Tuesday, December 23, 2008

UPS Tracking is Evil

I have been watching Christmas presents make their way across the country. Three days ago UPS tracking was my best friend. It was nice daily assurance that the things I ordered were making steady progress to my door. Today, though, it's just evil because now, instead of making steady progress, UPS tracking shows me that my gifts arrived in Charleston at 4:12am yesterday and THEY ARE STILL THERE. Without UPS tracking I could imagine that my gifts, which are not under my tree, are in a truck somewhere in Georgia or North Carolina making their way here. But no. UPS tracking gives me the ability to know that my gifts are sitting just a few miles away in a warehouse. Evil.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Things I Don't Know About Being Black--the Black Santa edition


Last Christmas on NPR's Tell Me More, the Mocha Moms talked about their efforts to have Christmas reflect their identities--so that means there are only black angels on the tree, a nativity scene with brown-skinned wise men and a brown baby Jesus, a black Santa, etc. Only one of the moms even bothered with a black Santa because the other moms insisted on no Santa, stating that they didn't want their kids to think it was okay for a strange white man to come into their home at night or to think that a white man could give them something their parents couldn't. I dismissed this as typically goofy Mocha Mom foolishness (there is rarely a Mocha Mom segment on Tell Me More that doesn't make me roll my eyes), but during this holiday season, there have been a flurry of media stories about black Santas. Check it out:

It was this last one in particular that got me thinking because here were people who were like me--educated, culturally savvy, middle class black folk, trying to raise healthy, responsible kids. I thought everyone would see the Santa thing as a non-issue. Boy was I wrong. Almost none of the numerous commenters wanted their kids to believe in Santa. Many, in fact, were quite hostile to the idea, especially on racial grounds. The implication of the comments are that black parents are participating in the cultural oppression of their black kids by letting them believe in a white Santa. Some also commented that having your kids believe in Santa and then find out the truth sets kids up to not believe in other things they can't see (like Jesus).

Apparently being deeply suspicious of the whole Santa enterprise is a black thing I knew nothing about. There seem to be a lot of these things. For instance, I didn't know until three weeks ago that waiters and waitresses think black people tip worse than other people and that black people assume they will get worse service in a restaurant than other people. When I told Brian this new fun fact, he just laughed at my cluelessness.

For the record, our kids have seen lots of different Santas. We tell them that Santa uses his Christmas magic to look like the kids he's visiting. This seems to be a sufficient explanation for them and when they need a better explanation, they'll probably be too old for Santa.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Inappropriate Thoughts About Our New President


Time posted these pictures of Barack Obama along with their article choosing him as person of the Year.

Black Snob said it best when she wrote: "He's Sammy, Dino, Frankie Blue-Eyes and Joey Bishop, Kool and the Gang meets a hot black nerd sandwich, hand-rolled into a ciggy and smoked."


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Afrogeek A-Z Film Meme: H-Z (mostly)

Finals and finals grading have interrupted our love of obsessive list-making. So here is the rest of the admittedly incomplete list. If anyone knows of any endlessly watchable movies that begin with the letters N, Q, Y, or Z, let us know.

H
Conseula: Hair Spray (the movie version of the Broadway version of the original movie)
Brian: Hudsucker Proxy
I
Conseula: Independence Day
J
Brian: Jurassic Park
K
Conseula: Knight's Tale
Brian: Knight's Tale
L
Brian: Lord of the Rings
M
Conseula: Muppet Christmas Carol
Brian: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
O
Conseula: Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Brian: Oxbow Incident
P
Conseula: Philadelphia Story
Brian: Pulp Fiction
R
Conseula: Rain Man
Brian: Ran
S
Brian: Saving Private Ryan
T
Brian: 2001: Space Odyssey
U
Conseula: Unbreakable (I still think this is the best superhero movie ever made.)
Brian: Usual Suspects
V
Conseula: Viva Las Vegas (my favorite Elvis movie)
W
Brian: What's Up, Tiger Lily?
X
Conseula: Malcolm X

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afrogeek A-Z Film Meme: A-G

So I was reading over at Graphic Engine Bob Rehak's A-Z list of his favorite movies. As always happens when someone makes a list, I am compelled to make my own. And as always happens, when I ask Brian to help make such a list, we spend so much time disagreeing on the premise of the list, not to mention the actual contents, that we wind up with two lists.

In the end I decided to list the movies I find compulsively watchable. Brian decided to list movies he thinks everyone should see at least once.

A
Brian: Akira--the movie that introduced him to anime
Conseula: I originally picked Prisoner of Azkaban as my A movie because Azkaban is clearly the most important name in that title, but Brian called me a cheater. So I have instead chose Armageddon because I love every bit of the cheese-tastic goodness of this film and will watch it whenever it's on.

B
Brian: Bladerunner--one of the best made sf movies ever
Conseula: Big Fish--just the thought of this movie gives me a warm fuzzy

C
Brian: Chasing Amy (an excellent choice on Brian's part)
Conseula: Casino Royale (with Daniel Craig), tied closely with Color Purple

D
Brian: a tie between Dr. Strangelove, about which Brian says, "You should see this movie or even if it harelips everyone on Bear Creek" (those who know, know) and The Duelist
Conseula: Desperado--for the music alone; tied with Kevin Smith's Dogma

E
Brian: Excalibur--the first treatment of the Arthurian mythos that Brian actually enjoyed
Conseula: Empire Strikes Back--this is a placeholder for the original Star Wars trilogy. I have been watching these movies since I was a kid and will never tire of them.

F
Brian: Fail Safe--a Cold War nail-baiter. 'Nuff said
Conseula: Freak Friday (with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis)--Frances and I love this movie

G
Brian: Glory--Brian's a sucker for suicidal sacrifice. Seriously.
Conseula: Get on the Bus--my favorite Spike Lee joint. It made me a lot less annoyed with the Million Man March.

More to follow...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mommification of Michelle Obama: More Parenting in Public

This Salon article on Michelle Obama's decision to be Mom-in-Chief in the new Obama administration and the writer's dismay that this is a retrograde decision on the part of the Obamas has been making the rounds the my corner of the blogosphere. I've been thinking about it for a few days, trying to figure out why, though I fully recognize the concerted effort that has gone into softening Michelle's public image, I am in no way bothered by her desire to focus on the children's transition to White House.

Maybe it's because I believe her when she says this is her choice, that the most important thing to her right now is that her children maintain has much normalcy as is possible when your father is leader of the free world. Brian spent the last two years being the primary caregiver of our children, being the one who is always here, the one who maintained their routine. Now that he is back in school and working full-time and no one is filling that stay-at-home parent role, the change is noticeable. We have created more chaos and unpredictability in our children's lives. While I think we're handling it fine and that our children are perfectly okay, I can only manage the chaos that's about to descend upon the Obama girls. What parent wouldn't want to dedicate as much time as they can to help their kids navigate that?

Maybe I also like the way Michelle's decision foregrounds just how hard and time-consuming caring for children is. And if you are committed to doing it well, to really making sure you end up with healthy, well-adjusted children, you're going to want to devote as much time to it as possible. Again, Michelle didn't quit her job to twiddle her thumbs while her kids are at school. She's decided to be responsible for creating the cocoon around her children that will help them come out the other side of this okay. That's a full time job.

Maybe I'm not convinced that Hilary Clinton was good model for First Lady. This article, and others like it, make the comparison to Clinton and imply that we're taking a step backward with Michelle Obama. Clinton's insistence on being involved in her husband's administration, her clear desire to be involved in politics are held up as the model for how to be First Lady. But, truthfully, I think that's bullshit. Because First Lady is not really a job. It's just a bullshit bourgeous title we give to wives of powerful men in a jacked up attempt to acknowledge the "importance" of these women. Why do we assume that Michelle Obama can replace her $273,618 a year job, a career she clearly loved and worked really hard for, and a support system she'd built over 20 years with some bullshit First Lady project? Would we really feel better if she dedicated the next four years to literacy or land mines or underprivileged youth? Do we really think the First Lady's agenda matters in any way at all? You know what matters? Making sure growing up in the White House doesn't fuck up your kids. I think Michelle Obama gets that as well.

