Preferences and Prejudice: Which Is It?

Is it classist to reject someone because they don’t have a job? 

Most of us know that it’s fairly racist to reject a potential partner based on race or on the color of their skin. Many self-identified feminists mourn the perceived standards being projected onto the female gender, and there is more than enough discussion about how people feel in regards to women having short hair or natural hair. (Unfortunately, I am not as well versed about the criterium projected onto same sex/alternative couples, so if you know any – feel free to list them in the comments for added discussion!).

A great deal of people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that we’re each unique individuals and aren’t required to abide by arbitrary beauty prerequisites.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of beauty and whose opinion matters the most. When I was a Senior in high school, there was this guy, CJ, that I liked. He was a white boy; tall and rail-thin, and I remember chatting with him online. In my usual style, I told him I liked him and he responded with: I only date white girls.

Most people would respond with complete disgust over this – How dare he!? That’s so racist!  I lived in a racially diverse area where a myriad of people attended my high school, so you would think that most people would have a more “open” view of who they’d like to date. But -

My whole life, I’ve never really been attractive enough for anybody:

1. my skin wasn’t clear enough

2. my breasts were too small

3. I wasn’t perky enough, hood enough, outgoing enough… the list continues

Of course, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Do many white people reject black partners out of some racist agenda? If we had a more egalitarian media (since television and cinema influences many people’s understanding of relationships and who they’re attracted to) – would more people be interested in dating outside of their race, economic class, sex, (etc)?

Many women (and perhaps men too) spend a lot of time looking at how they’re not represented in the media, and how this somehow suggests they’re not attractive by conventional standards. I’m not exempt from this; I spent a few minutes on Twitter yesterday lamenting how small breasts are rarely touted as being signifiers of attractiveness. Essentially, large breasts are considered more “womanly” and “feminine” than having a “boyish figure”.

This is a complex problem: on one hand, the world is giant mirror, reflecting back to us what we believe about ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, I see this as a type of Second-Hander rhetoric – where I long for other people to give me validation about myself in some capacity. It’s almost like I don’t exist until someone else decides I exist. All of this pertains to self-esteem, and the value being placed in one’s own ideas and opinions.

I don’t want to be a Second-Hander, and have other people’s prejudices and preferences dictate Who I Am.

 

What About You? What are some of your preferences or prejudcies? 

As anyone said you weren’t enough because of the way you look?

#YesGayYA – LGBT Novels

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loathed YA. At least since high school, which tends to be the demographic for Young Adult. I loathed the lack of black characters, and how all the characters seemed to be clones of each other in some way, shape or form. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of diversity – in any respect – and generally, YA had become the bane of my literary existence. With one exception (the Uglies trilogy) – I avoided YA with fervor.

In addition to my YA ban, I’d also renounced a lot of reading in general because of the lack of POC and LGBT characters specifically, since these are things I look for. So for several months, I read only non-fiction, but it’s not as satisfactory as a good science fiction or fantasy novel! While I go back and forth with my dislike for YA with the fact that in general, many mainstream novels lack any kind of decent representation.

Recently, someone linked me to Malinda Lo, a lesbian YA writer, who has two books out with lesbian lead characters. Ms. Lo wrote a post detailing the amount of LGBT books being published each year, and thanks to some links on twitter, I came across an extensive list of LGBT YA books available. Some of the books have LGBT leads, while others have LGBT supporting characters. Additionally, much like my previous post on POC authors, there’s a list of books with POC characters too.

Thanks to the wide world of blogging, there are sites dedicated to exploring diversity in books and being aware that we need to bring more attention to books written by POC.

There’s no telling how difficult or easy trying to get your book published might be. Often times, it seems, a book’s success demands on a mixture of marketing and pure luck. Who would’ve guessed that Harry Potter would’ve become as popular as it did – though it took awhile before it finally took off. I remember being in the minority when HP originally came out, and it wasn’t for several years until I met other HP fans. So I would hate for anyone who is interested in publishing a book with LGBT/POC characters to feel dissuaded.

