The CFC

21 Sep 2014

django_unchained

Some spoilers ahead, but mostly I’m  just feeling all my feelings…

Growing up, I had to deal with my mother’s love for Westerns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Outlaw Josie Wales. One of the many joys of expanded basic cable (besides the Cooking Channel, of course) is that I get Encore Westerns. Between that and reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, I know that when my mama comes to visit she will be thoroughly entertained.

I don’t get her love for the genre. I mean, I get it on one level. I know my mother appreciates a good revenge tale and she likes it when the bad guys grovel at the end. But Westerns? Really? Then again, I unapologetically look forward to watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and all the iterations of Love and Hip Hop, so who am I to judge? We all hold contradictions, not to mention shamtastic and raggedy entertainment choices.

So, when I saw that Django was coming out during the holidays, I thought this would be something that we could watch together. I mean, I do “enjoy” an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger now and again but I’m not sure that that counts. Django would definitely give us both something to talk about.

I did have some apprehension about watching Django, though. For one, I am not a fan of Tarantino at all. At all. Generally, I find his work contrived, overly self-conscious, and, frankly, boring. Plus, to me he’s like the worst kind of hipster racist, a grown up version of Justin Timberlake desperately trying to affirm his black card at all times, while thoroughly proving himself to be white as hell. The living worst.

But, I was still intrigued by the movie.  As a scholar of African American literature, I’m always interested in how we understand and talk about slavery today.  Besides, I love Kerry Washington with a fiery burning passion and would watch her read the phonebook.  (Too bad she had like five lines in the movie. She did have that lip quiver though. Can’t forget about the lip quiver).

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm...

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm…

I ended up watching the movie and it exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I won’t do a formal review here, largely because I think the film has been discussed elsewhere in brilliant ways and who needs to reinvent the wheel? (On that note, check out discussions of the film by Salamishah Tillet and The Feminist Wire if you haven’t already). What I do want to talk a bit about was my movie going experience.

I decided against seeing Django while I was spending the holidays at home in Fort Lauderdale. I anticipated that my little heart couldn’t take it. I imagined some irreverent scene involving slavery and being in a movie theatre filled the laughter of whites who, in their next breath, wouldn’t hesitate to remind me of how postracial we are and how Tarantino has every right to create art as he pleases and how brilliant he is and on and on and on. I figured I might have a slavery flashback and go Nat Turner up in there and that’s not how I’m trying to go out, folks.

Instead of that unfortunate scenario, Mama and I headed to the movies in Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. Since my mother is a stickler for time we got there early and I did a lot of people watching as the theatre filled to capacity. Our fellow viewers were Black—pretty much everyone as far as I could see—and largely grown. I’d say middle-aged and older. There were couples on dates. Clusters of homegirls and homeboys. Church sisters and ladies who lunch. Not the crowd that generally thinks Reservoir Dogs is awesome, interestingly enough.

I immediately felt at ease. I felt like I was at a family reunion where something dubious was about to happen but that, nevertheless, it was going to be ok because my auntie and my mama were there. Weird, perhaps, but true.

So we all sat there in companionable (semi) silence, watching Tarantino’s comedic spaghetti Western slavery action-comedy, cheering when racist slaveholders came to their timely and explosively bloody ends, sighing in satisfaction when Django finally got his girl, and laughing out loud at the absurdly funny scenes involving shit that is generally not funny at all.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

Take for instance a scene involving some night riders (aka the forefathers of the KKK). The group arrives to kill Django and his white companion but before they can get to the lynching, there’s a whole discussion about how their outfits (namely the poorly shaped eyeholes on their white hoods) are getting in the way of their appointed task. It goes without saying that lynching is not funny. I mean, really. But laughter reverberated throughout the theater. Not uncomfortable, tinny laughter that rings hollow and dies quickly in your throat. But genuine “people can be so damn foolish,” “you got to laugh to keep from crying” and “ain’t this some shit?” laughter thundered, yes, thundered throughout the theater. I don’t know that I could have laughed during this moment in another theater, but I laughed heartily on that day.

When the movie was over I asked my mom what she thought about it. She said she loved it. She loved that Django went about avenging people for his wife and that all the bad people got killed, especially Samuel L. Jackson’s old Uncle Ben looking ass. For her, it was the best kind of Western. When we went out to dinner that evening she expressed several times how satisfying it was to watch racists get cut down. I could only agree.

F@#% you, Stephen!

F@#% you, Stephen!

