“and then there’s those times at the coffee shop when i want to lean over to the people next to me and say, “shut the fuck up. or at least lower your voice.” while thinking in my head, ‘white love makes me nauseous.’ and i silently hope this post is large enough on my screen that they can read it if/when they glance over. and i wish i didn’t lose that sticker to put on my laptop that said ‘BLACK LOVE IS REVOLUTIONARY’ so they can awkwardly stare at it as they stroke each others hands…
or what became of a lament of a black queer in a coffee shop.”—
* i once brought in a box of aunt jemima pancake mix to a Black Student Union meeting to remind the people… Mammy still exist. we watched clips from Marlon Riggs’ “Ethnic Notions” and discussed Black stereotypes and media representations. in effort of driving the point across about consumptions of Blackness, i hosted a pancake dinner immediately following the BSU meeting. at that dinner i posed to my community, ‘perhaps its not that we boycott these products, because i do find this particular mix of pancake delicious, and what products don’t have the blood history entwined in its creation? but perhaps the scary thing is we consume and consume, without knowing, or choosing to forget, the blood history. what if we engaged that history, which we consume in the present? what would we do? what if we stopped consuming Blackness? what would we do with our time?’
this was set against a climate where our university dining commons found it appropriate to serve chicken-n-waffles on martin luther king day.
but perhaps we are waiting for mammy to liberate herself, and bring the rest of us along? i don’t know. eat your pancakes, and shut up.
"…im a cook in the kitchen asking the misses to taste the dinner, take a long long sip, cuz death ain’t always this good…" -Sunni Patterson
I learn something every time you post. Sometimes I can't believe I get to read your stuff without having to pay for an anthology or a JSTOR subscription or something. Your writing is truly awesome, makes me miss writing papers! Thanks for taking the time to share it.
thank you. i write in hopes of inspiring others to write, tell their stories, live their lives, and protest the conditions of the institution. im really happy i’ve found this medium to share my thoughts and engage in conversation. the stuff i work on that is not on tumblr though, mmmm, that stuff is good, really good :) and i hope it gets into anthologies and on jstor one day, or at least gets me into grad school. haha, to quote JoJo (by way of @abolitionista) “i wanna doctorate, and still be rockin’ it” and i hope i dont run out of steam before i enter back into the academy. but for now, im really happy sharing here, on tumblr, self-publishing in a sense. its really good for me right now. and i hope your “miss” for writing papers turns into you, writing papers again.
lets write ourselves into a renaissance for the revolution.
Carrie Mae Weems is one of my favorite artist (if not my favorite; I constantly go back & forth between Weems, Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon, and Gordon Parks, then rest happy that I never really have to choose). Weems’ “Ain’t Jokin’” series (1987-1988), has long been one of the most intriguing bodies of work for me. Broadly, I am interested in the pairing of photography and language, and Black artist uses of stereotypes. I like to think through the lines of where artist utilize stereotype, and/or are consumed by stereotype. And further, how do we as viewers consume the work, particularly Black viewers as spectator and subject.
In “Ain’t Jokin,” a series of portraits are paired with culturally explosive language. However, I would argue the explosion, that act of political incorrectness or confrontation of stereotype, is not found in the act of the pairing. Weems has not invented themes outside of the cultural imagination, but rather documented a specific cultural certainty in a rather easy aesthetic. “BLACK MAN HOLDING WATERMELON” and “BLACK WOMAN WITH CHICKEN” beg the reader/viewer to locate, what is wrong with these pictures? Whereas the inanimate objects, chicken and watermelon, should be simply food, the inclusion of Black subjectivity, blurs the line between the animate and inanimate—rendering neither Black woman nor Black man, and further chicken nor watermelon, the sole subject of the work. We are left meditating on the cultural significance of ‘Black man holding watermelon’ and ‘Black woman with chicken.’ What makes this seemingly simple portrait, culturally explosive?
The most chilling photographs in the collection are the two surrounding notions of Black identity and whiteness. Where the two meet, confront a hopes of coexistence, and ultimately destroy clear cut containments. A Black woman searching a mirror for validation, which would presumably hold her own reflection, reminds her of social standards of beauty. What is Weems’ saying about the Black psyche? Where do notions of Black beauty go when consumed by the violent entrenchment of whiteness? Within the mirror we find a racially ambiguous woman, which we are led to believe is speaking, “snow white you black bitch, and don’t you forget it.” What is the possibility of this being a conversation between two Black women? Or a Black woman with a lighter skinned-self? A white imago, despite a search for validation of beautiful Black self? Amidst this crisis self-determination and validation, a small boy struggles with identity in combating generational narratives of progress. Though she is not pictured, the mother of this child bears the brunt of the viewers consumption just as much as the child pictured. And this is the power of language paired with Weems’ portraits. “WHEN ASKED WHAT HE WANTS TO BE…,” comments on stereotypes surrounding the Black family, while harkening on the “absent/useless Black father” and the “Black matriarch” (pace Moynihan Report). With the abysmal circumstance of being born Black, what better option is there than to be white? What is brought to light by Weems is the process in which this cultural norm (the normativity of whiteness) is institutionalized. What is our response to this child? Where do we resonate and/or become repulsed by his mother? What sense do we make of his logic when put in conversation with the Black woman and her mirror?
And finally, set with the above mentioned photos are two portraits of perhaps what bell hooks’ speaks of as ‘oppositional gaze.’ However, Weems’ captions have every bit to do with the documentation of resistance within the photograph. ‘White patty don’t shine' despite being the 'finest of them all,' and our little Black girl is armed for battle to prove these ends.
The Black man on the porch, and the Black girl with boxing gloves sternly challenge the gaze of the camera, more than any of the other Black subjects captured in Weems’ “Ain’t Jokin’” series. Is this the place where we are to locate resistance, despite the possibility of consuming and being consumed by stereotype? This work is remarkable in its ability to conjure what we know, think we know, and don’t want to know about Black people. And that is the scary thing, because perhaps that means we know far less than what we think. Which truly begs the question, “What are three things you can’t give a Black person?”
Carrie Mae Weems, thank you, thank you, thank you. ashe.
i generally fear for the state of things as this Black history month approaches
with any and everybody non-black walking around muttering ‘niggas in paris’ freely and feeling comfortable with themselves cuz ‘in paris’ is at the end, plus Republicans resorting back to reaganesque ‘welfare queen’ rhetoric, The Help in the Oscar race, and charges of “racism” on ‘Shit White Girls to Black Girls’ being held as legitimate and news worthy…
i feel as though February 2012, will be twenty-nine days of fuckery.
keep your head on a swivel. stay woke. shit may get real, like 3-D real.
1) white liberal woman from northern california who talked to me about her “white guilt” (her words not mine) while i stood in line for a cheeseburger. that topic was prompted by me greeting and conversing with the woman emptying the trash in what little spanish i knew. white liberal woman from northern california found it so refreshing i talk to “them” (her words not mine). (context for my conversation in spanish: i’ve talked to this woman multiple times and knew spanish was her primary language. i don’t just walk up to latin@-looking folk talkin’ spanish. i’d be just like the white woman talking to me about her guilt).
2) white conservative woman from the mid-west, upon overhearing that i like to read, she announced, “i don’t really read much, but i do go to book clubs. not really to read, but to drink wine.”
needless to say i went with option number two and joked about how ‘i too hate hearing other peoples opinions’ (lol!) and how milk is a disgusting concept when one really thinks it through: who was the first person to look at a cow and say, ‘hmm, that white stuff squirting out of it might be good’ (no queer male fantastical pun intended). i may or may not have freaked her out a bit when i picked up a kate spade and said “think this will be cute on me?”
Another thing is, what’s the point of black feminism if it’s so intellectual and therefore divorced from reality, that it is alienating to a whole bunch of black women… the same ones that it’s supposed to help?
I mean you’ve got these folks who think they’re *special black women* because they’ve…
negrosunshine: you’ve been talking to the wrong Black feminist! that was kind of a joking statement, but it was serious in a sense. i dont want to overstep my bounds as a non-Black woman speaking to this, but im going to go ahead and risk my words in hopes of saying, i feel you! but i don’t want to bash intellectualism, because we live in a really gross anti-intellectual world. i think good Black feminism, really radical Black feminism would laugh, and laugh hard, at the idea of a “right” way to be a Black woman. i think any so-called feminist with the Combahee River Collective statement bookmarked, while trying to live up to a Michelle Obama dream is a bit confused on the purpose of the CRC statement. i may be wrong, and deep down i hope i am, but i don’t think Michelle would be sitting around organizing with a bunch of socialist black queer women. im just saying. nor do i think those socialist black queer women would be dining at the white house, lobbying the obama family for better access into the country. just a thought.
i think the problem that gets wrapped in the ‘problem of the intellectual’ is a class conflict (class ambitions and false sense of middle/upper security), with a drive for middle-class respectability and the age old “cult of true womanhood.” though, noone would ever admit that, because many keep the CRC statement bookmarked, and Audre Lorde well-highlighted, as a treasure of a romantic struggle once waged, giving Michelle Obama her room at the white house.
I agree with a lot of this. In theory, black feminism is not meant to alienate any black women. But I think in practice, since feminist theory in general is so grounded in academia (it’s not as widely disseminated in the general public as say anti-racism is) what usually happens is that certain black women are cast aside because of a sort of elitism that is probably charged by academia/ the middle-class people who tend to have access to academia.
I agree with your assessment of Mrs. Obama & not organizing with queer black women. And I agree that there is some confusion if you’re gonna equate the CRC with class ambition yet I still think it happens. Not by everyone of course. But I still see it. And it’s not like they’re not adept to black feminist thought… but I think like any movement, it can be narrowed from its original vision to suit a specific portion of the demographic it was intended to support. I’d say that happens to most things. Black intellectual thought for example, is mostly for middle-class straight black men. Although it touts itself as being for all black people. Similarly, I think black feminism has a track record with being for middle-class straight black women just like how mainstream feminism really works for middle-class straight white women.
