"We don't always hear about the people who we know as legends in the ways that they were very true to themselves. I'm more interested in the moments when they were uncompromising and they were fearless” - Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah.
Black art (music, literature, fine art, etc.) does not get the nuanced, adeptly researched analysis it deserves. It's a fact Solange touched on in a series of tweets calling out white publications' ill equipped attempts to write about black art, black culture, black life. Solange is not the only artist to have complained about the paucity of adequate reviewers of black art and life, Nikki Giovanni's poem Nikki Rosa speaks of the apprehension of having one's life written by a white biographer:
“They never understand that Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy.”
Toni Morrison also spoke of her critics, in conversation with Nellie McKay, who do not “evolve out of the culture, the world, the given quality of which I [Toni Morrison] write" and how they always leave something to be desired:
“I long for a critic who will know what I mean when I say ‘church,’ or ‘community,’ or when I say ‘ancestor,’ or ‘chorus.’ Because my books come out of those things and represent how they function in the black cosmology."
That longing seems to have been fulfilled in Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and her profile of the Nobel Prize winning author. Ghansah refers to the piece as her way of “lay[ing] flowers at the feet of this woman.”
Ghansah delivers the most comprehensive profile on Morrison yet. She digs into Morrison’s criticism from black male writers and black contemporary critics. She shows us Morrison before she was the literary deity we view her as today. We begin to understand her form of protest, which was not in marching in the streets, but in publishing the words of the those who did. From Muhammad Ali to Angela Davis to Huey P. Newton, Morrison commemorated the voice of a generation that would have otherwise been lost. And while reading the piece we not only learn about Morrison, Ghansah adds depth to Morrison’s story with an understanding of The Black Arts Movement, and the black women writers emerging from this literary period, while still managing to review Morrison’s latest novel, God Help the Child, and reflect on the author’s relevancy in the age of the millennial. Ghansah’s authentic ethos, dense research, and powerful layering presents to us a woman, a scholar, a critic, a storyteller, a literary genius.
Before Ghansah wrote her piece on Morrison she was already answering the author’s call for an astute intracultural critic in her pieces on Dave Chappelle, Kendrick Lamar, Jimi Hendrix. In her profiles, Ghansah has established not only a nuanced style of long form writing with extensive bibliographies, but a context for black art and black life. A consistent theme of Ghansah’s work is how black artists have shaped their own narratives through an exertion of autonomy not usually afforded to black people. She then weaves those threads of resistance into the larger tapestry of black history, giving breadth to figures and actions mainstream media views as existing in a vacuum.
“There’s an interior reality that not everyone understands about an existence, what is important is that we have the ability to tell those stories, to say this is what it’s like,” Ghansah once said. She not only comes from an interior reality of blackness, she studies the dynamics with acute precision and reveals her findings in magnificent pieces that teach you as much about the subject she’s profiling as the history from which they emerged. The story of the subjects she profiles are parameterized around a larger tale of the history of the geography, significant events, and predecessors that shape the individual. In her profile of Dave Chappelle, Ghansah is somehow able to uncover a link from a young boy in Yellow Springs, OH to liberation leaders in the Congo that not only highlights Yvonne Reed's (Chapelle’s mother) political activism, but the diaspora connection that contextualizes our lives, cultural practices, and social ingenuity. Perhaps it is Ghansah’s own Louisiana and Ghanaian roots that allow her to connect the Schmurda dance with 300 years of dance styles from the West Indies to West Africa, however, as Kameelah Janan Rasheed says, Ghansah’s ability to “follow the ghosts and pick up where a footnote has left off,” shows that she is not just a journalist; she is a historian, a geographer, a biographer, a preservationist. All of these disciplines inform her dense work and reveal a multilayered pluralized story of Africa and the children of her diaspora.
Ghansah’s profiles stand in stark contrast to those recently done on Nicki Minaj and Rihanna--two of pop culture's biggest influencers. In both instances the story of black-caribbean-female artists were placed in the hands of white female journalists who fumbled not only in their handling of race -- as it prevailed in the interviews -- but their understanding of these women and their dimensions. While Minaj was berated with antagonistic questions that had more to do with beef that didn’t concern her--ultimately forcing her to leave the interview -- Rihanna’s profile was centered almost exclusively around the interviewer. And when the subject of race did breech Rihanna’s interview, the profiler admitted to being afraid to ask the question as she viewed the starlet as being “post-racial.”