So, what’s my verdict on Django? It’s interesting, frustrating, (at times) funny, violent, limiting, problematic, thought provoking…it’s doing a whole lot. I don’t regret seeing it, but it’s not in my top 10 list either. I think it is inciting interesting discussion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that this will necessarily translate to a bunch of nuanced portrayals of Black folk in slavery. What I do know is that my viewing experience was connected to where I saw the movie as much as it was connected to the film’s content and that, among other things, underscores my general ambivalence about the movie.

Have you seen Django? What are your thoughts on the film?

django vengance


21 Sep 2014

**trigger warning**

A few weeks ago, a young Indian woman went to the movies. On her way home she took a bus on which she was raped and brutally assaulted by six men. We don’t know the name of this 23-year-old student.  We do know that  she was tortured so badly that she lost her intestines and needed numerous operations. Six people – including the bus driver – have been arrested. On Friday, December 28 she died.

I don’t know her name. I don’t have an adequate response, but I feel I should say something. Because I was born in the city where she were assaulted. Because so many, too many, experience such violence. Because I spend most of my waking hours thinking about how we can create a world where women are safe. Because she wanted to live.

●●●

This is both about and not about men. Here are some statistical knowables, true across most societies (just take a look at the extant research at both the global and national levels).

  • Violence against women and girls occurs primarily at the hands of men and boys.
  • Violence against men and boys occurs primarily at the hands of other men and boys.
  • Nations, statistically speaking, commit far and away, the most of the world’s violence via war and conflict. This involves military forces comprised largely of men and boys, who are both perpetrators and victims of this violence.

Gender, then, rises up as an undeniably important variable in regards to understanding violence. And though we might not have a shared understanding of this fact, sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. Further, people who are gender-non-coforming, genderqueer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates.

In my work at Men Stopping Violence, our focus is on ending male violence against women. Far and away the most common first response to my explanation of our work goes something like this: “Yes, violence against women is a problem but, don’t women ALSO commit violence?”

Let me answer that question now: Sure, yes. Women are also perpetrators of violence. As are people of all genders, sexes and sexual orientations. But to refocus the question on women’s violence is to obfuscate the real problem. And that problem is violent masculinity. If all the above data has not convinced you yet, please note: According to the National Academy of Sciences, in the US, “Male criminal participation in serious crimes at any age greatly exceeds that of females, regardless of source of data, crime type, level of involvement, or measure of participation.” I say this not to pathologize masculinity as inherently violent, I certainly don’t believe it is. I say this to move us away from wringing in our hands in despair about a seemingly intractable problem (male violence against women) and move us toward naming the fact that this problem is deeply structural, rooted in patriarchy and colonialism.

The point here is this: violence in general and sexual violence in particular, like all social ills, is best approached with a multi-faceted and intersectional perspective.

●●●

“Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of the individual: it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say someone is “in power” we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name.” — Hannah Arendt, from On Violence

What is the function of violence?

Resisting essentialist notions about sex and turning to think about gender, there is something in pervasive understandings of masculinity or masculine identity that accepts if not encourages violence.  This begs the questions: Is masculinity itself violent? Is there a way to be a man/masculine without being violent? What causes violence? What sustains it? These are questions that I think about daily and with my colleagues around the country. At MSV we work with many different men who join in this conversation with us. For us, that involves honing in on the problem of men’s violence against women.

Let me be very clear here, because this is the bulk of my point: we fail at answering these questions if we think of violence as merely a symptom of something else. If you listened to the NRA press conference last week in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, you might be lead to believe that the perpetration of violence is some elusive phenomenon, committed by the criminally insane, or at the behest of video games and violent movies. If you watched some of the Indian coverage of the Delhi gang rape story you’d hear lots of speculation that the young men who perpetrated this gruesome act, must have been intoxicated by drugs. I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment of violence. It’s not merely a tragic happenstance. It is not something only done by those who have ‘lost their right minds.’ Violence is functional.

It is a means of asserting and securing power. When violence targets women in the dark of night it ensures, among many other things, that women stay out of the streets. When violence against trans women goes largely unreported in studies of violence against women, it is tacitly legitimated. When violence against white school children raises a national furor and violence against an innocent black teenager wearing a hoodie doesn’t provoke a national conversation about legislating guns, we can see the fault lines.  When a football player kills his partner and then himself and we find ourselves knowing his name but not hers, we see which victims matter.