And as for intellectualism… I’m not anti-intellectualism (I don’t think anyway) but there is something about the strict adherence to “intellectualism” (a construct I don’t fully know how to define tbh) that strikes me as a sort of elitism. And it also seems like it has the tendency to divorce ourselves from different aspects of ourselves (emotionality, sexuality, for example). I don’t have any strong opinions on “intellectualism” and what it is and how it should be used. Just gut feelings/ reflexes at the moment, really.
negrosunshine: yes! i agree with you. which is why i thank you for your thoughts on the matter. it is very important that we interrogate the spaces where our academic theories begin to alienate the people the theories are meant for. but it has to be a push and pull, spaces like tumblr and post like yours are wonderful for exchanging ideas and opinions without the wrapping of academic glow. it is important that we critique black feminist strategies that value middle-classed sensibilities. and it is also important that we search out and listen to the black intellectual thought being produced by poor Blacks, queer Black people, or any others deemed outside the boundaries of Black “normativity.”
and for the broad question of intellectualism, i think it gets cast sometimes as not “real” or “authentic” political work. and your term “divorce” is apt, how or when do merge our political work, with our academic work, with our artistic work, which speaks to the way we live our day-to-day lives? im not sure i have an answer, but i know its not a new problem and it is in thoughts like that when i turn to Audre Lorde particularly when she is speaking of the erotic, “…it has become fashionable to separate the spiritual (psychic and emotional) from the political, to see them as contradictory or antithetical. ‘What do you mean, a poetic revolutionary, a meditating gunrunner?’”
This is a great conversation, and it came up during my time at university. Like, for example, how I’m about to totally not meet y’all on the academic-minded, intellectual level on which y’all are communicating and try to articulate myself like the poor Black wretch claiming to be a Black feminist that I am.
When I was an undergrad at a private PWI university that I could barely afford to attend, surrounded day in and day out by middleclass students and middleclass professors, even the Black ones, I always felt out of place. I tried to connect with them through radical organizing and “not acting ‘ghetto’” and cussin’ people out but I never fit. Even as considerate and tame as I was, I was always being told that my behavior and thinking was inappropriate to the the setting even by people I thought would understand.
The most radical student organization, which I was the newest member of at the time, organized a teach-in, discussing Precious, during which I was a spoken word performer. Amber Raspberry, from Tyler Perry’s 34th Street Films, was there as a member of the panel. Later that evening, after I performed, the students were invited to a dinner at some swank winery restaurant but none of them went except for me. I sat there, in silence, no one spoke to me, while the big heads and Amber Raspberry talked and talked, even the professors I thought might try to include me in the convo. I realized I was just a spoken word performer. That’s it. I was the help. I wish I’d just hung out with my “friends” instead of going to the dinner. I felt so bad I wanted to cry.
Even today, when sharing my experiences and voice, I feel like I need to let people know I now have a college degree even if I don’t come from the right class so my experiences and articulation of those experiences are deemed as valid.
negrosunshine: im sorry to hear about your experience at the dinner table. and i wish i had some magical words that would make that feeling go away, but sadly i do not have the cure for class conflict *cough*revolution*cough,cough*. and i will just say, if the most radical student organization on your campus is inviting Tyler Perry heads in for a panel and wine and dinner, then im sorry, and i just want to give you a hug. There are SO MANY things wrong with Precious, and Tyler Perry in general, that if that panel were to take place back at my alma mater, well it probably wouldn’t end in wine and dinner. but perhaps im romanticizing my past too much? @jeromeiznice, @jamesbliss, @abolitionista, any thoughts?
i will say though, for you being a spoken word artist, NEVER consider yourself “the help” inside of political organizing or intellectual conversation! you are a vital role in the movement for liberation, never ever ever forget that. i was taught that any good movemets for liberation needs to effectively utilize its three A’s: activist, artist, and academics. academics can document and theorize awesome things for the world, activist can organize and put their own bodies on the line, and artist make things understandable, creative, and entertaining. so you my friend, are NOONES help, except the help for the Revolution, and i don’t know about you, but that’s all i’m trying to progress.
and what’s this talk about “taming” yourself? child, youre Black and poor, your being will never be considered appropriate for any situation, so don’t let others dictate your behavior. trapped anger will kill you, i certainly hope your artistic work is your release.
*a friend of mine had this photo as his iphone background, and upon catching a glimpse of it, i begin a rant on how awesome i think it is, and all the stuff i write below (a thought from the summer of 2011) in the middle of a bar surrounded by white hipsters.
Lyle Ashton Harris, Brotherhood, Crossroads, Etc. Two, 1994
i was first drawn into this photo by the beauty of the black men pictured. surrounded by the colors of black liberation. an homage to black love? the kind that marlon riggs and essex hemphill term “revolutionary-” black men loving each other. closer examination reveals the gun, held by one man, pressed to the chest of the other. further research reveals the two men are brothers. should i be having a moment of crisis? or drawn in further?
lyle ashton harris often makes portraits of himself, made over in drag, signifying his queer identity, while repositioning what can/should be conjured with sights of Black skin. In the above photograph, harris is pictured holding a pistol pressed to his brother (thomas allen harris, also queer), while the two kiss. what can be said of this intimacy? the image is aesthetically pleasing, yet wrapped with violence, and a certain perverse closeness. Black love. Black intimacy. Black kinship. Black queerness are all topics thrown into the air with this photograph. what is harris making claim to by situating a certain sexual freedom amidst notions of kinship? why does the gun link these two men in the same fashion the kiss does? what stake in black liberation is harris making?
perhaps i am not repulsed by this photo due to the recurring theme of these strange intimacies running through Black cultural production. to name but a few, the relationship between ruth and milkman (mother and son) in toni morrison's Song of Solomon. the male-male sexual violence paul d. experienced on the chain gang in morrison's Beloved. or the relationship between louis and cisely batiste in kasi lemmons' Eve's Bayou.
definitive answers i do not have. but i think that is what is great about this piece, it offers no answers. just a space for meditation. i thank harris for this work. and all the artist pushing conversations of Blackness into uncomfortable, but wildly necessary conversations. in search of what essex hemphill deemed the “ass splitting truth.” i postBrotherhood, Crossroads, Etc. Two here, in hopes of sparking dialogue.
haha. thats not a real question! but i will fancy it for a second for a quick ego stroke. i love blackness and all its complexities. im a nerd, so i read ALOT. i believe the world has valued a ‘politics of culture’ for the last few decades, and i desperately want to engage and push a ‘culture of politics’ (F. Wilderson). everything is political, everything is political. everyone has an agenda, i have an agenda. how can i make people, Black people specifically, curious enough about the complexity of Blackness to do something about it? i believe it my mission as an activist, student, scholar, and artist, to show the political, bring it out just a bit and get all messy with it. to go to battle every single day, and engage in psychological warfare with the same tenacity and resilience as the warfare that is engaged ON Black bodies every second of the day. my tools: critical theory, visual analysis, historical archives, and fiction. how can i make what i study/read almost everyday, not only relevant, but resonate with Black people living day-to-day? im not sure yet, but im working on it.
because everything i write is not super thoughtful, theoretical, or critical. and much of my time i spend off tumblr, im tasting wine and/or whiskey and having a good time. and well, i may or may not be sipping on sangria now. why does this bar allow laptops in it? or some things i learned toward a better dating life.
when responding to an inquiry from a friend about a potential dating situation, an answer of, “im just going to play it cool” is not an answer. your friends advice would never be, “i think you should get all crazy on him.” though ive often advocated/engaged in slashing tires, stalking, long text messages, incessant calling and what not… crazy people tend to stay single. case and point. enough said.
there is a fine line between being ballsy and being crazy. the line between being cool and being crazy, is indeed not fine, rather, it is very wide and dark. gut reactions are usually crazy, don’t go with them. wait it out, let it breathe, find your sensibilities, then act. and no-one is perfect, if a crazy act must be made, at least be drunk when doing it.
text messages after two am (unless to a solid booty call and/or a close friend), should not be made. if they are, they should not be followed up with further conversation. if you receive a text after two am, it should not be a sign he/she “really likes me.”
if you at any point in time you say, “i dont like to play games” or “im not a home-wrecker or anything,” you are probably playing games and/or home-wrecking.
facebook messages and emails longer than five sentences are most likely toeing the line of crazy. (p.s: if you’ve resorted to emails and the recipient is not international, reevaluate your situation).
if you constantly meet potential dates, and you are constantly the drunker of the two at the initial meeting, reevaluate your dating game. chances are the standards of drunk self are lower than sober self.
if you willingly enter a situation where YOU KNOW you are the side boo, don’t go stepping out of line and start doing boo #1 shit.
closing out dinner tabs with shots, not a good look (unless he offers first, well then, thats a keeper).
if you’re gold-digging, be honest with yourself and dig proudly.
“i wanted to write a poem that rhymes, but the revolution doesn’t lend itself to be-bopping…so i thought again and it occurred to me maybe i shouldn’t write at all, but clean my gun and check my kerosene supply. perhaps these are not poetic times at all.”—nikki giovanni
Currently showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is an exhibition entitled “Human Nature.” Amidst the score of contemporary artist is a rather small, yet powerful piece by photographer Lorna Simpson. Responding to a trove of 1957 photographs of a couple in Los Angeles, Simpson inserts her self-portrait as a doppelganger among three original photographs in the work, “1957-2009 Interior #3.” The display showcases ten black and white photos, three of which the original man and woman are posed with a chess-board, guitar, or sitting on a couch, or below a window on the floor. Intertwined with the originals, Simpson mimics the woman and man in the seven accompanying “self”-portraits. Standing before the scene(s) presented by the artist, the viewer is brought in to a game of ‘who’s who?’ in which Simpson plays with notions of gender, race, and sexuality. However, missing from this piece is the usually vague yet provocative caption Simpson has become known for. Instead, the viewer is forced to understand and interrogate what they conjure with sights of Black skin, gender bending, cross-dressing, and performance without the usual gesture of word play offered by Simpson. At this now expected intersection of race and gender in her work, the artist has once again evaded simple meaning and hailed a meditation in which the (art) world has persistently proven unready for while simultaneously proving the unique conundrum for the Black artist. If the production of art rest upon an assumptive logic of becoming and belonging—belonging a priori to a world of common interpretation where becoming is about transforming the world in which art exist—the Black artist exist outside of this structure of commonality, belonging to a space outside the collective memory and collective understanding. And, as art consistently rest upon certain assumptions of what it means to be Human—to think, appreciate, and consume collectively—when art meets Blackness, a crisis seems to shake the social consensus.
