The Cry Heard Around the World…He was the Best Father

It was the cry heard around the world when 11 year-old Paris Jackson said, “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine . . . I just want to say I love him so much.” From coast to coast, eyes wept for her sorrow and tears trickled down faces as a poignant realization set in, Michael Jackson, the icon the alleged pedophile was a father. Not just a father of one child, but a father of three. Wow. All of this says that Michael Jackson celebrated Father’s Day. He made sure his children had a capable if not loving, nanny, Grace. He played games with them like dangle infant Blanket from the balcony. He even willed his children to his mother knowing she would love them unconditionally. Michael Jackson was a father. I know what many of you are thinking not another post about Michael Jackson. True, there are countless blogs and news articles about the King of Pop’s death. However this post is more about redefining masculinity than about Michael Jackson.

Holding constant the many allegations surrounding Michael Jackson’s indiscretions with children, I find myself ruminating if not secretly obsessing over the question of whether men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children without physically, sexually, and psychologically violating them. I know many people reading this blog would say “Yes, men can.” But before you answer this question, let me restructure the question: Do we believe that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children without physically, sexually, and psychologically violating them? And I would venture to say if we are honest with ourselves, the answer would be variations of no’s and conditionalities “of yes, but . . .”

Perhaps, I should restructure the question even further: Do we see men loving, nurturing, emoting, and innocently embracing children without thinking to ourselves, “Something is wrong with that man, he must be mentally unstable, a pedophile, or gay?” Once again, if we are honest with ourselves and recognize how we internalize sexist thoughts, the answer to the question is quite evident. Given patriarchy, I believe it is difficult for us to believe that men can L-O-V-E children and greatly desire to be in their presence. We are okay with men providing material and financial support for their children (especially the government), but when men move into the territory of radical love we question their motive and their manhood. Well, what do you mean by radical love? I am glad you asked this question.

My feminist academic jargon definition would define it as men who challenge hegemonic definitions of masculinity and disown privileges garnered through proper masculine behaviors. However, my colored school teacher ethos would define it as men seeking to be unconventional in their approach to rearing children. They are the dads who “choose” to stay at home with their children while their partner labor outside the house. They are the fathers who endure years and years of therapy to deal with their emotional immaturities. They are the men who are unafraid to show affection, care, and love for all children irrespective of the child’s biology. As bell hooks states in Communion, these types of heterosexual men threaten the foundations of patriarchy because they show “that sexist, masculinist behaviors once believed to be innate not only is learned, but also can be unlearned.”

Perhaps, my obsession with this question of men loving children stem from my own absent and abusive father issues. Of all the heterosexual men I have encountered in my 26 years of life, I have only met one man who exudes this radical type of love. This is not to say that other men in my life are hopeless patriarchal barbarians because they are not, they like most men unquestionably enjoy the rewards of male privilege. This one man I know who’s seeking to exude this radical idea of love is a man married to a woman who’s well known for her feminist concerns and beliefs. One day as I sat in his study talking with him, he said, “Its taken him many years of therapy to understand the power and the need of emoting and that sensitivity is not weakness or unmanly and that men now-a-days lack initiation into embracing their emotions because everything around them tells them they are not suppose to emote and show love because if you do than you are not a man . . .  you are something else.” After hearing this and observing his care, concern, nurturing, and non-dominating love for his partner, child, and congregational children, I was left completely baffled asking the question, Can we [can I] believe that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children and non-dominance in their intimate relationships? I don’t know, however, this one man makes me think that it may be plausible.

So, when 11 year-old Paris said she loved her father against the backdrop of the media’s desire to let it be know Michael Jackson was an alleged child molester, I caught myself asking the question, given how we are socialized to see men as the bread winners and non emoting patriarchs, can we fathom let alone conceive of the idea that Michael Jackson was simply a man who loved children in ways that women are allowed to love children. I can not count the many times I have laid in the bed with the child I was babysitting either to put them to sleep or to settle them down to rest. And let’s be honest about our sexist thinking, women are no more capable of radical love than men, but yet we trust women with the care of children.