Violence is functional and our response to that violence is also functional. Violence is functions by silencing those whom it targets. Let us not forget that most cases of rape and sexual assault go unreported. Let us not forget the stigma that survivors face. In the US only 24% of rape allegations result in arrest, never mind conviction. Whether it is perpetrated by an individual or made invisible by our social, cultural and political institutions, violence has an aim – to remove power and instill fear.

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The numbers can tell us most of what we need to know. But not all. What is lost in the statistical knowables, is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Women’s lives bear out patterns, and patterns tell a story. If we ask intentional questions about trends – we can learn something about our social orchestration. Looking to recent stories, we might learn something about this functionality.

Kasandra Perkins was killed by her partner, a professional athlete, who had threatened to shoot her weeks before he did. No one was able to protect her despite the fact of his threat.

CeCe McDonald, a trans woman, faced violence in the form of a hate crime and for her retaliation was sentenced to serve her time in a men’s prison, denied the right to name a very basic fact of her existence.

Victoria Soto was a school teacher with her students in the classroom one day when she was killed in a massacre by a lone gunman with easy access to assault weapons.

Savita Halappanavar sought refuge from the horror of a wanted pregnancy gone awry at an Irish hospital which (legally) refused to save her life.

And then a few weeks ago a young woman in New Delhi took the bus home one night after watching a movie with a friend and was brutally raped and died, 12 days later, from her wounds.

When something horrific happens, near or far from home, we tend to ask the same questions: Why? How? So, what, then, are the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ in these cases and in inumerable others? There are few actual similarities in these cases, but there are many potential points of convergence: laws that do not protect, credibility that is denied, legislation that is missing, stories that are made invisible. If we are to change things, our belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices must come under the spotlight. And that is because these stories complicate the statistical knowables.

Interpersonal violence usually belies a whole host of social conditions that are hard to qualify and quantify (i.e. privilege, race, poverty, gender, oppression, resistance, wealth, cultural norms, etc.). In this, as in most things, historical context is key. The US has a long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the internment, without due-process, of those considered a threat, be they Japanese immigrants or detained in Guantanamo via the War on Terror.  These factors complicate our understanding of who perpetrates violence and against whom and why. Knowing the statistics is important. Knowing the stories, unearthing the legacies, speaking aloud the names of the victims and the survivors is just as important.

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Women’s bodies serve as battlegrounds: metaphorically and practically. “Western” feminists look toward the “East” and see beleaguered women facing oppression at the hands of savage (read:black and brown) men. Never mind that staggering and horrific violence happens in the “West.”  Never mind that the US has never taken a stand to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Never mind international conventions, the US is not able to muster the political will to pass the Violence Against Women Act, or gun control legislation. Never mind that we all have remained  unable to effectively address the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war, so as to prevent women’s bodies from serving as the actual sites of war and conflict.

Despite all these facts, in the wake of this story, outrage began seeping out from the US, the UK and Europe (which I am loosely defining as the “West” – the demarcations of and within these places could be a topic of a separate blog post) at the problem of patriarchal “Eastern” cultures. The narrative looks something like this: Those poor women suffering at the hands of those horrible men. We must loudly proclaim our empathy for those people, who either know no better or are unable to live by our enlightened social standards.

This narrative is racist, homophobic, sexist, heteronormative and imperialist.

And to step away from all that politicalese: it is quite simply just wrong.

Violence is global. It pervades all cultures and communities. Yesterday, in a brilliant conversation, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and one of the main organizers of protests against sexual violence in India and Elora Chowdhary, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now to talk about the case and the way it’s being discussed here in the US as well as in India. Chaowdhary says,

So, on the one hand, we see in the Western media some reporters taking this moral high ground and pointing fingers and demonizing Indian culture, as though sexual violence against women is pervasive in only certain parts of the world and that it’s somehow reflective of deeply inherent cultural traditions of that part of the world. Of course, what that obscures is that both rape and domestic violence are pervasive in the United States, and domestic violence being one of the leading causes of injury to women, and exceedingly high numbers of rapes that, in fact, mostly go unreported in the United States. So, I think embedded in these kinds of reporting is a certain colonial mindset, of course, there’s a long history of that. And this kind of mindset that women are the measure of the progress of a society emerges from colonial practices, that these ideas were used to legitimize both colonization and also imperialism.