Black art raises questions on becoming Human rather than assuming Human. When the Black produces art from an intersection of performance and subjectivity, there is a palpable structure of feeling—a shared sense that violence and captivity are the grammar and ghost of every gesture. Lorna Simpson meditates at the intersection of Blackness and gender, while the reception and interpretation of her work will push this article into ‘mannered observations’ at the juncture of Blackness and performance or from the vantage point atop the hyphen between Black-art.
Some questions guiding this method: on the formal level, how does the work labor? Does it avow or disavow the structural antagonism Orlando Patterson would posit as between the socially dead and living? Secondly, what is the context in which the work can be interpreted? In what realm does Black-art have coherence? In what realm does it provoke incoherence against the assumptive logic sustaining what it means to be art (or for the matter of things, to jump on the former side of the hyphen, and beg what it means to be Human)? Black-art exist in a conundrum where becoming and belonging are not the generic assumptions in productivity, but rather becoming and belonging are what is thrown into crisis when production mediated through social death meets Human interpretation. I argue that even when the work itself avows this structural antagonism, the grammar and ghost haunting the Black places his/her art beyond the reach of Human interpretation. Huey Copeland’s analysis of Lorna Simpson in his essay “Bye, Bye Black Girl: Lorna Simpson’s Figurative Retreat” highlight the Black artist’s dilemma and the ways in which Simpson works through this peculiar position in her art and against its reception.
Interpellant: The Search for Location
The confusion on what to do with Simpson’s work, how to read it, what to make of it, rest in the impossibility of understanding Simpson and her art in the realm of Human interpretation. Copeland tracks three registers on which Simpson’s work is usually categorized. One: that her work comments on the day to day living of Black people, Black women in particular. Viewers read work like “Guarded Conditions” (1989) as reflecting what can be found in newspaper stories and so forth. Two: that Simpson’s work conjures histories and violent realities. Guarded Conditions can be read as signifying the Black and/or female experience. Three: that the work defies convention and white-male normativity. All registers mine the same vein and miss the point, and as Copeland argues, in looking to the art, they all turn away.
Simpson invites an unforgiving meditation at the intersection of race and gender, particularly concerning Blackness. The reception of the work or Simpson’s labor toward interpellation implicates the impossibility of representation of the Black in Humanist discourse. What one must question when viewing Simpson’s work is “what am I looking at?” And reevaluate when the “who am I looking at” becomes the “what?” In her essay, “Lorna Simpson: The Portrait of Refusal,” Bridget Cooks explains this space of confusion by likening it to Octavio Paz’s “vertigo of delay,” she credits Simpson with initiating viewers ‘search for location.’ Cooks notes:
The confusion that viewers feel when confronted with one of Simpson’s untraditional compositions is the result of her strategy to engage viewers and compel them to meditate on her work and their relationship to it. The de-composition un-does the viewer by refusing the conventional depiction of the figure. The lack of traditional elements of a portrait and the lack of popular cultural signifiers of a Black woman, delay viewers’ interpretations of the work (Cooks, 11).
This “un-doing” of the viewer is where assumptive logic of ‘we are Human’ or ‘we suffer the same’ meets representation of the Black. Lorna Simpson’s work does not labor toward the same transformational logic of assuming Human. The difference between viewing “woman” and viewing “woman” mediated through Blackness. In Simpson’s work, an ensemble of questions is thrown up which contemplate the very notion of what it means to be, human, art. Copeland’s analysis of Guarded Conditions resonates with the confusion or delay in interpretation Cooks notes. Copeland argues, “to stand before Guarded Conditions is to be suspended between repetition and difference, the visual and the sensate, the particular and the universal” (Copeland, 64). This suspension is a consequence of performance and subjectivity being always already constituted by a sense of violence and captivity (Wilderson). What does representation mean for the Black? Speaking of Simpson’s analysis of her own work, Copeland aptly notes, “representation stops up the significatory flow of black female subjectivity” (Copeland, 65). Again, when does the “who am I looking at” become the “what am I looking at?”
If to stand before Simpson’s work is to be caught in “vertigo of delay” or suspended from what we know, think we know, and do not know, understanding the reception of Simpson and her work is every bit the confusing as to what to make of the Black in this thing we call her art. The late 1980s and 90s pushed Simpson to the center of things precisely because, as Copeland argues, her relegation to the margins. In the tossing of multiculturalism Simpson and her art were called upon to represent. Copeland argues, “such representation is never without its price, and as the mascot for a brand of specious multiculturalism, Simpson was expected to speak tirelessly of and for her oppressed sisters, and in the idiom that had already become her signature” (Copeland, 66). Perhaps this is what Stuart Hall is considering when he writes, “there is always a price of incorporation to be paid when the cutting edge of difference and transgression is blunted into spectacularization.” The spectacular is what the (art) world deemed “white methods” transposed on to the same old “black experience.” What is called into question is by what method may this “black experience” gain incorporation?
Simpson’s price seems to be a misrepresentation, or the inability to sit in what Copeland deems the “suspension” and Cooks terms the “delay.” In looking to her art, they all turn away. And Simpson is unrelenting in her quest to not only interrogate Black subjectivity (Black women in particular), but also hail her viewer into a meditation on how they are implicated in what they are viewing, or Bridget Cooks’ question, what is our “relationship to it?”
“Easy for Who to Say” (1989) is unflinching in its approach at getting around what is presumed to be known about the Black female and compel the state of confusion. The work features five color Polaroid prints featuring Simpson’s anticipated Black female body, this time with the face concealed by a vowel. Copeland notes, “Though the letters concealing the model’s face intimate a multiplicity of subject positions she might occupy—adulterer, engineer, ingénue, optimist, unflinching—such musing are cut short by the matching red words marching beneath the pictures” (Copeland, 67). The words Simpson attaches to the photos: “Amnesia, Error, Indifference, Omission, Uncivil” ‘un-does’ what Human interpretation would posit as meaning and effectively renders a comment on subjectivity itself. Copeland notes the complexity of a piece like “Easy for Who to Say” by paying attention to the unique matrix the Black female body exist within, the site of invisibility and projection so firmly fixed within the American cultural imaginary. What can be made of this woman with no face, but rather an opening for the viewer to project all the cultural signifiers that accompany Black female, artist included? To stand before the work is to process: “Amnesia, Error, Indifference, Omission, Uncivil” and question their validity, “Is that what I was thinking?” perhaps not, “But maybe that is correct,” perhaps it is. Simpson cleverly hails her viewer into a space of unknown, what is not known about the self, the “subject,” the artist. It is in this “vertigo of delay” where the search for location becomes an opportunity to meditate on ethics or resort to moral dilemma—or where art is thrown into question and the Black awaits its answers.
 Wilderson, Frank. “Grammar & Ghost: The Performative Limits of African Freedom.” Theatre Survey 50:1 (May 2009).
 “Mannered observation” is Lorna Simpson’s term for her habits of looking, Huey Copeland takes this as his model for his own protocols on reading, which I borrow here now as my analysis for work presented in this project. See Lorna Simpson, “Mannered Observation, 2002,” in Jones, Lorna Simpson, 136-42 (as quoted in Copeland, 76).
 Perhaps it is more of a question of representation that is not subtended by anti-Blackness. As Toni Morrison reminds us, the African presence is always there. But what can the assumption of Human belonging make of a body existing in excess of that logic? What representation can be had beyond the performative limits of the social order?
 Stuart Hall, “What is this Black in Black Popular Culture” in Black Popular Culture, ed. Gina Dent. Bay Press: Seattle, 1992.
*This article was striped and tailored from my own unpublished essay entitled “When Black-Art Avows: A Reckoning in Beloved with a Lorna Simpson Styled Delay”
i have been reading this poem now for the past year. at a certain part in that year, i woke up every morning and pulled it in to bed with me, and started my day that way. while the poem is rhetorically dark, the effect it had on me was not, it was “empowering” in a way and caused me a lot of curiosity about my surroundings and capacities at controlling the thing called my “life.”
im still reading it, and trying to map its complexity, its darkness, its control, its chaos, its majesty. like most of the writing of Audre Lorde, it is seemingly simple (which haunts her legacy), and wildly complex (which its dire importance, and frightening truth, is lost when her abstraction is ratcheted down into liberal coherence—the haunting).
"the difference between poetry and rhetoric is being ready to kill yourself instead of your children"
…a line i’m still desperately trying to make sense of, much the same way I struggle in making sense of Sethe’s act of infanticide in Toni Morrison’s Beloved (inspired by the very real, and interesting story of Margaret Garner). The place of death inside of Black political organizing, most easily traced to the Middle Passage and acts of suicide. If Black subjectivity is re/created in the bottom of ships (Hortense Spillers) or killed and reborn in the Middle Passage (M. Jacqui Alexander), Audre Lorde has aptly circled our protest back to this theme of death.
However, while the chains and open sea have been rendered “irrelevant” due to the force of time, the struggle of power continues, leaving the question, “what can I do?” just as complex as the poem Lorde has written. “I have not been able to touch the destruction inside of me. But unless i learn to use the difference between poetry and rhetoric, my power too will run corrupt as a poisonous mold.”
hmmmm, “difference,” a word tied so tightly to the memory of Audre, and we are still left with this very real, and pertinent question of “power,” and this other difference in protest she is meditating on: “I have not been able to touch the destruction within me”
I fear I have not been able to touch it within myself either, but i keep writing and thinking, reading and meditating…
(on a lighter, less serious, funny, but not so funny note: you think they’ll use this post against me if i try to adopt children? i apologize future partner-to-be-deteremined).
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
by Audre Lorde
“The “coming out” or closet paradigm has been such a compelling way of fixing homosexual identification exactly because it enables this powerful narrative of progress, not only in terms of the psychosexual development of an individual and the sociopolitical birth and growth of a legitimate sexual minority group, but also more fundamentally as a doorway marking the threshold between up-to-date fashions of sexuality and all the outmoded, anachronistic others. This narrative of progress carries the residue, and occasionally the outright intention, borne within evolutionary notions of the uneven developments of the races from primitive darkness to civilized enlightenment.”—Marlon B. Ross, “Beyond the Closet As Raceless Paradigm” in Black Queer Studies, a critical anthology, eds. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson (2007)
Cornered in the Mix: Adrian Piper and My Political Arsenal (summer 2011)
It’s not often that I am engaged in a conversation in which the truth of The Paradigm is centerstage and all parties involved are staring unflinchingly into its abyss. That said it’s not everyday that I stare into the abyss without a flinch of my own. But, when those moments do happen, or those conversations come about, the trajectory of my day-to-day gets all messed up in some type of way and I’m left to ponder the violence shaping Black everyday “living.” Some will say that’s no way to go about life! And here I insert some Paul Mooney, “all you Jim Jones kool-aid drinking muthafuckas,” this ain’t for you (but keep reading, maybe you’ll put down the cup a little later in the article).