Often times, representation is difficult to come by. Our experiences regarding our race, gender, sexuality, class (etc) colors our perceptions of the world, and often times in many niche environments (ie: blogging) certain types of people are going to be drawn to that place. It can be hard to create diversity when your experience is both knowingly and unknowingly excluding other types of people and their experiences. Books are definitely no exception to this – and more work definitely needs to be more inclusive.

What kind of representation would you like to see more of? Not just in books but in movies, comics – any kind of media you consume on a daily basis (including blogs!).

As a side note, I’ve entered into a giveaway with a chance to win an ipad 2! I’ll link to it here, in case you’re interested in winning one as well. The contest ends September 30th and by October 2nd, you’ll find out who won! LAMFinances – giveaway

Try to Learn – Despite Your Ignorance.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the discussion of privilege and social justice. How do we aim for more awareness

Flickr credit to: Anton Khoff

in a country that chooses not to be? Admittedly, it can be and is rather frustrating to meet people who don’t know that racism still exists or feel that women have earned sexual assault. When you turn on the news, or read a new headline online – all the oppression is maddening. So the people who had dedicated a great deal of time – if not their lives – to combatting ignorance are justifiably angry. Or just plain frustrated.

To a certain extent you would think more people would be on board, that more people would just know so that we can move forward.

But not everyone knows.

There’s a lot in life that many people – myself included – will never experience. For much of my existence, I didn’t know about child abuse or its survivors until I made a friend who helped enlighten me. I have learned that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she turns 18. How more than 60% of pregnant teens are sexually abused as children. That 90% of abuse toward children is committed by people the child knows (relatives, family friends, etc).

With over 39 millions survivors of sexual abuse living in America, this should be something that people should be enraged about, ready to fight against. And yet – nothing. I would say that victims and survivors of child abuse are one of the most silenced, and marginalized members of our society.

But I can’t forget that I became aware of child abuse through friends and memoirs I have read. I can’t forget that I became aware of how pervasive rape is by attending Take Back The Night at my all-women’s college. I realized how powerful fat shaming had become by reading stories of women who were severely neglected by hospital doctors.

We learn by asking questions, by trying to understand where each person comes from. 1 in 3 women in the United States is raped, but that number might not mean anything to you until you’ve met the survivors, until you realize the extent that women suffer at the hands of a callous judicial system –  15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And while all the statistics I listed here are readily available to you on the web, how many people would go out of their way to research it? Many men and women dedicate their time and energy to education, fundraising and volunteering to help spread awareness and yet many people remain ignorant. Disinterested. Or worse – indifferent.

Ignorance is much like a sleeping virus – you don’t know you have it until something triggers it. Then, you are bombarded with all this new information and an eagerness to learn.

And at this juncture we have a problem. The crossroads of where knowledge and experience meet YOU. You don’t know that you don’t know, so you ask questions. Maybe you’ll face rejection or insult. People saying that privilege has made you ignorant, and that you need to educate yourself. And yet here you are – attempting to educate yourself.

In a world where people continue to suffer daily at the hands of oppression, disinterest and hate – lack of knowledge is unacceptable. And yet there is it. In a world where numbers mean nothing until it personally affects us, the urgency for compassion can’t be ignored.

The need for both compassion and patience for those who “know not what they do (or say)” is overwhelming. We literally can’t have discussions with just ourselves or the people who support us – that is not progress. Even though it can be (and at times is) painful to talk to people who have no idea the kind of suffering many endure, to completely shut down is detrimental.

Some people are angry and belligerent – putting their ignorance on full blast. Some people are unassuming and timid in their ignorance. But no matter what – we must come from a place of compassion. If not for them – then for ourselves. Anger will stall the debate, and impatience will turn away those honestly seeking to learn.

I think it’s time to stop holding people’s ignorance against them. 

