music, while contemporary Black artists have all but abandoned the form. Of course, there are Black artists – Kelly Price, Jennifer Hudson, Marsha Ambrosius, and others – who have continued this musical tradition…but they do not receive anything resembling the level of distribution and airplay of white R&B/Soul Music vocalists who exist in today’s musical landscape. Because what we don’t want to admit to ourselves is that we are infinitely more impressed with white artists who have been able to channel the soul endemic to Black art forms than we are with Black folks who have chosen to continue this musical tradition. The belief is that while soulful vocalizing comes naturally to Black singers, it is an exceptional feat for white artists to achieve this level of vocal ability. This is why Mariah Carey’s racial and ethnic lineage was willfully obscured from the public when she made her initial debut – it is simply more exciting and innovative for white singers to perform Blackness than it is for Black singers to do so. Such is the twisted irony of U.S. culture, and indeed the western world.

But we cannot – indeed, we MUST NOT – heap accolades upon white R&B/Soul vocalists without giving deference to the ROOTS of their vocal stylings and personas. And we cannot acknowledge these roots without also acknowledging the fact that African Peoples not only served as the economic backbone of the United States (and elsewhere in the western world) for more than three centuries, but have also served as the very SOUL and MORAL COMPASS of the west – and our musical genius and performative innovations have created yet another arena wherein we have transformed the world. Consider English poet, clergyman, and (often overlooked) slave trader John Newton, who wrote the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace”; the story that we have been sold involves him being “forced” by the British Royal Navy to participate in the transatlantic slave trade, and then writing this hymn as a prayer for redemption due to this sordid involvement. We think of the Black church as having appropriated this hymn from Newton; but what if this was actually a reclamation of this song and sentiment? Newton served as both participant and witness to the forced bondage of Africans, overseeing those who were shackled in the bowels of the slave ships upon which he traveled, being constantly exposed to the melodies, vocalizations, lamentations…the very ENERGY of these human beings. Perhaps his “inspiration” came as much from what he HEARD and FELT whilst engaging in this utterly dehumanizing and vile act as it did from his own desire to be forgiven and redeemed because of it.

Perhaps the most translucent example of the force that is Black music in the United States can be found in the three most iconic and revelatory renditions of our National Anthem ever to be recorded – those of Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, and of course Whitney Houston. How absolutely ironic and appalling is it that these descendants of enslaved Africans could so expertly articulate and interpret a song which contains the bogus and disingenuous lyrics: “Oh, Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave/O’er The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave?”

We miss Whitney Houston – we mourn her passing in the very depth of our souls – because she represented more than just a tremendous voice and an important part of our youth. We mourn her because her loss represents what feels like the last vestiges of our connection to a People and an Experience that the United States – and the western world – is beckoning us to forget. This is particularly salient as we are living through an historical moment in which U.S. politicians are actively seeking to undermine and discredit the first Black President of the United States and seeking to return us to a time when Black people were conceived of and treated as mere chattel…and engaging in the warped politics of nostalgia to convince USAmericans of all races that this was a better time for all of us. When we lost Whitney Houston, we lost a huge part of our connection to the transgressive souls and enduring spirits of the Africans who created something beautiful out of the cruelty and perversity of enslavement, dehumanization, villainization, and total disenfranchisement from the American experience. Whether Whitney Houston was aware of this or not, WE are aware of it…in a place that is deeper than most of us are capable of reaching.

Rest In Peace, Whitney Houston! Anedge Hirack, and May Your Barge Reach The West Unencumbered.

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“Society Made Him”: Notes On Mainstream Media Coverage Of Mass Murders

Last week in the Gender & Society course I teach at Rhode Island College I screened the documentary “Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity” which was created by educator and activist Jackson Katz. The documentary contains some extremely important information about the formation and perpetuation of standards of masculinity and the damage that these standards have wrought upon boys, men, and our entire culture. During one segment of the documentary, Katz discusses the spate of school shootings that occurred in the US between 1997 and 1999. During that time, eight school shootings occurred, all involving young male shooters. Katz presents the various school shooters in his documentary, and notes that media coverage of this phenomenon in the late 1990’s neglected to interrogate the role of gender in these shootings; specifically, he shares his concern that media failed to mention that all of the young people who committed these heinous acts were boys.

But Katz failed to interrogate the role of RACE in these school shootings. In fact, the media – and Katz – failed to mention that all of the young people who committed these heinous acts were WHITE boys. When Katz “overlooked” this basic fact in his work, he also engaged in and with the dominant discursive construction of whiteness as invisible, irrelevant, and inconsequential to acts of violence. In doing so, he placed himself squarely on the side of a racist ideological paradigm. This is especially disconcerting to me because around the same time that media was covering the acts of white male school shooters by asking question such as “What Is Happening To AMERICA’S Children?,” they were simultaneously covering acts of violence committed by young Black males which were directed towards other young Black males by asking questions such as, “What Is This Phenomenon of Black on Black Crime?”