“IM BLACK. LETS DEAL WITH THE SOCIAL FACT”
The conversations I enjoy most I will admit come from like-minded Black conscious folk—those who have dedicated some aspect of their life (if not the whole damn thing) to progressing an understanding of anti-Blackness and Black existence. I find in these interactions a devotion of entire intellectual capacity and/or political work towards understanding the complexity of the problem without an air of “what should we do?” distracting us from that very complexity that birthed the interaction. In conversations with other Black people that aren’t necessarily thinking in terms of The Paradigm that sidetracking question operates in a very specific and complex way that I do not wish to unpack here, now. Rather, it is in conversations with white people, particularly liberal white folk that that question plagues most and I have come to expect in at least 98% of my interactions. My response is the same every time: I do not know. I don’t know what white people should do when Revolution breaks out or what to do in the meantime to help pave the way for Revolution. And while I do have some ideas on the matter, Ill keep them to myself for now and encourage everyone to contemplate the work ofAdrian Piper in this waiting period. And whether or not she herself admits it, I do believe certain aspects of her work to be speaking specifically to ‘white’ people and I specifically encourage ‘white’ folk to listen up (we will quickly see why the scare quotes matter).
“YOU MUST FEEL THAT THE RIGHT AND PROPER COURSE OF ACTION FOR ME TO TAKE IS TO PASS FOR WHITE.”
I was first introduced to Piper’s work through a fleeting reference in a conceptual art class I was taking at the time. Her LSD paintings of 1965-67 were held in high regard, and I was intrigued, but my research didn’t extend much further than the three slides presented in class and a few flashcards with (1) artist name (2) title of work (3) series title (4) year.
It wasn’t until nearly three years later that I learned Piper was Black! And I wasn’t even in an art class.
Piper, Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features, 1981
“I HAVE NO CHOICE. I’M CORNERED. IF I TELL YOU WHO I AM YOU BECOME NERVOUS AND UNCOMFORTABLE OR ANTAGONIZED. BUT IF I DON’T TELL YOU WHO I AM I HAVE TO PASS FOR WHITE. AND WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO THAT?”
I was taking a class entitled “Race Mixture Politics,” with one of the leading critics of multiculturalism and coalition politics. We were staring at the Paradigm through a tracking of the nation’s entanglement with miscegenation—Blackness. Piper’s article“Passing for White; Passing for Black” popped up on the syllabus toward the end of the quarter and I was captivated. A half Black, half white woman, who to many could pass for white was proclaiming her Blackness and forcefully rejecting what she was terming the “racial club” of whiteness. But it was a complex rejection, one I still do not fully understand and perhaps never will, but I offer her work here now on negrosunshine for us to all think through together.
One of my favorite past times I share with some of my closest friends is making white people uncomfortable, either about Blackness or their whiteness (which is actually all mixed up together so I suppose there is no “or” in the matter). Adrian Piper does this well. The above photo is a screen shot from her video installation, “Cornered” (1988). Imagine with me. Walking into a gallery, in the corner of the room a Piper installation. An overturned table leaning against a television set. Above the TV are two copies of her father’s birth certificate. One reads he is white, the other that he is octoroon (one-eighth Black). Chairs await the viewer’s body in front of the screen and the cornering begins.
“NOONE IS SAFELY UNQUESTIONABLY WHITE. NOONE”
“SOME RESEARCHERS ESTIMATE THAT ALMOST ALL REPORTEDLY WHITE AMERICANS HAVE BETWEEN FIVE AND TWENTY PERCENT BLACK ANCESTRY”
A talking head, poised like a newscaster, perhaps a teacher, librarian, someone with some type of importance in the corner we’ve just entered stares straight on from the television. She blinks a few times, adjusts her head, sighs, and then explodes (figuratively, or rhetorically quite literally), “I’m Black, now, let’s deal with the social fact and the fact of my stating it together. Maybe you don’t see why we have to deal with it together. Maybe you think this is just my problem and that I should deal with it by myself. But it’s not just my problem. It’s our problem.” Our problem of Blackness? What do we do with this as we view it in the gallery? Whose seat becomes uncomfortable? Which one of us is ready to get up and leave? Who is drawn in further?
Piper’s video is sixteen minutes long. She speaks in a manner sounding and appearing to be a middle-class, well-educated white woman. “I’m Black,” are the first words out of her mouth and she continues with a host of rhetorical gestures: does her Blackness upset us? Is she simply making a big deal of her race? Is this a shallow attempt at gaining attention as an artist? Does she hate white people? The most stunning part of the video, which I also found to be the most noteworthy argument in “Passing for White…” was the claim that her Blackness upsets whites for two reasons: (1) they have to check themselves to make sure they don’t dabble in racism and (2) whiteness is called into question, their presumptions and their own “white” standing.
“IT IS A GENETIC AND SOCIAL FACT THAT ACCORDING TO THE ENTRENCHED CONVENTIONS OF RACIAL CLASSIFICATIONS IN THIS COUNTRY, YOU ARE PROBABLY BLACK”
Departing from my mental escape in a swanky New York gallery, I’m placed squarely back in the Long Beach (CA) queer coffee shop I’m writing this from. Looking around the room occupied predominately by white males while Piper’s video is playing in my headphones; I’m wondering how their Blackness is structuring their conversations and/or lives. Or how they and I have recognized I’m the only discernably Black person in the room, but do they know that if I were to leave, Blackness would still be ever so present? Of course this is not the average thought of the day, not even for me. Rather I am thinking about my initial arrival at the coffee shop. I waited in line behind a “white” man engaged in conversation with the “white” barista. A friendly exchange of strangers that let me know I had entered a friendly atmosphere, until I got to the counter. The barista’s demeanor changed, subtly, but noticeable. Nothing that alarmed me, just let me know I was not his interest, a decision he had made by either one of two things: the iced chai latte I ordered, or my skin that was about two shades darker than the drink. I wonder: at that awkward stare he gave as I smiled and paid, what if I would have said, “yes, I’m Black, let’s deal with this social fact.” Could it have led to a fruitful conversation on the implications of his presumptions about me, and about himself? Or would it have led to a pointless awkward exchange now had through language rather than just stares? I’m not sure I can answer these questions. But if we take serious Piper’s claim, “It is a genetic and social fact that according to the entrenched conventions of racial classification in this country, you are probably Black”, you being most reportedly white people, these questions deserve some contemplating while certain presumptions about the “whites” in the coffee shop (barista included) and their whiteness, and subsequently my Blackness, are all thrown into the air. And as I sit here, certainly not a member of the racial club that surrounds me and dictates my interaction with the barista, I must contend with it, for I need a place to breathe, write, and drink coffee. And just as Piper ends her riveting video “Cornered,” I say to you all reading this, WELCOME TO THE STRUGGLE. I’ll keep her work easily accessible in my arsenal for daily use.
Adrian Piper was born in 1943. Her art, which can be viewed as autobiographical, address issues of race, gender, and racism in the U.S. context. Piper is a philosopher by training, which truly shows in the intelligence, wit, and grace of her art. In the 1970s she offered a series of guerilla street performances, often dressed as a Black man, which she referred to as “the mythic being.”
Adrian Piper. Ashe.
 I use the term Revolution in opposite ways simultaneously. While I believe/want my work to operate towards progressing a reckoning with the anti-Black paradigm; there is much I do not know or have no words for, so I can’t explain or even begin to imagine what Revolution is. But I’ll use a capital R for now to let you know its serious.
 I don’t want anyone to read this and think I go around looking for rhetorical spares with white folk. Things just ain’t that loose, yet. Rather, I pay acute attention to the logic structuring my interactions and experiences (I blame Wilderson and Sexton, the paradigm men, for that). Every once in awhile, I’ll poke holes/challenge some logic, to get/give a better understanding of how society operates. I believe some of the most radical political work can be done in the small, intimate, sometimes ruled mundane moments, by pointing to the particular violence structuring Black being and the coherence taken by others because of its particular incoherence.
seriously. that whole conversation started last night and i was like r u serious. and ugh. yeah. i’ll be getting off tumblr too.
It started last night?
omg, I wish I’d never seen it.
To be completely honest Malcolm X is one of my heroes and…
negrosunshine: not only was it incorrect information, the subsequent comparisons of malcolm to james baldwin and bayard rustin were a bit non-sensical and just strange. yes, rustin and baldwin were “out” men, but bayard rustin practiced and preached some of the grossest reform politics of any of the Civil Rights leaders. His queer identity certainly should be celebrated as a historical mapping of our queer past, but it does not excuse him and suddenly make him a radical figure in history to hold standards too. and yes baldwin is one of my hero’s as well, always will be, but we should not fetishize his character in order to bolster a kind of weird black queer nationalist fantasy. baldwin lived proudly, but black queers live their identities in many different types of ways. and for every baldwin and audre lorde the world values so much and particularly the Black community turns to talk about queer issues, there are hundreds of other black queer voices that often get left out of the picture either because they practice their sexuality outside of the homo-norms, or because they were just too radical. one wonders why June Jordan is not talked about as much, yes she who said ‘for every black person they kill, what if we killed a cop’ or Kuwasi Ballagoon, the only openly queer member of the Black Liberation Army, or the less radical, but just as important Ruth Ellis.
as a black queer man, dedicated to black liberation, it saddened me last night to see the gross turn this conversation took.
i got into this argument a few years ago with another black queer male that i had a crush on. then i thought we would just be friends. then we argued some more. then he started hating me. then i hated him. then we did not speak anymore. and there is much more to that story, but its besides the point i want to make right now, rather, the argument we had, focused on many of the issues that seem to be swarming my tumblr dashboard right now concerning black queer men, straight women (particularly Black), and notions of privilege.
the black queer boy said to me: “black people can’t be racist”
i laughed: “and why is that?”
he said: “because, racism equals power plus prejudice, i may be prejudice, but i lack the power to do anything about it.”
i said: “hmm, interesting. true we lack power. but i think racism has been watered down so much, that when people talk about it, it doesn’t mean much. so i think Black people can be racist. i think the ‘power plus prejudice’ argument is lacking something.”
now, i knew then, as i know now, the ‘power plus prejudice’ argument is widely popular and pretty spot on, but there was something not settling right with me about that argument. back then, i couldn’t articulate what was bothering me, so the conversation with the boy turned sour and changed our relationship forever. and here i am now, watching a lot of Black queer men, defend their positions eloquently in arguments of male privilege and what-not, but something is still not sitting right with me.
some may be reading and wondering: why/how did he make a leap from racism to issues of gender? a) black feminism 101, gender relations are race relations, race is always gendered. b) i am a black queer man, talking about relations between queer men and straight women c) ive been watching a flurry of black queer men speak on the subject.
in our conversations of privilege, we often create webs of identity that compete for attention within ourselves. ill call this the dance of the hyphen. watch closely now: i am a Black-queer-middle class-abled-spiritual-college educated-man.
now, due to my training, an extensive amount of research, and life-experience: I KNOW that race overdetermines every other category and life chance i have. BLACK BLACK BLACKETY BLACK. so for short i cut my hyphen dance short and call myself a Black-queer. why queer too? well because its fun to say, looks nice on paper, sparks the most amount of dialogue, and allows me to continue exploring my sexuality.