 

“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”

Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)

POC in Fantasy/Sci-Fi Novels

People keep saying that writers need to read a lot, because that’s how you get better. Mostly though, I disagree because I haven’t read anything in months. This is because I took a vow: not to read any book that had a scantily clad white woman on the cover. Or just a white woman in general.

Why, you ask?

Well, for years I was an avid Laurell K. Hamilton fan as I followed Anita Blake on her journey of kicking ass and taking names. Eventually, I fell out of love with how bitchy and deeply unlikeable Anita became, and the over dependence on sex to generate plot. As the 15+ book series progressed, I felt LKH lost a lot her ability to craft a decent story while everyone kept their clothes on.

So I journeyed forth, dying for someone with LKH’s skill but without… everything else. Many authors I found seemed to only mimic her style of a sassy 20-something white female lead who didn’t date or have a lot of sex until our stud of a (anti)hero shows up. Even just reading the synopsis of books made me want to flail around mindlessly, as I imagined all these sarcastic, street savvy women playing hard to get.

I was tired of my favorite genre being overcrowded with white, heterosexual (and sarcastic) female leads. Where are the women of color? Where are the LGBT main characters? Where’s the decent sense of humor?!

When I had complained to a white friend about the lack of POC in LKH’s work, she told me, “There’s that one black character!” I wanted to die. Tokenism is not appropriate representation in literature – or anywhere else for that matter. I’m aware that certain things sell, but how difficult is it to find some decent fantasy/sci-fi novels with non-white characters?

After I complained about the glaring whiteness of The Game of Thrones (on HBO) to a friend, she sent me some information about POC in contempary sci-fi/fantasy. I haven’t gotten the chance to read any of them yet, but I am going to look for them soon. Here are the books:

1. Ursula le Guin - Earthsea 

2. Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

3. Nnedi Okarofor

4. N.K. Jemisin

5. Patricia McKillipMoon-flash

6. Jack McDevitt – Ancient Shores

I’m excited about these – even if some of them didn’t just hit the shelves last week, it’s good that they exist and that now you can find them. I haven’t found any books with LGBT characters in them – that might be more of a stretch, but I’m going to keep searching and see what I can find.

Honestly, I love reading – especially sci-fi/fantasy – but I don’t want to support a system that refuses to acknowledge other types of people exist and that we like books too. This is normally the part where someone might tell me to start writing this book, because I want to read it.

Maybe I shall.

How About Some Link Love?

Recently, I noticed that some white bloggers tend to really highlight other white bloggers. It bothers me because it makes me feel like that maybe there aren’t as many black popular bloggers or that white people just don’t really pay attention to them. So I figured that I could link you guys to some black female blogs I’ve discovered and really enjoy reading. They’re all a little bit different.

1. The Writerbabe Series by Raven Moore. She’s switching her blog up a bit, writing about the things she loves the most; video games, her upcoming wedding, anime, arts & crafts to name a few. Her latest post is about adult swim! Is Adult Swim the Internet of Television? Her twitter: Writerbabe.

2. A Black Girl’s Guide to Weightloss by Erika Nicole Kendall. She writes about weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, being black, body image – everything! Her latest post is Body Image, Self-Worth & Sexuality: Dark Skin, a new Documentary. Her twitter: inetespionage.

3. Aconerlycoleman and The Sojourner Project by Arianna Marie. Her blog(s) talk about human sex trafficking, being black, African, human rights, social change and other sorts of awesomeness. Her latest post on the former blog is: Am I Free? and on the latter, it’s Are Diaspora Remittances A Solution to Africa’s Underdevelopment? Her twitter: A. Marie.

4. Arielle Loren! She blogs about sexuality, gender race, traveling to name a few. She even has her own documentary about bisexual men and a Q&A series on youtube where she answers questions on sexuality. Her twitter: Arielle Loren.

5. Tami at What Tami Said. She blogs about things I find insanely interesting: black culture, media, feminism to name a few. Her latest post: Putting the White into Multiculturalism. Her twitter: Whattamisaid.

 

So please check all these people out! They’re totally awesome and their stuff is magnificent.