I don’t say all this to discourage global dialogue. Very much the opposite, in fact. We have much to learn from each other, by sharing our struggles and our victories. Such exchange is key to our success. What we cannot abide however is the reductive and disempowering narrative that allows some folks to offer no local, national or global context. What will not help is an essentialist narrative that paints all (or even most) Indian women as victims and all (or even most) Indian men as perpetrators, by virtue of their culture. We must banish these spectres of our colonial legacy if we aim to build an intersectional, transnational and transformative movement to end violence in our communities.

As I’ve said, violence, here in the US and abroad, is functional. Violence against women, is rooted in colonialism and patriarchy, in their varied and sundry iterations.  We’d do well to keep our eyes on that, and work like hell to dismantle the belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that support it.


21 Sep 2014

shawty-lo-photos-extralarge_1209751862690

The recent news that ATL rapper Shawty Lo (of Laffy Taffy fame) may be the potential star of a new reality show featuring him, his 11 children, and his 10 baby mamas had this feminist searching for somebody’s pearls to clutch,  seeing as how even the First Lady’s love of pearls has not inspired me to cop a strand of my own.

I watched the trailer for this latest train wreck out of Atlanta in mild disgust and mega internal conflict. On the one hand, I felt compelled to embrace this potential portrayal of what one friend called an “alternate family.” I mean, my family, composed of my single mom, my only-child self, my cousins who were stand-ins for big brothers, and more recently my step-family is certainly “alternate.” At least I felt that way as a kid when I was asked to fill out those old-school ditto sheets with the members of my family, which curiously left absent slots for cousins and aunties and grandparents. 

And when I see the “rabid” nature of respectability politics that makes grown-ass women feel justified in referring to other sisters hustling trying to make it as “brood mares” I am reminded that I don’t ever wanna be down with the myopia and pathology of the respectability racket either! It is so absolutely clear that this respectability shit IS.NOT. working, no matter how much we remix it. The refusal to see that requires what I like to call indignant ignorance, and frankly ain’t nobody got time for that!

sweet-brown_o_GIFSoup.com

On the other hand: this Shawty-Lo biznass is utterly ratchet! And ratchetness gives me pause, every single time! It’s meant to. Ratchet acts are meant to be so over-the-top and outrageous that they catch your attention and exceed the bounds of acceptable saying.

This is the manner and mode of ratchetness that Bey seems to be invoking (successfully or not, you be the judge) in this pic which had the internets all ablaze over the weekend. 

Let's Get Ratchet! Let'sGetRatchet!

Let’s Get Ratchet! Let’sGetRatchet!

Bey’s ratchetness is about flamboyance, about doing the most, and “Bey-ing the most.”

Shawty-Lo’s brand is “ghetto” “hood” ish on steroids.

In this regard,his show is certainly poised to succeed. (And it ain’t even aired yet.)

 So my initial thought to my friend on FB was: “When there’s a show about a woman and her ten baby daddies then we can have a discussion about alternate families. Until then, this just sounds like women with few options capitulating to Black male patriarchy.”

By-and-large, I believe this is true. But it is also true that I find something fundamentally off-putting about a brother with 11 kids by 10 different women, even though it appears that he supports them all, claims them all, and works to have some level of relationship with their moms. I’m tired of brothers not having to be emotionally accountable for their relational choices. I’m tired of the way patriarchy’s love affair with capitalism sets men up to think that manhood and fatherhood are tied to one’s bank account.

 Patriarchy exempts men from having to emotionally grow the fuck up.

 I mean, it’s great that Shawty Lo knows and claims all his children.  But um, WHEN did that become the standard?!

Men don’t want superficial relationships, but they have little motivation to cultivate the habits of character—emotional generosity and maturity, selflessness, self-confidence (not EGO) – that are necessary for good relationships. Intuitively most men reject women who want them only for what they have, and rightfully so. But these same men are rarely challenged to cultivate the kind of emotional consideration that they seek in others.  They want these things from women, benefit from the time we spend cultivating these attributes in our friendships with other women, but are so ill-equipped to provide them themselves.

 Even still, in the crevices of my wrinkled forehead are the residues of my own respectability politics, my ambivalence about the limits of our alter(n)ations, and our excessive celebrations of alterity.  Even as our generation works hard to stop clutching the pearls and with it the respectability that we think is held in tact by the thin tie that binds, we are confronted with the challenges that led our foremothers to embrace respectability in the first place. We might not be striving for big R-type Respectability, but we are all over little-R respectability. 

Why?

Well, “ask me what I do and who I do it for.” For the future kids, for my mama, my grandmama, my aunties, all those people, for whom I am the embodiment of hope.