Blackness overdeteremines my experience, it precedes any gesture or rhetorical move i may make, it is my ontological prison, my state of being. however, i exist! and i make gestures within social structures i was born into, raised in, made aware of. its all i know. pretty much the only option i have besides suicide or unleashing this murderous rage (perhaps this too is why i write). civil society is not mine, but i rent space here. some call it a performance, im not a performance studies scholar, so i wont comment. But i will say, the dance of the hyphen gets complicated.
can Black people be racist? according to the power + prejudice argument, certainly not. but somehow, our conversations about racism quickly devolve into conversations about privilege (i.e: white privilege), and power leaves the discussion quickly. then the racism argument gets necessarily complicated by other identity markers (i.e. gender, class, sexuality, etc.), but because power exits the conversation somewhere, we are left with a lot of unnecessary arguments on how people feel and what their individual experiences are. so questions like: can queer-Black-men exert male privilege? arise, and we go back and forth, back and forth and the dance of the hyphen becomes the center of attention.
now, i am POSITIVE there are experiences where a Black-queer-man has exerted a certain male privilege over a woman (i.e: better pay at a job, commanding a room’s attention over a female counterpart, ignoring a contribution made by a woman) just like i am POSITIVE there is an experience of a straight-Black-woman exerting hetero privilege over a Black-queer-woman (i.e. ignoring her existence, discounting her credibility as a feminist because she organizes with queer men, bringing boyfriends or husbands home during the holidays). i am positive of this, because i have either witnessed it first hand, or exerted the male privilege myself. due to my own experience and the experiences of many others that dance with the hyphens, this should be our acknowledgement that the privileges do exist, and because i exist and rent space in civil society, i often perform or tap into that privilege, because its all i know how to do (though i challenge myself daily).
Like i said earlier, Blackness overdetermines all my experiences, so while I AM male, queer, middle-class, etc. when I lead my dance with Black, it fucks up all those other categories, BUT that is at the level of ontology, my being, which plays out intimately in my experiences. Still though, as I said, I rent space here in civil society, and i live the way the social structures dictate i do. adjusting of course as much as i can through “checking of my privilege.”
what i worry, and what i want to keep pushing, is when are we going to stop doing this dance of the hyphen, and begin to use our experiences productively in an analysis of civil society. yes Blackness overdetermines my queerness, maleness, etc. but im still performing queerness, maleness, etc. (my renting space). im waiting for my lease to be up, all our leases, and we realize what we are living in. I dont want these experiences of male privilege, nor do i want to experience hetero privilege over me. but i also don’t want to BE male, queer, black etc. as its been defined thus far through modernity, cuz the shit is just unethical.
im going to stop here though, because i fear i may be on the edge of an afro-futurist argument, someone reel me in.
“…Black labor cannot be adequately explored through a framework of globalization that prioritizes or valorizes the post-WWII immigrant experience. This is not because African Americans are not economically exploited or lack character or are incapable of possessing valued characteristics commonly associated with immigrants. Rather, it is because the value of labor among non-Black people, including non-Black people of color, is calculated in relationship to that of African Americans according to a “racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago” in which “black lives are still imperiled and devalued” ([Saidiya] Hartman, [Lose Your Mother], 6). Despite working and often doing so in dangerous and hazardous conditions, including prisons, African Americans, unlike vulnerable immigrant workers, are not celebrated as important contributors to the world economy or as assisting in the development and progress of two nations. Indeed, they are not even viewed as (economic) contributors to the country in which they live and at least on paper, have citizenship. As the descendants of slaves, African Americans are what Hartman describes as “strangers” (5), in this case, to the (neoliberal) world order; thus, as workers, African Americans are treated as possessing no productive value and contributing to no economy or nation.”—Tamara K. Nopper, “The Wages of Non-Blackness: Contemporary Immigrant Rights and Discourse of Character, Productivity, and Value,” InTensions (2011)
Jesse moved into the crowd, sidestepping and twisting through the hot, sweaty bodies. Naturals and not-so naturals swishing and slapping him in his face, reminding him he was in a room of women—but they were mostly Black and queer, so it was nice. He found himself next to Abbey and the girl in the red dress. They were moving—wrapped around each other seemingly the way it should be, at least for those two. Jesse looked at Abbey and she returned the gaze. He hoped his eye contact would convey to her that he was getting ready to go. He looked on for a moment, and then swayed through the crowd towards the bar.
“Can I close out my tab?” Jesse yelled to the bartender, then turned back into the crowd to catch a glimpse of Abbey again.
“You ready to go?” a voice snuck up on him and grabbed his ear as began to turn. Abbey had made her way out of the crowd and followed Jesse to the bar.
Jesse laughed at the question, and at himself, as he still had no answer for the initial invitation.
“Yeah, I’m going to get out of here. I think I’ve had enough.” Jesse replied.
“Yeah, me too!” Abbey announced as Jesse was signing the check. They both grabbed their coats and headed for the door.
Stepping out into the Chicago night, a light rain greeted them. Jesse wrapped his scarf around and shivered a bit.
Jesse nodded his head ‘yes,’ in response.
“This ain’t cold dear. You said you’re new in town, right? Where you from?”
Abbey laughed, “yeah, this ain’t cold dear, you’re going to freeze in the winter.”
Jesse sighed, as he had grown used to people telling him this, but this time, Abbey reached out and wrapped her arms around him. She pulled the back of his scarf so it sat a bit firmer around his neck, then she reached down and zipped his jacket up a bit further that the half zip Jesse had stopped at. She stepped back and smiled at him. He smiled back. The two turned and began walking towards the train.
“Why’d you move to Chicago?”
“I’m not sure” Jesse replied
Abbey laughed, “That’s as good a reason as any.”
“Are you from Chicago?” Jesse asked.
“I sure am. Born and raised. Down on the Southside. How long have you been here?”
“One week” Jesse smiled.
“Oh so you’re like really new. Welcome to Chicago!”
Jesse laughed, “yeah, I guess you’re going to have to show me around,” he turned to Abbey and smiled, she returned the gesture.
“I can do that, but I don’t know where the Black boys hang out.”
Jesse reached out to hold on to Abbey’s arm, “don’t worry about that, I’ll figure it out. You just show me a good time.”
The two walked up the steps toward to the “L” and found a bench to sit on. The conversation fell silent as the two sat there waiting on trains. Jesse northbound, Abbey south. She watched Jesse as he stared down the track looking for a train. He was still thinking about the invitation to ‘get out of here,’ and what that meant for them.
His train came first, they got up from the bench as the train pulled into the station, Jesse hugged Abbey, but her arms lingered as he pulled away. The two got caught up in a stare as the doors opened. As people walked past, the only sound Jesse could hear was the rain hitting the awning covering the platform. He smiled, and then kissed Abbey. He stepped back, the two smiled and Jesse hopped on his train. As the doors shut, Jesse yelled, “I’ll see you around.”
Jesse sat down as the train pulled off from the platform. He looked down at his phone and realized they didn’t exchange numbers. He looked out the window and smiled.
thinking aloud 4: (AND I WANT THIS TO BECOME A PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATION ON TUMBLR, we can do that right?)
@greydotmatters:*nods* everything is political. marginalisation, the domination and “power” to regulate a group/person postion [in] society/politically. i don’t see how “hurt feelings” alone can make one marginalised? can you give an example? weren’t the predatory home loans all about the marginalising the poor/working class/poc’s? could it be argued that individual violence is supported and a direct result of “state violence, state sanctioned violence, and paradigmatic violence”?
…and isn’t that violence rooted in whiteness? maleness? which goes back to privilege and power and who has it?
@negrosunshine:on the question of hurt feelings, i cant give an example. that was kind of the point. all this talk surrounding the "shit_____say to_____" videos, particularly the thread this evening on "shit straight girls say to gay men" is a lot of chatter about a lot of nothing, or hurt feelings. conversations of privilege usually don't point to concrete examples of how privilege works, outside of rhetorical gestures that acknowledge whatever identity is on the table at the time. in other words, people seem to find a pseudo liberation in saying "i exist!" and stopping there. im NOT disregarding the life affirming gestures in acknowledging our existence (its why i write), but too often we stop there. "im so and so, and im a -gay-cis-poor-blah-blah-blah-blah, check yo privilege!" 'okay, its checked, you called me out, what do we do now?' why is that an important question? because whether or not its checked, or whether or not offensive rhetoric or rhetoric that erases existence is used or not by the individual people we check, IT DOES NOT CHANGE THE systemic violence, structural position, life chances of anyone involved. that is going to need to be done with the same if not higher amount of violence the state or perhaps civil society has at its disposal to maintain its order (and thats when shit gets scary/bleak). so what does regulation in society actually look like, who is regulating and who is being regulated? and the answer is not as easy as a question of privilege. it is a question of power. and power reveals itself in ways and it also conceals itself in other ways. which is why conversations like this are so important. figuring out what power is, where it is, how it operates.
