Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
By Renina Jarmon
I always want to know where people will go and what will they eat.
Last December I was in Whole Foods on a Friday night, trying to read get through
some really hard material on "the saturated self', I resorted to reading out loud,
so that I could "hear the theory." A man who works for the Environmental Protection
Agency over heard me, as I was astonished when I learned that Robert Moses was
considered a modernist. Knowing what I knew about Robert Moses, and then learning
what a modernist was, I had an out loud aha moment. He asked if I was a city planner
and I said no, I do "Race and the future of the city" and we started talking about his work on sustainable cities.
I asked him the million dollar question. If you are working to make the cities better,
how are you going to deal with a few centuries of United States racism?
He looked at me, and said, well, I don't know, but what I am advocating for makes
sense for all of us, clean energy, efficient transportation and better local food. And
I responded, racism is irrational, and that he was going to have to fight tooth and
nail to impact the quality of lives of Black folks in the city.
My conversation with him got me think about writing a piece about race, class, food,
and the future of the city, rooted in both a global and a local sense.
We need a new system, because the current one does not work. This new
system must be simultaneously global and local. Furthermore, if it is rooted
in the exploitation of the people in the global south it will fail. Systems premised
on exploitation carry in themselves their own demise. The question is just when.
Cheap Food Requires Cheap Labor
In the article, As the Economy Withers, Thoughts on an Inequitable Food
System, Tomm Phillpot writes,
In short, an economy hinged on cheap labor needs cheap food. And that’s the structural problem faced by Slow Food and other would-be reformers of the food system. The challenge of food reformers isn’t just to reform the food system; it’s to reshape the entire economy—to create new economic models that revalue labor along with food, so that people can afford the revalued food.Phillpot goes on to write, quoting Julie Guttman,
Those who complain about the use of food stamps to purchase cheap, junky food ought to set their sights elsewhere. They should consider the myriad policies that allow products laden with high fructose corn syrup, transfats, growth hormones and synthetic processing aids to be sold as food. In my view, the unemployed and poor shouldn’t pay the moral price for our collective failure to curb the excesses of the food industry.Phillpot also mentions Caitlin Donahue's article, "Out of reach: How the
sustainable local food movement neglects poor workers and eaters"
in the Guardian, which essentially argues that the slow food movement has
a class problem. She writes that it is a movement,
that has yet to really confront its class issues. Though organic grocery stores and farmers markets have sprung up on San Francisco’s street corners, it remains to be seen whether our current mania for sustainable, local food will positively affect the lower classes, be they farm workers or poor families.Phillpot goes on to make an incredibly astute observation about class when
Donohue hinges her story on a dismal paradox of the food system: Farm workers are so poorly paid that they can only reasonably afford the lowest-quality food. The same can be said for most of the other people who keep the food-system humming: slaughterhouse workers, dishwashers, line cooks, Wal-Mart clerks. There’s no generating vast quantities of cheap food without vast quantities of cheap labor.I am glad to see that Phillpot is thinking not only about food but labor as well, because they
are most certainly connected. Initially, I thought that local, green, sustainable economies
were the future. But, three things forced me to reconsider this idea.
The first was reading Chandra Mohanty's Feminism Without Borders, the second
was reading, Mike Davis's Planet of Slums, the third was hearing my professor say,
that "a unit for profit, requires exploitation."
Mohanty forced me to see how the quality of life of people in the global north
is subsidized by the quality of life of people in the global south. In Feminism
Without Borders, she qotes Zillah Eisensten who writes, "Women do two thirds
of the worlds work, for one tenth of the income" and that "Women and girls are the
majority of the worlds poor and the majority of the worlds refugees."
It is largely Women and children, working in factories, who make many of the items
that we shop for in our stores. In fact the cheap prices of the items that we buy is
directly correlated to their low wages.
Our lives are connected.
From Elsa Barkely Brown I have learned that our difference is relational. This is important
to keep in mind when talking about who has which job, who has access to which resources.
Mike Davis has both an article and a book titled Planet of Slums. His work has forced
me to rethink how my local, crunchy bougie Black girl sustainability idea was going
to address the 100 million global street kids.