 

 

Let’s Stop Ignoring Race!

I recently discovered this great post about how we’ll never be in colorblind society. And I loved it because it connected to my own feelings of frustration and disbelief when people try to promote a “melting pot” of sorts for the American future. This idea that we’ll be beyond race because no one will be identified with one. This doesn’t exactly resonate with me, because your ethnicity is vital to your history, your people. Having multiple or single ethnicities routinely creates a distinct identity crisis as people struggle to figure out where they belong. Personally, I am always curious about where people come from, and learning about their experiences as people of color.

So naturally, this article provided a nice segment into how I felt about Thor: an overwhelmingly white movie and the subsequent dialogue that it sparked on my Facebook page.  I complained about the lack of ethnic characters, although Thor, thus white and blond haired, and my friend questioned whether or not the film was loyal to the comic. To her, it seemed important that the film follow the plot outlined in the original comic. I told her that it doesn’t matter, because Hollywood is rarely loyal to ethnic story lines (remember the fiasco with The Last Airbender?) so why should Hollywood remain loyal to an all white ensemble? I told her that there’s no reason to create an all white movie, simply because the original cast is all white.

Then my friend says that she doesn’t notice race in movies or in real life. I’ve heard this before, from whites and non-whites and for a long time it used to piss me the fuck off because your race represents where you’re coming from, your culture, your history. To say that you don’t see race, is like saying you don’t see any of the oppression that comes with it. But I know people say it because they don’t want to be perceived as racist. Somehow “racist” has come to be associated with “observing” versus systemically oppressing and discriminating against a select group of individuals based on their skin color.

Racism has nothing to do with noticing the color of someone’s skin and everything to do with punishing that person because of the color of their skin. Racism is when you’re treated poorly at a restaurant because the servers think black patrons are the worst. Racism is blaming a person’s behavior on their skin color; “well, obviously he’s going to steal, he’s black.” Racism is looking at someone and thinking they’re less than because their skin color is not white. And racist white people are their most obvious when they try to deny the plight of black people (or any POC) as over exaggerating, whining or straight-up imagined.

Racism is not looking at the color of someone’s skin. It has everything to do with appreciating and acknowledging where people come from. If I ask you what race a person is, it’s probably more ignorant to say, “I don’t notice race, I’m not racist.”

Don’t turn a blind eye to race because it’ll will never stop being important. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. 



What’s your Hair-story?

Credit to Flickr : Indigofera.com

As I’m slowly uncovering more Black female bloggers on the web, I’m noticing that most of them have a post dedicated to their hair. So I’ve been interested in this myself, though my relationship with my hair isn’t quite as long-lasting as other people’s. Like most black girls, my mother starting perming my hair when I was very young. My hair was straight for much of my childhood, and the only thing I really knew about my hair was that I had a lot of it and it wasn’t ANY fun to comb.

The perm my mother used often burned my scalp and I was constantly instructed to not scratch beforehand – apparently this enhanced the potential for burning. Thinking back on it, I wonder why it didn’t seem unreasonable or torturous to put something that burns onto your scalp.

But this isn’t to necessarily to bash my mother; in a lot of ways, straight hair is much easier to maintain (easier to comb for sure) and the shiny, smoothness of it is difficult to deny. In under thirty minutes, I had long, silky soft hair for about two weeks. Unlike some other posts I’ve read, I didn’t develop a deep yearning to maintain straight hair.

In fact, my hair proved to be a never-ending party of frustration and misery as my mother forcibly sent me to the salon well into my high school years. Although I enjoyed the temporary state of my hair, any emotional high from the experience evaporated once my hair returned to its natural, puffy state.

By the time I got to college, I was happily not doing my hair. I felt self-conscious with my daily pony-tails, but I generally paid it little attention. In fact, for about two years, I wore a head scarf pretty much every day.