@negrosunshine:on the question of predatory home loans, if we track the history, i think a good starting point would be around Emancipation and the promise of 40 acres and mule. (and its been awhile since ive discussed this, so perhaps someone could help me out *cough* @jeromeiznice @james-bliss or really ANYONE *cough*) and the Homestead Acts. The secret to American wealth is property ownership (duh, slavery), but post formal slavery, landownership (later transformed into homeownership), America, never making good on that initial promise, started giving land to Blacks under the Homestead Act, and disqualifying them because they couldnt maintain the land "properly." The land goes back to whites after the "fall of slavery" (which were the old slave masters) and then we get the birth of debt-peaonage, or sharecropping (Blacks still working land for whites). Fast forward a few years to the north, and you get the creation of the suburbs, and segregation laws that don't allow Black in certain neighborhoods, segregation goes away "technically," but you have all these weird rules and redlining that make it financially risky/irresponsible for whites to live near Blacks so the suburbs stay white, and inner-cities become overcrowded ghettoes. Plus after WWII, veterans come home and are promised homes! all these lovely homes for real cheap in the suburbs, but Black veterans are not afforded the same loans! true story.
@negrosunshine:so you have this whole history of Black people being excluded from land/home ownership, which is THE BEST way to ensure wealth gets passed down generation to generation. fast forward to just a few years ago and these predatory home loans you talk about, but noone puts them in context of the history they directly stem from. yes they were a way to marginalize poor/people of color, but few, very few attempt to get at the root of the problem, and reckon the fact that the institution is anti-Black, it was since its conception and it certainly is now. what could we do if we mobilized that way?
@negrosunshine:violence rooted in whiteness and maleness? sure and sure. individual violence supported by state violence? sure. its getting late and ive been reading all day, if someone is reading this join in this conversation! ill keep thinking on it, and come with a better answer than "sure and sure." or you, my friend @greydotmatters, can preempt my strike (in a george bush fashion) and drop some knowledge on me (in an un-george bush fashion) :)
thinking aloud 3: (AND I WANT THIS TO BECOME A PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATION ON TUMBLR, we can do that right?)
@rotfront-und-reacktion:Power…power would be defined as value to society. Or, the power to control it. A white woman is valued far higher than any PoC because she’s white. Whiteness…is the state of upholding White Supremacy.
negrosunshine:i would say power is about 'value to society' and i would also throw in @greydotmatters discussion of violence. i think power is about access to a certain violence and the leisure/privilege of NOT being the one who is without power. the identity that is gained through power. whiteness IS the state of upholding White Supremacy! But it is also the state of upholding anti-blackness. You say: "a white woman is valued far higher than an PoC because she is white." TRUE, but your statement naturally rest on a hierarchy ("higher") that no one wants to talk about. We can agree white is at the top, but who is down at the bottom? and weird things happen when that question gets asked, people begin to argue over the bottom, a perverse desire to say "ive been oppressed the most" or something. but when we talk questions of history and questions of structure, or begin a categorical analysis, things change very quickly and no-one really ever wants to talk about slavery, slaveness, or Blackness as if we know everything already, or as if its aftereffects don't exist and structure most interactions in the day-to-day lives of EVERYONE, whites, blacks, p.o.c.. If we want to talk power, lets talk the slave/master power relation! thats power baby! and thats scary. and violent. and relevant.
thinking aloud 2: (AND I WANT THIS TO BECOME A PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATION ON TUMBLR, we can do that right?)
To @rotfront-und-reaktion: “power only equals privilege when it is White” hmmm, yes yes. but i would argue with that a bit. or want to qualify it a bit more. and this going to be wildly unpopular, but if i wanted popularity, id go back to facebook or something. how do we define power? and how do we define whiteness? in my example i used a straight black woman and a gay black man. and of course the situation would change if it were a gay white man and straight black woman, or a queer black woman and queer white woman. But it is still really quite different (in terms of history AND in terms of STRUCTURAL position) for say a gay black man and straight asian woman. hmmm. The name of Frank Wilderson’s book is Red, White, and Black but somehow it discusses all of humanity and non-humanity. interesting. and we continue to think…
To @greydotmatters: is power only power when it is political? i think everything is political. or at least want the world to think in terms of the political. we desperately need it. is privilege only privilege when someone else is being marginalised because of said privileged? what does my “power” and “privilege” mean in the face of whiteness? mmmm, good questions! how do you define marginalisation? am i marginalized because someone hurts my feelings? i dont know. maybe? am i marginalized because i cant get a home loan? hmmm.
what does your “power” or “privilege” mean in the face of whiteness? i don’t know. and i love that you follow up with: “also, when does the threat of violence get thrown into this discussion.” MAN, ive been wondering the same thing for awhile now!? when will questions of privilege take a violent tone/turn? but i tread lightly, perhaps you OR SOMEONE else can help. i don’t want to diminish the presence of individual violence and the very real threats of it, but i dont want to displace state violence, state sanctioned violence, and paradigmatic violence. so how do we talk about it? how do we talk about bodies that are open to violence at all times (regardless of transgression/ apriori) *cough*black bodies*cough* versus the place of all others: a contingent violence—a certain punishment…
privilege does not equal power. privilege does not equal power?
gay black man says to straight black woman: you have straight privilege over me.
perhaps thats a true statement.
straight black woman says to gay black man: you have male privilege over me.
perhaps that to is a true statement.
gay black man and straight black woman: contemplate the power they have over their “lives” to change their social positions. they both laugh (and or cry).
privilege? power? is there a difference? do some privileges come by way of power, while others are assumed through a certain false sense of power? did i complexly make things weird because my starting point was two Black beings?
reasons i thoroughly enjoy doing my work in queer coffee shops
non-black queer men of all ages at times will start conversations with me, which usually begin with something like: “what are you studying?” or “you look hard at work” or “that looks interesting” or the less forward, much more appreciated, stares/smiles from across the room.
im usually smiling when im either writing, highlighting, or underlining.
i never quite know how to break my smile and respond when im jotting down:
"The Black psyche emerges within a context of force, or structural violence, which is not analogous to the emergence of white or non-Black psyches. The upshot of this emergence is that the Black psyche is in a perpetual war with itself because it is usurped by a white gaze that hates the Black imago and wants to destroy it."-Frank Wilderson, “The Vengeance of Vertigo: Aphasia and Abjection in the Political Trials of Black Insurgents,” InTensions, 2012 (pg. 29-30).
what did you think about the article? and more specifically, this quote here: "Butler queers the traditional master/slave colonizer/colonized narrative by exposing the multi-level dependence of Ina on humans, as well as troubling the idea that a nuclear and individual model of family is best."
lol. you would be the one to really make me think! i hate you.
uhm, overall i thought the article was okay. as you already know, im very interested in the physical body and its navigation of spaces or more generally the world, in relation to what is deemed beautiful (you know this essay here was largely for you and TWH). so, Bailey’s article was interesting for me in her engagement with critical disabilities studies. i think she started something there that can really be worked out, but with some caution. at the start, she offers a kind of formula for reading Butler’s work: ‘disabled characters are gifted with transhuman abilities that are also impairments, making them hypervisible vulnerable targets of violence.’
i’d be interested in discussing with her further the complication of that statement, what Butler is getting at in regards to the Black body, *cough* hypervisible vulnerable targets of violence *cough*
but the transhuman abilities as gifts is something interesting to discuss! particularly where Bailey speaks of the character Shori and her unusually dark skin: as ‘a celebrated vision of the future and an equally hated marker of blood impurity.’ mmmm, there is ALOT to chew on with this! lets go from one end to another (but of course staying Black, cuz, well, thats what I do!) think about the tragic mulatto through history, and present day mixed-race politics, a certain sign of “post-raciality” (laughs hard) and the ultimate sign of transgression of the color-line (smiles, then frowns, sighs, back to writing). on the opposite end, im thinking through when images of “exotic beauties” pop up in fashion. models like alek wek serve a very specific function in easing the mind that “we are not racist, black is beautiful,” while also making black exotic, the other, the well, anti-human. mmmm, something to think on.
ah, and yes, the queer quote. well, you know what i thought! i giggled to myself, paused for a brief moment, then continued reading as if that line didn’t happen. “queer” was used in its adjective form to convey a certain destablization in the “traditional master/slave colonizer/colonized narrative.” it implies a certain utopic (is that a word?) space inside of the queer project that is forever (re)defining a nonnormative space on which to engage. ill wait for the work james bliss is doing before speaking anymore on notions of utopia. but i will ask: what about the master/slave colonizer/colonized narrative was not already queer? i think Christina Sharpe has a wonderful set of questions and frame for all of us to engage. or of course Zakiyyah Jackson’s important pause before picking up the tools of queering something. BUT if we are simply speaking in terms of the way to read these narratives (to queerly read the master/slave relationship) im seriously waiting for the day someone dares to say, “[insert an important name (i.e: O. Butler)] “afro-pessimizes” the traditional blah blah, blah blah blah. that would be interesting/weird/fantastic (if done correctly, and something tells me you will probably be one of the first to do so).
finally! (sorry this became so long), Bailey critiques Janelle Monae as “reducing disability to metaphor” and “by using ableist language, the real lives of disabled people are obscured.” mmmm, very interesting. and i don’t disagree! but, what if we complicated this notion of metaphor. I’m thinking of the final “exhibit” of The Colored Museum. Topsy says, “My power is in my madness. And my colored contradictions.” Then all the characters join in this dance in the madness. hmmm, more to chew on. I know that as Black person, who speaks of Black people, and speaks unapologetically of the condition of my people and the peculiar position of Blackness in this world, i’ve been deemed crazy more than few times. and well, many Black folk who don’t speak out, but just live in the world, they get stigmatized and deemed expendable as well. and this is where i open Frank Wilderson’s “The Vengeance of Vertigo: Aphasia and Abjection in the Political Trials of Black Insurgents” in InTensions (2012), and i try to learn something.
CAUTION: Nigger will be used often and freely in this post > Black people, I’m Black, guard down. Non-Black people, read freely amongst your-self, but I suggest never aloud in a multiracial liberal room, but who knows what goes on when we aren’t there, it may go over well. < This was a joke… Breathe and commence the reading.
