Southern White Heritage Group Insists Confederate Flag Stay Up Out of Respect For the Letter X

[Fake News alert!] An all-white group calling itself “Southerners For History, Literacy, and Family” has identified the recent crusade by African Americans to end state-sponsored flying of the Southern confederate flag as a thinly veiled hate campaign against the letter X. They claim this is due to the distinctive “stars and bars” X-shape, which is the key element of the flag’s design. In addition to Southern white claims that the flag represents “heritage not hate,” this group claims that the flag also represents “literacy not lynching” because the X is 1/26 of the alphabet, a key part of our nation’s literary history.

According to a spokesman, “It is shameful and hateful that African Americans would be viciously attacking a defenseless letter on the flimsy pretext that it is a symbol of 500 years of chattel slavery in the United States.” The spokesman went on to suggest that if African Americans knew their history, they would be on board to keep the flag flying. Blacks have a long history of using the letter. Where would 1960s Black Power icon Malcolm X be without it? Or Rudolph Fisher, a 1920s and 30s Harlem doctor who used X-rays? “As usual, African Americans just take, take, take and show no gratitude or appreciation.”

The spokesman continued: “When it comes to disrespect of this hallowed history, we need look no further than the scandalous vandalism of African American activist Bree Newsome. Some are calling the woman who shimmied up the South Carolina statehouse flagpole and removed the confederate flag a daring hero. We call this just another example of thuggish black lawlessness. Besides, there’s a particular type of shimmying we good old boys like from black women. And this is definitely not it. And speaking of good old boys, it is a tragedy to see a cultural treasure, Image result for dukes of hazzard confederate flag‘The Dukes of Hazzard,” a proud confederate-flag flying television show, censored due to this level of harassment in the multi-buckled straightjacket of political correctness.”

A spokeswoman for the group’s committee on education also went on to trace the history of the X in early African American literacy. “Nowadays, it is a widely held myth that during the pre-Civil War period African Americans were beaten or killed for being taught to read or write. This is a total myth because some blacks were allowed to write the letter X instead of a signature on contracts that they were unable to read. These documents were legal and completely enforceable based on whatever the white person decided they said. Such black literacy efforts were particularly crucial during the sharecropping era when unpaid slave labor was ‘unconstitutional.’ So while African Americans may have had slightly delayed access to the other 25 letters of the alphabet, they had access to the X from very early on. Removing the flag dismisses this important literary legacy.”

The group’s cultural committee spokesman went on to say: “Of course, no discussion of the letter X could leave out the adult entertainment industry which has been a proud employer of black women since its inception. We’ve counted on that letter to mark these materials as special. Think of the children! Without this letter, parents would have no way to know that the film ‘Battle of Handcock, 1862′ wasn’t the kind of Civil War education that they had in mind.”

The educational chairwoman added: “Speaking of the younger generation, children named Xavier, Xena, Xander and our international friends like Xiomara and Xiao Hong might feel like it was a personal attack on the first letter of their names. These poor young souls are already likely to feel like second-class citizens because their names are so late in an alphabetical world.”

The chief spokesman summed it up as follows: “As usual, African Americans are misguided and overreacting, not to mention making demands that will do more harm than good. Don’t be fooled by the pandering and flip-flopping of politicians and corporations. The letter X is the real victim. Keep the flags up.”


The Year of Nina Simone: Will Someone Please Cast Uzo Aduba?

Nina UzoAccording to a recent article in the New York Times, Nina Simone’s time is now again. According to the article by Salamishah Tillet, Simone is the subject of three films to be released this year, two documentaries and a biopic. One documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” directed by Liz Garbus, is available today on Netflix.