Mike Davis premise #1
"For the first time the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural. Indeed
given the imprecision of the Third World census, this epochal transition may
have already occurred."
Mike Davis premise number 2
"Cities have absorbed nearly two thirds of the global population explosion since 1950
and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week.
As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is
expected to peak at a 10 billion in 2050."
Essentially, globally rural folks are being forcibly removed from rural lands to the cities
to do jobs, that may or may not exist. These lands are extremely mineral rich and
valuable to multinational corporations.
How does these women survive, in an informal economy? According to Davis, by
"selling water, carting nightsoil, recycling trash, delivering propane and so on."
Mike Davis Premise # 3
"The Africa case was particularly paradoxical. How could cities like Cote d'Ivorie,
Tanzania, Gabon and elsewhere, whose economies were contracting by
2 to 5 percent per year still sustain growth of 5 to 8 percent per annum. Part of
the secret was that IMF, and now WTO policies of agricultural deregulation and
de-peasantization were accelerating the exodus of surplus
rural labor to urban slums even as cities cease to be job machines."
Now do you get where I am going with sustainability for whom?
Hence the statement about cheap labor and cheap food was incredibly interesting
to me, becuase I honestly to hear people make that connection often.
I argue that the issue isn't green or local economies, but is far more global in nature.
The City, Black People and American Democracy
The population of Black people in the city, historically, has been relevant to the
ways in which America has been pushed to towards democracy, for Black people
and for all of its residents who weren't legally citizens.
This is not to discount the struggles that occurred in the Montgomery and Little Rock.
In fact given the fact that according to a New York Times article about a new report by
the Southern Education Foundation,
The South has become the first region in the country where more than half of public school students are poor and more than half are members of minorities.Keep this in mind, as I will return to it later.
The city is increasingly becoming a place where only households with a combined
income nearing 100k or more can live and enjoy the amenities,social status,
health care, eduction and benefits of being in the city.
What happens to a city when it's workers can no longer afford to live there?
According to another recent article in th New York Times, Harlem is no longer majority
Black. In seeing the demography shift explained in the article above, I posit that those
low income folks who left Harlem and are now in the south. Shaila Dewan writes in
the New York Times,
The shift was fueled not by white flight from public schools, which spiked during desegregation but has not had much effect on school demographics since the early 1980s. Rather, an influx of Latinos and other ethnic groups, the return of blacks to the South and higher birth rates among black and Latino families have contributed to the change.The first thing I wanted to know was where did the people go who lived there and
what are they going to eat?
What are the political implications of Black and Latino poverty re-clustering in the South?
Back to Harlem. For me, the issue with Harlem, isn't race, but it is class.
If the cities, have historically been, largely, the home of Black resistance, what
happens to our democracy when there aren't any more working class or low
income Black people in the city?
Is this setting the stage for cities to become playgrounds for European
and International elites with euros?
How bad will it have to get for us to decide to create a city that has housing and jobs
for working class folks, middle class and the elite?
Will our ideologies shift so that minimum wage becomes the new middle class?
What happens when the city is comprised of Black folks who have chosen
into the structure rather than change it openly choose to not be apart of it.
Farms, Food and Social Justice
Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to collecting seeds. Trained as a physicist, she is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco-feminist. Her central argument
is that the seed belongs to all of us, not corporations. She explains how the Structural
Adjustment program and international programs have impacted Indian farmers when
Currently Mostanto, is patenting seeds, and selling them back to farmers.
In 1998, the World Bank's structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.
Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases poverty and leads to indebtness.
According to John Barlett in Vanity Fair,
Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.Bartlett goes into the history of the courts and Mosanto when he writes,
in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.In India, the farmers are unable to make a living off of farming and one the
devastating consequences of this is that two hundred thousand Indian farmers
have committed suicide in the last twenty years.