And maybe I believe that Michelle Obama isn't really an extension of her husband, despite what it may look like in public. I always got the sense from both Bush wives that they were women of certain class who understood that marrying well meant becoming a reflection of your husband's ambitions and accomplishments. In that respect, First Lady was not a role change, just the role they've accepted writ large. The Bush marriages seem clearly not marriages of equals. And my impression of Hilary Clinton was, and remains, that she also isn't in a marriage of equals. She seems constantly fighting to prove to us, and perhaps herself, that she isn't an extension of Bill. The Obamas seems to deeply love and respect each other. Michelle has certainly sacrificed a lot in these last two years so that Barack can pursue this dream of being president, but there is every indication that he recognizes and understands and acknowledges that sacrifice. And I suspect there are things he's doing to make up for that sacrifice that are just none of our business.

And, finally, maybe Michelle doesn't feel it necessary or appropriate to bitch to the general public about how annoyed she may be feeling about this major change in her life. As I said a couple of posts back, private decisions made in public take on a whole different tenor. It may seems to all of us that she's putting a nail in feminism's coffin, but she might also be choosing to keep some of her life to herself. Would I like it if she sat down with Katie Couric for a heartfelt interview about how hard it is to be Mrs. Obama all the time, instead of just Michelle, or about how she manages to still be Michelle despite having to be Mrs. Obama in public? Sure. But I'm also fine if she's decided that, right now, she owes more to her children than she does to me.

Michelle Obama on Display

Here are two great responses to the Salon article First Lady Got Back: An Appreciation of Michelle Obama's Beauty and Booty.

Over at Michelle Obama Watch Gina invokes the image of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and says:

Erin Aubry “Balrog” Kaplan, handmaiden of misogyny, your foolishness and chicanery shall not pass. In the name of Sarah Baartman we rebuke your intellectually-challenged, historically-ignorant, self-hating assault on the dignity of our new first lady! ( Yes, its hyperbole, but so was that crappy article on Salon.com. I guess any Black person with a byline can get paid these days if they are “sensational” enough.)

And Mark Anthony Neal reminds us:

Underlying this notion of "realness" that Michelle Obama embodies are notions of accessibility and availability. If there is anything that the history of black women in this country should teach us, is that the idea that black women's bodies were accessible and available to any--and all--concretely frames our understandings of black women's histories whether it be the spectacle of the "Hottentot Venus" (Saartjie Baartman), the tragedy of Crystal Mangum or the nameless and faceless victims of sexual violence and rape.

While it is useful to remember that this kind of scrutiny and obsession with the hair, clothes, and body of women in the public is par for the misogynist course (can you imagine a Salon article speculating on the size and shape of Obama's black penis?), I find Neal's argument compelling. Maybe it's because I am a black woman and I parent two little black girls, but there is something especially disturbing about the way the figure (in all senses of that term) of Michelle Obama is available to the public. Yes, all First Ladies have their clothes choices and hairstyles dissected ad nauseum, but I find it difficult to imagine that we would ever be talking about Laura Bush's, or even Hilary Clinton's, breasts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mom- and Dad-in-Chief

I am a little bit obsessed with the Obamas' transition to the White House. So obsessed, in fact, that I fear I'm becoming one of those people who might actually order commemorative White House plates, or who knows every detail there is to know about the White House Christmas tree. I used to make fun of those people.

I am particularly obsessed with the Obamas as parents, primarily because they seem to be handling with great grace a situation I would find almost wholly intolerable--parenting in public. I mean, yes, we all parent in public because our kids have interactions with the public and those interactions reveal something about our parenting (much to our horror sometimes). But, ultimately the decisions I make about how I parent (like not breastfeeding, attachment parenting the first kid but not the second, choosing a magnet school over a neighborhood school, letting them watch more TV than is probably healthy) are made in private, with the input of the entire world.

When you are parenting in public, private parenting decisions take on a whole new life. I read recently that now that Barack Obama and Malia have finished all the Harry Potter books and Obama is home more, they've started the Twilight books. That's a private parenting decision, but he's making it in public. I've written before about my love of the first book, but not about how dismayed I was at the second, and how kind of horrified I am by what I hear about the third and fourth. I would never ever ever read these books to my daughter. I'm a little appalled that Obama is reading them to Malia. The construction of young womanhood in these books is atrocious. I imagine (I hope!) that Obama will come to this same conclusion, but, of course, we'll never know. He's not exactly going to hold a press conference to tell us that he's banned Twilight from his house because of it's jacked up gender politics. But he should, because some of us now are really concerned about his parenting, even though it's really none of our business.

Michelle Obama, too, is having some trouble in the public parenting department. Some object to her wasting her Ivy League education and law degree by becoming Mom-in-Chief rather than...actually, I don't know what else people expect her to be doing. She's soon-to-be First Lady, which, despite what Hilary Clinton would have you believe, is not actually a real job. But this too is a private parenting decision being made in public. The Obamas have clearly decided that Barack Obama will dedicate his life to public service and that Michelle Obama will do the heavy lifting in terms of parenting. In Chicago, with the amazing support system she built around her, she was able to have a high-profile, high-powered career and be a very hands-on parent to two young daughters. That support system isn't following them to Chicago, but those children still need taking care of. It makes perfect sense that Michelle Obama would spend this first year at least making sure her children are okay. I don't envy her having to juggle being everyone's symbol contemporary womanhood (there's no way to live up to everyone's expectations) with being an actual mother to real children, all while smiling pretty for the cameras.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You know you're being raised in a feminist community when...

Here's a recent conversation with Frances:

Frances: What's Aunt T's last name?

Me: Green

Frances: Isn't that Uncle Houston's last name?

Me: Yeah, honey. They have the same last name.

Frances: (sincerely curious) How did that happen?

Me: Well, some women change their name and take their husband's last name when they get married.

Frances: (completely incredulous) Really?

In the circle of adult women she interacts with regularly, there are no women who share their husbands' last names. In fact, not changing your name is such a regular occurence in our social circle that it's easy to forget that we are the ones who are doing something out of the ordinary. As Frances gets older and starts to interact more and more with people and institutions that don't have anything at all to do with us, we are reminded more and more that the decisions we have made in our own lives and in our parenting are very deliberate and, some times, quite at odds with those we love and thos we come into frequent contact with. The name change thing is minor in this regard, but something like not insisting that she preface a grown-up's name with "Miss" or "Mister" is a big deal, especially when we are back home or at church. I have become so adept at moving between worlds (I of course always address my elders at church as "Miss" or "Mister") that I forget that this is a skill I learned. I sometimes fear that we aren't doing a good job of teaching Frances that skill.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Promise of My Great Grandmother

Here's an excerpt of the essay I wrote for the Post & Courier:

When I watched Barack Obama's election night speech, I watched as any other American. I was heartened by the multiracial crowd in Grant Park, a crowd that looks like the America I live in. I was inspired by our ability to come together across gender, racial, sexual, class, geographic, educational and religious divides for the common good. I felt proud as I witnessed Obama's humility, as he declared this a victory for the people of the United States and reiterated his desire to serve us, not just lead us.

But, if I'm being honest, I also watched as a black woman. I can't even begin to describe the joy I feel that little black boys have in Obama a model of black masculinity that has nothing to do with machismo or athletic prowess and everything to do with intelligence and moral resolve; or that our next first lady looks like the women who raised me; or that for the last 21 months the Obama family has made black love rather than black pathology front-page news.

Read the rest at the Post & Courier

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting

Forgive the long absence. I've been thinking about how to get this blog back to afrogeek parenting and way from political rants (though they do have their uses), but this election has been all-consuming.

This morning Frances and I got up before the sun to stand in line and vote for Barack Obama. I think maybe Frances was more excited than I was. She kept reminding me that we said she could stay up late to watch election returns. She was giddy as she pressed the blinking vote button.