So where is this story going? Well, in short – I hate hair. Okay, hate is probably a strong word, but I find hair to be over exaggerated and not worth an iota of the effort that people put into it. Even after I got my locs, I went to the salon once my entire final year at college. I just didn’t get it, what the big deal was with hair. Unlike other black girls, I didn’t get a lot of attention for my straight hair – in fact, very few people noticed. But with my natural hair, I got significantly more compliments. Maybe having locs suits me better. I feel more comfortable, more me.

People don’t really understand my hair, how locs work or what I need to do to maintain them – but that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, it’s my head, my body and I’m the only one who needs to be pleased with its outcome. So I’m glad I have my locs, even though my mother keeps asking me if I still have them, or if I still plan to keep them.

The answer is HELL YEAH.

So? What’s your hair-story?

Black Cinema: Jumping the Broom

Yesterday I saw Jumping the Broom, an all black movie directed by Salim Akil, featuring Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Mike Epps to name a few. Basically, it’s a story about an upper-middle class girl getting involved with an (implied) middle/lower class man. The movie, cinematically, didn’t offer a lot. I wasn’t dazzled by the cinematography, the soundtrack – even the acting wasn’t anything to brag about.

But what is interesting: the first all black movie NOT written, directed and produced for the screen by Tyler Perry. In fact, when I asked an employee what the film was about, he prefaced it by saying, “It looks like a movie that Tyler Perry would make…”

Is it terrible that contemporary black cinema has become synonymous with Tyler Perry and his Madea franchise? I won’t delve too much into the debate of whether Perry is worthy of all the attention he’s been getting for his films. All I have to say is that I saw this film on Mother’s Day and over 90% of the audience was African-American.

And as I sat there, munching away at my Sour Patch Kids, I realized that black people want to see black films. This is a niche that MUST be filled.

I thought about all the crap-tastic films featuring the broken, ruined, needy black persons: The Blind Side and Precious are two horrific examples of black people suffering (the latter) and how white people must come in and rescue us (the former). For the record – neither of those movies deserved an Oscar. But they got them because the public eats that kind of nonsense up; not just the suffering, the pain and the injustice but the complete blackness of it all. Had The Blind Side dealt with say, a Jewish kid, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so “moving”.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of ways to discuss contemporary issues of racism (particularly in the South where people are still opposed to interracial marriage) that doesn’t involve the rich white family to save the poor black kid – who, by the way, seems to embody all the stereotypes non-blacks seem to have about the community. Degenerate mother, not very educated, really dark skin, massive beyond all human comprehension (especially compared to the whites). The only difference between “Big Mike” and other black male stereotypes is that he’s not a gang-banger. But the people in his neighborhood seem to fit a similar, just as sketchy, description.

Jumping the Broom is a nice break from the monopoly that Perry has created over black cinema as well as a an excellent view into how some black people live. Not everyone is from the hood, or being abused on a daily basis, or needs to be rescued by the wealthy whites. Some black people are normal (and rich) and that’s always great to see.

Beauty in Being Black

Image Credit: T.A.S. Photography on flickr

I’m currently reading a book titled The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. I found this author because I was searching for more black, female bloggers to read and stumbled upon her own. Ms. Durrow is mixed, or multiracial, with Black American and Danish. When I first saw her picture, I thought, “WOW! She’s really attractive!” and I envied her blue-green eyes.

And in her book, the main character has a similar back ground; mixed with a white mother and black father, always being told how pretty she was as a child.

It reminded me of a conversation I had in college, sitting at a table with other black girls. I had commented that Terrance Howard had nice [green] eyes, and the girl across from me exploded into a mini tirade about how her “shit brown eyes” were just as attractive as Howard’s. Every part of me ached to say, “No. They’re not.” But I kept silent, wondering how she’d become under the delusion that brown eyes were appealing. 

At some other point in my not-so-distant past, I was talking with my grandmother about actors and actresses I thought were attractive. I can’t even remember who I chose, but I remember her reaction; why didn’t I find darker skinned women attractive? Someone like Angela Bassett? 