Recently, @_sadblackgirl, provided her own reasons behind Beyonce’s polite refusal to grant interviews. Simply put, they--white journalists--cannot adequately write about her.
This mishandling of such stories is precisely why Beyoncé has kept journalists away from her narrative, and it is precisely why we need critics like Ghansah, Jenna Wortham, Fanta Sylla, Danyel Smith, Shannon Houston, and more.
Beyoncé’s latest offering of Lemonade has further solidified her icon status while revolutionizing the way music is marketed and consumed. In the digital age, where the Internet can be an entertainer’s worst enemy, Beyoncé has made it her ally -- shielding herself in secrecy she no longer has to rely on someone else to get her message across. She is eradicating the idea of a radio single, instead, calling for the delivering of a comprehensive album equipped with cinematic visuals that not only appease the eye but challenge the mind. But even this ingenuity does not exist in a vacuum. One cannot understand Beyoncé without understanding Prince, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Fredi Washington, and Oscar Micheaux. These innovators are not mutually exclusive, they serve as a comprehensive cloth from which Beyoncé is cut. Ghansah’s historical eye would see that. She’d watch Lemonade and see Daughters of the Dust where other nonblack women and men critics saw a Malick-esque influence. In the midst of all of her record breaking, genre-blending, medium-mashing achievements, Beyoncé has solidified herself as a feminist and centralized her focus on the experiences of black women. She, however inadvertently, echoes the calls for intersectional feminism campaigned for by Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, and even bell hooks. Beyoncé’s story is too rich, too weighty, too dynamic to be profiled by someone who has not emerged from within the same culture.
Though Ghansah spoke on Queen Bey in her profile of Yoncé’s infamous Beyhive, she has the ability to understand, as @sadblackgirl put it, “the confluence of race and gender in America.” Ghansah is also not the only one. Miriam Bale spoke of Beyoncé’s revolutionary black feminism work. Fanta Sylla touched on Beyoncé’s ties to Julie Dash’s film. Janet Mock saw Janie Crawford in Beyonce. Even I couldn’t resist adding to the collection plate of analyses. Black women critics have an intrinsic understanding of Beyoncé —the brand and woman— and the symbiosis behind her strict control on how the world sees her, literally. While Beyoncé once received backlash after rumors of her involvement in a film about the life of Saartje “Sarah” Baartman, she is also a part of Beyoncé’s collective history, as is the thousands upon thousands of women whose rights to control their image, their body, their story were forcibly stripped from them. Black women critics are necessary in reclaiming those stories and understanding the context they provide for the hair, the physiognomy, the fashion, the language that is much celebrated and widely appropriated today.
“It’s an undeniable truth that when African-American writers write about African-American musicians, there are penetrating insights and varieties of context that are otherwise lost to the nonblack music aficionados of the world, no matter how broad the appeal of the musician under scrutiny,” James McBride wrote in his book about James Brown. But what happens when women of the African diaspora write about our musicians and writers and artists? How much more insight and variety of contexts are revealed that are otherwise lost not only on nonblack music/literary/art aficionados but nonblack female music/literary/art aficionados? The black female critic is one who not only understands, and can analyze, the intersection of race and gender, she lives it. Who else would pick up on the nuances of Beyoncé’s career in relation to her southern roots and the black female entertainers who came before her? After Wortham’s discussion of Beyoncé’s “Formation” video she was sent flowers by the Queen herself with a note that read, “Thanks for understanding my heart.”
It’s not just the heart of a black woman that black female critics understand, it’s the texture of their lives, the cosmology of our own subcultures, the nuances of their own styles. If there’s one thing Beyoncé’s latest work has revealed, it’s the plethora of black women ready, willing, and able to do the work of adeptly critiquing black art. The insight they have shared, the varied contexts they provide add flesh and bones to our many histories across the diaspora. Ghansah, and her peers, continue to build, with their writings, bridges that connect us from across seas and allow us to examine what we share and respectfully appreciate what we don’t. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and black women critics are our 21st century griots, while they may not always use an oratorical approach to sharing stories, they are keeping our history alive, they are adding to the black cosmology, they are providing context to black art and black life.