Frances's enthusiasm about this election and the death of Obama's grandmother has me thinking about my own great-grandmother who used to deliver regular lectures about the importance of voting. We'd be pulling weeds in her garden (a chore I absolutely detested and that she seemed all too eager to have me perform) and she'd be telling me about all the people who literally died so that I can vote. She never wanted to hear that I skipped out on any opportunity to participate in the democratic process. She lived just down the road from another great-grandmother who hoped that she would live long enough to have me take her own a cruise. She'd never been on a big boat or seen the Gulf of Mexico, much a less an ocean, and believed, of all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, that I would be the one to help her realize that dream.

It's all so corny and every black person has a million of these stories, but it's still so true. The women who helped raise me had such simple, yet profound, dreams for me and for themselves--to vote, to ride in a big boat, to marry someone I love rather than someone who can take care of me--that it seems almost unbelievable that I got to vote for a major party black candidate for president this morning. These women cleaned white people's houses all their lives and never did get to see that I grew up to be a college professor and the first black women to do a lot of things (a surprising number of things, really, considering that I was born in 1973, not 1903). But I hope they were watching somewhere this morning as I took their great-great-granddaughter into vote.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let Me Get This Straight

If I lose my job and, consequently, my health insurance and need to go on welfare or get food stamps or Medicaid to help sustain me until I get back on my feet, I'm a welfare queen sucking on the tit of the nanny state.

But, if I reorganize an entire industry around business practices even my eight year old recognizes as suspect, I can fully expect the government to swoop and save me?

What's wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Happens When Uppity Negroes Have Kids

Here's a funny story: I'm shopping in target with my daughters and have found a cute shirt for the 2 year old. I hold it up to her to see if I like the color against her skin and she says, "Mommy, this will make me an uppity negro just like you." My first reaction is disbelief because clearly she couldn't have used the phrase "uppity negro" correctly in a sentence. But she did. My second reaction was hysterical laughter. Because it's funny.

Part of my job as director of African American Studies at the College of Charleston is to publicize and generate buzz about the program. I attempted to do this by having a contest to pick the new AAST t-shirt. One t-shirt says "uppity negro" on the front and as the AAST logo on the back. The other has the logo on the front and has a large black power fist and "not just in february" on the back. You can see both of them here.

Students love the uppity negro shirt and I, in fact, really want that shirt to win. I want to wear it to class and have students ask me why I'm wearing it and have people understand that calling me uppity (which I assume means that I don't know my place and I presume I am welcome where I'm not and I refuse to abide by prevailing notions of blackness--yep that's me) in no way offends me. But of course it is horribly offensive to some, particularly to black people a generation older than me (who sometimes faced violence and came to horrible ends because of their "uppity" ways), and potentially a problem for the College, especially if it is perceived as willfully insulting black people.

My third reaction to my 2 year old gleefully declaring herself an uppity negro was the thought of how horrified my mother would be. While she would not be surprised that I don't find being called uppity an insult, I am not sure she would approve of me passing that lesson along to my kids. My mother wants all her daughters to be well-behaved and walking around with a shirt that says uppity negro is the antithesis of well-behaved.

But maybe good behavior is overrated. And would that be such a horrible lesson for the 2 year old to learn?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Katrina, Obama, and the Civil Rights Industrial Complex

Today is the third anniversary of Katrina. My husband's entire family lived in New Orleans (and my family is just a couple of hours away in Lafayette, La). His childhood homes, his mother's house and his grandparents' house, are both in the 9th ward, not far from the Industrial Canal. Both homes were lost. My mother-in-law, three years later, still hasn't recovered. She may never again live in the city she's left only a handful of times since 1936. His entire faimly may never again live in one place, as they have and so many other Gulf Coast families have, for generations. That fact is profoundly heartbreaking, not just because it is happening to my family, but because it is needlessly happening to thousands of families. That's what's on my mind as I think about who I want to be the next president of the United States.

Last night, after Obama's amazing acceptance speech, I was watching Tavis Smiley's show on PBS and saw Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux express their disappointment, even their disdain, for Obama's words. Because he didn't mention King's name (though he did invoke his memory and quote his words) and because he didn't mention the anniversary of Katrina (though he did chastise a country and government who allowed a city to drown before its eyes) they saw him as running awy from history and memory and "whitewashing" his legacy. I yelled so much at the television that I woke up the baby and had to be sent to bed.

Ta-Nehesi Coates, has this to say:
What I see there is a reaction more out of anger than any real consideration of strategy. The thing about Barack is that for all his rhetoric, he's a pragmatist, and he's a politician. Half the reason for having John Lewis, for having the film of MLK, for having MLK's kids is so that Obama is free to focus on winning the election. I don't think you do that but making the speech a paean to MLK--God bless him. How many votes is that going to get you? When you're on the battlefield, you don't pause put down your sword and sheild to praise God for allowing you the privelige of being there. Do that after the battle's won.

Let me add this: people continue to assume that Obama is capturing the black vote simply because he walks around with brown skin. That's bullshit. He's capturing the black vote because he recognizes that black people in 2008 have dreams too. I don't dream only having my child judged by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin. I also have a dream that I can pay the mortgage, that I can afford to bring sick children to the doctor, that I will be able to put my kids through college, that my girls will have a clean, healthy planet to live on, that we elect leaders who will prevent us from living in an Octavia Butler novel. It seems petty and short-sighted (not to mention horribly bad strategy) to think that his acceptance speech was the time for Obama to beat the drum of blackness. Black people heard him and understood. We want him to win, not because he's black, but because we want to live in a different, better country than the what we have now. The beating of the drums can come later.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The McCann Girls Go to School

Every year we take a picture of Frances on the first day of school. I have dreams of one day of making a school scrapbook for her that will include these pictures. Here is she on the first day of third grade:





Cate had her first day of preschool this morning. In this picture she was rather annoyed that we are trying to take her picture, so no smile. But do note that her hair is combed, something my mother thinks never happens. Also note her pants--Brian and Frances said they are tacky, but Cate said they make her look like a beautiful princess.





And for kicks, here is me in high school. I think I'm 15 in this picture. Note my giant teeth and enormous blue glasses.



Friday, August 22, 2008

Review: Tropic Thunder

I am quite possibly the only black person in America who liked this movie. Here's my review in The City Paper.

What offends me, what black people should rise up and shout about, is when blackness is reduced to just a few character types: The Magic Negro (Jennifer Hudson in Sex in the City, Morgan Freeman in almost anything), The Thug (the rapper du jour), The Sassy Black Woman (overweight and loud), The Player (Samuel L. Jackson's specialty), The Hot Black Chick (young, with a nice ass).

Minstrels come in blackface and black skin and I object to them wherever I see them. I didn't, however, see any in Tropic Thunder.


Read the rest here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Afrogeeks on the Road #4--Food Edition

We took photographs to document our many eating excursions while on vacation. Here are just a few of the delicacies we have consumed the most. Okay, when I say we, I mean me. Here are some of the things I have been eating nearly non-stop since I've been in Louisiana.

First is a corn dish I haven't had since I moved away from Louisiana in 1996. It's called corn maque choux. I'm not sure what's in it (probably corn, red and green peppers, cream, butter, some other stufkf), but I feel confident it's as bad for you as it is delicious.

Here is pecan candy. I was really old, maybe in college, when I found out the rest of the world knew pecan candy by its fancier French name, praline. I may have eaten my weight in pecan candy over the last week.

My beloved boudin (rice and pork sausage). if I were still living here, my family would have to have an intervention. We made friends with the guy at the corner store on the country road where my mother lives. That's how many links of boudin I've eaten.

This is stuffed bread. I'm not sure what stuffed bread is stuffed with (it never occurred to me to ask until just now; probably meat and spices).

And this is a guy who works at Fricken Chicken in Baton Rouge. Here's a brief transcript of our exhange:


Guy: Welcome to Fricken Chicken. May I take your fricken order?