“Nina,” the biopic, due out later this year, has been steeped in legal problems and controversy. White director Cynthia Mort selected Zoe Saldana to play Simone. Many were critical of this choice, given that the director outfitted the lightskinned Afro-Latina actress in skin-darkening makeup and a prosthetic nose. And she still looked nothing like Simone. Last year, in Bitch Magazine, I expressed an additional concern: would Saldana, of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage, be able to communicate the African American cultural nuances of Simone as a character with Southern roots. I have seen Saldana play African American Southern women in the past, and she was less than believable. In a casting environment where it is still typical to have white actors play characters of color, we have not yet arrived at a point where we can demand cultural competency, if we can’t even expect racial accuracy.

Image result for uzo aduba orange is the new blackIn that same Bitch Magazine piece, I lamented the lack of A-list black actresses who could possibly play Simone. This week, an exciting possible choice came to mind: Uzo Aduba. The Nigerian-American actress is a strong part of the ensemble cast of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. Aduba is not quite A-list yet, but rising, having won both an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild award for her performances. I have only seen Aduba play the transracially adopted character Suzanne or Crazy Eyes on OITNB, so I can’t say whether or not she could capture the Southern cultural nuances of Nina. She was raised in the Boston area by Nigerian parents, so like Saldana, she would need the acting chops to bring a character to life across cultural differences in the African diaspora.

Image result for orange is the new black black womenBack in the ’90s, Simone herself approved of Whoopi Goldberg to play the role. But alas, Nina’s time was not then. Like Goldberg’s rise via comedy in the 80s, I’m struck by the way that OITNB, a prison comedy-drama, has provided the opportunity for several black actresses to rise to prominence outside of the usual Hollywood colorism and oppressive confines of light skin and conventional attractiveness. While Hollywood isn’t in the business of making stars whose looks are outside the box, they will certainly continue to cast them as long as there are roles and those stars are bankable.

I’m still hoping that, by some miracle, the Nina biopic isn’t a disaster. Regardless, at least it has two documentaries coming out around the same time to drown it out a bit. And if Nina’s time is now, perhaps some other filmmaker will start working on a new biopic and do it right. If so, I hope they keep Aduba in mind.


This Overworked Mom Felt Burned by Amazon’s Fire Tablet Commercials

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.31.24 PMLately, I’ve been reading a lot about overworked moms (Actually, I listen on audiobooks as I do overworked mom things like emptying the compost and schlepping my kid to and from preschool). In Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn and Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, the authors catalogue how moms are drowning in the demands to be perfect workers and perfect mothers—all while they do a much greater percentage of the domestic work than male partners.

So no wonder I loved the first commercial for Amazon’s Fire tablet. It begins with the tablet undergoing laboratory stress tests that allegedly certify it to be twice as durable as an iPad. Then comes the real-life stress test: A harassed suburban mom in her 30s hustles out the door with her son in soccer gear. In one hand, she holds an apple, a banana, and her Amazon tablet. In the other she has a water bottle and car keys. She unlocks her minivan and sets the tablet on top of it. All this with her smart phone pressed between ear and shoulder, as she speaks presumably to her husband, “…pick up your suit at the dry cleaner. I didn’t…get it…” She interrupts herself to hustle her kid into the car—“buckle up, sweetie—jump in! Jump in!” Just as she begins to pull out of the driveway, a neighbor kid comes by on a skateboard. She screeches to a stop, and the tablet bounces off the car and skids onto the ground in front of him. The kid gives her the side-eye from beneath his helmet as he hands her the tablet, which she easily turns back on, unscathed.

I loved this commercial so much—it totally spoke to the craziness of my working mom life…But then I saw Amazon Fire’s second commercial, released a few months later. It shows a similar lab stress test, but a very different real life test. A man in his 30s walks along a hallway in a large quiet house with a sleeping dog. He’s smiling and watching a basketball game with headphones on and turns to go down the stairs. The headphone cord catches on the banister, and the tablet bounces down the steps. The noise frightens the dog, but the man goes back to watching the game after he retrieves the tablet, unscathed.

Wait a second, I thought. Is that really how Amazon sees this? That women’s lives are encumbered by obligations to others while men’s lives are insulated, calm, and leisurely?

