Today while I was opening up old media files and preparing for the launch of CONJUREjournal, a new undergraduate digital publishing platform that I’m helping develop for our HBCU students, I came across this essay montage video that I made as a doctoral student almost 11 years ago.
It was 2009. The iPhone was the hottest, must-have gadget on the market and the now, all-but-defunct iPod was still new. Despite the literally dozens of generations of iOS and Android mobile devices that have come and gone in the last decade, sadly—though not surprisingly—generate many of the same debates surrounding technological access and what we’ve come to recognize as “algorithmic oppression.”
In those days, a cacophony of voices had declared it a “post-racial” era. To paraphrase Ta-Nehisi Coates, the president was black and Obama was about to be “eight years in power.” Fast forward to 2016 and it’s easy to understand why people might feel some nostalgia.
Also during that time, it was the boom years of what continues to be an offshoot field of English programs: digital rhetoric. We were still trying to figure out how to attribute authorial citations for on-screen projects and as one who was bearing witness to new idioms of expression, I decided to split the difference with a “SPECIAL THANKS” title card in the closing credits.
Another thing that strikes me about housing this and similar projects here on this very blog site is how much it looks like some kind of crazy time capsule. (I mean, can you say Tumblr gURLs?) The display and aesthetic layout right here appear less “cute” by today’s design standards—more kitsch—almost, in fact, quaint.
SNL poked a little fun at the recent 2016 presidential election. It’s a digital video short—a parodic take on the iconic note card scene from the classic rom-com Love, Actually.
All the big punchlines are about Hillary putting in some overtime for the holidays. Hillary’s making the rounds with a particularly persuasive cache of giant note cards, to cajole white female delegates into changing their minds and casting their electoral college votes for her instead of Trump. The note cards’ captioned Black English is a clever comedic prop, a literal gag where she’s not allowed to speak. Rather, she must soldier on, quietly and supportively. You know, the way a nice lady is supposed to behave.
And poor ol’ Hills… overachieving as always, giving it her all and trying to keep it “cute and on mute” in her last-ditch effort to win over just enough faithless electors to reverse Trump’s victory.
DURHAM, N.C. — Dr. Yaba Blay, renowned activist, cultural critic, and producer, launches Professional Black Girl, an original video series created to celebrate everyday Black womanhood, and to smash racist and “respectable” expectations of how they should “behave.”
Seventeen Black women and girls ranging in age from 2- to 52-years-old were interviewed for the series. Each episode features a candid discussion with personalities such as Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Rapsody; Joan Morgan, author of the Hip-Hop feminist classic When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost; and 13-year-old world traveler Nahimana Machen, sharing what it means to be a “Professional Black Girl.”
“‘Professional Black Girl’ looks like Taraji P. Henson at the 2015 Emmys jumping up to hug Viola Davis. It looks like Mary J. Blige and Taraji and Kerry Washington in that Apple commercial. It looks like me rolling up to a room full of people in Berlin to speak with my bamboo earrings on,” explains Tarana Burke, a non-profit consultant and fashion blogger featured in the series.
Limited edition Professional Black Girl merchandise, created in partnership with Philadelphia Printworks, is available now onphiladelphiaprintworks.com. The first full episode, featuring Dr. Blay, will air September 9, 2016, with an episode airing each Friday onYouTube and yabablay.com until December 23, 2016.
“The terminology that is often used to describe and define Black girls—such as bad, grown, fast, ghetto, and ratchet—are non-affirming and are words that are intended to kill the joy and magic within all Black girls,” says Dr. Blay. “We are professional code-switchers, hair-flippers, hip-shakers, and go-getters. We hold Ph.Ds and listen to trap music; we twerk and we work. We hold it down while lifting each other up, and we don’t have to justify or explain our reason for being. This is us.”
Follow #ProfessionalBlackGirl across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to celebrate and affirm the everyday excellence of Black women and girls.
For more information, or to interview Dr. Yaba Blay, please contact Shakirah Gittens at 718-687-6231 or by email at info@DynamicNLyfe.com.
And since weed advocacy isn’t exactly my ministry, I added a top portion to her ‘fro and replaced a #BLM logo instead of the original cannabis leaf… Decriminalization of marijuana will be part of the DNC platform this election cycle. I’m looking forward to seeing how partisan Democrats will present their case next week. Anything has got to be better than this #RNCinCLE sh!tshow.