To add on to the privatization of seeds, global corporations are buying up international
farm lands for the purposes of outsourcing food production. Andrew Rice writes in
The New York Times,
In a series of meetings, Saudi government officials, bankers and agribusiness executives told an institute delegation led by Zeigler that they intended to spend billions of dollars to establish plantations to produce rice and other staple crops in African nations like Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Ethiopia. “They laid out this incredible plan,” Zeigler recalled. He was flabbergasted, not only by the scale of the projects but also by the audacity of their setting. Africa, the world’s most famished continent, can’t currently feed itself, let alone foreign markets.Given all this, food, race, privatized seeds and lands, the removal of low and middle
income earners from the economy and the city, I am convinced that paradigm shift is
occurring, and the question is, in whose interests and what are we going to do about it?
When are we going to engage it, name it and activlely work to direct it?
If we are able to simultaneously, think, act and plan locally and globally,
I hope that we will be in a better position than we are today.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
and making them feel comfortable.
In reading Kevin Mumford's brilliant book, Interzones, I learned that the
Urban League and the NAACP are historically rooted in making
sure that country Negros from the south, who moved to the north,
didn't make aspiring middle class Black folks look bad.
These two groups monitored Negro behavior on the streets, went door to
door teaching folks about "personal cleanliness" and monitored Black sex
I am excited about #Happyblackgirl day because it is about us
affirming ourselves and not looking to mainstream media to do so.
I am grateful that @Sistatoldja took the time to make it happen.
The 7th day of every month is now, Happy Black Girl Day. Wooter.
Last week I tweeted "Black women are awesome on 55 million different
levels. CNN can't capture that and I don't expect them to. It ain't they job, its ours."
I see those reports and roll my eyes because I know that when CNN does their
Negro reports they are simply doing their job, which is to serve the interests
of the shareholders and of the white power structure.
Don't get me wrong, if CNN was like, can you come on and talk about
Black women's sexuality, global economy or gentrification, I would roll,
but I highly doubt that phone would ring, lols. Renina the pundit. Ha!
Back to the hair. Black women needing to straighten their hair to increase
their chances of getting a job or a mate, is a manifestation of structural domination.
In other words, if White women had to go through what we did ever 4-6 weeks
to turn their hair into naps, in order to try and ensure their survival as employees
then the conversation about Black hair would be different.
Last fall when Alison Samuels was talking shit about Zahara Jolie-Pitts napps,
all I could think was can this child live? Can I live? Sidebar I haven't combed
my hair since late December, I never just rocked the fro, and it has been an
illuminating experience. I am more self-conscious, always touching it, and
it's just really BIG and unruly and I get stared at. Who knew? Talking
about the self presentation of Black girls the politics of respectability, Samuels writes,
But even the mothers who spare the hot comb still have to put time and effort into keeping hair healthy: Any self-respecting black mother knows that she must comb, oil, and brush her daughter’s hair every night. This prevents the hair from matting up, drying out, and breaking off. It also prevents any older relatives from asking them why you’re neglecting your child and letting her run around looking like a wild woman. Having well-managed hair is not just about style, it’s about pride, dignity, and self-respect. Keeping your daughter’s hair neat is an unspoken rule of parental duties that everyone in the community recognizes and respects.
Hair that is nice, neat, and cared for also gives African-American girls the confidence that they can fit into the world at large without being seen as completely different.
There is a lot to unpack here, so first lets have a little primer on whiteness.
George Yancy Writes in Feminism and the Subtext of Whiteness, "whiteness
goes unmarked" yet "it assumes to speak with universal authority can truth."
He goes on to say,
Whiteness assumes the authority to marginalize other identities, discoursesWhen we think about assimilation we have to think about whiteness because
perspectives and voices. By constituting itself as the center, non white voices
are Othered, marginalized and rendered voiceless.
the two are related, in this country. Furthermore, what are the political, social
and spiritual consequences for a Black person assimilating into a system
that is historically rooted in oppressing that person. Yancey goes on to write
quoting Ruth Frankenberg,
First whiteness is a location of structural advantage or race privilege. Second, it is aNow that we have a working definition of whiteness laid out, we can get into Zahara
standpoint a place from which white people look at ourselves, at others and at society.
Third "whiteness" refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked,
Black peoples respectability politics make my ass itch and Samuels comment
is the embodiment of Black respectability politics.