When young People of Color kill one another, the perpetrators of these crimes are not described as “America’s Children.” We do not delve into their lives and experiences in any attempt to discern why they may have engaged in these violent acts. Conversely, when a white male engages in mass murder (or attempted mass murder), mainstream media feeds us a plethora of information about their lives, digging into every corner and crevice of their minds (including, in the case of the Columbine shooters, the diaries of the murderous duo) to discover why they committed these acts, what “triggered” these acts, and what they were going through when they chose to commit these acts. These white males are treated as anomalies, as outliers, or as damaged persons who were responding to multiple stressers caused by society.

When men of color engage in these types of heinous acts, we are rarely made privy to their childhoods, backgrounds, or life experiences. Mainstream media rarely seeks to understand why these men of color committed such acts, what “triggered” these acts, or what they were going through when they chose to commit these acts. It is implicitly understood that people of color are INHERENTLY prone to violence. There is no need to ask the question of why a Black man, for example, may have committed a specific act of violence, because we already know the answer: He is Black. And violence is what Black people do. Ergo, when a white male commits an act of heinous violence he is said to be suffering from some sort of INDIVIDUAL pathology. When a male of color commits an act of heinous violence, he then becomes a representative of the alleged COLLECTIVE pathology of his entire race.

Our resistance as a culture to recognizing historical patterns is dumbfounding to me. A quick look back in time can inform us of the LONG history of white men engaging in mass murder and serial killings, as well as genocide, enslavement of other humans, rape, and lynching. My class was stunned when I informed them that not so long ago entire communities of white people would pack up picnic baskets, dress up their families, and head out for the Entertainment of the Week – the lynching of a Black person. While at these Lynching Parties, families would fellowship, cheer, and bond over the public execution of another human being. They would watch with glee as a Black person was hanged, male victims would have their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths, and bodies were often burned alive.  White families would take home body parts as souvenirs. And to add insult to insanity, these folks would take pictures of the lynched individual, create postcards with these pictures on them, and send them out to friends.

This is not information I gleaned from The X Files, folks…this is US History! And it is not so far removed from the public execution celebrations that existed all over Europe at one point. We KNOW that entire communities of white people engaged in these vulgar and sadistic acts, and yet these entire communities were never pathologized and presented as evidence that white people are inherently violent. Every crime committed by a white person has been reframed as the act of a disturbed Individual and is in no way linked to their white racial status. People of color, on the other hand, can commit no act that will remain separate from their racial identities. It’s called RACISM…and many of us believe the completely fabricated HYPE that we have been fed.

I already had these oppressive thoughts on my mind when I awakened this morning to the news that at least 14 people had been murdered and at least 50 seriously injured by a 24-year-old gunman named James Holmes at a midnight screening of the film “The Dark Knight” in Aurora, Colorado. I scanned through copious articles about this horrific event, paying close attention to the discourse that was used by media to describe it. The first item of note that I discovered was that no media outlet had – as of 10am on Friday, July 20, 2012 – released the racial identity of the shooter. They have this man, who is described simply as a 24-year-old male, in custody. They know what he looks like. But we don’t. History and repetition have convinced me that if the shooter were a man of color, we would know that – we would be explicitly told the race of the shooter, and we might even have access to a picture of him. Also of note is that the film “The Dark Knight” has not been “blamed” for this act of violence, as films like “Boyz In The Hood” and “Menace II Society” were when acts of violence broke out at screenings for those films. I have no doubt that had “The Dark Knight” been a predominantly Black film, the film itself would have been held up as an exemplar of the belief that media can lead directly to acts of violence.

And the aspect of US mainstream media-generated discourse around this event that most slays me is the assertion that James Holmes was a “lone gunman” and that this act is not “tied to Islamic terrorism.” Interestingly, British media has simply stated that authorities don’t believe this act to be one of “terrorism,” omitting the word “Islamic” from their coverage. Firstly, this act fits the very definition of TERRORISM – it was an act of DOMESTIC TERRORISM. Secondly, US mainstream media is attempting to use the idea that this was not an act of “Islamic terrorism” in a misguided (and completely Islamophobic) effort to assuage public concerns about this event – as if this tragedy would have been worse had it been perpetrated by Muslims, and as if this act would only count as “Terrorism” if Muslims were involved. APPALLING! This helps to explain why very few of my students recognize the name “Timothy McVeigh” – the 27-year-old white male who executed the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, and who was considered to have committed “the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to September 11, 2011.” [Caveat: I believe that the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and ongoing harassment and disenfranchisement of people of color, women, LGBT folks, and folks with disabilities were/are far more deadly acts of terrorism than these two events, but I digress.]