According to Both Maxed Out and Overwhelmed, there’s a significant gap between the quality and amount of leisure in the lives of mothers and fathers. In fact, in Overwhelmed, Schulte points out that, historically, men have always had a culture of leisure, but women have not.

I have experienced this firsthand. My partner works hard at his job. But before and after work, and on weekends, he expects uninterrupted time to watch TV, play video games, and read sci-fi on his kindle. If I want to watch TV, I need to do it while cooking, cleaning, and sorting laundry. We’ve both got smartphones, but somehow the family events never seem to make it into his calendar. I am his default calendar app. Even the amusing time I spend on Twitter feels like work: I build my social media platform and look for story ideas. Which leads to another sore spot in my marriage: my literary career. Writing is work. But since it didn’t bring in any money for five years, my spouse has considered it a hobby. This feeds into a dynamic Schulte identified in Overwhelmed: women often spend many hours doing tasks that male onlookers categorize as leisure. She interviewed a time researcher who insisted that the average working mother in the US has 30 weekly hours of leisure. Schulte was flabbergasted until she learned that his definition of “leisure” included waiting for the tow truck to pick up her broken-down car—a stressful disruption which was still the quietest moment of her insane journalist/mom day.

In fact, both Maxed Out and Overwhelmed reveal that women in the US do a disproportionate share of the childcare and housework. This is true, even when they work full time, as much or even more than male spouses. I teach part time at a university, which is why I agreed to do the vast majority of the domestic work. But if you add the unpaid time I’ve spent writing my forthcoming novel, I’ve often worked more hours than my spouse during the day. And then I do dinner, bath, and bedtime in the evening because he’s “tired” from “working.”

So here’s the Amazon Fire commercial I’d like to see: my spouse is on the subway watching sci-fi TV. He gets a text on the tablet from me that I have a book promo interview, and I need him to pick up the kid. He cheerfully agrees, but he drops the tablet as he hustles off the train. It bounces and skids across the cement platform, almost falling off the other end into the tracks. He picks it up, and rushes off to get our kid and make dinner. Later, as I’m getting a drink with a writer friend, I get a text. He uses the tablet to send some silly faces photos and the message that everyone is getting along just fine while Mommy gets a break. For once, my leisure time emerges unscathed.

[thanks to Susie Meserve for great editing!]


An Open Letter to Rachel Dolezal

Dear Rachel Dolezal,

On behalf of all black people everywhere, we offically reject you.
Let the misplaced rage of our community that has sometimes been aimed at lightskinned black folks–that fury too dangerous to show to white people in a land of lynching burning crosses and police guns and chokeholds
That rage that we sometimes turn on the lightskinned next best thing, vulnerable proxy
Let black rage rain on you today like a blight, like a plague

We reject you
With the virulence of the shame we’ve been taught to feel about those of us labeled too black or told we were acting too black or ghetto and the shame some of us felt when we saw them and we were trying to work our respectability politics—in the name of that you’re ruining it for the rest of us shame we reject you
And with the shunning for being too different we’ve aimed at every punk rock, alternative, nerdy, sci-fi digging, feminist, hippie nature loving or queer we take the you ain’t black that’s been ringing in our ears for maybe decades an turn it to shriek at you like a car alarm, like a smoke detector, cause you’re the liar liar pants on fire.

We reject you
With all the self-loathing that’s been brewing these 500 years since we were stolen and broken and violated and couldn’t stop it from happening to us and couldn’t stop it from happening to our children and their children and today our children still bear those scars and we turn that shame onto you. Shame on you Rachel Dolezal
How dare you claim to have done anything for our community while you mock us with your entitled masquerade. Any good you’ve done in policy is tainted by your fallacy, the stench of your foul hatred of yourself, your own twisted sense of inadequacy. Go work that shit out. Don’t put some bronzer on it and present it to us as help, as liberation.