This is not my first situation dealing with the word nigger, and it will by no means be my last. The terms of the debate surrounding the issue usually fall within:
Who can use it? / How should it be used? / Is it different when Black people say it? / What to do when non-Black people say it? / Who is a nigger? / What is a nigga? / Something about appropriation. / A little about reclamation.
My disclaimer to you: this entry ain’t about that, but uses those frames to launch into a broader discussion of language, Black protest, and perhaps just how fucked up this world is. I’ll use the incident that I was involved in last night concerning the word nigger and hopefully meditate on something a bit different/grimmer/humbling.
THE SCENE: My final summer in Orange County, I decided to stick around campus and serve as a Resident Advisor for summer students (free rent before Chicago). I was placed in the dorm I worked during the school year as an RA, the African-American Studies themed house. During the summer, it’s simply a dorm, no theme, but me being me, I decided to leave the afro-centric/black loving decorations up for all my lovely non-Black students. Seriously, in this house I’m the only Black person, besides Miles Davis, Judith Jamison, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, MLK, Fred Hampton, Marion Anderson, Angela Davis, Booker T, and the other Black leaders that adorn the walls.
Last night I was sitting in the house study room, reading parts of Nella Larson’s Passingand Toni Morrison’s Sula, along with a chapter from Barbara Johnson’s The Feminist Difference. It was some side research –a kind of distraction from what I actually should have been studying, but I was still reading Black and queer, with a smile on my face. A group of residents were in the next room watching a movie and from what I could tell having a good time, laughter, conversation, and smiles all around. My headphones were in, so I wasn’t too distracted from them. NIGGER or perhaps it was NIGGA that I thought I heard from the other room, but I wasn’t too sure. I wasn’t sure if it was the TV or one of the three white males in the room, or perhaps the Asian female. Regardless, I wasn’t sure exactly what I heard, or where/who it was coming from, so I decided not to engage, plus Beyonce was playing in my headphones, and why ruin my night with pointless argument (I use pointless purposefully, which I hope will become clear by the end of this entry).
About fifteen minutes later, I noticed the gathering in the other room had moved to the patio, which I thought was for a smoke. Five minutes later, the party of four had dwindled to two upset residents sitting on the couch talking. I entered the scene to inquire the happening.
THE INCIDENT: All residents involved had been drinking. Nigger had been used repeatedly by a white male, and made the rest uncomfortable. An argument about the word was had, the argument was taken outside, in which the “Nigger-“using resident, physically assaulted another resident, then stumbled drunkenly into the night, threatening the assaulted resident of wanting to “stab him, kill him, and he should watch his back.”
All of it caught me a bit off guard (and secretly made me laugh) for multiple reasons:
a) surrounded in a room of visible Blackness, operated by an openly Black RA, niggerdom just can’t be shaken,
b) in a group of non-Blacks the word nigger will be violently argued over (either the right to use it, or the right to ban its use), and finally
c) at no point in time did anyone think, perhaps my RA who is sitting in the next room should be involved (not to mention: our openly Black RA, who happens to be a somewhat known campus activist).
I would like to think the latter statement about myself is what kept them from coming to get me; I can often be seen around campus wearing a “Negroes with Guns” shirt.
I talked to the residents who were offended by the word Nigger, and they all kept reminding me that the “Nigger”-using resident was really drunk, and it was probably an isolated incident that would blow over in the morning. They all supported the zero tolerance policy against racially and sexually offensive language. I sat and I listened until about 2am, and then went to bed with a lot on my mind. And here I am now, writing… because what I would like to do about the situation I probably can’t while wearing the title Resident Advisor.
THEY JUST DON’T KNOW
“I’ve been called it enough, I’ll say it when I fuckin’ feel like it. In fact I say it about 100 times every morning, ‘nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga…’ it makes my teeth white.”
- -Paul Mooney
Remember, this entry ain’t about who can say Nigger and when. The above quote from comedian Paul Mooney is mostly for a laugh, but we’ll see if we can do some more with it.
Last night I remained calm, cool, and collected. Perhaps even somewhat unattached/uninvolved from the situation—as I usually do concerning the use of the word nigger. And just to put my cards on the table, I use the word and I use it often. But, I also understand why people are offended and I know that the word has a violent history that needs to be reckoned. In the eyes of my residents and in their demeanor their response to my somewhat non-response fell into either one of two categories (or perhaps both simultaneously) that I associate with liberal reactions to the word Nigger. Why aren’t you as upset as I am about this? And/or, aren’t you happy/grateful I defended the Black honor?
I put my thinking on the table to search for ways to deal with the situation in less of reactive manner that usually breeds reactionary solutions. What has us up in arms concerning this word? Why does its use still garner so much shock value? I would argue that once the word enters conversation (particularly from non-Black people) post-racial, post-civil-rights, and now Obama era happiness is thrown into crisis. And the shock comes from recognition of the violent history the word Nigger conjures. I’ve consistently found, both moves are acknowledged in liberal reaction but almost immediately disavowed when a response is formed. As with last night, alcohol was to blame. But more prominently, its usually that “people just don’t know the history” or “but, Black people say it all the time.” Neither excuse sits well with me; nor actions that attempt to address those excuses. They do little if nothing to rectify the problem. THE PROBLEM. If it were an issue of historical accuracy, perhaps I can get on board with the history argument, but the fact that Nigger is associated with Black people, slavery, and violence, I would go ahead and say is not the great American secret. Disagreement? Talk to me. Seriously, I would love to discuss it. But in anticipation, I want to launch a frontal attack on the history argument with some historical evidence. A showcasing of the entanglement of Blackness and niggerness, with the help of a scholar by the name of Ronald Judy. In the essay “On the Question of Nigga Authenticity” Judy walks through the history of this word:
- According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nigger belongs to the French negre, which, like its Spanish cognate, negro, was used in early modern time to designate black people.
- It appears to have come into English through the Dutch, sometime in the sixteenth century, and by the seventeenth century, it appeared in variant forms: neeger, neager, negar, negre.
- In its earliest known literary reference of 1587, it is already associated with slavery: “There were also in her 400 neegers, whome they had taken to make slaves.”
- By the time it reaches the Virginia colony, it simply designates black people as slave-labor, as in Captain John Smith’s 1624 observation: “A Dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.”
- The Latinate, niger, was used by Hellowes in 1574: “The Mass gets bordering upon the Indians, and the Nigers of Aethiop, bearing witnes”; and by Reginald Scott in 1584 in the precise sense of black-of-color: “A skin like a Niger.”
- By the time Samuel Sewall began writing his diary, the appellation also referred to slave-labor as property: “Jethro, his Niger, was then taken” (1 July 1676).
- In 1760, G. Wallace argued “Set the Nigers free, and, in a few generations, this vast and fertile continent would be crouded with inhabitants.”
- Robert Burns added the second “g” to the Latinate in 1786: “How graceless Ham laughed at his Dad, Which made Canaan a nigger.”
-Hence, niggerdom as the designation of black people in general, whose despised status Henry Fearon (1818) thought was deserved: “The bad conduct and inferior nature of niggars (negroes),” and William Faux (1823) lamented- “Contempt of the poor black or nigger, as they are called, seems the national sin of America.”
I’m in no way implying that we should all have these dates and quotations memorized verbatim and ready to gun sling in argument (or perhaps we should, haha). Rather, in addition to my claim that we all know Nigger is associated with Black people, there really is a historical archive that can be walked through to prove that point.
Nigger and its negative value and its association with Blackness is not a fact to be discovered in day-to-day conversation! And we all know nigga comes from nigger.
A Nigga, Nigger, Negro, Black, African-American in a house of Humans
As I stared into the liberal demeanors searching for my response to the word “nigger” being used in the house, all I could think is what I can’t say because I am an RA. What if my response to my offended residents was, “Cool! Let him say nigger, lets me know what I’m dealing with. He can bring ‘nigger’ to the table and this nigger will show up with a gun.” Sadly, things just ain’t there yet. For those of you shaking your head right about now, hold on to this thought, we’ll come back to it.
What changes in the world if we rid it of the word Nigger? Perhaps an easy chance to conjure the dark history? Maybe an opportunity to (un)name “people”/objects deemed lesser?
If I am reading my Fanon correctly, not too much changes. In Black Skin, White Mask he writes, “Dirty Nigger! or simply, Look, a Negro!” Update the language a bit for 2011 and Nigger stays, but we’ll change Negro to Black. Concerning the incident in my house, Niggerness operated in a conversation regardless of whether or not a Black was in the mix. For further illumination on the complexity of THE PROBLEM, I return to the essay “On the Question of Nigga Authenticity,” Judy writes:
“The value of the nigger is not in the physical body itself but in the energy, the potential force, that the body contains. The Force is there in the nigger body, standing-in-reserve, as it were, for its owner to consume as he/she likes” (Judy, 223).
As I have been writing this entry, I have been contemplating what I could have done at the moment I first heard NIGGER (or perhaps it was NIGGA) that evening my house. I could have stepped in and rested upon my authority as being the Resident Advisor of the house. Or perhaps used my intellectual prowess and wielded my knowledge of Afro-American, African-American, Black, Negro, Colored, Nigger, Nigga history. Maybe, I could have just inserted my openly Black demeanor and let the room know I’m not okay with the word Nigga or Nigger. No matter what, there is an extra piece of the puzzle operating no matter what action I would have taken. Whether I’m there or not, I’m always already there. The Niggerization precedes any gesture I can make, as Judy writes, the value is not in my physical body, but rather in the energy, the force of Blackness operating in the conversation regardless of my physical absence. All of my gestures toward “authority” may have temporarily quelled the use of the word “Nigger” in the room, but what power, what force do I have access to in disrupting the logic that rest upon the presence of Nigger, Niggerness, the logic that was at play while I was away in the other room?
NIGGA SECTION: excuse me, i mean, CAN I TALK TO BLACK PEOPLE FOR A FEW LINES?
I don’t claim to have any answers, and at this point I’m not even sure I want answers. All I know is this: this Nigger debate keeps going around and coming around. The line I used from Fanon was first published in 1952, and as I said, Negro may have changed to Black, but Nigger remains the same and we have yet to come to a “Black” consensus on the matter. But we all know what the world consensus is on Nigger—who the nigger is, why it exist. That social fact is what needs to be reckoned, and when I use the word ‘reckon’ I don’t mean, needs to be known. Rather I am thinking toward something a bit more pressing if you will. When I read Saidiya Hartman:
“The demands of the slave on the present have everything to do with making good the promise of abolition, and this entails much more than the end of property in slaves. It requires the reconstruction of society, which is the only way to honor our debt to the dead. This is the intimacy of our age with theirs—an unfinished struggle” (Lose Your Mother, 170)
A knowing of the slave experience is placed squarely in front of me, or perhaps bonding me. Which is to say, I can not know myself outside of this slave experience. Because the slave structures social relations so intimately, I was involved in the Nigger conversation without being involved. I may be the openly Black conscious RA, but Fanon’s dirty Nigger is still alive… and writing.