McVeigh – who had known accomplices and was part of an organized American militia movement – was found guilty and was executed in July, 2001. And then he just…faded into obscurity. Few people know or remember his name. There was not a mass movement – by both government and media – to warn us of the very real threat that American terrorist militia groups represent for us. Instead, 3 months after McVeigh’s execution we were overwhelmed by the horror of 9/11 and had established the TRUE face of Terrorism: Islam. And while there are many white Muslims on the globe, it is only those BROWN folks from the so-called Middle East whom most Americans envision when they hear the word “Terrorist.”

Media coverage of events like this Aurora, Colorado Massacre seeks to obscure the realities of Domestic Terrorism in the US by utilizing the time-proven discourse of the “lone gunman” and by insinuating that the word “Terrorist” only applies to Muslims. It creates a spectacle wherein folks are encouraged to be so distraught over this tragedy that they fail to notice the ways in which media has manipulated the story. And in our hyper-emotional response states, we often fail to ask important questions about discourse and representation. But do not allow the media to cajole you into believing that this horrific event was not an act of Domestic Terrorism, or that others in this country are not planning similar acts. As the saying goes, “I Have Seen The Enemy…And He Is Us.”

p.s. I’m Baaaaack!

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For Quick Laughs…Just Compare Him To A Woman!!

Well folks, after a year of media saturation, unrelenting spectacle, and ridiculous hype…the Miami Heat Basketball Club still lost the NBA Title to the Dallas Mavericks last night! I was watching The Tony Awards Show instead (which was fabulous, by the way…best awards show on television, hands down!) but was also active on Facebook and had a running commentary about the game on my News Feed.

When the game ended, the bulk of my Friends’ posts included digs at Heat player LeBron James, who abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to “bring his talents to Miami.” This dude didn’t just set up a press conference or two to address his departure from Cleveland; he garnered himself an entire half-hour show to inform the public. Because clearly in his mind, we all cared enough about him to want to hear him discuss this issue for 30 minutes. Long story short, he hyped himself up then (apparently, from what I have been reading) delivered an incredibly disappointing performance in the championship series. After that…well, he’s gotta take his lumps. I get that. He’s getting his ego checked, and he asked for that. So when I started seeing all of the anti-LBJ commentary flooding my News Feed last night, I felt it was the proverbial Chickens Coming Home To Roost for James.

And then I started seeing a smattering of links and pictures posted to Facebook, four of which I will present here. The first three were created to mock LeBron James and the Miami Heat; the last was created to celebrate Dallas Mavericks’ player Dirk Nowitzki. [Note: Due to technological difficulties, I could not insert two of these links directly into my blog...please cut & paste these links into a new field to quickly view them while I work out this glitch in The Matrix.] Please note the prevailing theme of all three:

First:

And This One:

Now Check Out This Link: http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_llu79iQuYa1qerjlgo1_400.gif

Followed By This Link: http://i304.photobucket.com/albums/nn176/kidconfucius/dirk-dance-o.gif

So here we go, People. The Miami Heat in Drag. LeBron James as a Cover Girl. The Miami Heat as Beyoncé and her “Put A Ring On It” dancers. Dirk Nowitzki surrounded by and dancing with scantily clad women (who look like teenage girls…IJS). The messages are clear: The Heat have been feminized by their loss. They are no better than women, or worse – men in drag. LeBron James has been bitchified. And I can hear the men: “I don’t think of Beyoncé as a bitch!” No…but you do think that a man who would dress up/dance/or be presented like Beyoncé is a bitch. These are the penalties for LOSERS in the NBA. And then we have Dirk Nowitzki. Getting his dance on (in a manly and heterosexual manner, of course) surrounded by scantily clad young women. This is the reward for WINNERS in the NBA. Losers are drag queens, bitches, and gay men. (I won’t even post some of the more overtly homophobic links I have seen). Winners are manly and heterosexual, surrounded by a gaggle of willing women upon which to unleash their post-championship passions.

Yeah, I know…I’m being a bit dramatic(al). Eh, I just watched the Tonys. *Shrug* But the truth is not so far removed from my description here. In fact, there are very few instances of men being clowned, ego-checked, or otherwise disparaged without either women or gay men being invoked to place that final Cherry of Diss atop the Shit Sundae. Prove me wrong about this…please.

In fact, I would like to issue a challenge: Attempt to create and perpetuate ways of ego-checking men without making any kind of reference, allusion, or connection to women, girls, womanhood, femininity, gay men, effeminacy, or emasculation. I’d like to see how many men are capable of taking LeBron James to task – even comically – without somehow invoking any of the items listed above. I’m imagining that this may be difficult, because using images of women and gay men to degrade (allegedly) straight men is absolutely The Norm in our culture.

I’ve heard men make light of these representations in many ways. The most commonly used excuse that I have heard is that they are not degrading women…they are degrading men who ACT like women. I’m too tired today to go into the deep-seated misogyny and homophobia associated with this mindset, so I will need to tackle this topic in another blog. The bottom line is that if the worst thing a man can be compared to is a woman (or gay man), then this tells us what we truly believe about women and womanhood, femininity, effeminacy, and homosexuality in our culture. I don’t know a man today who could have stepped to either Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth and come out of that meeting alive…but whatever. People continue to align behaviors like gossiping and emotionality with women, regardless of what they may have seen in their own homes. I’m tired of men speaking about women in stereotypical ways, then discussing how strong all of the women in their lives happen to be. Really?!? Then why do you still perpetuate the idea that womanhood and femininity are weak?!?