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I am a woman who identifies as a minority on multiple, intersecting levels and who also happens to consider herself an intellectual. Working in higher education and surrounding myself with other academicians of color has allowed me a unique perspective on the complex world of #blacademia.
I hold a master’s degree in secondary language arts education, and have been in not one, but two programs that aim to place high-achieving educators in schools where the students are at risk. In other words, the Teach for America type deals: Pluck an Ivy-League kid out of New England and plug them into the inner city/rural south and see what happens.
During one such program, I was given an assignment where I was asked to “unpack my privileges.” The assignment was based on an article called "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," by Peggy McIntosh. The article is intended to illuminate how most white people are oblivious to the many unspoken advantages they have grown accustomed to. Which is a perfect activity for those enthusiastic young do-gooders who are ready to save those poor black kids. However, for those of us in the program who were already minorities and who have not quite enjoyed so many invisible privileges, it was quite difficult to identify and talk about how we "will be more sensitive to those less fortunate than us."
"Um… excuse me," I thought, “Some of us don’t actually have privileges in our backpacks. And the few we have fought for, we would like to hold on to them, thank you very much!”
In a similar vein, a colleague of mine, who happens to be the only woman of color in her PhD program at the university she attends, was recently asked to perform an assignment wherein she was required to “attend an event where she was the minority in a group of people she would normally oppress.”
Hmmm, let’s unpack that one. A woman of color in the United States would normally have the opportunity to oppress whom? A woman of color in the U.S. in a situation where she is the minority? Eh… pardon me? We only need to wake up in the morning and walk outside our homes to find ourselves in a world where we are the minority. What is the benefit for us in purposely subjecting ourselves to yet another situation where we are the minority?
My colleague felt the assignment was not relevant to her and that she could easily accomplish the objective by simply recounting a normal day in her life. However, the professor insisted that she most assuredly is an oppressor in one form or another and if she thought about it hard enough she would realize this and surely gain something from this assignment (side eye).
These well-meaning exercises are doled out every day at institutions of higher learning or training programs, and maybe they are helping those in the majority in some small way to gain sensitivity. But as we poor, less fortunate souls begin to rise from the ashes and make it into post-graduate programs, curriculum developers must begin to find more meaningful ways to accommodate our experiences. Academia must now understand that black intellectual lives matter, and that these cute little diversity assignments that they have meticulously worked into their syllabi are not one-size-fits-all. Minority intellectuals are already contending with a completely unique set of micro-inequities from their peers and advisers. Our classrooms should be a safe space where all students are permitted and encouraged to create their own experiences of learning and growing. Otherwise, what's the point?
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Self-reliance is an understanding of one's ability to define and determine the self. That understanding is a difficult one to reach as a black woman, but for these 13 women they not only reached it but articulated it so well. Often times our paths are obstructed by the looming presence of a society whose existence seems rooted in keeping us down. But, as Maya Angelou reminded us, we still shall rise. See what these 13 writers have to say about the matter of self-love and self-reliance.
"I want to feel what I feel. What's mine. Even if it's not happiness, whatever that means. Because you're all you've got."
Zora Neale Hurston
"I love myself when I am laughing. . . and then again when I am looking mean and impressive."
"We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay — and rise!"
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."
"One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others."
"I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect."
"HELPED are those who are content to be themselves; they will never lack mystery in their lives and the joys of self-discovery will be constant."
"I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal I cannot be comprehended except by my permission"
Toni Cade Bambara
"Revolution begins with the self, in the self.
J. California Cooper
"Build you a rainbow. Do it yourself! If you can’t do that, build your mind near one. Learn how to fly. Then … soar a little."
"In yourself you stretch, you are well."
"Through my tears i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely"
"I shall become, I shall become a collector of me. And put meat on my soul."
Share some of your favorite quotes on self-reliance!
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Internalized misogyny is a mindset that can be found in both men and women. It's an involuntary belief that myths, stereotypes, and in a lot of cases blatant lies about women are true. Check out my list below of just a few ways we can all stop it.
Remember ALL women are valuable.
Stop saying that women don't like nice guys. We love nice guys. Maybe accept the fact that you aren’t actually a "nice guy." After all, if you really were, you'd be nice without expecting anything in return, right?