There is no greater freedom than being about to be yourself, and I cannot be
myself assimilate for Whites at the same time. Or perhaps I should say it is a
tenuous challenge to do so. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it is a dance
and I have changed my self presentation in order to pursue opportunities
throughout my life.
We constantly adjust our Blackness in order to make White folks
feel more comfortable.This is the essence of Quest Loves piece about
about "The Little Things" and the ways in which he adjust's his presentation of
Black masculinity in the presence of White folks.
We do what we have to do in order to survive. Wigs, perms,
weaves and God knows what else. Jonzey says that I put too much on White
perception of our hair in the workplace. And I may, however, if it comes down
to me and another candidate and her straight blond hair is perceived as more
attractive then my black napps, twists or straight hair, then I lose, and this, is
What would our hair look like if we didn't need to straighten it in order to keep
The Gods to honest truth is that Zahara Jolie-Pitt, for all intents and purposes is
a member of the American elite, and one of the benefits of being member of the
elite is that your "deviance" is not susceptible to being punished the same way
that it would be if you are low income. Which brings me to the social costs of
Assimilation has a price. This is one of the reasons why I liked the conversation
around "Bitch is the New Black" because I would frame it as a one about the
social costs of assimilation.
As I read the article I thought, class wise, do working class heterosexual and
queer Black women have the same dating and marriage statistics and challenges?
Do affluent queer and heterosexual Black women and have the same dating
and marriage statistics and challenges?
When I hear middle class heterosexual folks talk about the "dearth" of similarly
position Black men to date, I think of public education. What does it mean for
heterosexual Black women when Black boys are placed by a White
school system on a punishment/jail track at six years old, in first grade, and
what are we going to do about it? Why in the name of apartheid is this acceptable?
Historically, America has been premised on both the notion of Democracy and
the material reality of Black oppression and the denial full citizenship to
all African Americans. Peniel Joseph's new book from Black Power to Obama
gets into this. The fact that we have been denied full citizenship is why the "Are
West Indians/Black beef is so deep?" This is why all immigrants are compared to
The notion is, if you can't BE White you sure as hell don't want to be Black.
Which leads me to ask, when can we just be, just simply be able to live and be ourselves?
We were never meant to survive, so for us to be talking about Happyblackgirlday is
revolutionary on levels that I lightweight can't articulate right now but I am trying.
When will we be able to be happy, joyous and free?
As Black women we put our lives on hold for our lovers, our mommas, our families,
our kids, guess what, that life will never come unless we claim it. Sitting in Tuesdays,
waiting for the Chicken Bone Bus on New Years Eve, White dude who Loves Black
women strikes up a conversation with the me. He brings up the "Bitch is the New
Black" article. I listen. And then while talking about his Black women friends, he
says something profound, when he mentions that we "seem to put our lives on hold."
I get that sometimes we have to do it, to push through. However, every time we put our
lives on hold for someone or something else, this is a willful act. We are not objects,
we are human.
I could give a fuck about what a Steve Harvey or anyone else has to say about
Black women's marital statistics. Anyone paying their rent talking shit about us
can miss me with those. Rather than tell our story and reduce Black men to
being only worth what they can pay for on a date or in rent, how about writing
about his OWN relationships with his family members, his mother, his daddy,
his children, his narrative, his journey. Hmmp.
Happy Black Girl Day.
With Love, Resistance and Desire.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
On everything I Love. I was on the bus from DC to NY on New Years Eve.
This dude, sitting next to me after the Philly stop, was sipping
something in a 16 oz Pepsi bottle. He then gets up and announces
that he wants to "start a gambling jawn, on the bus, give the driver 20%, who's in?"
He was an older cat, with a fedora, glasses.
Dude in the back is like "sit that shit down and shut the fuck up."
This cat, got a puff coat on, with fur around the collar, looking like Baby
with a tattoo tear. And fearless.
You know how you can TELL that a person don't care about shooting into
a crowd. BAD for me, because I was sitting next to The Gambler.
I'm like. Lawd, we are an hour away, please, its New Years Eve. Come on boo.