We reject you in the name of the living testimony of Alicia Walters about the lack of love for real black women in Spokane…

We reject you in the name of the Living Testimony of the truly transracial: people of color whose communities have been devastated by racism and US wars, whose birth parents have been devastated by white racism and US wars, or whose white mothers reject them because brown children are so inconvenient, only to have white families, US families, the face of the enemy ride up on a white horse calling themselves saviors, and adopt them into families that very rarely speak their languages, have taken the time to understand their experience, or even know how to call them by their true names, yet see themselves, not as representatives of the raiding party, taking precious children as spoils of war but as saviors.

You

You are not a savior
You are a parasite
A pestilence

You’re like the diseases that plague our communities from the white sugar, the white flour, the white power of the white powder we snort, smoke, shoot, sip trying to transcend the trauma of our inheritance.

We reject you in the name of the living testimony of my own mama mistaken for white except when she and her family were being discriminated against and harassed and outcast for being colored. For the rejection she encountered from brown people all her adult life, a rejection that should have been reserved for you. A certain hold up! wait a minute! that we shoulda put in a money market IRA certificate of deposit 401K where we couldn’t spend it recklessly on one another with penalties for early withdrawal leaving us bankrupt.
We shoulda saved it up.  It coulda been burning a hole in our pocket–our brown fingers itching to spend it, so when you came along we woulda coulda hurled it full force at your mocking macking blackface mimicry.

I’m an old school feminist, and I don’t use the b-word, but I swear the title of bitch is itching the back of my throat today.

I feel it today as the name of the latest victim of bloody police violence will have changed by the time I finish reading this poem.

Today as the government of the Dominican Republic prepares to expel generations of Haitians too black for that nation’s dictator-terrorized internalized anti-black self-hatred.

But all eyes are on who? You. The white girl. With your doe eyed plantation mistress, fake ingenue, preparing your “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers” victim face for the cameras.

All eyes on you, the Hannibal Lecter of white girls, skinning us black women and wearing us as a pelt. I name you grotesque, an aberration, an abomination

I speak the word rejection today

In the name of
Phyllis Wheatley
Harriet Tubman
Harriet Brent-Jacobs
Sojourner Truth
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Fannie Lou Hamer
Ella Baker
Nella Larsen
Zora Neale Hurston
Marie Levau
Lorraine Hansberry
Audre Lorde
Toni Cade Bambara
Vega Correal
Octavia Butler
June Jordan
Veve Clark
Barbara Christian

And with the power of every black woman of God in the name of Jesus Allah Hashem Buddha Orisha Loa and all our ancestors we banish you. Not in hate but in love for ourselves. That there be no void inside us that you can slither into. This is not a hate spell but a love spell that we black people have so much love for ourselves and each other that we don’t need your tacky fake tan facsimile, Miss Anne. The black people have spoken. Take ya white ass back to Spokane


For Grey Week: “Fifty Shades of Political Torture,” my new piece published in Guernica Magazine

Copy of guernicaFor Fifty Shades fans, this is Grey week. Later this week, the new book Grey will be released by EL James, the re-telling of Fifty Shades from the billionaire’s point of view. However, I am more interested in a book that EL James will not be writing—the book that connects the dots between her Chilean heritage and her fascination with sexual domination. When writing about the Fifty Shades phenomena, I was stunned to find out that the author, British housewife EL James, is Latina–Chilean to be exact. I am interested in connecting the systemic torture and sexual sadism of Chile’s Pinochet regime during her adolescence in the 70s, and how a tale of a sadistic billionaire and an ingénue took root in her imagination. Unfortunately, James doesn’t speak publicly about her Latina heritage. Therefore, anyone  interested in making those connections will have to read my article about it in Guernica Magazine, “Fifty Shades of Political Torture.”


Problems with Rashida Jones’ “Hot Girls Wanted,” why porn is NOT sex ed for kids & limits of celebrity feminism

Rashida Jones’ documentary Hot Girls Wanted, about amateur porn in Florida, is the latest volley of shots in the porn wars. While I don’t belive in censorship, I have divided loyalties in this debate. However, I am adamant athat sex workers should never be blamed or targeted with our upset about the sexual exploitation and objectification which plagues our society as a whole.