Research the true meaning of feminism. If you can agree that women deserve the same civil, professional and social opportunities as men, then you might be a feminist. And that's okay! It's actually a good thing.
Stop asking for nudes... Just stop.
Understand that a woman asking you not to call her a female or any other word other than her name (yes, even Queen) is to be respected. Your approval is a non-factor.
Accept that rejection is a part of life and any woman who rejects your romantic or sexual advances is not a b****, thot, stuck up, or any other name your wounded ego can muster up.
If you find yourself about to start a statement with “Women/females/whatever,” stop right there.
Know for certain and without a shadow of a doubt that lesbian, queer, trans, and bisexual women are NOT objects for your sexual fantasies. They are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.
Get comfortable with the fact that there are women in the world whose goals in life don't include marriage and children. Accept that it is their preference and has absolutely nothing to do with you.
This might come as a shock to some of you, but WOMEN ARE HAVING SEX! This means they have urges, get horny, can and do have strictly sexual relationships. Astounding, no?
Women are not here for your entertainment.
With that being said, dead the “dress how you want to be addressed" mentality. Do you deserve respect if I’m trying to have a conversation with you and you’ve got gold in your mouth?
Always remember that women who perform or have careers in traditionally male-dominated fields are NOT there because of pity. It's because they're the best person for the job. So dispel your feelings of unfairness and acknowledge that sometimes the best man for a job is a woman!
How do you check YOUR internalized misogyny? Let us know in the comments below!
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It has been such a journey figuring out how to convey who and "what" I am. I was born on November 25th during an 'American Thanksgiving Party' in Florence, Italy to an African-American mother and Italian father. As a baby, I had very light skin, blue eyes and patches of straight blonde hair. My mother says that even Italian people thought I was German or Nordic, and my Nonna felt disappointed that I wasn't the "chocolate treat" she was hoping for. Sooner or later, my melanin kicked in, my hair started to curl and Nonna got her wish.
My parents decided to move to the USA for more opportunities and a better education for me. My mother had gone to an HBCU and felt it was important for me, as a black person, to be educated in the U.S. It was always important to her that I understood I was black and Italian, even though I had light eyes and hair, spoke English and lived in Miami, FL now.
Translating my identity to the people around me, however, proved to be more difficult.
People often asked "What are you?" or tried to guess—
"Umm, are you Brazilian? Moroccan? No, wait, don't tell me... Dominican?"
When I said "Italian" — I was born there, after all — I only got dumbfounded looks.
"No... I mean... you have to be mixed with something, right?"
"My mother is African American."
"Ooh. I thought it was more exotic."
Exotic. I got that one a lot. I think that's part of the reason my mom tried so hard to remind me of my heritage. No matter who I was speaking to, the assumption was always that I was different from them; an apparition from some distant place where the people are beautiful and seduce you in a foreign tongue. I started modeling at six months old, and some of my earliest memories are of being marketed as exotic. As I got older, my 'mom-ager' saw this as an opportunity. I would show up to all the casting calls. Looking for a black child? Sign me up. A Latino child? That's me, too.
I remember going in to meet with clients and they would ask, as usual, "So, what are you?"
I responded, as rehearsed, "What are you looking for?"
They would usually chuckle — what a precocious child —- and insist, "No, really sweetie, where are you from?"
"I can be whatever you want me to be. I bet you couldn't guess where I'm from, and neither will the customer."
I was very successful. Hiring me checked most of the boxes, made your brand seem inclusive and relatable to the 'other.'
This was my childhood. I was a shapeshifter, hyper-aware of the way identity was constructed through performance. Outside of modeling, I went to a Jewish elementary school and thought kosher meant 'healthy' (kind of like organic), until I transferred to an all-girls Catholic school; meanwhile, I lived on and off with my two best friends (and fellow child-models) who were Taiwanese, so I started learning Mandarin, Mahjong and Buddhist practices. People often tell children "You can be anything!" I don't think they usually mean it literally.
As an adult, I think back on this time and recognize my privilege. I'm reminded of who wasn't chosen for the job when I'm outraged to see Zoe Saldana chosen to play Nina Simone. Joseph Fiennes cast as Michael Jackson. How much was I appropriating other people's identities for financial means? Was it my choice? Did I even understand why they cast me? I was immersed in so many cultures, it often did seem as easy as putting on a costume, doing my makeup a bit different and adapting my dialect. There were layers and layers of code-switching.