My sister: We would like the 12 piece family meal with fries and rice dressing.

Guy: We're no longer serving the rice dressing. The recipe was no fricken good.

Me: (uncontrollable laughter)

Guy: Your total is $20.70. Please drive to the fricken window.

I was so amused that I went through the drive through again.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Afrogeeks on the Road #3

One of the things everyone was looking forward to on this trip was Frances getting her ears pierced. Where I'm from little girls get their ears pierced when they are 3 or 4 months old. Brian objected to poking holes in his kid when she was a baby, so Frances is still without earrings. She requested ear piercing for her birthday and my mother agreed. We all piled into the car and headed to the mall. Here's Frances's ear before.



And here is her face during. This face is mild compared to the absolute screaming, falling down on the floor fit she had in *two* stores in the mall. Needless to say she still has no holes in her ears.



Here we are at Vermilionville, the original settlement site of Lafayette, La. It's like a scaled down Williamsburg, with original buildigs and people in period dress demonstrating various things like blacksmithing and spinning and weaving cotton thread. This is a shot of me talking with Cate's preschool teacher, arranging a home visit. Brian documented this moment because he was very annoyed with me.
And this Brian and the girls in front of a replica of a native Louisiana Indian house made of bamboo, bouisillage, and palm frond, with a slightly raised packed earth floor. Brian is right now, as a I write, giving me an amazing amount of detail about this house to include in this post (which I'm obviously not). I think he wants to move in.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Afrogeeks on the Road #2

We spent the weekend in Baton Rouge visiting with my sister and my in-laws. My sister, an LSU alum and crazy avid fan on LSU athletics, is already trying to recruit Frances to play soccer at LSU. My brother-in-law, a Southern alum and member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, was trying to bring her on a tour of Southern University.
Here are some people we visited with:

Here is my grandfather, Wilton, who told us happily that he is "free, single, and disengaged." He is our pecan candy (aka pralines) hook up when we are in Louisiana.


This is my niece Morgan. My sister is probably mortified that I sharing the picture of Morgan before she got her hair combed, but I think she looks cute. She's two, 6 months younger than Cate. She's getting a new sibling in February. Her vocabulary is blissfully free of the profanity that my own two year old spouts frequently.



And this is Gerald, Brian's brother, Nikki and Bryce. We are out to dinner at Copeland's and had the most delicious red beans and rice, pecan encrusted catfish, and other yummy food. A good time was had by all.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Afrogeeks on the Road

Greetings from sunny (and humid!) Louisiana. The family and I have made our way from Charleston to Louisiana by train (a trip that started at 5am and eneded at 8:30pm). Here are some highlights from that trip:

--The train is surprisingly cold. We didn't have blankets (apparently everyone got that memo but us) and the people on the train didn't turn up the temptarure until about 6pm. It was fairly miserable for a time.

--Brian, unsurprisingly, made several pals on the train, including a lady who was tres impressed that Brian was actually doing hands-on parenting with the girls, and a guy with whom Brian traded, off-color, wholly inappropriate jokes.

--Advertisers haven't discovered trains and train routes. There was a surprising lack of ads during this trip.

--We discovered this about our children: Frances is an excellent traveler. She asked questions of the conductor, wrote in her journal, watched some movies, took a nap, played 20 questions, and held up remarkably well.

Cate, on the other hand, is every nightmare toddler scenario rolled into one kid. She yelled "What the fuck!" at the top of her lungs because she was tired of us telling her she couldn't go racing down the aisle. She spent the last 4 or so hours of the trip in nothing but a diaper. She eventually took a really long nap and we discovered finally that she would sit still if she was allowed to listen to music on Frances's cd player by herself. Here's a picture of her curled up and sleeping.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer Reading Round-Up

I am leaving for vacation tomorrow and when I get back it'll be just about time for my daughter to start school. It feels like the end of summer. I haven't read nearly all that I wanted to read this summer, but I have did get a few good books in.

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz--This won the Pulitzer last year and was an utter joy to read. The plot follows the sometimes hysterical and always tragic life of Oscar Wao, a Dominican sf enthusiast (some might call him an afrogeek). What I like most about the book are the extensive footnotes that blend fact and fiction and question the very nature of storytelling. The footnotes read like a narrative unto themselves.

Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde--Fforde writes these cool metafictional mystery novels featuring a detective called Thursday Next who investigates crimes in books. The Fourth Bear is the second in a second series, which features Detective Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crimes Division. I read the first book and absolutely adored and when I saw the second in the library the other day, I snatched it up. I haven't been able to finish it though and I can quite tell if it’s because it's not quite as good as the first, or because I haven’t been able to get myself into right light summer reading frame of mind.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach-- I heard about her other books (Stiff) and always wanted to read one and then I saw this one on the shelf. It is a good read, especially the parts on early sex researchers, but that may be just because I am endlessly fascinated by Alfred Kinsey. This book was surprisingly unerotic, however, unlike...

Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopdedia of Sex edited by Ellen Sussman--Literally a series of words with definitions, followed by short pieces by contemporary writers. It's erotica for lit geeks and I love it.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer--This has be a total guilty pleasure. My student in Governor's School really liked this book (the whole series, in fact) and insisted that I read it. I resisted because young adult fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea, despite my unabashed love of Harry Potter, and because the book is about a romance between a teenage girl and a vampire, and vampires scare me. Though, to be fair, he is a vegetarian vampire. Anyway, I finally relented and read it and it is just as romance-y and girl-y in all the ways I find problematic, but I loved it. I loved it so much that I immediately read it again once I finished it. It's definitely been my guilty pleasure this summer.

Waiting to be read: Watchmen by Alan Moore and (because, despite the fact that this book has sat on my bookshelf for years unread because I don't like the art, the movie's coming out this year and all the cool kids have read it and I reference it all the time whenever I teach superhero comics I just need to get over myself and read it), When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost: Ahip-hop Feminist Breaks It Down by Joan Morgan (she's coming to the College of Charleston in October to talk about hip hop and feminism--very exciting), A Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and a Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehesi Coates (it's been getting rave reviews and he says that he wanted to write a memoir with the rhythms of hip hop and I really want to see if he pulls it off).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Live Blogging While Watching the Tyra Banks Show

Ok--first of all, I clearly shouldn't be watching the Tyra show. But I'm home during the day for a change and the tv's on and I couldn't resist. So my current state of indignation is my own fault.

The topic today is ethnic names and the show consists of a multiracial group of people sitting around a table making judgments about a non-existent person based on a name. For instance, a girl named Ashleigh is clearly ditsy, promiscuous, materialistic, land ikely to flash her breasts on Girls Gone Wild. Jose is Puerto Rican, uneducated, speaks broken English, and works as a dishwasher or janitor. Or he sells drugs. This has been going on for half an hour now. Who are these people? Why would they voluntarily go on tv and say such ignorant ignorant things?

The issue of names and what people assume about you before they meet you, based on that name, is indeed an interesting topic for a show. People invariably assume, because my first name is Conseula, that I'm Latina (and when I still had vestiges of my Louisiana accent, the combination often caused people t0 assume I was Caribbean). We certainly took these kinds of reactions into account when we named our children (Catherine and Frances), though our French Catholic heritage and Louisiana roots weighed much more heavily in our decisions.

But is being served by the train wreck currently on my tv? Is it a revelation that people are stupid and prejudiced? Or is it that people are willing to be that stupid in public?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are black people that much of a mystery?

Does anyone with access to the mainstream media know any actual black people? I mean really, has Ralph Nader ever really had an actual conversation with a black person? And I mean a black person in real life, not one from a sociology textbook. How inane and clueless is this?

Asked if he thinks Obama is trying to "talk white," Nader said, "of course….The number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law," Nader said. "Haven't heard a thing."