I’m going to wrap this up by saying that as Women’s Rights are currently under Full-Fledged ASSAULT in this country, I will be using my blog to RAGE about the various ways that we engage in disrespecting and devaluing women in our culture. And using women to clown NBA Losers – or to reward NBA Winners – is one of these ways. So check yourself.

And, as always…#grin&bareit

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Stories No One Wants Women To Tell: Re-Membering History, Rebuking Rape, & Rihanna’s Revenge

I believe the year was 1992. I was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California taking a Feminist Theory course with Dr. Nancy Vickers. Another student in the class – a dual Gender Studies and Film major – had created a short film that she had shared with our Professor, which dealt with the topic of father/daughter incest. Professor Vickers screened the film for us; it was painful. No words. No sound. Just images. At the end of this film, the teenage character who was being sexually abused by her father took her own life. After we processed this powerful piece, Professor Vickers screened the David Fincher directed music video “Janie’s Got A Gun,” by Aerosmith. If you aren’t familiar, the song “Janie’s Got A Gun” also tackles the topic of father/daughter incest. And in that video, the teenage incest survivor takes a gun and murders her father. Fincher – who directed numerous other music video masterpieces, but is now best known for films like Aliens, Fight Club, and The Social Network – provided provocative and graphic images to accompany Aerosmith’s scathing narrative. It is widely considered to be one of the most well-theorized and brilliantly auteured music videos in existence. And I don’t remember there being any significant backlash regarding the message of this piece, which was abundantly clear: Men Who Molest Children – Especially Their Own Children – Deserve To Be Killed.

When a man narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed at the perpetrator, and the girl avenges herself; when a woman narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed INWARD, and the girl kills herself. These are the “appropriate gender-based reactions” to this scenario in our culture. This was a lesson I was taught 19 years ago. And clearly, it needs to be taught AGAIN.

Fast-forward to 2011, and the release of singer Rihanna’s “controversial” music video, “Man Down.” You can watch the video and glean the subject matter here:

So let me get this straight: people are up in arms because they feel that Rihanna is promoting and condoning murder (the murder of her rapist), and they want the video pulled…but male artists have, for YEARS, produced music videos promoting murder (for no discernible reason whatsoever) with little recourse?!? GTFOH with that!! Eminem can write a song and produce a video wherein he brags about murdering the mother of his child – and folks call him “Genius.” But Rihanna enters into an ALREADY ONGOING conversation about female rage and vengeance fantasies…and she is promoting murder?!? I have HAD IT with this bullshit double-standard, people. And speaking of Eminem AND Rihanna, MTV seemed to have no problem airing their video “Love The Way You Lie” – which is chock full of graphic and sexualized violence. But again, since a man is the narrator of this piece – and since both Rihanna and Megan Fox are present as the obligatory “eye candy” (and let’s not forget one of the HOBBITS from Lord of the Rings!) – this video gets a free pass:

Consider this: If men were more likely to be raped, and/or if male survivors of rape chose to write a song and make a video wherein they murdered the man who raped them…do you think anyone would have a problem with that?!? I have had male students admit to me that they believe they are well within their rights to KILL a Transwoman if they have KISSED her without knowing she was born biologically male. IMAGINE how men could go on murderous lyrical rants if rape was something they had to fear on a daily basis, or if their rapist went free?!?

Murder is all over music videos. It’s just that when men are the perpetrators, no one complains.

To add insult to injury, folks are acting like Rihanna is the first female artist in existence to ever cover female homicidal fantasy in songs and music videos. Female Blues artists of the 1920’s routinely wrote and performed songs about killing abusive and/or philandering lovers. But we have also experienced this phenomenon in the last several decades and I feel that I need to share a few of these gems. At least two of these music videos were banned (either by MTV or by other music video channels) and all have sparked controversy and conversation. I won’t ramble on about this, but will end by reiterating two points: (1) Men have been able to explore and enact homicidal fantasies in music videos for YEARS, but when women do so we have “crossed a line.” (2) We have such short memories in this culture that folks are acting like Rihanna broke new and taboo ground with this music video. She did not. Please check out these four OTHER songs/videos by female artists over the last two decades that engage issues of female homicidal/vengeance fantasies:

From 1991:

From 1992:

From 1999:

From 2000:

And let’s not forget – it is the 20-year-anniversary of the film Thelma & Louise. Once again though, this film was written by a woman (screenwriter Callie Khouri) but auteured/directed by a man (Ridley Scott). We just accept these stories better when men control the telling of them.