I also remember what effect this had on me, as a child just beginning to understand who I was; what it meant to be everything and nothing at the same time. How my 'exoticism' caused me to be sexualized even as a young child. I still flinch thinking about how many older men leered at me asking when I would turn 18, even when I was pre-pubescent. And then I remember that Zoe Saldana has played multiple types of "sexy aliens" as well. The fetishization of the other is encoded in my unfamiliar features.
Outside of 'work,' it was important to me to create and express my own identity. I identified as a tomboy, although I loved bright colors and patterns, psychedelic '70s style (especially bellbottom jumpsuits), costumes and make-up. I remember going to South Beach for Halloween and seeing drag queens in the most amazing clothes I had ever seen. I loved it immediately.
I got my own first dose of drag in a photoshoot for Tommy HIlfiger when one of the boy models didn't show up. The producers were angry and didn't know what to do with the shots they had planned for him. I knew this was my opportunity and I offered to take his spot. This opened up a whole new set of castings I could show up for.
In this context the code-switch felt more subversive. I looked up to my mom's friend Nicole (a beautiful, talented, unashamed drag queen) who inspired me to see genderbending as liberatory and radical. For a female person to successfully perform masculinity and a male person to intentionally choose to embody femininity is a spit in the face to patriarchy. What I didn't know how to integrate was how much of my masculinity was a performance and how much of it was what made me feel more comfortable. My masculinity was often dismissed because of my love for the flamboyant and femme, but as a genderqueer adult I reject the fact that as a female-bodied person I have to only perform traditional masculinity for it to be recognized as legitimate.
I prided myself on my ability to become what other people were looking for. But as I grew older it got harder and harder to distinguish between what was the performance and what was me. Slipping between the lines gave me the opportunity to fit anywhere; on the other hand, it also meant the real me often fell between the cracks. I remember friends telling me I wasn't black because I was Italian, and being othered as the black American cousin when I visited family in Italy; casting directors telling me I didn't 'sound black,' and school bullies calling me n****r as they pulled on my afro.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was black Italian, but when that was so consistently erased by my surroundings, did my opinion count? If race is performative, then did my self-identity mean anything if it was not mirrored and recognized within my performance? Every person of color I know has had to learn to code-switch. And the reality is that performance is incentivized. If I put on the right costume, dialect, and respond with the right scripts for the gender and race I am expected to perform there are financial and social benefits. I learned this at a very young age, which sometimes causes me to blame myself these days for the social and financial repercussions of choosing to subvert these expectations in favor of a more accurate performance of self.
In a society that chants "Be you! Be unique!" it can be really hard to figure out what that means. What is 'me' when there have been so many iterations of my self?
Modeling as a child was an eye-opening experience. I learned that race and gender are performative, as well as what types of performances are incentivized and when. I learned to code-switch, but I also learned how successful code-switching can create a mask for the self in exchange for affirmation. I got to see behind the scenes of the construction of a narrative meant to sell a product through the commodification of the other. I became that other.
At the same time, I missed many of those developmental benchmarks, the moments when you come to understand yourself and share that realization with friends going through a similar experience. Being grounded in who you are is fundamental to living in a coercive and oppressive society that often makes people of color, gender non-conforming people, and really anyone who is outside of the norm feel less than, while still chanting praises for the unique and telling you to "be yourself!"
For so long I felt I could be anything, but didn't know who I actually was. What does it mean to just be myself? How much of identity is predetermined and unchanging and how much of it is chosen? How much of identity is performance and does that performance have to be seen for it to be real? How much of code-switching is a natural response to changing environments and how much of it is redefining the self for social affirmation and survival? I'm still working on figuring out the answers.
Nastassja Schmiedt is a knowmadic imaginatrix and community organizer. Nastassja was born in Italy, but grew up in Miami, FL and is passionate about travel and media. They co-founded the social enterprise Spring up (timetospringup.org) with their partner (and fiancée), Lea Roth, to harness the power of storytelling and imagination to support survivors of violence, build sustainable activist movements, and explore/expand the realm of possibility. Nastassja recently co-authored their first novel and is excited to continue writing fiction before eventually making their own independent films. Follow Nastassja on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram and check...