Dude in the back is like "Sit down OG, ain't nobody trying to hear that."
Gambling dude, is like "What, I'm trying to make some money, we can all make
some money, give 20% to the driver." Before I know it, these cats are standing up.
In fact, there are four Black men, standing up, on the middle of the bus, the lights
on are at this time. The Gambler, stood up, reaching into his pocket, he was
The Baby looking dude, was like "What, whatchu gone do, watchu got?" He had that wild
Freeway, "Who you" look in his eye.
Another man was was pleading, "My kids are on this bus, don't do this." It was
really bugged out to see these four Black men, to see Black masculinity be
performed and navigated in this instance.
In some ways it was familiar, in some was it was absurd. It worked out.
But really. On the bus ock?
Reminds me of how rap songs, be A song, but when faced with the
real life issue of, "Do he have a gun?" it is totally different.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
About a week or so ago FD said, "He couldn't do it anymore."
I thought it was just a strong response to the holiday season,
but I ain't heard from him.
It was a little rocky.
The tipping point for me, was didn't hear from him when we had
blizzard a couple of weeks back. He had a resentment towards me,
as I was venting about school and my land lord and not taking any actions.
The resentment was fine, but Black people call Black people to check on them
when we get two feet of snow. That's just gp Love.
I also got stranded in Maryland that day. The trains and buses just stopped
running. LP's loving partner gave me a ride home, in a stick shift, in a blizzard.
I was grateful.
In the week preceding FD also spoke to me twice in a way, that I was like, dude,
where is my friend, 'cuz the person on the other end of the phone don't sound like
love bears. The tone of his voice communicated what the words didn't, desire
I didn't help any. I fucked up and pushed up on someone I had a thing with
years ago. I also mentioned it to FD. I know, Black girl fail. Things were
already fragile, then I went a did this. The awesome thing that came out
of that behavior is the next day I felt. Awful. I couldn't shake it.
I told him about it.
It was in that moment that I learned that no matter what was happening
in my life that I would be responsible to the maintenance of my interior life.
I had a bottom, and tried to allow something material to fill a God sized hole.
I now see that work, home, school, roommate issues, love life, my interior life needs
to be maintained and now one could really do that but me, via God.
I have worked hard on getting acclimated to school. It's really isolating.
I am also getting use to being around new people.
Making new friends, learning the culture of grad school.
Black girls had a lot of New in '09.
At times, I was self absorbed and not checking for him. In fact, it was only
in talking with one of my homies that I realized the significance of FD's had a
career milestone. He finished his course work. However, I was deep in the
midst of learning how to do APA citations. I didn't have the bandwith to really
reflect on the significance of this with him.
S.bot insisted on me writing this, but also insisted that I didn't call.
I was like, I don't understand, why can't I do one and not the other
they BOTH constitute a communication. She was like, calling is a no
no, but your blog is your space. So write. Uhhhhhhhhh. Hate her. Love her.
Last Thursday, I had just come back from Brooklyn for Xmas on Sunday,
and I saw his Facebook status update said "Queens bound" I was like wow,
you ain't speaking but you got status updates. I lost it.
So, I was standing in my room, talking to my daddy, who is on the
West Coast. He was like you sound really sad. I was, plus I was suppose to visit
him, but I was working up the courage to tell him that am not up to it right now.
He asked me, what I was going to do for NYE, I was like "make gumbo or lasagna
and watch CSI". He was like, "Are you sure." I mentioned that my support system
was in Brooklyn, and I just got an email from my homie Ian who is doing
a free party. I would just need to find a place to stay, if I went back."
He responded saying "Go. Then." I was like "I just got back, doesn't that look
kinda crazy?" He was like "No. Right now you are in your own way, in your self
pity. OTHER people ain't in they self pity. Go, be around your friends and enjoy
yourself. Self pity leads to depression. Your four walls at home will be there,
but right now you need to get out of your own way." "You may hear from him,
you may not, but you need to go where the Love is."
He was right, being around people that loved me, held me, fed me, was exactly what
Shaking her head at my scandalous silver leggings. Ms. Lovely, laid eyes on
me and said I looked like I came from the future. That moment was priceless.