Does all of this mean that I am saying Michael Jackson is innocent of his alleged crimes? No, because I do not know, but what I am saying is that it’s difficult for us to believe and to accept that men can love, nurture, emote, and innocently embrace children. It is far easier to believe that men like Michael Jackson are child molesters, gay, and mentally unstable than to believe that they are men who simply love because it goes against the very fiber of what we have been taught about men.  Yes, it was a cry heard around the world, “my daddy was the best father ever . . .”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-VbIFtW6so

Some Black women and gays love denegration?

DOing IT Big (I guess?)

 

As we prepare for CNN’s Black in America 2 (July 22nd & 23rd), let’s “keep it poppin’” with a discussion about some black women and black LGBT folks. In my experience, some women and black LGBT folks are into being disrespected. Disrespect for me ranges — from dancing and signing songs that screams: bitches, punk, sissy, battyman and hoes if you are a black woman and/or a member of the LGBT, —to public physical, emotional and political acceptance of being valued by someone as less than or as a sexual object (i.e., being humiliated).   For me, acceptance is when you allow someone or somebody to humiliate you in public spaces.  In writing it out, it sounds crazy to suggest that anyone is accepting of publicly being reduced to jokes and sex objects, but I have seen it and at times have allowed it.

Happy to Have Maxwell Back!

I’d been waiting for Maxwell’s return for what seemed like forever.  Yesterday, after an eight-year hiatus, he released his fourth studio album, BLACKsummers’ night.  This highly anticipated album is the first installment of a trilogy—the other two albums, which have already been named are set for release in 2010 and 2011.  The second album, blackSUMMERS’ night will be more gospel influenced and the third, blacksummers’ NIGHT will be a slow jam album.  When it rains, it pours, huh, Maxwell?

Follow-Up: Justify My Thug

Perez Hilton in this months Advocate

Perez Hilton in this month's Advocate

There were some questions from folks–ok, maybe just one folk–regarding my inference that Perez Hilton really meant nigger when he called will.i.am a thug last month after the Much Music Awards.  Well, earlier today, a friend of mine sent me a link to a story about Perez’ interview in this month’s Advocate.  In it, Perez admits he wanted to call will.i.am a nigger, but instead settled for faggot because he thought it would be “even worse.”  That doesn’t automatically mean that nigger was on the tip of Perez’ tongue when he exchanged it for thug, but I do think it was in the throat area, at least.

I think this makes my argument a lot less flimsy.

(I’d say that I hate it when I’m [quasi-]right, but that would be a lie.)

My earlier post.

Excerpt from Perez’ Advocate interview.

Lets talk about Shades and Tints…

1. Is it bad that I want racial solidarity?

I was surfing the Internet this weekend—because what else does a 19-year-old black kid in the hood have to do over 4th of July weekend, when he is surrounded by little kids with fire-cracker ammunition, those things can definitely be dangerous. While surfing the net, I ran across a Myspace Video post that was titled “For light skin/caramel skin people only. ” As a very dark skin, confident, Hershey-chocolate-complexion individual, I was of course inclined to open and watch this video. A 15-year-old light skin kid spent 5 minutes ranting on about how light skin African Americans are coming “back into style” and then went on to say how dark skin individuals are going “out of style.”

dark-skin-light-skin-pic_edited-3

My initial reaction was to simply ignore the post and move on with my very complicated internet surfing life, but there was something about this internalized racial divide that I could not convince myself to forget. It was probably because the person who made the video was a YOUNG BLACK TEENAGER, if it was someone of a more mature audience, I might have been able to ignore it. What made the situation worse were the comments to the video post. “Dark skin is ugly.” “Finally someone has said what I have been thinking” “I’m only attracted to light skin people anyway”. I have no problem with preference, but I want people to understand if their preferences root from a history of racism.