The digital age has proven that articulation of resistance can be powerful and poetic, and just as easily witty, sassy, and fiercely funny.
Take for instance, a still photo from a scene of the cult classic series, 'Saved By the Bell'. In it, characters Samuel “Screech” Powers and Kelly Kapowski are sharing a milkshake. Juxtaposed in pale yellow lettering is a quote by feminist scholar and social activist, bell hooks.
In 1989, NBC Universal introduced viewers to Zach Morris and friends as they navigated the halls at Bayside High. The show followed the group of friends grappling with the woes of high school life in a light-hearted manner. If they ever touched on serious issues like drug use, women's rights, and homelessness, it was always in a subtle and palatable way. So hearing a reference to this show in the same sentence as activist and author bell hooks would seem unlikely.
hooks has devoted her work to focusing on intersectional topics of race, class, gender, and capitalism. Through her feminist theories, hooks calls attention to dismantling the notion of power in which, for one group to be seen as superior, another must be inferior. In doing so, she explores the significance of restructuring the feminist movement to be inclusive of all genders, and aims to acknowledge, analyze, and abolish the power structure that marginalizes minorities of all kinds. How could the worlds of hook's feminist theory and Bayside High School collide? Furthermore, why?
In order to understand you need to know the mind of Liz Laribee.
When Laribee, the author behind saved by the bell hooks, began her social experiment, she didn’t anticipate the blog's now massive following. Drinks led to a discussion of representation in media and pop culture. That discussion led Laribee to the Internet, challenging critical theories, sparking dynamic discussions, and making clear the significance of intersectionality.
1. Why did you start your blog?
I was drunk. Just kidding. But, I initially began it after chatting with some friends at a bar. We had been talking about the representation of people of color in Hollywood, the representation of women in the film Selma, and how the conversation about both had shifted since the media coverage of Ferguson. This was also on the heels of the original #OscarsSoWhite hashtag which is even more painfully relevant this year. There is an embarrassing failure of work extended to and recognition for people of color in Hollywood. That these themes remain speaks at best to ignorance and at worst to willful discrimination.”
2. Finding a way to tackle all of these issues in a way that is intelligent, informative, and make users share is a gamble but, you hit the Internet jackpot when you opted to use the micro-blogging medium, Tumblr, as the source of your social experiment. Why do you think it’s worked out so well for you?
“Tumblr is ideal for this kind of project because it primarily features visual content (as opposed to word-based Twitter), it has the ability to be relevant to people I don't know (as opposed to my personal Facebook network populated by aunts and college friends), and its hashtag function allows posts to be searchable by diverse people for diverse reasons (I can find it if I'm looking for posts about Kelly Kapowski OR if I'm searching for posts about dismantling the patriarchy.) Add to this that each social media platform develops its own culture of being, and the way people tend to use Tumblr is the right fit for the content. Interest-based searches on Tumblr have become a valuable tool for young people hoping to educate themselves on how larger conversations are developing. It is fascinating to watch how memes both contribute to and reflect how people talk about things.”
3. You say that the youth educating themselves is important to develop larger conversations. With your most popular post amassing over 80,000 notes, it’s safe to say the kids are listening. What was your intent or inspiration behind using images of popular American television shows against quotes of feminism theory?
“My intent, primarily, is to learn. Since beginning this project almost exactly one year ago, my working knowledge of incredible people shedding light on the world has deepened dramatically. The language I use, the positions I hold, the work I hope to carry out: all of this has been nuanced by the writers I am encountering and reacquainting myself with. Something I think about a lot is that personal philosophy is often at the mercy of one's access to education; specifically, it's at the mercy of the knowledge, effectiveness, and patience of one's educators. And as always, education takes place primarily outside of the classroom. The Internet has turned The Shaping Of Paradigm on its ear: anyone with access to Tumblr can encounter pockets of critical theory that might be able to realign how we think about the world.”