As always…#grin&bareit

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A Few Reasons To Believe The World May End On May 21, 2011 – And How You Can See The Silver Lining At The End Of The Apocalypse

Just A Few Thoughts…

(1) We have now entered The Final Countdown…toward Oprah Winfrey’s last show! Specifically, her show ends on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Now let me be perfectly clear: The dude who came up with this prediction (I’m omitting his name to protect the ignorant, but you can Google it on your own, if you want) was perfectly clear that The Rapture would START on the 21st. As you should be well aware (from watching both the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series of films), epic battles between Good and Evil can last for DAYS. In this case, I am predicting about four days. The World Will End When Oprah Winfrey Shuts Off Her Mic On Wednesday, May 25, 2001 At Approximately 5:01pm EST. Be Prepared. Because if Oprah has to go…she is taking ALL of us with her!!

 

(2) Very few friends of mine will be able to eat in the next few years once their Student Loans come due. The Rapture taking place this weekend would serve two purposes in this regard: to save us from having to face starvation and homelessness as a result of our decision to become Educated People, and to completely screw Sallie Mae and all of the other lenders…and especially the CFOs who head them. And the U.S. Government as well. EDUCATION…SHOULD BE FREE!!

(3) I can’t take another season of The Bachelorette, American Idol, Real Housewives of Wherever, or one of the many Reality TV shows dedicated to promoting and reifying every messed up stereotype that has ever been created about any type of human being in existence. Hell would be better than having to endure another season of one of these shows. [Not that I’m planning on going there…just pointing out a perk for those of you who will!]

(4) No one will have to endure the 2012 Presidential Campaign & Election. ‘Nuff Said.

(5) I’d like the World to end before all of the Law & Orders are off the air. Because when that happens, my world will be ending, OK?!?

(6) Who shot JFK?!? Did we *really* go to the Moon?!? Did OJ do it?!? Was AIDS created by the US Government?!? Is Sarah Palin from this PLANET?!? Can you tell me, in 10 words or less, EXACTLY how to get to Sesame Street? Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?!? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?!? <— Methinks that all of these questions – and many more – will be answered at some point during The Rapture.

^^ How The Hell Do You Get There?!?^^

(7) No one needs to be traumatized by the realization that Justin Bieber never ages. I’m not sure we’re quite “there” yet with Android Acceptance.

(8) The wealthiest 2% will be forced to fit a camel through the eye of a needle as their price for getting into heaven. The rest of us will get to watch as these assholes attempt to renegotiate their contracts with Satan instead. Fun will be had by ALL.

(9) I’d like to taste Manna from Heaven. I’m hoping that some of that falls before it’s all said and done, because I have been wondering what that stuff tastes like for YEARS!!

(10) Finally: I cannot WAIT until God finally reveals herself to be a Black Woman!! That’s going to be the Game Ender right there!! #f*cksatoshikanazawa

Happy End Of Days, Y’all!! Be Good To Yourselves And Others…Today, And Until The End Of Time!!

And Lastly…

#grin&bareit

 

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Spurious Psychology: Faux Objectivity, Eugenics, & The Nouveau Attack On Black Women

[Note: Due either to heavy visitation to the site, or (I hope) due to public outcry regarding the utterly racist nature of the article I address in this Blog post, the original article has been inaccessible. I have a friend who uploaded the article in Google Docs, and I have included a link to that site in this post.]

I’m going to make this Blog post quick & to the point, because I’m tired and overwhelmed today. But I need to speak out about the recent article published in Psychology Today entitled “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” by Satoshi Kanazawa. You can read the article here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FNIN515ZPH9EtB8oxBxLIOMOlMP39gvvb8m1rjNEgFY/edit?hl=en&authkey=CObUrMUP&pli=1#

I feel compelled to write about this, because Psychology Today  is a mainstream magazine trusted by millions of lay people to give them insight into modern (and valid) psychological research and interventions. Because the author of this piece uses graphs and numbers, many people will trust this research on its face…without asking the important questions that need to be asked.

From the outset, the author explains that “Add Health [a research organization] measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively.”…but then never explains how one can OBJECTIVELY measure physical attractiveness in ANY culture, much less one that is ruled by the ideology of White Supremacy (as most Western cultures – and even most colonized cultures – are). Standards of attractiveness are inherently subjective; objectivity is not possible, since standards of physical attractiveness vary from culture-to-culture, and are tremendously impacted by social structures – race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, etc. With the notion of an “objective” way to measure physical attractiveness as his foundation, the author begins and ends his research in the fictive realm.