On the train, I found my mind returning to the hurt and, wanting answers, but I stilled
myself. And when it got really real, I just said the first first part of the serenity
prayer on repeat, until I thought about something else. Interior life.
I was also able to reflect on what it was like for me when I moved to New
York. How at times it was a slow grind to make friends, and in other instances,
it was real easy. My first little crew was comprised of Tiombe, Bilal and Robert
Glasper and while we only ran together for a month or so, it was nice to have
running buddies. I also had homies at Barnard who were from Oakland. Shit,
I was spoiled. Time takes time. Luls.
In the same way that I waited for God to put Ms. Fancy from the post below,
on my path, I remain the same with this, bless him, change me.
Friday, December 25, 2009
A few weeks ago I woke up and realized that I am the person that I wanted
to be when I was thirteen.
At thirteen my closest friend was Fancy and we were in middle school together
in East Oakland. We were nerdy, and skinny, not what the streets want, no?
If the library had it we read it. I was partial to all the Judy Blume's,
Beverly Cleary's, Sweet Valley High's and when I found Walter Dean Myers
I was home.
We traded library books and Sassy issues the way 8 year old boys traded
We rode that Emporium Capwells basement in downtown Oakland like
a Long Island Outlet mall the day after Christmas.
It was through my friendship with her that I saw how people treated
brown skinned Black girls. In some ways we learned how to negotiate
our femininity together.
By 15, we discovered Berkeley's Telegraph avenue, clothing stores, book stores,
used record stores, natural hair, sewing and fashion magazines. While I liked
The Source magazine, more than Seventeen, we both shared our love of the glossies.
In many ways I became myself in that era, or at the very least the ground was being
set for me to claim it in high school.
She was always more of an alternative head than me, putting me on to Neneh Cherry
and being the first Black person that I ever knew to bump Alanis Morissette.
Our goal was to become Fresh Girls.
Fresh girls were natural, maybe wrote graffiti (or was at least cool with the crew
with the most ups), were smart, had cute clothes, some of which they made
and their own style.
After middle school, I left Oakland to go to high school in 'Frisco,
and a little after that she moved back East. We had a plan for her to move
to NY to model and design clothes and I would go to college and
design clothes, sell vintage clothes or write and just be AROUND hip hop.
I move to NY for school and she got married and had a baby, and for a hot minute
I was like dude, what happened to our plan? Being young and immature
I had a resentment.
Now that I am older I realize that all women have to make choices about
baby dreams vs. career dreams, especially when we live in society that needs
children, yet refuses to support the people who are implicitly charged with raising
I also now realize how much of a gift it is to think of something at 14 and actually
be able to do it 4 years later.
Back then I wanted to be nappy, be around Black art, eat good food and read
Three weeks ago I realized that I am in fact this person.
I get to be nappy, write about Black women and pop culture (and my relationships)
and have the things that I say be taken seriously by my blog readers and my professor's
and this is awesome.
I googled Ms. Fancy a couple of weeks ago and found out she wasn't that far from me.
In a twitter conversation with @prisonerswife I talked about how I wanted to say
something, but I didn't want to come out the blue and the last few years of my life
have taught me to leave well enough alone when it comes to people. I try to live by
if it don't fit don't force it. This isn't hallways successful. I try to realize that people
will be bothered when they want to be, otherwise I should leave them be.
@prisonerswife responded saying something along the lines of, "people say things
like that just because they don't want to step up" and I was like, "I'm pretty much a courage
bear. If God wants me to be in contact with her, we will cross paths."
Ms. Fancy Facebooked me Tuesday.
Merry Christmas. Woot.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Here is the thesis and intro ya'll. Peace to Birk and Jess for helping
me organize the beginning, I swear that's the hardest part, because the
rest of the framework flows from there.
In writing this I was reminded that its not enough to have something
to say. Its not enough to have read the books to be informed. It's only
enough when I can frame and deploy a convincing argument.
If you have any questions, leave them below, and I will try and work them
into the paper.