When I was growing up, watching way too many girls become mothers before they had the resources to make sustainable lives for themselves and watching my mother hustling to make ends meet, I caught the cautionary tale real quickly. Whatever you do, don’t do this. 

Not justifying. More like confessing. And inviting us–respectable, supereducated brown girls, the ones who “did it the right way,” whatever the hell that is– to tell the truth about our continued investments in respectability, and about all the ways that our love for all things ratchet is as much about getting free as it is about reminding ourselves of all the reasons why we made the choices we made. So we wouldn’t end up like that. Like them.

I mean it could be good ole fashioned “Chickenhead Envy” on my part.  Cuz damn. It definitely feels like “Hoes be winning.”

But are they really? Are any of us of winning in a scenario where respectable and ratchet are the only two options? 

Yes, the alternate family that Shawty Lo and the Baby Moms have built may be subversive, transgressive, and even admirable in its insistence on creating meaningful kinship bonds despite the dictates of respectability. Alternate families are incredibly difficult to create and structurally discouraged at every turn. And in some ways our affective lives (our emotional selves) have not caught up to the space, time, and resource demands of this neoliberal moment.

Ratchetness emerges under these conditions as a kind of habitus through which (some) working-class folks and folks with working class roots interact with every aspect of their lives from entertainment to family to government.

(Hurricane Chris performs “Halle Berry”–one of the first songs to popularize the term “ratchet” in front of the Louisiana Legislature, watch around the 6min mark.)

 More and more though, I am coming to understand that subversive and transgressive politics do not a revolution make.  I mean how exactly does the subversion and transgression represented here undercut patriarchy?

Just because it’s alternate and non-normative–and thus even potentially queer– should I as a feminist embrace it?

From what I see, this radical reimagining of family works primarily to balance the public portrayals of Black men as oversexed deadbeats against the reality that “as long as he takes care of his kids,” we can’t really have anything to say, because ultimately “he ain’t that bad.”

 What do we do with a man that sleeps around unprotected with all these women given the alarming rates of HIV infection in ATL? (And how many people will come to this post and remind me that the women also chose to have unprotected sex with him?!)

As I watch the mothers of Shawty Lo’s children form strategic alliances all in the name of parenting their children and getting what they need from this ONE man, I think about the continued imbalance of power that Black men have over Black women despite all the ways white capitalist supremacist patriarchy conspires to keep Black men locked into a form of subordinate masculinity.

 I know that should this show become a full fledged series, everyone will focus on the Mamas, on how stupid they all were to take up with dude, who has a reputation for foolishness. Their maturity and the wisdom of their choices will surely be discussed. 

His? Not so much.

As I’ve said before, reality (television) frequently makes Black women the victims of persistent acts of disrespectability.

So even as I unhand my (mother’s) pearls, I think this show among others can invite us to think about Black women’s deployment of ratchetness as part of a kind of disrespectability politics.

Or in Bey’s case, as a kind of joy and celebration, that the rush to respectability simply doesn’t allow.

Elsewhere I have written about ratchet feminism, primarily as a kind of female friendship forged in the midst of complicated relationships among men, their mothers, and their many women.  I think this show will place this concept on the table again, as it demands we think about all of the creative ways women negotiate patriarchy.

At the same time, we have to think about how the embrace of ratchetness is simultaneously a dismissal of respectability, a kind of intuitive understanding of all the ways that respectability as a political project has failed Black women and continues to disallow the access that we have been taught to think it will give. #AskSusanRice

We must ask what ratchetness itself makes possible, even as the gratuitous and exploitative display of it attempts to foreclose possibility. What does ratchetness do for the ratchet and non-ratchet (and sometimes ratchet) alike?

Are Black women not always already perceived as “ratchet” anyway? As over-the-top, excessive, doing the most and achieving the least, unable to be contained, except through wholly insufficient discourses, like ghetto, and hood, and ratchet. AND respectable. 

Are Black men “ratchet”? Can white women be ratchet? Is  this ratchet? 

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

I don’t have the answers. And I’m not knocking these moms. The best I can do here is own my contradictions and then let go of these damn pearls, because despite my desire to hold on, this ain’t our mothers’ feminism. 


21 Sep 2014

“Only Odd” is borrowed from tumblr-speak, as in, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”  Bloggers are often expected to react to major events. And though we often comply, the energy expended for such argumentation could also be used to finish manuscripts, start novels, knit sweaters or make passionate love as if the world wasn’t crumbling under the weight of imperialism. Sometimes we can’t. And that’s ok. Here’s a list of things this holiday that made me say, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

If your nose never helped another soul but yourself, you would still be alright with me.