Nader is running against Obama for president and perhaps the nature of political campaigns means you speak in hyperbole. Who knows? But this "talking white" nonsense and the implication that the concerns of any given black person can be boiled down to the plight of the poor is insulting because it means that even for a "progressive" like Nader, I'm not individual. I'm merely a ghetto statistic, or, even worse, a deluded black person talking white. It's exactly this kind of cluelessness, which abounds in the mainstream media, which explains how the pundits have been caught so off-guard by Obama's popularity among black people.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Roe v. Wade

Alison sent me a link to an article in which a doctor described the days before Roe V. Wade. Here's the most salient point from that article:

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

I've talked before in this space about my own abortion and what that has meant for my life (primarily it's meant that I got choose when to welcome into my life the two amazing daughters I have now). So it feels like beating a dead horse to say this again, but here goes: Every child should be a choice and every woman deserves to make that choice, or not. We can force them to make that choice out of fear and desperation, or we can let women make that choice with dignity. Feminism is not a one issue movement, certainly, but my right to self-determination (which is absolutely what choosing if and when to have children is) is certainly at the top of the list, which is something we should remember when we encourage people to vote for John McCain in protest of Hilary Clinton's primary loss.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Dap Heard Around the World--More Reason to Love Michelle Obama

Over in the corner of the blogosphere where I hang out there's a lot of ballyhoo about the Obamas' dap (see the photo below) just before he gave his speech. There's a lot of discussion about whether this gesture is really black (um, yeah) and whether dap is the correct name for that gesture (it is, but for a great list of the various ways the press has tried to describe it, including "‘Hezbollah’ style fist-jabbing," look here).

You know what I loved? That Michelle initiated it. It's a small thing really, but what I saw was a woman who understands herself completely as an equal partner and knows that her husband feels the same way. It was a moment between the two of them, not for all of us. That dap is a gesture of friendship, of comraderie, of recognition. It says so much about that marriage. And what a great thing to be able to turn on the television and see--two real life black people so obviosuly in love with each other.




WOW!


Full disclosure: I have been the "first black" many things in my life and I'm often (really, almost always) the "only black" person in a room. How much has that mattered? It's hard to say--it mattered when it mattered and it didn't when it didn't. What mattered is that I rarely conceived of my blackness as something as limiting. My being the first black woman to do this or that never felt as barrier-breaking to me as I'm sure it did to women a generation older than me.

And then this primary election season came around and my blackness started to feel like a burden, not because I felt limited or constrained, but because it seemed that no matter what I did or Obama did or any black person did, we were still in a place where one seemingly angry black man (Wright, who, to be sure is justifiably angry and spot on in so many ways about this country) condemned us all. Where a black woman can't acknowledge that this country has given black people very few things to be proud of without a threat of lynching on national television. I fully, intellectually recognize that I've been jerked around and manipulated by a mainstream media eager for ratings. But, still, it was disheartening and upsetting. I am responsible for sheperding safely through the world two beautiful black girls and to think that one day I have to send them off to a world that will treat them no better than it did my mother or grandmother or great-grandmother is deeply deeply upsetting. That's probably an exaggeration, I know, but it really has felt that way these last few months.

But this morning, when my 7 year old sat eagerly in front of the news waiting to hear the results of last night's primaries and was so excited that Obama will be the nominee (something she predicted last June), I was teary-eyed. Because this is historic. This couldn't have happened before this moment. And my kids will grow up in a world forever shaped by this moment. And that has to count for something.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Afrogeekmom Bookshelf

First a brief note on the Sex and the City movie: am I missing some essential girl gene? Because I don't think I could care any less about this movie, despite their pandering efforts at trying to win me over by casting Jennifer Hudson. Moving on...

Oh the joys of summer! To be able to read books completely unrelated to what I teach or research. I feel positively decadent. I'm starting with two books featured on one NPR program or another (I can't really remember where I heard/read about them--I do know that both these books wound up on the electronic post-it on my computer desktop reserved for "books I will read one day when I have some time").


The first book is Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. I confess upfront that I only got through half of this book (to May of the year without shopping). Maybe it gets better in the second half. The premise of the book is that the author, during one Christmas shopping season, becomes so dismayed by consumer culture and her own in participation in it, that she and her partner decide to embark on an experiment to buy only the necessities for 12 months. This is an admittedly self-indulgent, lefty experiment borne of privilege. Still, I was intrigued to read about how the author and her partner come to conclusions about what it is a necessity and what isn't. Well, it turns out that the daily New York Times is a necessity, and books for "research" are necessities, and six different kinds of vinegar are necessities (because, of course, you have to spend money on sustenance), and a $10 membership fee for a simplicity support group is a necessity. Along the way Levine trots out various academics talking about the psychology and economics and history of consumer behavior, but all this information seems to have little effect on her own thinking. Again, I only got to May. Maybe in December she has a revelation. In May her only revelation seems to be that buying only the necessities cuts you off from what you desire, which is so patently obvious and untrue at the same time that I just had to stop reading.


Luckily I also had on my nightstand The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. The book covers the tears between WWII and the Roe decision and looks at the experiences of women who were sent to maternity homes to have their children before relinquishing them for adoption. The whole time I was reading I was struck by two things. First, my own mother had me at 16, in 1973, and faced some of the same things the women in this book do. She felt deeply ashamed and that she'd betrayed her family. She wasn't allowed to go to her actual school until she was no longer pregnant. Like so many of the women in the book, she was an excellent student, from a nice family, and completely clueless about sex and pregnancy. She got pregnant the first time she had sex. Unlike the women in the book, though, she got to keep me. And no one ever made me feel as if my existence was a mistake, as I were unwanted. That makes such a difference.

Second, the book was a stark reminder of the importance of real sex education and access to reliable, affordable birth control, including abortion. This cannot be said enough, but the right to choose when and if to have children is the most important right women have and the one that should always be at the forefront of any feminist agenda. I've had a really bad attitude about feminism lately, and this book was nice reminder of why I adopted feminist politics in the first place.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Deeper Black by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I officially want to be Ta-Nehisi Coates when I grow up. I've been reading his blog for about a month now (and can't wait to read his new memoir) and find him consistently thoughtful and spot on on contemporary culture and politics. Plus, his prose is a great pleasure to read. (He also outs himself as a gamer in this piece, and I'm always happy to find another afrogeek.)

In a recent post I attempted to articulate some thoughts about Obama' blackness. In a "A Deeper Black," Coates does a much better job of making the same point:

This is the blackness of Barack Obama. It is an identity that asserts itself without conscious thought. It has no need of marches and placards. It rejects an opportunistic ignorance of racism but understands that esoteric ramblings about white-skin privilege do not move the discussion further. It does not need to bluster, to scream, to hyperbolize. Obama's blackness is like any other secure marker of identity, subtle and irreducible to a list of demands.

If this election has taught us nothing else, it's taught us that we have very little language to talk about blackness in this country. The absurdity of the Wright controversy, the ceaseless sexism vs. racism debates, the descriptions of Obama and his campaign as post-racial all point to how little the mainstream media actually knows about the actual lives of real black people. Coates's piece is great because it not only grants black people complexity, as individuals and as a group, but also because he treats that complexity not as a great revelation, but as a matter of fact. He writes of his time at Howard, "From their unspoken variety, from the Alphas and Omegas, from the buoyant Afros and long dreads, from the night-blacks to those who were almost passing, I drew the great lesson that black was a country, a broad, beautiful America refracted through a smoky lens."

And maybe, just maybe, as black people waited and listened and deliberated as Obama made his appeal to them, they saw that he got that. A lot is made of Obama's avoidance of race or his unwillingness to play the race card (can we officially put that term out of its misery?) in this campaign, but maybe he gets what the pundits don't--to speak to black America about race alone is to speak to us about very little and to demonstrate that you don't know very much about us.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Spoilers follow)

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. I love the other Indy movies--the old-fashioned premise, the artifacts full of mystical powers, the impossibly over-the-top yet still rooted in reality action sequences. I especially love that Indy's success isn't due to his fearlessness or physical strength (though he does manage to draw on those qualities when necessary), but rather his ability to solve riddles. Smart and sexy--there is a reason why I've long had a crush on Indiana Jones. (I also have a wildly inappropriate crush on 21-year old Shia LeBoeuf, so I was doubly excited to see this movie.)