Beyonce Incorporated: R&B, Thugs and Whiteness
Since the 1998 crossover breakthrough of Destiny’s Child, Beyonce Knowles has
been a star on the rise. Since then she has released numerous albums, both with
Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, she has starred in or served as a supporting
actor in several major motion pictures, and has married a multiplatnuim selling rap
artist. In short, Beyonce is everywhere, including the bank. In fiscal year
2007-2008, Beyonce reportedly earned an estimated $87 million dollars.
Given that black wealth is incredible rare in the United States (Oliver & Shapiro, 2006),
the reasons for Beyonce’s incredible success are worth exploring.
In exploring the reasons for Ms.Knowles’ success, I am primarily concerned with
the intersection of popular culture and the day to day lived experience of African
Americans. Often times we listen to music without considering the fact that it isn’t
neutral and that it also has an affect on the ways in which we go about our lives.
Beyonce Knowles is an accomplished, talented and attractive, singer, actor,
entertainer and fashion designer.
She is also is fast becoming an entertainment empire in and of herself. While she
“grew up in a four-bedroom home in Houston's upscale third ward with her father,
owner, and sister, Solange Knowles, sings.”According to Forbes magazine,
Ms. Knowles has “sold upwards of 118 million records, won ten Grammys,
starred in seven films and headlined three solo tours” (Rose, 2009). Her endorsement
deals are extremely lucrative. She has had them with “Tommy Hillfiger L'Oréal,
Giorgio Armani Diamonds perfume, Samantha Thavasa handbags” and in the last
year, “she's added deals with Crystal Geyser and Nintendo DS to her résumé” (Rose, 2009).
Further more, the blue chip corporation, General Mills just underwrote her most recent
tour, I AM (Rose, 2009). Rose goes on to note that “Beyoncé constantly works and
reworks her act, watching every two-hour performance on tour--even after her
hundredth appearance--taking notes on how to improve. "I'm never satisfied," she
says, adding with a nervous laugh, "I'm sure sometimes it's not easy working for me."
Then, seriously: "I've never met anyone that works harder than me in my industry”
(Rose, 2009). Indeed, given the fact that she employs four hundred people and
arguably many more through touring and merchandising, she, in many ways is a
According to Marxist theory on cultural hegemony, “the class, which is the dominant
material force in society, is at the same time its dominant intellectual force”(Strinati, 131).
Beyonce Knowles earned an estimated 87 million dollars in fiscal year 2007-2008 not
only because she is talented and attractive but also because her most popular work
serves the interests of the white ruling class elites, such as the presidents of Fortune
500 corporations and Madison avenue advertising firms, wall street investment bankers,
television and record executives. She serves the interests of the ruling class by
normalizing and never questioning the impact that white supremacist patriarchal
capitalism has on black heterosexual relationships. Lyrics such as “pay my auto
bill, pay my telephone bill”, thug worship such as “ if his status ain’t hood, I ain’t
messing with him, he better be street if he looking at me” and “them hustlas keep
on talking, they like the way I’m walking” reify the stereotype of the black, male,
sexy thug. These lyrics also deploy the patriarchal notion that African American men
are only worth what they can contribute financially. Furthermore such lyrics are
problematic because they place the economic issues facing black heterosexual couples
squarely on the shoulders of individuals while obscuring the structural forces acting on
the lives of such couples such as a historically segregated educational system, a
segregated housing system, a discriminatory bank lending system, an oppressive
police system, historically discriminatory judicial system, the war on drugs, the war
on poverty and a largely self serving non-profit industrial complex.
I am making this argument because I am concerned with the package that her
message comes in, the content of message that is deployed and the impact that
this has on the masses of society, as popular culture is where most people learn
about society by deploying lyrics that focus on black women asking black men
for money for utility bills, that celebrate black men as the mythic thug, Beyonce
Knowles both reifies the stereotype of rugged, violent, black men who work in the
underground economy. This is important because applying white hegemonic market
ideology is harmful to Black heterosexual relationships, given the fact that historically,
Black workers tend to be some of the lowest played workers in the
economy (Oliver and Shapiro).