I was reluctant about today's class going in.
We read Mary Waters Ethnic Options and her book Black Identity. I reviewed
Black Identity which focuses on the process of West Indian Americans
coming to identify
The book contained lot's of qualitative interview's with West Indian
folks talking about why they don't like African Americans,
why they are Black, but not like Black Americans, that Black Americans
are lazy, expect handouts etc.
I had no idea how the class was going to react to this.
Fascinating stuff, though, right?
Especially when you look at the presence of African Americans vs. West
Indian Americans on four year college campuses and in graduate,
law and business school in the Northeast.
The book is awesome in how it gets at how first generation verses second
generation West Indian immigrants deal with assimilation, with proving
that they are not Black and also with identifying as Black. The most
fascinating part for me was learning that women who worked as teachers
and nurses in Jamaica, came to the Brooklyn, worked as teacher and
nurses yet, class wise their lives were not the same.
The material difference is the on their salary in Jamaica, they were middle class,
so they could afford nannies and house keepers, and their housing was more
spacious and safer. In the US, housing was more expensive, there was more
opportunity for jobs and education for their children but the housing dollar
didn't go very far.
Which brings me to my classmate.
Jamaica's system is based on the British system, which means that children
are tested and tracked at a very young age. They either go into vocational
track or academic track.
Apparently Germany and much of Europe is the same way.
My Black classmate said, that he agrees with this.
I responded saying that standardized tests are measures of familial wealth
not student aptitude. And the aptitude of a four year old cannot be measured
because they have only been on the earth 48 months. He responded saying
that the British system is better because it separates the students early
and that there are some who shouldn't be in school and college.
I said that this was racist. We do not know what children are capable of at 4.
They responded saying that it wasn't racist.
I said, it was both racist AND classist because of the disparate
impact that the same policy has on Black boys in the US. Ann Fergusons
Bad Boys talks about this at length, if you want to read more about it. It's
an awesome study on a public elementary school in Berkeley,
hones in on the ways in which school policy and teacher subjectivity
impact how Black boys are disproportionately disciplined and placed
in special ed classes.
I asked him how he reconciled his approval of early testing and prediction
with the fact that standardized tests measure familial wealth not student
He responded saying "Yeah, tests are culturally biased but math isn't."
My eyes rolled. That did NOT refute nor address my argument.
Another classmate, a white woman who is in marketing asked, "Isn't it
better for us to asses the children at 4 rather than at 12 so that they
don't languish in the system?"
I responded no. The issue isn't when they are assessed the issue is
creating a system that serves their interests not the interests of school
administrators or corporations. We need to move out of binary
modes of thinking and ask ourselves whose interests are served by
She said aren't all children about the same at four? I said no, all children are not the
same. Each child's education attainment is related to how much money her parents
earn and how much social capital her parents have and lastly how much
intergenerational wealth a family has.
I only wish that I asked them, "What would you do if your child
tests into the vocational track at 4?" I imagine, I hope the responses
would have been more compassionate.
It isn't lost on me that these people will be future professors,
bureaucrats, marketers, political advisers, researchers etc.
I see it as my job to say something.
I was proud of myself for calling a spade a spade, at least I was earlier,
this evening. As the night has warn on I am tired. School is awesome,
but in some ways the more I learn the more it appears that
racism is manifested on a civilizational level.
In some ways, this experience showed me the racism runs on
a deep civilization level. I take this term from the paper "Coloring
Epistemologies: Are Our Research Epistemologies Racially Biased?"
In the paper, James Sheurich and Michelle Young lay out three levels of racism.
I list them below:
The first is institutional racism, which exists when instituitons or ogranizations
On one level these experiences remind me of just how privilaged
have standard operating procedures, intended or unintended, hurt members
of one or more races in relation to members of the dominant race.
The second is societal racism exist when prevailing societal or cultural assumptions
or norms, concepts or habits favor on race over one or more other races. For
example, the OJ trial revealed societal racism.
The third is epistemologoical racism comes from or emerges out of
what we have labeled the civilizational level, the deepest, most primary level
of a culture of people. The civilizational level is the the level that emcompasses he
deepest, most primary assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology)...
I am, and have been, on another it reminds me of how other children
get screwed by bureaucrats on the regular.
It reminds me of how the teachers who stepped into my life when my city,
Oakland, and my family were both submerged by the crack epidemic.
It reminds me of how these angels saved my academic life.
I hope I can be an angel for someone else.
The social costs of being a model minority, of being a Black women are taxing.
I hope I don't go crazy trying to make sense of it all.
Pray for me.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Speaking to my homie Jonzey the other night, I was trying to convince
her to go see Good Hair, she refused. I said you must go to see
Sharpton's clear disdain for and anger towards Black women
and our budgetary practices around our hair.
She mentioned that she wasn't going for precisely that reason. That she is
not interested in seeing something where Black women get trashed.
I was silent because I have been there, in fact I live there.
She is a filmmaker and she said that she is tired of other filmmakers projecting
their issues onto Black people and Black women, Tyler Perry specifically.
Here is the line that got me,
"If Tyler Perry is more comfortable walking around wearing dresses thenShe believes that White filmmakers project their issues on to Black people
he should make a movie about THAT, instead of projecting his shit onto us."
and Black male filmmakers project their issues onto Black women.