  1. Sandy Hook, Santa Clause, the NRA and the commodity of innocence. A man killed 28 people. Twenty eight. Himself. His mother. Six school employees. Twenty children. We created hierarchies of these deaths based on notions of innocence, notions exploited by various industries.  “Innocent” gets at our pockets. We buy toys in pastels to protect innocence; we lie to children about a classist, red-clad man who visits them but not their friends, a man who will prepare them to believe in a God who rewards the faithful (read rich) with material things. And when faced with a right-before-the-holidays massacre of innocents, we propose buying more guns to protect innocence. All our hands drip blood.
  2. Django. I can’t. I really can’t. Like, I can’t even post links from people who went to see the movie. Would you like to see a movie about slavery? See Sankofa.
  3. Guess who’s (not) coming to dinner? I can’t with the holiday blues. For those who must explain/ defend their singleness to (sometimes) well-wishing elders who grew up in different times. For those who weren’t able to spend holidays with their chosen (read queer) families because of the biases of their kin. For those who weren’t able to spend the holidays with their kin because of their disapproval of their chosen families (read homophobia). I’ve been in 2/3 of those boxes and I can’t. Even.
  4. Catfish marathons over the holiday. From the introduction to the last frame, American conceptions of beauty are unquestioned and reified. Those who manipulate these conceptions to connect with (shallow) others are portrayed as desperate, deviant and ultimately pitiful. Fat hatred, homophobia and ageism are just a few of the things that go unquestioned in this show  that joins the other MTV train wrecks that track on shame.
  5. Heretical holiday characters—like Rudolph. Rudolph stands for everything that our Lorde deplores. Rudolph was only accepted when his difference was valuable to the colonizer of his folks. If the catchy song seems benign, see The Help, Twilight, “Flipping Out” and every other movie, novel or show where the other helps others get they life their lives together.

21 Sep 2014

The Summer We Got Free is Mia McKenzie‘s first novel and I was honored to be asked to write a blurb for the back. I wrote:

Mia McKenzie’s The Summer We Got Free answers Toni Cade Bambara’s question “do you want to be well?” with it’s own. Do you remember what I was like when I was? The novel won’t let you go as it surges forward with truth only fiction can tell. I was eager for answers as I followed a trail of not bread crumbs but whole pieces of toast slathered in butter that makes you moan or as I did, read passages aloud and neglect sleep for want of the next savory morsel. The Summer We Got Free is the product of a girl child grown up in the stories of June, Alice, Zora, Pearl, Gloria, and even Octavia, told in palimpsestic time where McKenzie’s own life doesn’t overlap with her characters but it doesn’t even matter. Ava is the black girl who reminds us that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, to the delight of some and the displeasure of others. McKenzie’s masterful weaving of narrative belies an inaugural effort yet it is clearly an afrofuturistic vision of healing transformation and an affirmation that we have what we need. The text is saturated with an effortless queerity and a brush of magical realism that show what’s possible when you focus off center. I’ll be thrusting this into the hands of everyone I know as I return to it myself to remember I can get free again.

The Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie

This interview with Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is the first in a series of talks Crunk Feminists will have with people we think are creating the world we want to see. We do a lot of critique on the blog but in the new year we want to do more to highlight the folks who are doing the work of fostering activism and alternatives now! CF Crunktastic describes the project as a “Crunk Digital Salon.”

I mean salon both in the sense of the kind of intellectual gatherings that Madame CJ Walker and Georgia Douglas Johnson used to preside over in their homes during the Harlem Renaissance, but also in the sense of beauty/barber shop talk and politics, and the level of community, candor, everydayness and humor that one finds in those spaces.

CF Crunkonia characterizes it as a kitchen table.

I like the kitchen table for reasons involving my love for Paule Marshall. I also miss MHP’s old blog with the same name. And although the kitchen table may not mean to our generation what it did to Marshall’s foremothers, couldn’t we play with the whole digital age meets the kitchen thing because the kitchen table may double as an office desk for many of us? A play on women’s work?

CF Chanel reminded us that a cypher invokes our initial inspiration and connections to hip hop feminism.

I’m moved by the tumblr practice of Signal Boosting, of lifting up important messages that we want spread and that we want people to hear by reblogging them and asking others to do the same.

As we continue to work out what we call this thing, please enjoy our first offering. Get Crunk!!!