Some great critiques of Hot Girls Wanted have come from Susan Elizabeth Shepard on Vice and Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals on Uproxx. I may weigh in on the film overall later. Today, I want to address two things:

  1. why porn is not “educational” for young people.
  2. why Rashida Jones is an example of why celebrity feminism is a problem.

First, a disclaimer to adults: if you like porn, watch porn. If you work in the adult film industry and you enjoy making porn, keep making it. And if you’re an actor, I hope you get a union. This post is not about adults choosing to make or consume porn. This is about the role porn plays in the socialization of young children.

I have written a racy book. And let me be clear, I don’t want my daughter reading my racy book til she’s at least sixteen. Because I don’t think the book is age-appropriate for anyone any younger. The book is intended for adults.

As a guest on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Jones made a guest appearance, and sat around a table with a couple of writers for the show. Nightly Show contributor Mike Yard said he thought porn was a “net good” and reflected positive changes about sex: “sex is not like it used to be,” said Yard. “It used to be taboo like nobody talked about sex.” Yard is wrong. Sexual taboos aren’t gone, we just now live in a society where sex is simultaneously taboo and big business.

Jones responded with concerns: “[some parents] don’t want their kids watching it because they sort of treat it like education, but it’s not. It’s supposed to be entertainment. You shoudn’t learn about…sex from porn. I think that’s dangerous.” I agree that it’s dangerous for any young person without reality-based information about sex to learn about it from porn.

Yard joked about how much he had learned from porn, and Holly Walker, the other Nightly Show contributer agreed: “However,” Walker said, “I do need to back up when you say porn isn’t educational…I’ve learned a lot from porn.” And she emphasized a lot, by pronouncing it uhhhh-laaaahht.

Adults can lean about sex wherever they want. However, porn—or any commercial sexual stories, for that matter—develop apparent educational value only when real education about sex is not available. When I was in high school, I had comprehensive sexual education that was relaxed and sex positive. I learned what a clitoris was, what an orgasm was, how to protect myself from STIs & pregnancy, I learned about sexual orientation, and even sexual violence. We could ask any questions, we had queer speakers, we played with condoms, sponges, diaphragms, and IUDs. It never occurred to me that I could learn anything from porn, because I had a place to go with any of my sexual questions. As far as educational value for young people, porn is the flip side of abstinence only education. It has a very specific agenda that isn’t driven by the needs or curisoity of the young person, but by the agenda of the so-called “educator.”

Abstinence only education is an indoctrination into sexual values that stress conservative Christian values. Porn is an indoctrination into sexual values that places the gratification of heterosexual men in the center of sexuality.

It’s true that there are all kinds of porn, and adults can pick and choose and find porn that is empowering and reflects their non-male or non-heterosexual communities. If there was one thing Hot Girls Wanted got right, it was that in mainstream porn—amateur or professional—the women performers generally have much more desire for fame and compensation, than for the scenario or the partner in question. Feminist pornographers like Madison Young, organize storylines and sexual scenes based in mutual desire on the part of the performers. But most of the porn that young people come across or can access is the porn made for heterosexual men, white men, to be specific. And this is where I disagree with Rashida Jones. Porn isn’t just entertainment. It’s a particular type of entertainment whose job is to accompany the sexual act of masturbation. And isn’t it funny how people who are so “open minded” about porn might feel shame about acknowledging that they like to watch porn alone and masturbate. Now, people might be masturbating to other shows on TV, including sports, or the weather, or the news or comedies or dramas or reality shows or political documentaries. But that may be a less common practice with these other shows. The fact that porn is designed as a masturbation tool does set it apart from other types of entertainment videos. And I am utterly clear that I don’t think it’s a good idea for young people, particularly girls, to be “learning” about sex from a fantasy narrative that is designed to turn on adult men so that they can get off. In fact, study after study shows that young women in our sexualized culture aren’t getting more in touch with their sexuality, they show that young women are more in touch with adult men’s sexuality. And they have no idea what they are feeling inside their bodies, but rather are tuned into what men might be feeling looking at their bodies. And I want young women to learn to tune into what they are actually feeling, not what objectification is being projected onto them.