Then I’m reminded of how black women go natural to reclaim their own sense of beauty and power. And how straight hair is often times seen as black women trying to imitate white female beauty. Or of how black women will claim a dozen ethnicities under the sun, as if to exaggerate a mildly exotic looking trait. Or attempt to achieve some sort of otherness, that isn’t completely black.

My closest friend is mixed, and she would often tell me about how people would ask if she’s Indian (probably because of her hair and complexion). And jealousy would bubble to the surface and I reminisced of the few times where people asked me if I was Haitian. I talked about over and over (though to no one in particular) about how exotic or other I must look, especially when people remarked that I resembled two friends I had who were also mixed. I thought it meant that I looked mixed too.

I don’t.

I think about all these things as I struggle to read through the book, written by a black woman with blue eyes. I think about The Bluest Eye, an incredible story by Toni Morrison and I wonder if I’m like that character. In a way, I used to brag about being light skinned, as if it brought me closer to being exotic. I thought about how my mother sent my baby cousin in to tell me what color I was; “Yellow” he said, and I swallowed my excitement.

Do I want to be white?

Not necessarily. But I struggle find beauty in my own blackness, as I admire biracial girls, or girls from various ethnic backgrounds that aren’t mine. I spend quite a bit of time, wondering about my physical normalcy – how there’s nothing particularly exotic or interesting about the way that I look.

Self-esteem is so closely tied to our physical bodies, and I wonder how am I supposed to reconcile these feelings of not looking like Heidi W. Durrow, Halle Berry or some other individual?

I don’t have any answers, just loads of questions while I try to deal with my belief system regarding my body, and how unbelievably average it is.

Stop expecting great things from not so great shows.

While playing around on Twitter, I found this really cool link about Mercedes on Glee. She’s the only black female who is consistent, but she’s also the only one without ANY love interest. Even Rachel, the neurotic and t unbearable Star performer has had two love interests. According to whattamisaid, she goes on to discuss the racial implications of this (which I certainly don’t disagree with) and the general approach white television tends to take toward its black, female characters.

As a short preface: GLEE seems to be under attack constantly for its depiction (or lack there of) in regards to its poor, one-dimensional characters, weak plot points and general inconsistencies in regards to, well, everything. During the episode Blame it on the Alcohol, my friend complained of the biphobia when Kurt remarked that bisexual boys were really just gay boys in denial, thereby marginalizing bisexuals. Another girl I know complained about the treatment of Quinn and her teen pregnancy. I definitely find myself grinding my teeth whenever Quinn uses her “I was a pregnant teen” to show how marginalized and oppressed she was, as if that’s enough to show her what the world is really like. Or something like that.

But I’ve found that it’s getting rather redundant. GLEE has a lot of faults so much so that it’s not even really a show. It lacks so much of what makes a series excellent; full-fledged characters, consistent and growing plot line, realistic drama, great production value. A great television series should send us off to wherever that world is, and make us want to live there. Or at least just visit.

Although GLEE doesn’t have that effect on me, this isn’t to say that I think GLEE should be kicked off the air, never to return, but I wonder why people expect so much from GLEE. Is it because GLEE is so popular and people feel that a mainstream show has a greater obligation to explore privilege?

As a black female, I find that complaining about the insane whiteness of television to be satisfying in a perverted sort of way. It’s like picking at a scab, or putting pimples. It’s not good for you, it’ll leave scars, but it’s easy and fun. I found myself irritated at channels like CW, which showcase nothing but all-white casts on ALL of its shows (with maybe a token here or there). It’s suffocating when I think of all the shows that lack in-depth non-white characters, and wonder why or how people don’t even notice.

So what can be done about GLEE? My general reaction to things is rejection. Turn around and forge your own path instead of trying to force other people to convert to yours. But is that cowardice to run away from a show that’s unappealing to you? I don’t think so. I’d like to think that if more people stopped watching television because it didn’t meet their standards, that maybe TV will do more to accommodate us. Or maybe not.

What do you think? Should people keep holding out for not so great TV to become great? Or just reject it altogether? Or maybe something else entirely?