Whatevs. To each their own. In the meantime, I’m just doing what I can to keep up morale for the cause.
The far reaching ramifications of the North Carolina Legislature’s House Bill prohibitions against equal access to public accommodations for transgender people have seriously hit home for us here in Fayetteville.
Earlier today, the Fayetteville State University Police Department notified the FSU campus’ global email list that the U.S. Department of Justice won’t be holding a major revenue-generating class on our campus. The federal agency has canceled or “postponed” enrollments for “LawEnforcement and the Transgender Community” —originally scheduled for later this month.
Because of Fayetteville State’s close proximity to Fort Bragg Army Base, this class would have provided important course credits for Criminal Justice students.
The announcement falls under the category of public information, which is why this news is being passed along to interested parties. According to the internally released memo—intended for public notice, “recent developments.… have caused significant scheduling conflicts with FSU.”
News regarding the economic consequences of HB2 at FSU was sent to all members of the faculty and staff as well as current and prospective students. The press release was sent from “FSU News” through its public relations office email. The notice was apparently deleted from the May 5th issue of the university’s online newsletter, FSU News. (The “404 error” message that pops up instead signals an unusual departure for institutional announcements of this kind.)
The unusual press “un-release” says the Law Enforcement classes are “postponed due to recent developments which have caused significant scheduling conflicts with [their] delivery.” The DOJ Director of the Office of Community Relations and Services “conveyed his personal apology for the postponement of the classes as well as for the short notice of the postponement.” The Fayetteville State University Police Department email goes on to express that the DOJ is:
“committed to providing this training for law enforcement professionals as well as other individuals who interact with members of the LGBT community… Both agencies are currently working to identify dates in the not too distant future which will allow for the scheduling and delivery of the classes.”
The UNC system’s $4.5 billion loss due to the passage of HB2 is a conservative estimate of federal revenue forfeiture of Title IX funding, which is needed to effectively run the University of North Carolina’s seventeen campuses.
Earlier this month, Fayetteville State University’s internet radio station, Bronco iRadio, asked me to come in and talk about cuteness and blackness to help kick off Black History Month. Needless to say, this is my favorite subject and I had plenty to say (even during commercial breaks).
Since it was a live broadcast, a few folks (mostly family, friends, and students) asked if they could listen to the show on their own time, so I thought I’d do one better and post this video of our uncut, on-air conversation. Because we spent so much time discussing rhetoric and its connections to professional writing, we ran out of time before I could draw more connections to civil rights and anti-black racism. So I’ll be sure to post another video podcast dealing more directly with cuteness’ relationship to mass incarceration and racial profiling in the near future.
The “teddy bear effect” is something I’ve touched on beforein this blog and is now, more than ever, the topic of exigency. The slayings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, among many others whose names are yet fully known bring to mind the work of one of this year’s MacArthur Genius Award winners: Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Deathworthy” study about how the dark skin and African looking facial characteristics of black defendants are highly correlated to the likelihood of their being sentenced to the death penalty.
The spontaneous memorials, such as the one pictured above, have popped up at sites where police (or wannabe cops) have murdered unarmed, often adolescent black males all speak to teddy bears as a visual and spatial phenomenon of race. Alongside the realities uncovered in the Deathworthy study, is another study by Robert Livingston. Coined the “teddy bear effect,”researchersdemonstrated how and why our society can enact the“postracial” iteration of Jim Crow in the form of mass incarceration and all these brutal police killings directly alongside the amazing success of the Barack Obama presidency.
It seems, according to the evidence, that successful African American leadership —beyond impressive credentials, competence, and diligence — is accompanied by certain “disarming mechanisms” such as physical and behavioral traits that attenuate perceptions of black threat held by the dominant culture. It appears that some black men have developed an extraordinary psychological capacity to affect the feelings of comfort engendered by persceptions of cuteness in order to assuage white racial anxieties about black men’s purported criminality. Among these disarming mechanisms is that of “babyfaceness,” which some African American men physically possess (and may intentionally play up) because they realize how whites experience their “cuteness” as helpful in reducing the perception of black aggression. White experiences of fear or intimidation may actually be a cultural form of subconscious projection due to the realistic threat suffered by blacks because whites’ possess such inordinately higher levels of social power vis-à-vis their black counterparts in most cases.