Consider this paragraph, interspersed between graphs that are placed to make the reader feel like, “This is SCIENCE!!”: “It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others.” Here, the author presents Black women (and men, though once we read on we discover that Black men are considered to be more physically attractive than men of other races. I’ll explain why this should be no surprise in a minute) as exhibiting delusional thinking – despite the fact that we are CLEARLY less physically attractive than women of other races, we still BELIEVE that we are, in fact, MORE attractive. Given that the author insists that he is taking an “objective” approach to measuring physical attractiveness, I’m sure he did read this as delusional. (Also because he has issues with racism…more on that in a jiff!) Unfortunately, as I outlined earlier, there is no such thing as an “objective measurement of physical attractiveness.” Moreover, it is evident that the Black women in his study have noticed  an ongoing trend in our culture that he has overlooked – the fact that non-Black women are having collagen injected into their lips to make them fuller, implants surgically attached to their asses, special products to create the illusion of a “big booty,” and an addiction to tanning salons. Read: Why would Black women consider themselves to be less physically attractive than women of other races, when women of other races are striving every day to look more like Black women?!? Hmm…

Thinking that he has slipped us a doozy, the author explains that Black women are generally more overweight than their non-Black counterparts…but that’s not why we are less attractive! Psych! He also states: “Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in attractiveness among women.” Translation: “Even the fact that Black women are less intelligent than women of other races does not account for them being considered (objectively, of course) less physically attractive than their non-Black counterparts.” Outright Eugenicist Racism…COMIN’ ATCHA!! No…it’s not that we are fatter and dumber (even though in the author’s mind we clearly are) – the REAL reason why we are considered less physically attractive?!? I can’t tell you yet…because I need to blow my man up about his EUGENICIST interpretation regarding what is considered a “mutation.”

The author explains: “…because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races.  And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health.).” <— OK, People. Am I the only one who remembers 10th grade Biology?!? Dark skin, dark hair, curly hair, dark eyes…these are DOMINANT GENETIC TRAITS. Light skin, light hair, straight hair, blue/green eyes…these are RECESSIVE GENETIC TRAITS. Aren’t recessive traits considered to be the most “mutant”?!? Bio people…am I wrong about this?!? I used to have a high school teacher (shout out to Mr. Lentz) who constantly reiterated the phrase: “White people were the last ones to get to this planet, and we will be the first ones to go.” He was a white man, by the way. In fact, men all over Europe have long been traveling to Africa to find wives to marry. Could be about standards of attractiveness; could be about saving their genetic lineage. Oh, and the reason why Black men are considered more physically attractive? This author refuses to discuss social structures (too subjective?) or stereotypes/racist beliefs associated with different races/cultures, but had he done so he would have been able to point to the belief that Black men are more sexually virile than men of other races as an answer to his question. Ironically, this stereotype was created by white men in an effort to scare white women into staying away from Black men…yeah, that backfired. The assumption that women are not sexual agents always does.

While sexual virility is considered a HUGE part of the “standards of physical attractiveness” for men,  passivity and the appearance of docility work the same way for women. Since Black women are viewed in this culture as being more assertive/aggressive – thereby embodying the OPPOSITE of the passive/docile standard – we are automatically viewed as less physically attractive (in a white supremacist capitalist culture). But I digress. Because just when we feel COMPLETELY overwhelmed by the Eugenicist Racism of this piece, the author reveals the REAL reason why Black women are, in fact and objectively, the least physically attractive specimens on the planet:

“The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone.  Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently.  Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive.  In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive.”

So there it is: We Are Too Masculine. [Or, as the author admits, that's "the only thing he can think of," mostly because he is so limited by his own racism.] Sadly, I know many Black men who subscribe to this way of thinking; I think about this all the time when folks question the gender identity of athletes like Serena Williams. Again, since the author is socially illiterate – or is at least willfully ignoring sociohistorical concerns – he continues to spew more eugenicist-inspired racism about Africans. But he also refuses to acknowledge the deep-seated misogyny and homophobia that are endemic to any discussion of Female Masculinity, or the long history and deep-seated racism that must be addressed in any discussion of Black Femininity. Feminists have been writing about this for decades, but why read them when you have “objective science” on your side?!? Furthermore, I stated earlier that Black women are viewed as more assertive, aggressive, take no nonsense, speak your mind, etc…all MASCULINE traits. In fact, the author has illuminated for us that Black women are considered less physically attractive because so many of us REFUSE to even ATTEMPT to step into the stereotypical “Gender Box,” especially when we know that the box was never created with us in mind. There is something freeing about knowing that there are some cultural standards into which you will never be expected to participate or “fit.” The truth is that Black women are so scary because they remind folks that WOMEN – Writ Large – can be just as powerful as men. On every level. White women have long been stereotyped in this country as weak and in need of protection; Asian women have long been stereotyped as docile and meek; Latina women have long been stereotyped as existing to provide beauty and sexuality; Native women have long been stereotyped as being peaceful and spiritual. Articles like this are written so that non-Black women (and all men) view Black women as some other species altogether…because if non-Black women think of us as being inherently different from them, they may not see themselves as being capable of exhibiting the strength and assertiveness that so many Black women exhibit, only to have it recast as “hypermasculine” and “unattractive.”

