or what became of a lament of a black queer in a coffee shop.” —
Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972
* 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
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.
WHAT ARE THREE THINGS YOU CAN’T GIVE A BLACK PERSON?
LOOKING INTO THE MIRROR, THE BLACK WOMAN ASKED, “MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO’S THE FINEST OF THEM ALL?” THE MIRROR SAYS, “SNOW WHITE, YOU BLACK BITCH, AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!!!”
WHEN ASKED WHAT HE WANTS TO BE WHEN HE GROWS UP, THE BLACK BOY SAYS, “I WANT TO BE A WHITE MAN CAUSE MY MAMA SAY, ‘A NIGGER AIN’T SHIT.’”
BLACK MAN HOLDING WATERMELON
WHITE PATTY, WHITE PATTY, YOU DONT SHINE, MEET YOU AROUND THE CORNER AND BEAT YOUR BEHIND
BLACK WOMAN WITH CHICKEN
- cute boy: (sits down next to negrosunshine)
- negrosunshine: (maybe i should talk to him? but what do i say without sounding crazy or thirsty or non-hitting on him, just in case he is not gay. no hate crime today, please.)
- cute boy: (reaches in backpack and pulls out a large red Family Law book)
- negrosunshine: (glances over unimpressed, but intrigued)
- cute boy: (smiles at negrosunshine)
- negrosunshine: (smiles back)
- cute boy: (reaches in backpack and pulls out macbook to check something)
- negrosunshine: (closes eye-lids to roll eyes. who uses a laptop on the 'L'?)
- cute boy: (puts laptop away [perhaps felt negrosunshine's disapproval]. opens book to chapter four, "marriage contract")
- negrosunshine: (smiles, yet still unimpressed)
- cute boy: (turns Drake on, on his iphone)
- negrosunshine: (smiles, reaches into his bag, pulls out M. Jacqui Alexander's, Pedagogies of Crossing, turns to most highlighted and underlined page)
- cute boy: (stares curiously at the book)
- negrosunshine and cute boy: (smile at each other)
- phone vibrates on the seat between negrosunshine and cute boy
- negrosunshine: (glances down at cute boy's iphone, it reads "Chris boo<3")
- cute boy: (looks at negrosunshine)
- negrosunshine: (turns away, shakes head, and begins to read)
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.
i was presented with two options today:
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?”
i want to write some revolutionary shit
that poem or article or speech type shit
make the people pause and think and act type shit
get your guns cuz its “get loose time” shit
and it wont be televised
but i might tweet some shit
like one hundred and forty characters
on some radical type shit
probably wont facebook it
nah, fuck it, ill make it viral type shit
update status: ‘revolutionary brother going buck’
see who likes the shit
probably catch all of it on tumblr
watch it roll down the dashboard
as bloggers talk like they give a shit
but this is going to be some revolutionary shit
on some other type shit
close your laptops, turn off your phones
come outside and take it to the streets type shit
ill write here and watch someone else write there
then we’ll all meet on the battlefield
and someone will say something
some “get-down-with-the-get-down” type shit
and we’ll all get on down
cuz we just can’t contain the shit
and we’ll sing about how we love revolution
on some real type shit
and the words to that song
i just cant write
cuz we’ll be in the streets
where writing is obsolete
but until that day
i want to write some revolutionary shit
i dreamed this place
away from snow
far far away. or perhaps not so
you were there. as was i
tanzania maybe. or perhaps a lie
off my map. but in my dream
you were there. as was i
we pulled at seams
and twisted real with make-believe
i dreamed this place
away from snow
no scars of truth. or perhaps not so
you were there. as was i
madagascar maybe. or perhaps a lie
off my map. but in my dream
you were there. as was i.
*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.
be strong happy and Black
you’re a little bit nappy
so always watch your back
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.
sangria at some point in Boystown, i have a dream that one day little black boys, and little white boys will join hands, (that may or may not be a queer paraphrasing).
i will make it through Nahum Chandler’s “Of Exorbitance: The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought,” so i can quit lying to myself that i read this and knew what was happening.
i will read this today! and i will love it!
i wonder what my headspace will be like upon finishing it. it may make for interesting table-talk as this son of slaves sits with the sons of “former” slave-owners (another queer paraphrasing?)