4. Why bell hooks specifically? Is there something that she does for you that other feminist writers don't? Are there, particularly in this transitional moment in America's history, points that you think millennials relate to?
bell hooks’ works were perfect for this project for two reasons: the first being that just practically speaking, her name works for mashing up with Saved By The Bell. The second and more meaningful reason is the content of her writing. She is best known for her writings on intersectional feminism, specifically on the ways that race, class, and gender play roles in the systems that perpetuate oppression. Many of these systems of oppression go unseen by people they don’t experience the oppression, including 11-year-old Liz Laribee watching Saved By The Bell for six hours a day. That SBTB was a normal element of my upbringing, and that that is the case for almost everyone I know, I found its juxtaposition with hooks’ biting criticism particularly compelling as a mirror. hooks’ writings, among others, speak to a school of feminism (intersectionality) that is gaining traction among millennials. Her examinations of patriarchal white supremacy in media produced by the dominant culture are especially relevant in the way that media is consumed by millennials. Through the platform of Tumblr, for example, memes that critique the dominant culture are as easily accessible as those that perpetuate it and are oftentimes juxtaposed in the newsfeed. Unbarred access to diverse narratives has become the preference for many millennials; diverse ensemble shows like Orange Is the New Black and Master of None feel like a breath of fresh air. So too does the frustration with older institutions like the Oscars obscuring the critical work of people of color in the film industry.
5. Is racial identification a thing that comes up for you in relation to the blog?
My own racial identification isn’t the focus of the blog other than through an examination of my own privilege. But the topic of race is critical to why the blog might matter to anyone: we can’t realistically address feminism without considering race (as well as class). The post that’s been shared the most often, by far, is one whose caption reads “Contemporary black women felt they were asked to choose between a black movement that primarily served the interests of black male patriarchs and a women’s movement which primarily served the interests of racist white women.” That idea’s popularity speaks to a failure on behalf of feminist and racial justice efforts in our history. Progress can’t be made when the tools of that progress undermine the basic needs of the people it purports to aid.
6. Many of today’s youth are learning a lot about the world on the internet and on television. The rise of reality TV has been debated as painting a picture of a false reality. As it relates to feminism, how do you think reality tv dating shows like “The Bachelor” or “Flavor of Love” are detrimental to feminism and what do you think it reinforces about oppressive patriarchal structures?
Shows like The Bachelor construct microcosms of my very worst fears about love: I am a collection of the assets I wear with my physical body, in fanatic pursuit of a stranger who has been selected FOR me as my ideal partner, measured by how well I perform in competitive antics completely outside of my own talents and interests, and the success of other women serves as the gauge of whether I will have failed. These shows reinforce the meritocracy that tells women they are commodities for consumption, tells men that our expectations of them are painfully low, tells outspoken personalities that they will be given a narrative of mental illness, tells people with mental illness that they are risks to avoid, and tells people of color and single mothers that they will be voted off by the fourth episode. They reinforce that achieved love, won love, love worth a television series, is for straight, thin, able-bodied, white, unmedicated, rich people. This is a harmful narrative.
7. However you identify, you do a lot of championing in general, your empathy and emotional intelligence is immediately transparent. Is this what allyship in general looks like to you? What do you think of that term? Is it even one you use?
It’s very important to me that I identify with the work of an ally, and I believe the term comes with specific responsibilities: examining my own inherent advantages, challenging injustices that I see around me, committing to help educate other white people. It’s critical that I speak up when I encounter problematic scenarios. It’s critical that I don’t posture myself as the leader of a movement about and for other people. It’s critical that I don’t talk like I’ve just discovered racism. It’s critical that I don’t make it the responsibility of POC to educate me. It’s critical that I claim my own hangups, hesitations, and mistakes. All of this requires that I keep reading, listening, and learning. I have particular interest in reading black feminist perspectives on media and culture studies: Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the theory of intersectionality), Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Shirley Chisholm, Bree Newsome, etc. The more I read, the more ability I gain to recognize problematic patterns in past and current headlines: intergenerational poverty, housing discrimination, a predatory justice system, and racial profiling have robbed us of a nation worthy of our proclaimed Constitutional ideals.
8. What are your future intentions? - More specifically, did you expect your blog to be as popular as it is? Do you have any goals for it in the future?