Parts of "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" worked. It was great to see Marian Ravenwood again and she and Indy have just as much chemistry as ever. The movie had great and convincing fun with Harrison Ford's age. I also like that more screen time was given to Indy-as-college professor, though that may simply because I think college profs are cool. (By the way, where does Indy teach? The movie is set shortly after WWII, in the 1950s. There were women and black students on his campus.)

So much didn't work. The artifact in this movie, the crystal skull, which so obviously belongs to an alien (the movie pretends there is suspense around this fact, but there really isn't at all) is wildly out of place in the Indyverse. The last 30 minutes of the movie are like some weird parody of an Indiana Jones movie. The tone is cmpletely off and the very presence of aliens and their history with ancient people (they teach them how to farm, how to build pyramids, blah blah blah) undercuts much of the magic of the first three movies. I blame George Lucas. I have no particular reason to blame him, but I feel confident this is somehow all his fault.

Seeing the hat and the whip in action again was a thrill, but the movie was ultimately a disappointment.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Little House on the Prairie

Now that Frances (who played at her first coffeehouse at Hungry Monk last night and was absolutely adorable) is 7 and more tolerant of longer stories with fewer pictures at bedtime, Brian and I have started to read to her books we loved as children. Brian read to her The Book of Three (thereby passing along yet another geeky joy to our child--fantasy) and for the past couple of weeks I have been reading Little House on the Prairie.

I remember loving this book, remember happily reading through all the books in the series and watching the show after school on TBS. What I didn't remember was how horribly racist the book is. It seemed like every other page had some character saying, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" or bitching about the government moving settlers out of Indian territory. And Pa Ingalls's desire to live as far off the grid as possible (they end up on the prairie after Pa moves the family out of the little cabin in the big woods because the big woods was getting too crowded--they saw a wagon pass by everyday) verged on the pathological. It was all very disappointing and sad.

Frances loved the book, though, even if she did think the Ingalls were wrong to build their cabin on land that belonged to someone else.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Smart Negro Round #2

Ta'Nehesi Coates: On persistent claims that sexism is worse than racism
Do something that will prevent you from speaking on evils you've never had the privilege of dancing with. I beg of you--just stop it. You aren't qualified to speak on this. And the more you talk, the more we know.

Angry Black Bitch: on the "rift" between white feminists and feminists of color
Anyhoo, this rift ain’t new and it is layered with issues of class, race, orientation and identity that all play a role in our goals and tactics. The reason it may seem new is because we haven’t had a happening that demanded an unavoidable examination of our values and our goals in some time.

Mark Anthony Neal on the R. Kelly child pornography trial:
While we all can criticize the shamelessness of mainstream media and celebrity culture in the coverage of "events" like the R. Kelly trial, we should all feel a little shameful that the incident depicted in that much-downloaded videotape, did not incite our anger and vigilance--regardless of whether Robert Kelly was in the room.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Smart Negro Round-Up

I've given up blogging about politics, but I still read plenty of political posts. So let's start a new tradition here at Afrogeek Mom and Dad: Smart Negro Round-Up Thursdays. Here's what caught my eye this week:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: There is No Black Working Class
The surest sign of someone being an effete latte-sipping liberal is their acceptance of Hillary as an ambassador the white working class.

Bikari Kitwana: Steal This Election
Pay close attention as the pendulum slowly swings away from silhouettes of the angry Black man to the kinder, gentler, smiling face of Senator Clinton, praise songs focused on her experience, high fives to her toughness, and one story after another (from CNN to Fox) that unashamedly adopted Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy as their news angle of the day.

Mark Anthony Neal: Bigger Than One: Some Reflections on the "Franchise"
As I walked into the voting booth on Tuesday, I was clear that I was not simply voting for myself, but voting for my father--who passed two weeks after the February 5th round of primaries--and my two daughters, who both anxiously await their opportunities to fully participate in the franchise.

Angry Black Woman: On Feminism
And, quite honestly, I am tired of the burden being on us to fix this mess. I’m tired of having to decide if I want the label of “Feminist”, not because someone might think I hate men, but because someone might wonder why I would want to associate myself with people who think my voice and experiences are less important because I refuse to put my gender ahead of my race.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell: Dear Governor Dean: Are You Ready to Lead?
Let's be clear. When black folks switch parties, we do it decisively. After nearly a century of unwavering commitment to the party of Lincoln, it was Republican Barry Goldwater's presidential bid in 1964, designed to appeal to entrenched American racism, which led to an increase in black Democratic Party identifiers from 59 percent to 86 percent in a single election. Despite Obama's call for unity in his North Carolina victory speech last night, black Americans will not stand behind a candidate who deploys a Goldwater strategy within our own party. Our opposition to the war will not allow us to vote for McCain, but we can choose to exit the coalition, withhold our votes, to protest a Clinton candidacy. This is not a threat. It is an observation based on historical evidence.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus--Girl Gone Wild?

I have seen the Miley Cyrus photo and heard it described, alternately, as soft core porn and as a publicity stunt. Either this 15 year old girl has been taken advantage of by all the adults around her, or she has taken her first step toward becoming the next tabloid train wreck.

I'm conflicted about this. My own 7 year old, like 7 year olds around the globe, is obsessed with Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana. My knee jerk reaction was to be appalled that her parents allowed the picture to be taken, that Annie Leibovitz would even think to take such a picture, and to lament the hypersexualization of young girls in our culture. Yet...

I've also just returned from a conference where I (along with Alison) delivered a paper that argued, in part, that women's sexuality is marginalized/ignored/pathologized by mainstream society. We are deeply uncomfortable with female sexual desire and pleasure. Yet, paradoxically, it is exactly sexual pleasure and desire, or at least the performance of it, that we offer young girls/women as the means by which they assert their autonomy. I'm reminded of Jessica Simpson talking about how empowering it was to wear Daisy Duke's shorts in the Dukes of Hazard movie; of Anne Hathaway wanting to take the breast-exposing role in Brokeback Mountain in an effort to shed her Disney princess image; of Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart as she attempted to move out from under Bill Cosby's shadow; of Halle Berry's Oscar for Monster's Ball. One can easily imagine that Miley Cyrus, in the thick of her hormonal adolescence, perhaps feeling the claustrophobia of being a star in the Disney machine, fearing losing herself in the squeaky clean image of Hannah Montana, jumped at the chance to work with Annie Leibovitz and create the kind of sexually provocative images Leibovitz is known for.

Who knows? I do feel sorry for her, though. Not only will the outcry about this be huge (already prompting Cyrus to deliver an Obama-style repudiation of Leibovitz), but I also feel like we've ruined whatever kind of joy or power or solace she may have found in the picture, or by extension, her burgeoning sexual self.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Of Natural Hair and Role Models

I've talked in this space before about my fraught relationship with my hair. After getting my hair relaxed in October of last year, I decided to go natural. Being too chicken to cut all my hair off (the easiest way to go natural after having relaxed hair), I decided to let my relaxer grow out and try various hybrid hairstyles while decided exactly what to do with my hair. Alas, my inherent hair laziness kicked in and three weeks ago I was back at the salon getting my hair chemically treated. I thought a lot about the decision and thought I felt good about it (reading the comments on a post about natural hair at Stuff Educated Black People Like got me really thinking about the fetishization of natural hair in certain circles) until I went to work the next day.

Several students on separate occasions came to me to ask about my hair. Did I get a relaxer? Did I get my hair pressed? Was all that all my real hair? Not only was I caught off guard by those questions (who knew people were paying that much attention to my hair?), but I was also surprised at their sense of betrayal. These students, all young black women, were clearly very disappointed in me. I'd let them down.