 This section of Judy’s essay was chopped and screwed for your viewing pleasure on negrosunshine, the words are from page 222 of the essay, in which all sources are cited, I apologize for not citing them here, if you can not find the essay, hit me up, I’d be happy to provide it and/or the citations.
why do you get so upset when people asked if you're mixed?
well *clears throat*
first off, im not. well at least not in the sense of the assumptions being made about me, my parents, and my upbringing.
secondly, it in a way erases the very real existence of at least one of my two very real Black parents. both my mom and dad are Black, and both sets of grandparents are Black. I’m not sure what about me codes for white. plus the fact that i’m not that light (except for now, i guess i am because my body is longing for the california sun).
those are the two main reasons i get turned off by the conversation, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS UNSOLICITED. but sadly, i understand its relevance and that is the stuff that no-one ever wants to talk about. like the fact that, i actually probably am mixed, like almost for a fact (much like my mom, dad, and grandparents probably are). but its not really a loving history to chat about when im meeting some guy in a bar, or making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store, or about to clock-out at work. OR maybe it actually is some tale of “love,” but the fact that the uncertainty exist, is the plain fact of Black familial ties and intimacies (or lack thereof) in this country. its a dark history that we actively forget, and then magically make it almost natural to ask awkward questions in mundane conversations. and every time it happens, i thank amy winehouse for giving me the phrase: “what kind of fuckery is this?”
another strange thing going on in the, “are you mixed,” or more directly “what are you mixed with?” questions, is the somewhat perverse need to know. so what if i am mixed? so what if i’m not? you’ll never not see the Blackness in me. no-one ever ask me “wait, are you Black?”
when it comes from white/non-Black people, its usually a strange desire to validate that i am okay and welcome in whatever space ive put myself in: usually around non-black hipsters, or non-black gays (on my better days: non-black gay hipsters). OR even back in the academic days, when I was in a Poli Sci or Art History course (academically whipping ass and taking names not giving a fuck about no one else in the room). the question came as almost a search for whiteness in me “please be white, because you are cool/smart” But of course that only lasted for so long. i was always there to serve as the blackface puppet they could play in whenever they needed to.
when it comes from black people, it takes on multiple forms. and this is just my experience, im no expert on the matter (but of course we can always use experience to help us theorize something bigger), older people usually ask in a proud manner, as if ive accomplished something, while my peers tended to ask as if to confirm, ‘he’s not like us.’ i don’t know, thats my history with it. and it all makes me uneasy. and of course issues of class, gender, and sexuality should highlighted toward a more thorough analysis, but you asked me anonymously, so i dont care to give you too much brain power. please don’t be scared to ask me as your beautiful self! i love dialogue, its easier to keep it going when i know who im talking to.
Moving with the rhythm like she was the air shooting from Miles’ trumpet, Jesse caught her dance from across the room. She was alone, swaying her hips to the knock in the bass, clapping her hands, stomping her feet, like the life of the party depended on it. The girls were watching her, waiting to make a move. This sistah danced and danced, sweated and sweated. The floor was crowded and Jesse was playing cool at the bar. Still new in town, he didn’t want to make his usual scene as he did back in L.A. This was Chicago, people didn’t know him and he didn’t know them, so he was slow on the scenes, laid back and too cool. She caught his eye as she swayed in and out of his sight. She would get lost in the crowd, dipping up and down, moving like the keys on Monk’s piano. The band was playing nice, Jesse had found a nice little spot where the drinks were almost too strong, and a Latin sound came off the stage, swept the floor and moved the crowd. This particular night ladies filled the spot, queer women of color to be exact. Jesse was off the hook; he could relax from his constant scanning the room for potential partners, or defensive stares toward the usual cattiness of Boystown. Jesse was at the bar, playing cool, but she was on the floor, catching his eye. And she danced some more, and some more, and some more until suddenly she was standing next to Jesse at the bar.
He quickly glanced her way, to notice her smiling at him plus all the other stuff he was trained to catch in a quick glance. Her hair was wrapped up, tied tight in a material that told a story of pride. She had a tank-top on, but a tie that matched the wrap on her head. Her pants were trendy, some kind of harem, but a newspaper-boy trouser, with built-in suspenders! Her kicks were plain, comfortable, and did just the right thing for the outfit. Jesse had an eye orgasm, and became more intrigued with this girl beside him. He turned towards her and smiled. “Whatcha drinking?” she asked.
Jesse laughed, “I was going to ask you the same thing. He looked further into her, trying to gain a sense of what was happening, he smiled and said, “whiskey-coke.”
“Two shots of Jack” she yelled to the bartender. Jesse laughed, “I don’t even know your name.”
“I’m Abbey! What’s your name cutie?”
“I’m Jesse. I’m new in town” he awkwardly replied, not knowing what to say to make small chat go in a proper way.
“What brings you here tonight? You look a little out of place,” Abbey said while she began to sway her hips to the bongos being played on stage.
Jesse laughed, “I don’t know! Just checking things out. Where do gay Black boys hang out? I guess I’m lost” they both laughed.
“Hell if I know” Abbey replied as she took the shots off the bar and handed one to Jesse, “Here’s to new friends!” They both swallowed the shots and sat the glasses down on the bar. Jesse wanted to reach for his whiskey and coke, but Abbey stood there with no chaser, so he did the same and let the taste of Jack linger in his mouth until it evaporated.
Abbey began to slide back onto the dance floor, shaking her hips, twisting her feet. She let her arms rise as if she was worshipping the gods. “Come dance, cutie” she yelled to Jesse as she moved further and further away. He nodded in agreement, took the last few sips of his drink and followed her out into the crowd.
It was hot and funky in all the right ways; Jesse got slapped in the face by a few fros as he made his way into the center of the room, but that kind of slapping was okay, it made the place seem a little more free, a little more safe. He met up with Abbey in mid groove, she was gracefully falling low, and a few other bodies had formed a circle around her. She took Jesse’s arm, pulled him in, and slowly rose up against his body. He placed his hands on her hips and the two began to sway in unison, dictated by the stares into each other’s eyes, and the sounds coming off the stage; it was like Sarah’s voice meeting Clifford’s trumpet for the first time and sounds of Birdland were created. Jesse shuffled his feet and felt Abbey’s body. She rose from her sexy plié, up to what seemed like a ten-foot tall demi-detoure. Her hands high in the sky, she now faced away from Jesse, and began to lead him in a salsa, though she made sure to make it look as if Jesse was calling the shots. The crowd watched as they swayed and clapped in the small circle now formed around both of them. The dance went on all night, some moments Jesse and Abbey would get lost in the crowd, other times they were the center of attention. Abbey dipped and glided, as Jesse kicked and turned.
Abbey moved in close and brought her arms down to wrap them around Jesse’s shoulders. His hands found their way to her hips again. Jesse’s eyes moved from her eyes down to her lips. The two were entwined on the dance floor and before either of them realized it, lips were touching and anything that made sense for them was lost or made anew in the heat and funk of the room. Their mouth, tongues, and faces seemed to move in unison to the sounds filling the room, the music from the stage, the feet shaking the floors, the bottles and glasses clanking behind the bar. Jesse could feel a few of the women staring at Abbey, lost in the moment. He was smiling on the inside, which was the passion overtaking the confusion. “Do you wanna get out of here?” Jesse heard the whisper between them as their lips left each other’s. He looked into her eyes, smiled and nodded.
“Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Jesse moved across the floor and found a rest-room. He splashed some water on his face and looked up into the mirror. Processing what was going on, trying to regain his sense of understanding, he thought about the invitation. With a certain uncertainty, he returned to the dance floor and caught a glimpse of Abbey moving and shaking in the crowd, he hung back for a while as she began to dance with a girl in a red dress. She was cute, kinky hair, fierce stilettos, and a sway that commanded the attention of the room. Jesse stood in the corner of the room, contemplating, and watching as Abbey and the new girl moved.
Why do you care about Palestinian struggle? Those people despise Negroes, why waste energy on them?
i think your question in the broad sense is one of “coalition.” which is an important question and one i have been thinking about heavily for the past three years.
why do i care about palestinian struggle? im not going to lie or try to pretend i am a hardcore pro-palenstine activist, because im simply not. there was a point in the organizing work i was doing, that it was beneficial and effective to work alongside those issues. and while that may sound like an abrasive technocratic/Leninist style of political organizing, it just simply is the honest truth in my relationship with palestinian struggle, but it was not in bad faith.
on my campus specifically, we as Black students witnessed the police harassment and surveillance of Arab/Muslim students, and an overall fear and hate of Muslim culture. However, rather than just folding into their cause, we made extraordinary attempts at understanding the history of policing Black bodies, in relation to what was happening on our campus to Arab/Muslim students. We engaged an institutional analysis that exposed an essential anti-Blackness, while speaking to experiences of many other communities, a certain Black agenda worked out in coalition spaces. while my campus was very popular for the israel/palestine debate and further for the activities of the MSU and SJP, it was extremely important that Black students did not get lost in the madness and we wrote our narrative of struggle in the midst of the more “popular” conflict.
the question of wasted energy is a good one, because in the end (of that particular episode in my activism career), myself and other Black activist felt very abused inside of the coalitions we were working with. which is not a unique story, but it is an important one to discuss, because, as you say ‘those people despise Negroes.’ But i would question you, who doesn’t despise Negroes? Black activist learn very quickly the dangers of engaging in coalitions, but the world is a very lonely place to be outside of coalition. so what are we to do? are you prodding me to organize only with Blacks? definitely tried that, and that certainly comes with a whole other set of complications. are you warning me to just simply not work with your somewhat ambiguous “those people.” you will have to be a bit more clear for me to give you a more direct answer, but again i would question, who in this world does not despise Negroes?
a small example of some of the work i allude to can be found here, here, and here.