Deathworthiness versus babyfaceness serves as empirical evidence of the quantifiably predictable quality of “cuteness” as a racial construct that too often means life or death for our black brothers, partners, and sons. It’s interesting that both studies, particularly in the case of Livingston, make clever nods towards the heavily anthologized Brent Staples essay, “Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space,” in which the essayist refers to his habit of coping with whites’ perception of black male threat as a “tension-reducing” tactic meant to assuage white fears and and offer a sense of racial comfort in the public sphere. The kicker comes when Staples admits how “warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is the equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country” and speaks most eloquently to the strange dilemma of masculine empowerment and racial entrapment experienced by black men when moving through public space.
Teddy bears in bear country, sadly, is the perfect trope for the beastly outcomes derived from the unchecked racist policies and legal processes of white American culture and jurisprudence. #BlackLivesMatter
As heartbreaking and unjust as it is, the #FergusonDecision provides an opportune time for us to remind our respective families and communities during this Thanksgiving that the struggle for liberation among Africans in America hasn’t been so much about the giving as it’s been about the taking. This give/take has been the fuel in the engine behind US social strivings toward becoming a better, more robust democracy.
This constant push/pull have been stirring and shifting in every direction with, for, against, and all around us for some time. We would do well to remind those around us that the supposedly discrete bookend events we attribute to 1954-1968 (or the time representing the push for Black Liberation commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Movement) was but one well publicized episode within an ongoing continuum of struggle. African descended peoples have had to fight for their lives since the founding of this country up until the present day to demand the acknowledgment of our collective humanity and respect for our basic right to exist freely, despite the centuries-long refusal by the dominant centers of white power and privilege to recognize as much because the push for civil rights has been far worse than the pulling of teeth.
And truth be told, that recognition has never ever occurred because the majority of white people woke up all of a sudden one day and decided to hand over a giant silver platter with Freedom sprinkled all over it. Though to learn the history of civil rights as told through the lens of our failed education system, you would think all of White America suddenly realized, “Here ya go black, brown, yellow, and red folk… Why don’t you take a little of this extra freedom. We ain’t using it right now and thought you might like to have some…”
The facts clearly demonstrate something far more complicated because freedom was never given freely. It had to be actively seized upon—taken, as it were—through struggle, in spite of the imminent threat of death, certain violence, and utter destruction of everything about how the entire American system had been set up.
It’s important we make clear the understanding that the modern Civil Rights Movement as we have come to think of it was much more so about US national security than it was the modest capitulation of rightness over whiteness, let alone a sincere desire for white churchgoers and clergy to answer MLK’s immanent critique of Southern America’s version of Christlike behavior. (After all, “Christian identity” has long been a cornerstone of white supremacy while Sundays have and will likely always remain the most segregated day of the week.)
Workers for civil rights and freedom understood that if the US federal government really wanted the political economy of a capitalist system to prevail over the Cold War, the social apparatus would have to concede to the idea that money and the allocation of public resources and accommodations should have to carry the same value across the entire citizenry, regardless of color. Otherwise, global capitalism would be a hard sell as the vast majority of people of color around the world watched white cops sick German Shepherds on little girls wearing bobby socks and beating up on fully grown men who dared to do nothing more than be treated equally in the eyes of the law. All that being said, American style racism made Stalinist Russia look almost kind in comparison for the world of Asians, Africans, and Latin@s observing our political system from elsewhere.
And for all Obama’s eloquence and virtuosity with African American speech performances, the president’s consistent refrain pertaining to “the rule of law” and “zero tolerance for property damage” proves that having an African American president is not only insufficient for solving America’s racial problems, but proves that having a black Commander-in-chief is a solid win for those in favor of the status quo regarding the problems of racial profiling and other forms of institutional discrimination based on color.
This is why I take such strong issue with those who excuse Obama’s tendency to “give a little to both sides” when discussing race. In my mind, criticism for the ethics of Obama’s rhetoric should not be held back when it’s questionably applied to matters related to existential threats to black survival.
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