I hate the very idea of making choices about my personal appearance based on other people's expectations, but at the same time I understand that my public persona is very important. Being a black professional in a place like Charleston, SC matters in very real, material ways. My very presence, my actual physical body as well as the idea of me, intervenes into all kinds of weird racial histories and tensions here, so it's important that I take seriously what that presence says. I get that. Yet...there also needs to be room for me to be the me that I'm going to be. And maybe that me has chemically straightened hair. I know that sounds defensive and maybe it is just my justification for participating in my own oppression. Who knows?

I haven't made up my mind about how I feel about all of this.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Barack Obama and Rev. Wright: Greta Van Susteren is Shocked and Offended

Are you fucking kidding me?

Right around the time the mainstream news started wetting themselves with excitement about Hilary Clinton's primary victories in Texas and Ohio (despite the fact that it changed nothing, despite the fact that Obama continues to maintain a near insurmountable lead in delegates, despite the fact that Americans of all stripes, regardless of how you break them down demographically clearly prefer Obama to Clinton) and Clinton egged them on by condescendingly graciously extending the office of the vice presidency to Obama, I went on a news black out. There are people out there who can live and breathe political news 24/7 and maintain enough emotional distance to write about it with clarity and wit and intelligence. I can't. So I try not to.

But tonight I'm flipping through the channels and all the talk is about Obama and the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. Lou Dobbs is taking a break from talking about immigration to predict the demise of Obama's campaign. Greta Van Susteren is talking to some poor, deluded, black man, forcing him to agree with her when she says, "We're as close as brother and sister" and feigns shock at the "offensive" statements of Rev. Wright. And what offensive statements you ask?

Web sites and television news shows recalled Wright's praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and played a greatest-hits compilation of Wright's most incendiary comments: that Sept. 11, 2001, meant "America's chickens are coming home to roost." That former president Bill Clinton "did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky." That "racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run."

Wright's statements, along with Michelle Obama's assertion that she is proud of her country for the first time, are being taken as signs that Barack Obama can't in fact bring us together, that he won't be the racially transcendent candidate that so many want him to be.

But let's call a spade a spade, shall we? Nobody gives a fuck that George W. Bush is not a racially transcendent candidate and never pretended to be. His administration is attentive and responsible to white male monied interests, and barely apologizes for that. When we say "racially transcendent" we mean "a black man that white people can like." That so many black people seem to like Obama (he got 91% of the black vote in Mississippi, as Pat Buchanan kept insisting, just before he told a black woman to shut up), that he goes to a decidedly black church, that his wife seems to be exactly the kind of black woman that makes white people nervous, that he is running his campaign with funds drawn from black wealth and the hard-earned dimes of working class black folk--all this makes white people nervous. Obama is fine as long as white people can chant "Yes We Can" at rallies and forward the will.i.am video to everybody in their address book. But point out America's racist past and present, suggest that the same American flag that you want me to get teary eyed over is the exact same one that my ancestors were slaves under, the same one that my grandparents were denied the right to vote under, the same one under which my mother attended segregated schools, the same one under which I didn't go to integrated schools until 1982, and watch all the warm, fuzzy, feeling fade away. Suddenly we are the racists and Greta Van Susteren is deeply hurt (you see, she's never heard a black person talk this way).

People believe hanging nooses from trees and professors' doors is funny. People see nothing wrong with displaying the confederate flag. John fucking Calhoun stands atop a giant fucking pedestal less than a mile from my office. Robert Downey, Jr. will perform in blackface in an upcoming movie. This is the country I live in. Maybe it's not the country Greta Van Susteren lives in. Maybe she's never been asked to be proud of a country that is more than happy to give her syphilis and then lie about it, or sterilize her without her consent, or leave her stranded for days as a city floods around her. I'm asked to be proud of that country every goddamned day. You'll have to forgive me if there are days that I can't quite muster the energy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Barack Obama is not a special black man, a superhuman racially transcendent black man. He is, simply, a black man, like lots of black men trying to negotiate a black identity and an American one, two warring souls in one dark body, as Dubois said. Any black man running for president of the United States clearly has a deeply felt patriotism. Otherwise, why subject yourself to this? At the same time, any black man running for president is still a black man and always feels his two-ness (to borrow another phrase from Dubois), always recognizing how all the contradictions of this country are embodied in him. As Melissa Harris-Lacewell writes,

Let's be clear. American democracy has always coexisted with vicious,state-sponsored racism. The nation's first presidents worked to establish aninnovative, flexible, radical democratic republic while simultaneouslycodifying enslaved blacks as a fraction human and relegating them tointergenerational chattel bondage.

After emancipation, as blacks helped make America the greatest industrialand military power on earth, the country stripped blacks of the right tovote, segregated public accommodations, provided inferior education to blackchildren, and allowed and promoted the terrorist rule of lynch-mob violence. This week Barack Obama was pressured to denounce Jeremiah Wright. But in the hundred years following the end of the Civil War more than five thousand African Americans were lynched and not a single president denounced the atrocities. Because of this history, black patriotism is complicated.


Black patriots love our country, even though it has often hated us. We love our country, even while we hold it accountable for its faults.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I *Heart* Indiana Jones

This is the picture that greeted me when I opened my mailbox and pulled out my favorite entertainment magazine. I'm told that I actually *squeaked* when I saw this photo of Harrison Ford at the height of his Indiana Jones glory. (I'm not convicned that I actually squeaked. Clearly Brian made that detail up.) What is it about Harrison Ford, as Han Solo and Indiana Jones and John Book? What doI find so irresistible? Certainly the kind of macho masculinity he embodies in Witness and Star Wars and the Indy movies are all iterations of masculinity that I object to and ultimately find damaging to men in general. But damn, if he isn't sexy as hell in this picture.

I'll be writing about the new Indy movie for the City Paper when it opens in May and will hopefully have something smarter to say than "Oh my god! Harrison Ford's cute. And so is Shia LeBeouf (but I feel wrong even thinking that)." But right now all I can manage is "squeak!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Geeky Things I Love on Valentine's Day

I've had a really long and trying day and we haven't celebrated anything geeky lately here on Afrogeek Mom and Dad. So on this Valentine's Day, I offer geeky things that always make me feel better:



First, Neil Degrasse Tyson. I often think that if I had it to do all over again, I'd like to be an astrophysicist, but as I can barely tell time on an analog clock, much less do calculus, that dream seems unlikely to come true. I still think he's awesome.


Second, Fables. It's been ages since I've found a comic series I loved this much from the very first page. The description--characters from fairy tales, legends, and mythologies exiled from their Homelands in our world, fighting the Adversary--doesn't do this series justice. It's smart, funny, sexy, incredibly witty, well-written and plotted, everything you could want in a comic.



And third, Torchwood. I never got into Dr. Who and I really need another tv addiction like a hole in the head, but the sheer unapologetic geeky joy that permeates this alien-a-week series makes me incredibly happy. And the fact that Captain Jack Harkness is easy on the eyes *and* as likely snog a man as a woman makes it that much better.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Some Day I Will Write a Book About Blackness

Gary Kamiya, in a Salon article, writes about being biracial and how his own choice to completely eschew a racial identity is different than Obama's choice to embrace a black identity. Kamiya's article is really good at showing how he comes to not question Obama's choice to identify as black, despite being biracial, but really, perhaps, for the first time, recognizing what it means for someone who is biracial to make that choice and how that choice, paradoxically,brings Obama to a place where race is not the chief definer of his identity. Kamiya writes:

"The essence of Obama's politics, his call for reconciliation and unity, is thus deeply grounded in the long and painful creation of his own double identity. It is, almost literally, sealed in blood -- the mixed blood, black and white, that flows through his veins. With Obama, the movement is always toward a double affirmative. Not neither black nor white, which is the way I and many mixed-race people identify ourselves, but both black and something larger."