My father who is also a darker toned man, explained to me that when he was a child he wished he was “light skin” with “good hair.” He warned me early in my life how this world can be easy to judge and he told me to always be proud of my skin color. My father was right, the judgment of my skin tone and the burden of colorism became a reality in my life. The first situation where I felt judged—or just teased—for my skin color was not by a klu-klux-klan member, it was not a former slave owner, it wasn’t even the common 21st century systemic racism. It was my Black classmates at O’Toole Elementary School on the south side of Chicago—near 67th and Western if you know the area. Students consistently yell playground taunts based on darker skin not being attractive. I can still hear echoes of comments like “you black as dirt.”

2. Is it bad that I want racial solidarity?

The Video post did not offend me…it did not make me mad…not sad either…I was worried. The deeper I go into academia, the more I start to surround myself with liberal thinkers, and begin to forget that there are still young minds that are lost in the sauce—yes I still use corny phrases from my childhood. I was worried because I want to believe that we (all humans of every race) have moved beyond a paradigm that believes the tint or shade of an individuals skin can be “in” or “out” of style. I was worried because I want my slightly younger peers to understand that this inner-racial tension roots from attitudes perpetuated when slavery existed, the same attitude that caused many people to believe that the level of Black success in this country depended on what your results were in a brown paper bag test. I’m worried because I know that these tensions grew when light skin individuals would get better jobs and slide into better neighborhoods while in my experiences I have seen too many little dark skin girls fall into low self-esteem due to this social stigma that black is not beautiful. We read and study about all of this hate and self-hate carried throughout history, and now, through the progression of technology this 15 year-old Black male wants to create an internet video that rekindles the fires of hate within a race that has more than enough to deal with between issues of  poverty, lack of education, HIV, drugs, and incarceration rates.

3. Is it bad that I want a little racial solidarity?

Diversity_Hands

They say the third time is a charm. Maybe this desire of mine will one day become a reality, but I won’t hold my breath.

I encourage you to check out this poem by Michael Ellison titles “Light-Skin-DID” It gives a comical side to this issue, and ultimately taught me that every serious conversation can be talked about openly when guards are down by the way of laughter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH2a46QmHR0

Celebrating Serena!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the fourth of July, I watched Serena beat Venus at Wimbledon on ESPN2 at a viewing party in a friend’s apartment.  It was the  fourth time the Williams sisters have met at Wimbledon (but only my friend’s second Breakfast at Wimbledon Party). Venus has won 5 titles there. This was Serena’s 3rd Wimbledon title and her 11th Grand Slam title. The announcers and commentators are always beside themselves whenever these two meet, debating their popularity, who is the better player, their off the court social and business endeavors, and the antics of their father/coach who never watches them play because he says he it is  too much like watching them fight. Serena’s best friend, Kelly Rowland, from Destiny’s Child was there with their mother Oracene Williams. The match was exciting, especially in the first set when Serena came from behind to win. But for me, the best part of the whole event was the post match interview with Serena in which she was questioned about how she felt about remaining #2 in the rankings even though she had just won her 3rd Grand Slam title this year. The player who is ranked #1, Dinara Safina, had lost to Venus in the semi-finals. Here is the link to the clip: Serena’s Post-Match Interview

 

 

The WTA ranking system is complicated but basically the major tournaments are each alloted a point value and players get a share of the points according to how they place in the tournaments. I am not suggesting that anyone screwed with the numbers or anything like that. No, what is being discussed in the video clip is a more subtle discrepancy about the ways in which the player with the most points in the WTA system is often not the same as the most dominant player. The Grand Slam titles are the tournaments that have the highest point values. Serena has won 3 out of 4 Grand Slams this year. The top ranked player hasn’t won any Grand Slam titles. So what is in debate isn’t really who should be the top ranked player within the WTA ranking system but what that system really tells us. Serena’s response to the reporter’s question about how she feels about being #2 makes it clear that she feels like she is the best player in the world. Her performance on the court certainly backs that up! This post is intended to celebrate not just Serena’s dominance in the tennis world but also her winning self-confidence. Despite the trumpets that sounded at Barack Obama’s inauguration like he was the Second Coming, it is rarely surprising to me when a black person who has achieved something remarkable does not get their due praise. When you are passed over for something you feel you deserve, it can be very easy to dwell on the (minor) injustice of that moment and lose sight of the bigger picture.  Serena’s full throated laugh and flippant tone show that she will not be derailed in her quest to match Billie Jean King’s 12 Grand Slam titles. Serena refuses to believe that other people are better than her (especially when there is a truckload of evidence to the contrary). There is something inspiring about holding on to that idea of who you are (in her case, the best women’s tennis player in the world) no matter what you are told.  Plus, she made me laugh out loud. Go Serena!