Porn is a fantasy. So no, I don’t want my children learning about sex from porn. Just like I don’t want them to learn about gravity from Superman comics or about how to drive from the movie Speed. The difference is that there’s no historical repression about driver’s education in this country. Imagine if adults were routinely giving young people  shaming, confusing information about driving. Or if there was a lobby telling young people not to drive until they were married. Or imagine if young women were routinely shamed for driving, for wanting to drive, for dressing like they might want to drive.

If adults have learned anything useful from porn, that’s good. But just like many drugs, herbs or medicines have brought a great deal of good to humans, there’s a reason they all say “cauton, keep out of reach of children.” I question the motives of people—particularly men—who don’t have any concerns about children getting their hands on porn. Are they enthused about a new generation of young women being socialized to see their sexuality as all about pleasing men? Porn as education is like when Reagan said kechup was a vegetable. There is some produce involved, but it’s so processed by the time it comes out that it’s no longer nutritious.

Which brings us to my second problem with the film. Hot Girls Wanted is gaining attention largely based on Rashida Jones’ celebrity platform. Jones, herself, gained some of her own platform from her dad Quincy Jones. Which is not to say that she doesn’t deserve her stardom. Rather, it is to say, that she hasn’t had to fight to be heard and taken seriously in the same way as many other activists. Which is why she was way too polite and Ann Perkins-ish on Larry Wilmore’s show and let Larry and his writers talk over her, get all the laughs, and get in the last word. As I’ve said before about the problem with celebrity feminism: women who are used to smiling and reading other peoples’ words on cue aren’t always the best ones to stand up and speak out in controversial situations. But I hope Rashida Jones will learn from this. If she can deepen her analysis, widen the pool of folks she’s learning from and get a little more pushy, she may make a strong spokeswoman yet.


Jeb Bush wants to bring back the good old days of shaming women

scarlet letterToday, I saw the Huffington Post ran a story that, in the past, presidential candidate Jeb Bush had publicly advocating shaming unwed mothers. However, when I initially read the headline, I thought it said that he did it in 1955. I thought to myself, well…it was the 50s. He must’ve been very young. Too bad this won’t be enough to kill his chances with women voters. His campaign will spin it as a youthful indiscretion. Youthful, indeed. Bush was born in 1953, so this would have been a very conservative position to hold as a toddler. Which leads to the real shocker: Bush advocated public shaming in 1995. That’s ninety-five, for those too-fast readers like me. Are you kidding me? Public shaming in the mid-nineties?

According to the article:

“Bush points to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, in which the main character is forced to wear a large red ‘A’ for ‘adulterer’ on her clothes to punish her for having an extramarital affair that produced a child, as an early model for his worldview. ‘Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.’”

Here’s what Bush wrote:

One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.

No, Jeb. The reason more young women are having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies is that there is lack of access to accurate, non-judgmental birth control education, as well as stigma and lack of access to abortion services. Shame is already in the picture. Young women feel shame about their bodies, are too ashamed to buy condoms at the store, were too ashamed to say no to sex after they said yes to making out, feel ashamed after we are targeted with sexual violence, are given shaming messages in what is supposed to be sex ed. And when programs do work to prevent unwanted pregnancy, conservatives bring them down.

The best reason to have a child is because you want to have a child. Where are the family-friendly work and childcare policies to make motherhood less of a sentencing to poverty? Who wants to grow up with parents who felt like they didn’t want kids, but were shamed into it?

Recently, I’ve been reading the wonderful work of Brene Brown, a shame researcher. She shows how shame is vicious, toxic, and corrosive. The advocacy of shame as a political tool to belittle and control people who are already vulnerable and facing significant challenges is reprehensible.

Shame on you, Jeb Bush. Or better yet, you’re not a bad person, but this was very bad behavior.


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