The other day I was talking to a colleague, a black Latin American woman, and we got to talking about the election (the place where all conversations seem to end these days). And we talked about how we recognized ourselves in Barack Obama, whether or not we wound up voting for him. We recognized in him the experience of being the only black kid in the room, being the first black person to hold this or that postion, accomplish this or that thing, being the black person who makes other people (read: white people) feel good about the possibilities of integration, the black person who stands in as the evidence of someone else's colorblindness. And we recognized in Obama the work that has gone in to fashioning a black identity that can navigate all of that. Because, while blackness is not always a choice for some of us (my colleague and I, because of what we look like, can hardly choose to be anything else within the American racial schema), how we understand and live our blackness requires the same kind of choice Kamiya describes Obama making. This notion, that is so prevalent currently, that blackness is monolithic, that black people identify primarily as black, that blackness is the chief definer of our experience, is so patently untrue as to be laughable to most black people. Every single black person has to figure out what it means to be black, has to figure what relationship they have to the "black community" [side note: in my book, perhaps I will seek out this "black community"--where is it located? do you need a pass to get in?], has to figure where an individual self does and does not share mental and emotional space with a black self. Of course Obama comes to a place where he is "both black and something larger." That's the place where most black people, not just "mixed race" blacks, live and that people continue to fail to recognize that is a testament to how much work around race still needs to be done in this country.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Is How a Party Splits

What we have at this moment in the 21st century is a generation of black people born into a post-Civil Rights America, provided opportunities unimaginable to their parents, and rewarded with a world that, for many of us, is far more integrated than many could have hoped for. We have learned that a world defined completely by race (or gender or sexuality or religion) is an incredibly small world and have demanded, and continue to demand, that all aspects of our identities and lives be taken seriously. We can't be counted on to play the American race game as it's always been played. We can't be counted on to choose blackness over our gender or sexuality or class or religion.

But that doesn't mean blackness doesn't matter. That race doesn't still have a profound effect on our day to day to existence. That you can call me a nigger and get away with it.

And it doesn't mean that I have to pretend to be colorblind for your convenience.

Mickey Kaus over at Slate offered this advice to Obama, a strategy he can use to get out of the political ghetto he now finds himself in (read: how he can keep his white supporters despite his growing support among black voters):

The more obvious move is to find a Sister Souljah--after Saturday--to stiff arm. The most promising candidate is not a person, but an idea: race-based affirmative action. Obama has already made noises about shifting to a class-based, race-blind system of preferences. What if he made that explicit? Wouldn't that shock hostile white voters into taking a second look at his candidacy? He'd renew his image as trans-race leader (and healer). The howls of criticism from the conventional civil-rights establishment--they'd flood the cable shows--would provide him with an army of Souljahs to hold off. If anyone noticed Hillary in the ensuing fuss, it would be to put her on the spot--she'd be the one defending mend-it-don't-end-it civil rights orthodoxy.

So the only way Obama can win, the only way white voters will support him, is if he goes out of his way to show that he's willing to be unpopular with black people? Because black people liking you too much makes you suspect?

rikyrah at jackandjillpolitics in a post about "progressive" bloggers and the South Carolina primary had this to say:

So, let me get this straight - Hillary Clinton wins White women in New Hampshire, and it's this great victory, but if Barack Obama wins South Carolina, after ten months of campaigning, because of sizeable Black support, it doesn't REALLY count? What is this - are we back to being Three-Fifths once again? The Black vote doesn't count as much as the White vote? I'm going to say this as obviously as I can:

YOU DO NOT WANT TO GO DOWN THIS ROAD.

You simply don't. There is this underlying condescension that has been creeping into the "Progressive" blogs that, ' oh, well , THEY - meaning Blacks- have nowhere else to go. So, the Clintons and their proxies, who are actually race-baiting, but we'll say that they aren't, and tell those Blacks who are informing us as to what they see that it's in their IMAGINATION - well, they'll shut up, go SIT IN THEIR PLACE and turn up in November like they're SUPPOSED TO.' That's not a bet you want to take.

James Brown said it:
We'd rather die on our feet
Than be livin' on our knees

I am part of the Hip-Hop generation, and those of us who are Post Civil-Rights have learned our lessons well. We learned to hear the Dogwhistle of Racial Politics; our parents taught us that for SURVIVAL, but what they afforded us that they didn't have, was the option of getting off of our knees.

I hope this primary season goes down in American political and racial history as the season black people finally gets up off our knees.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hilary vs. Barack: What's a Black Woman To Do?

Remember when this blog was about comic books and kids and random musings on life?

It's interesting being a black woman living in South Carolina these days. All eyes are on us, as if the press and politicians have just realized that we do in fact vote, and, more importantly, that we can't be counted on to vote with our black brothers or white sisters.

Of course this is all being played out most dramatically in the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Neither the Iowa caucuses nor the New Hampshire primary contained a significant number of black voters, and each candidate's win is being contributed to women voters choosing one over the other. With black women making up the majority of registered black voters in South Carolina, we are suddenly historically important.

Now you would think that would translate into at least a little respect for the political power we wield (if only at this moment), but instead we're being told that we're naïve, politically regressive, or easily swayed by a good-looking face. We're being told that the civil rights establishment "doesn't know" Obama and that fact doesn't matter anyway because it was actually LBJ that made civil rights reform happen. The implication is clear--vote for Clinton (and not this shucking and jiving outsider) or forever be branded as the backward thinking cabal that brought down the Democratic party.

Alison over at Baxter Sez says she feels as if she's being asked to choose a team in this election. I feel the same way, only I feel as if I'm only being given one choice--Hilary Clinton. No one, besides the man himself, is asking me to vote for Obama. Voting for Clinton will somehow prove my rightness as a Democrat and a woman and a feminist, whereas voting for Obama, apparently, will prove only that I'm hanging on too tightly to the irrelevant category of race.

Like Alison, the last two weeks have been difficult for me because I feel torn. Like Mark Anthony Neal, I absolutely understand the importance of being black and claiming feminism as my own. It's a particularly public and political statement that demands feminism take the concerns of women of color seriously and a reminder to black people that we have our own gender work to do. But these days I'm agreeing with Aaminah Hernandez and remembering why we need a black feminist womanist movement and why it will be a while before I can be anything other than a reluctant feminist.

If Steinem's, and others', argument about voting for Hilary had been about feminism, about how a Clinton presidency would be good for the progressive feminist politics we presumably all share, that would be one thing. That's an argument I'd be willing to entertain. But of course this isn't what's happening. I'm being asked to vote for Hilary Clinton because she has a vagina and because she's white and if you doubt the "white makes right" tone of the post-Iowa push for Clinton, check out the race-baiting that her campaign has resorted to in order to drum up votes.

Is Obama the right person to be the next president of the United States? Maybe. Maybe not. But if Hilary's going to get my vote, she's going to have to do a lot more than show up with vagina and talk with a "black" accent. And I suspect a lot of other black women in South Carolina feel the same way.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More on Obama--Is it Bad to Feel Good?

Over at Diary of an Anxious Black Woman (a blog you should all check out), the author expresses some reservations about the Obama bandwagon the country seems poised to jump on. Her arguments are better read than summarized here, so I'll wait while you go read.

Her argument about the dems shooting themselves in the foot doesn't wash with me because first--the same can be said of nominating Clinton (that the nomination is setting the dems up for a loss because she's a woman and so many people don't like her); and second--obama isn't the establishment democrat choice. If he manages to get the nomination, it will be despite the wishes of the establishment, certainly despite the wishes of the civil rights establishment

A lot of people are skeptical about Obama's feel-good vibe and I get that. But couldn't we spin this another way? Couldn't it be that, maybe, after 8 years of an administration terrifying us into believing that we could do nothing but accept the fascist-like rule of presidential privilege, people are once again being reminded that it is possible to change the government because it's our government? The status quo is only the staus quo because we let it be? Obama hopes for change, sure, but he also advocates for action. As he told voters in Iowa--you can't just hope he wins the election, you have to show and vote to ensure that he does. And that--that ability to get people to show up, people who have been disenchanted and disillusioned with the whole process, to get those people excited about the process, to have hope in our collective future, *and* to get them to show up to work for that future is an impressive skill not to be taken lightly.