A Word (or Several Hundred) on the BET Awards

It’s taken about a week for my feelings about the BET Awards to be articulated as something beyond, “I hate Debra Lee,” or “If Harriet Tubman got frequent flyer miles, she’s now really upset there weren’t more blackout dates,” or “Where’s Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey when you need them?”** or “How long before they just start calling it the Al Jolson Awards?” But I’m less irritable—and hopefully more constructive—now. Besides, Al Jolson doesn’t deserve that dis; he never did anything to me.

Cultural Voyuerism: or Why We Love to Facebook Stalk

This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to experience Fourth of July weekend in New York City. I was even luckier to be able to stay with a friend who lives in Harlem, just blocks away from the Apollo Theater.

There I was, in this legendary place that creative greats like Zora Neal Hurston and Ralph Ellison had waxed poetic about. I couldn’t wait to see the Apollo Theater first hand and maybe even try out the infamous Sylvia’s Restaurant.

But suddenly, as I’m walking down the street, I feel 50 curious eyes on the back of my neck. As I turn around to figure out where that creepy feeling could possibly be coming from, I found myself face to face with a double-decker bus filled with white tourists. I was like a deer-caught in the headlights… literally. They were leaning out the windows and over the railings, taking pictures of me and every other black person on the street.

It was like I was at the zoo… except I was the animal.

And in that moment, I became aware of the multiciplicity of not only these tour buses, but the “walking-tour groups.” Promising tourists an exotic taste of the “real Harlem.” Of course the irony being that the tours rarely ventured past the gentrified Lennox Ave.

I found myself angry, “how dare they,” I thought, “I’m not animal!”

But I couldn’t help but be struck with the reality that this type of voyeurism has been an American intoxicant for decades (at least). The most obvious being 1920’s Harlem, eloquently described by the aforementioned Ellison, as a haven for white’s to participate in debauchery deemed to inappropriate to be engaged in, in white company. White’s would travel to Harlem to absorb and appropriate the cultural energy of the inhabitants, as well as to assuage whatever addiction they may have had.

Although this behavior is deeply disturbing, particularly in the way it continues to go unchecked in today’s Harlem. It occurs to me that facebook may serve similar purposes across populations.

All of us “know somebody,” who has spent hours perusing through the photo album’s of others, on some level or another, living vicariously through the life presented on the web. Even more strikingly, it seems that functions like “honesty boxes” (a facebook application that allows you to leave anonymous messages to the user who installs the program on his or her page), facilitate the type of “anonymous” debauchery that characterized the behavior of white’s in 1920’s Harlem.

Even newer social networking sites like twitter, that allow instant updates of every step an individual takes throughout the day (that can now include photos and video), seem to encourage a type of anonymous voyeurism that in some ways can be problematic. In the same way that the tour buses that run through Harlem allow the tourists an anonymous distance that gives them the freedom to treat its residents like animals. I can’t help but wonder if the anonymity of facebook, twitter, myspace, etc (at least anonymous in the sense that you can’t know if somebody is watching you), provide a type of emotional and psychological space from those being viewed that can encourage socially aberrant behavior.

It seems at least worth thinking about.

peace.

a.

I Don’t Won’t to Be No Disney Princess!