“I had no idea the blog would gain any traction, nor did I expect that it would propel me into a different career path. I had spent years as a portrait artist/director of a grassroots arts collective in Harrisburg. This blog helped solidify my decision to redirect and go to grad school to study disparities within access to education. My goal for the blog is that it continues to challenge and delight those people to whom it is a challenge and delight. Maybe one day I'll be able to make money from it to pay for grad school? Also, I would secretly love to get Mark Paul Gosselaar and bell hooks on a stage to talk about their reactions to the blog and each other.”
Today, Liz stays committed to challenging the flawed social constructs that have molded much of the life we live today and bringing those issues to the forefront for others in her network online and off.
Following the popularity of "saved by the bell hooks", Liz's knack for a good pun carries on in the sideshows tab of her Tumblr where mashups like Dolly Parton Luther King Jr. and Neil Degrassi Tyson feature more narratives from powerful voices in media and entertainment alongside poignant images from pop culture television shows. When Laribee isn't online she functions as an artist, illustrator, and founder of The MakeSpace Art Collective which is dedicated to showcasing the work of artists in the Harrisburg area.
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I had the opportunity to attend Pan-Washingtonian on October 10th. The event, hosted by artist Imani Roberts, showcased her artwork and also included the work of female entrepreneurs who were born and raised in Washington D.C. This collective effort exemplified the power of community. Imani’s pieces focus on ‘’self-realized liberation’’ in race, gender and identity. Her latest series, Still Miseducated, displays her visual interpretation of the critically acclaimed album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
To learn more about Imani and her artwork, visit her website.
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Gender roles are so often portrayed in the media by throwing things into two categories and ignoring or silencing anything and anyone that doesn't fit those stereotypes. Many people are working to fight these gender binaries, and even the well-known siblings Willow and Jaden Smith have grasped the concept. They prove that age doesn't determine your cultural and social intelligence by succinctly destroying stereotypes that are tripping up the closed-minded.
Check out what they had to say below:
Also check out Willow's new trippy video.
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In the weeks since the floodgates of accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby opened, the case hasn’t gotten any clearer, and with each passing day there are more questions than answers
As of present time, there are over 30 women, who of varying levels of celebrity, age and race have come forward with eerily similar stories of being drugged and assault. Many of these go back to the 70’s, during Cosby’s ascension into fame and fortune.
While all people are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, there’s a growing number of those who have presumed this entire group of women to be guilty. Guilty of poor time management (“why did they wait so long”), financial planning (“they must be after money”) or being masterminds of a widespread conspiracy to see a successful Black man fail.
Which leads to the biggest question - what is there to possibly gain by coming out and accusing a well-known celebrity of sexual assault? In the battle of a beloved tv show and a legacy deemed so important - who has the most to gain and who has the most to lose? Whose truth will set one side free and condemn the other? While various sources confirm that false sexual assault accusations vary between the 2% to 8% mark, this generally consistent worldwide statistic is ignored.
His wife of over 50 years, Camille Cosby broke her silence and via a statement said that "He is the man you thought you knew," and this week his tv wife, Phylicia Rashad jumped to his defense by saying:
“What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.
She was reported to have said: “forget those women” and to have brushed off the claims from Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson.
This was exactly what some who have been skeptical of this case from the start wanted - a character witness statement from the people we think should and would know him best. And in Phylicia’s case - a woman many of us grew up thinking was the epitome of Black married life. Across social media, you will find just as many applauding her statements as those thoroughly disappointed by them.
The problem with Phylicia’s statement (which she is now saying she’s been mis-quoted) and the loudly adamant Cosby supporters - they are exactly definition of rape culture. A phrase thrust recently thrust into our lexicon and vocabulary, with more deniers than believers.
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.” ― Stuart Chase
I cannot simply set these women aside in favor of a conspiracy theory. I cannot forget the women who haven’t come forward because they are scared of the media attention and harassment that comes with accusing a well loved celebrity. “These women” are important. They are like so many others who have been forgotten. No victim of crime is more scrutinized than those of sexual assault. In more cases than not - even when there is actual evidence, it doesn’t result in consequences for the accused, but leaves a life in shambles.
We don’t know what the truth is in this case. We don’t know these women. We don’t know Bill Cosby in the way that his wife or Phylicia does - or believe they do. The thing that we do know, is that we don’t have any truth. And no matter what side of the fence you land on, it would behoove us all to not forget these women.les strings erotiques ...