Once ALL women realize that we can be on par with men – physically, intellectually, and otherwise – this world will be a VERY different place. And many folks are making it their Life’s Work to ensure that this never happens. Articles like this provide the proof – the RAGE – that I need to keep me constantly engaged with the long history of oppression that Black women have faced, in this country and globally. The best part of this article for me was the part about Black women still considering themselves to be more attractive than others, in spite of the “objective evidence” that we are not. This is a TRIUMPH to me. It says that in the face of the worst oppression and hate…Black women can still love ourselves. And on that note – and because I think we all need a little Uplift after engaging with this article – I’d like to end with the obligatory Maya Angelou Poem:

And Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


© Maya Angelou, 1978.


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FORTY THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP ME CELEBRATE MY 40th BIRTHDAY

FORTY THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP ME CELEBRATE MY 40th BIRTHDAY

 Just in case you haven’t heard, it’s MY 40th BIRTHDAY TODAY!! I would like to shout out my Mom, who pushed all 10lbs 6oz of me out of her body 40 years ago today…and then she survived my CHILDHOOD! Wanda Grinner Is A WARRIOR!! To my Dad, who remains my Biggest Cheerleader even from Beyond The Grave…Thanks for Believing In Me, Otis Grinner! To my Five Siblings: Michelle, Mark, Elaina, Susan, & Ramona …I blame all of my Eclecticism, Copious Knowledge About Random Trivia, Love Of Popular Culture, and All-Around Comical Edge on YOU! Thank You! To All Of My FRIENDS…I would not be here without your Love, Faith, & Support. You Complete Me. Seriously. And To My ENEMIES…I’M STILL HERE, BITCHES!! Thank You For The Lessons.

Now…On With The Birthday Show!

  1. Smile – It’s FREE, It’s ALL NATURAL/ORGANIC, It’s EASIER to do than Frowning, and it carries the POSSIBILITY of improving someone’s day. Including your own. So SMILE.
  2. Learn About Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) & Other Developmental/Intellectual Disabilities –  Approximately 13% of children have a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. On average, 1 in 110 children in the United States have an Autism Spectrum Disorder; ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, yet are on average 4 to 5 times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. Check out and “Like” the groups Autism Support Network https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Autism-Support-Network/150100405892 and Autism Speaks https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/autismspeaks on Facebook. And for a REAL Treat, check out my Godson Terrence Patridge, a stellar Trombonist who also has Autism. [Terrence is the center of the room, handling that Trombone!]
  3. Put On Your Favorite “Dance My Ass Off” Song…And DANCE YOUR ASS OFF!! – Choose whatever song moves you! I recommend THIS Li’l Ditty: [Note: By the time Lady Gaga gets to the first “Oh…Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh…Oh…Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, OH!" <--- I’m Dancing On A Table-Top! Preferably sandwiched between two sweaty men. Preferably gay. Go ahead and judge me…I’m 40 and like Jimmy Crack Corn…I just don’t care!!]
  4. Stop Judging Poor People – Yesterday someone uttered the sentences: “We need to end the Welfare System…in its ENTIRETY,” and “At least 20% of the population is abusing the Welfare System” to me. Then he found himself backtracking when I informed him that very recently, I had been a “Welfare” Recipient. With a Master’s Degree. Then he had to start backtracking and talking about “Exceptions” and “Generational Abuse”. The Truth: He had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. And most “Fiscal Conservatives” do not. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of the “Other 98%” in this country who is working so that the Top 2% don’t have to pay any taxes on their exorbitant wealth. But keep on believing that your hard work is REALLY paying for all of those hapless folks on Welfare. Ignorance is Bliss. And the wealthiest folks in this country are COUNTING on it. [Well, at least their ACCOUNTANTS are. Rich people don’t count their own money.]
  5. Learn About Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Behcet’s Syndrome, and Other Autoimmune Disorders – There are people among you who are walking around with Invisible Diseases; at any moment, our immune systems are under attack and the consequences can range from constant discomfort to death. I am one of these People. Don’t Sleep On Us.
  6. Listen To A Song By Adele – Any Adele song will do. I Love Her. And if you don’t…well, what the fuck is wrong with you?!? Try This Brilliance On For Size:
  7. Read White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy Mcintosh – Key Reading in the Struggle To End Oppression: http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf
  8. Check Out The RePeace Movement – I was turned onto this by Radical Activist Gabrielle Price. The mission of REPEACE: Repeace wants to create a massive demand for accountability with three simple clicks and with a new advocate for peace. Beginning in the USA all progressive people are asked to join and take three simple pledges: 1. I want to reward businesses who focus on local, sustainable, quality products and services, not on buying influence. 2. I want to reward politicians who are accountable to me, not to corporations. 3. I want to reward countries that promote and defend freedom of expression. Check them out at http://www.repeace.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/RePeace/148089545227940?sk=info
  9. Write A Rage-Filled Letter To Someone By Whom You Have Been Wronged – You don’t need to send the letter; in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. And it doesn’t have to be a long letter either. Just get The Basics off your chest, then Keep Moving. Here is a Sample from my own Arsenal:

Dear So-and-So:

Thank you for the emotional abuse, betrayal, and abandonment.