Like most little black girls growing up in abusive  homes, I dreamed and sometimes daydreamed of being rescued from my reality. I wished I had a fairy godmother who would flick her magical wand singing, Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Put ’em together and what have you got bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,” changing my alcoholic father into benevolent king, transforming my wandering mother into a nurturing queen, and turning me into a princess who by design would have a happy ending. Yes, I was as my young mentees proclaim “thirsty” for Prince Charming to save me.

In retrospect what I needed growing up was not a prince to save me or magic to transform my reality, I needed to know that there were “liberating” realities for women of color a type of understanding and I would even use the word “magic” that I now find in feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books. But before diving into why these genres are better suited for helping girls to think critically about gender and power, I want to spend sometime talking about Disney and its lascivious desire to make girls into naïve, gullible, desiring the “male gaze,” and always waiting to be saved—princesses.

Cinderella like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel the Mermaid, Belle of Beauty and the Beast, and Princess Jasmine are all creations of the Walt Disney Corporation. Just recently they have added Pocahontas and Mulan to the official Princess Collection (Multiculturalism and Kummbaya sales in Barack Obama’s land, but that’s another blog). In general, Disney has poured millions of dollars into marketing The Disney Princess Line. From television movies to Disney on Ice, the golden seven are prominently featured. Some are even fortunate to have Mattel dolls which as the years pass show more womanly physical features than the original prototypes.

The Princess Collection

Recently, Disney has decided to add yet another princess to its arsenal to keep all girls including little black girls thinking they need to be saved by a prince, Princess Tiana. Princess Tiana is the first and only African-American princess. She debuts in The Frog and the Princess which originally was called The Frog Princess. The story takes place in the French Quarter in New Orleans where Tiana is transformed into a Frog after kissing a charming Frog who wants to be human again. To put it lightly, the movie has sparked much controversy in blogsphere. Monique Fields writes in Enough with the Princess while Gina McCauley reports on how Disney consults African-American leaders on how to make sure their conception and marketing of Princess Tiana is “politically correct” meaning they hope their marketing is not racist.

Given all the controversy surrounding the new Disney Princess, Princess Tiana, and Disney’s long track record of undercutting feminist strides to empower girls, I think we should introduce our daughters, little sisters, transgendered girls, and little nieces to feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books where their imaginations are not limited by the mechanics of physical reality or bound by our society’s patriarchal social norms. Trilogies like The Saga of the Renunciates, The Seven Water’s Trilogy, The Gate to Women’s Country, The Patternist Series, The Mist of Avalon, and The Godspeaker Series paint women as heroes not simply heroines. Magic is a way of life not something to behold on Las Vegas stages. Gender and sexuality become contested sites. Race takes on alien forms. Women stories take center stage. And there is always a journey to undertake with “risks” and lessons to be learned. I know many of you reading this blog may not be familiar with the books listed above, but you are familiar with blockbuster films like Harry Potter and Star Wars which feature male heroes saving the world with the “occasional” female sidekick.

The point is that feminist science fiction and fantasy provide a space for girls to see women and girls as warriors, sorcerers, emperors, heroes, fearless risk takers, god chosen speakers, women with boundaries, women as lovers of other women, and most importantly girls seeking out their own destinies. Can you imagine how empowering it would be if every girl chucked their plastic tiaras in the trash to lead a perilous, dangerous, and risky quest to save the world and in the process of doing this they learn who they are, their boundaries, their strengths, their weakness, and the importance of women relationships? I could not ask for better feminist consciousness raising activity where our daughters know the names of Octavia Butler, Sherri Tepper, Marion Zimmerman Bradley, Tananarive Due, and Juliet Marillier all who have labored to write books that foreground women as critical thinkers and as captains of their destinies.

Alice Walker once said that she writes books that she wanted to read growing up and perhaps my desire to get girls and African American girls in particular to read these genres is an outgrowth of my knowledge that traditional fairytales are limited and untrue for poor working class black girls like me. Prince Charming does not come. Mice do not become charioteers and happy endings are not promised especially when there is an intersection of various devalued social identities. So, given all of this and the liberating potential of feminist science fiction and fantasy stories, who wants to be a Disney Princess anyway?