Fuck You,

Leslie

I have already written five of these today…and I. Feel. FABULOUS! Try it!

  1. Get Tested For HIV – This is a No-Brainer. If you have not been tested, do so immediately. Educate yourself and others about the ways that we can stop the AIDS Pandemic. And never, EVER trust your sexual and emotional health to someone who refuses to get tested.
  2. Read Something By bell hooks – She has like 10,000 books out in the world as we speak. Any one of them will do.
  3. Listen To A John Coltrane Song – Any John Coltrane Song is a GREAT John Coltrane Song. But this one reminds me of 40th Birthdays:
  4. Take A Yoga/Tai Chi Class – Get (back) in touch with your body.
  5. Eat A Mango – God, I Love Mangoes!! DELICIOUS!!
  6. Learn About LGBT Communities/Work To End Gender-Identity Bias & Homophobia – If you know me, you know that this is a huge part of my Consciousness. I’m Down With The Gays. And also the Lesbians/Bisexuals/Transfolk. If you are still spewing anti-Queer slurs and sentiments, then I don’t want you on my Birthday Train.
  7. End The War On Women’s Rights In This Country – If the U.S. Government started regulating on the Penis & Testes, there would be a Civil War in this fucking country. And there SHOULD be one behind the current assault on Women’s Rights. Bam.
  8. Commune With Nature – In whatever way works for you.
  9. Recognize That The Los Angeles Lakers Is The Best Basketball Club In The History Of The United States Of America – Or just remain in denial of this fact. But that just makes you sad.
  10. Throw Your Trash Into A Trash Can – Take some PRIDE in your environment/community!
  11. Stop Smoking Cigarettes – My dad died of Lung Cancer. It wasn’t pretty. And it makes you stink. So Stop Smoking Cigarettes. It won’t be easy. But you must do it.
  12. Watch A&E’s Intervention – Recognize how many folks become drug-addicted due to rape, childhood sexual and physical abuse, and other significant Life Traumas. Then stop judging folks in whose shoes you have never walked.
  13. Read Anything By Langston Hughes – Anything at all.
  14. Watch The Documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys – It’s a great history of my Beloved Southern California, surfing, skateboarding, and youth culture. And it reminds me of Home.
  15. Sit Down And Critically Watch A Disney Movie – Now ask yourself: “Do I really want to sit my child in front of this and walk away?!?” [Still scarred by Bambi  and The Lion King]
  16. Save PBS.
  17. See If You Can Still Do The Running Man, The Troop, The Wop, The Roger Rabbit, The Robocop, and The Cabbage Patch – I can still do ALL of these dances. And I am FORTY! If you can’t…get on your GAME, Fools!!
  18. Love And Accept Your Children For Who They Are – They aren’t born to be miniature models of YOU. Raise them to be Good People. Then allow them to be Good People in their own UNIQUE ways.
  19. Take A Walk – I’m a BIG Walker. It clears the mind and is healthy for the body. Weather permitting, I walk every single day. Keep Moving.
  20. Burn Some Incense Or A Candle – I am an Incense and Candle Whore. And I have No Shame about that whatsoever. Aromas Can Heal.
  21. Drink A Cup Of Peppermint or Spearmint Tea – Very good for throat, congestion, and stomach issues. And they make your breath smell delicious.
  22. Watch An Episode Of Law & Order – Any version of this show is acceptable. There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone with a TV to have a problem with this, as the show is on at least  5 channels at any given time during the day.
  23. Listen To A Song From The ‘80s – There are just too many Great Songs that came out of this Golden Generation (aka: My Youth). You can start with this: and move on from there.
  24. Play A Game Of Spades Or Dominoes – I don’t care how stereotypical that sounds…I like these games, and I’m pretty good at them.
  25. Read A Poem By Paul Laurence Dunbar, Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen, Or Nikki Giovanni – Or by any Poet, really. Watch a Spoken Word video on YouTube. Fall in love with Metaphor & Simile.
  26. Write Me A Haiku/It’s Not Very Hard To Do/You’re A Poet, Too.
  27. Treat Animals With Respect
  28. If You Live Near A Beach, And It Is Not Freezing…GO TO THE BEACH!! – The Beach is My Favorite Place In The Entire World. I Love The Ocean. Go There For Me!!
  29. Learn About Mental Illness – We don’t understand Mental Illness in this country. And we need to. This is Paramount.
  30. Take A Long, Hot Shower Or Bath – It will soothe your muscles and melt away stress.
  31. LAUGH!!!!! – Laughter Heals The Soul. I am Blessed to have copious Friends who make me LAUGH until my sides are sore and I almost pee my pants. THIS is how I survived to the Ripe Old Age of 40. So Laugh With Me, People!! For Forty More!!!

As Always…Grin & Bare It!

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