I had one of those blog synergy moments and asked her, well have you seen
what has happened at Moreouse this week with regard to their dress code?
Morehouse announced a dress code this week that was pretty much
no do rags, no sagging, then the last rule,states no pumps, no dresses,
I instantly thought of Tyler Perry and how Morehouse's reaction to
how some men dress, as evidence of why he won't make that movie.
Simply stated, Tyler Perry will not make that movie because the women who
pay to see him dress up like a Black grandmommas would not support a film
where he talks about why he feels most comfortable dressing up like a
Black Grandmomma. I then decided, after looking at the Sandra Rose
site and reading the comments that I needed to have a conversation
with Moya, because this represented a great teaching moment.
Tyler Perry's movies make Black women and White people feel comfortable,
oh, don't trip, we aren't the only ones in the movie theater. If he makes a movie
about why he feels most comfortable with in dress, this would make many
Black women and White folks incredibly uncomfortable.
Below is the interview with Moya, who runs Quirky Black Girls
and is a fellow Women Studies colleague and an incredible gender
Renina Jarmon: Why is it acceptable for a Black school to heavily
regulate the gendered nature of clothing?
Moya Bailey: I don't think its acceptable though I do believe in a dress code
(sometimes). I think for k-12 and I could even say in college, a dress code
that's designed to counteract the hypersexualization of youth and to limit the
expression of certain exclusionary class markers makes a lot of sense to me.
Dress codes don't have to be gender specific and students could be able to
wear a range of clothing across genders regardless of their perceived sex.
Unfortunately, this Morehouse dress code is being used to reinforce a very
classed and heteronormative idea of what a black man should look like.
RJ:Does this have to do with the origins of the school as a place rooted
educating and grooming Black civil society?
respectability. Black people have historically tried to model the norms
of dominate culture, hoping that this mimicry would afford equal treatment
as opposed to subjugation. "Good" black men don't wear high heels or
sagging pants. There's been a lot of talk about how heels or sagging
pants won't fly in corporate America, as if to say the ultimate goal for
Morehouse men is to become black versions of the CEO's and capitalists
that are destroying communities of color with unliveable wages, gentrification,
environmental racism, and hazardous working conditions. That said, a lot
of work has been done to ensure that folks can wear what they want to
wear in corporate America. Non-discrimination policies, while not
indicative of the work climate necessarily, provide employees rights
to dress as they see fit and if employers have a problem, provide legal
means through which employees can act.
RJ:Are the people on Sandrarose.com aware that they sound like white
folks who didn't want their children to attend integrated schools in the
1950's? [Sandra Rose's statement"A man can’t lead other men wearing a dress",
sounds like some of the birthers, denying the presidents right to BE the
I’m glad they are taking a stand. I’ve said numerous times I don’t have a problem with other people’s lifestyles but some people take it too far. If you are a gay man keyword is MAN. Act like one and the same thing with women. The saggy pants thing too. Save that for the knuckleheads on the street who aren’t going anywhere."
They should withdraw!!!! Why the hell would you go to Morehouse with that tomfoolery? These folks are out of control. Gay is one thing, but dressing like a woman…..and to the point that the school has to give guidelines. Damn, if you going to Morehouse you obviously want to get a degree and work in the public sector. You can’t dress like that in the public sector. Only hairsylist can do that.
MB: "A man can't lead another man wearing a dress." this quote is so deep and so
problematic to me. I'll break it down.
1. What constitutes appropriate dress for men and women is always shifting.
What's masculine one day can be feminine the next. Don't folks know the
history of high heels?
2. Read Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor. Tell me then if a man can't lead
another man wearing a dress.
3. There's an assumption that for a man to be taking seriously he needs
to be marked as such. There's something silly about a man in women's
clothing. Why? Is it because men don't take women seriously? If we
change the phrase to " A woman can't lead another woman wearing pants,"
the statement very obviously breaks down.
What is it about masculinity that is so fragile that it becomes
questionable when cloaked in a dress?
RJ: Why do we assume that just because Black men weren't visibly gay
on Morehouse's campus that they, haven't been there historically?
MB: Girl, I don't know! And this is the thing about all black institutions, the
church, school, family, community, etc. There is an understanding that
there are queer black folks in these spaces but traditionally folks have
tried to argue via politics of respectability, "Hide yourself." Black queer
people can be present just not visibly so or at least not so visible as to
call attention to themselves. We have this false notion that hiding queerness
will some how make us more respectable more deserving of being
treated like human beings if we don't deviate from the norms that mainstream
(read: white) society created for us.
RJ: Is the subtext in the conversation that some hetero sexual black women
attend Spelman with the intent of finding a husband and a visible Black
gay male population stifles this possibility?
as it is about making the homosocial nature of a school like Morehouse
not be read as homoerotic. What I mean is that Morehouse as a school
that wishes to claim a majority heterosexual student body, has anxiety
around the visible presence of gay students. What will people think if they
see black men rocking the latest jimmy cho's or sporting saggin' pants
etc. What is so interesting is that the dress code slices both ways.
They want to rid themselves of a working class hypermasculinity that is
expressed through baggy clothing as well as a feminine (read: queer)
aesthetic that also troubles a more conventional mainstream black
middle class masculinity. It seems much more prudent to begin to
have conversations about black masculinity and all that could be
rather than create a reactionary policy that brings attention to
the conservative and no-liberatory vision of the school.
RJ:What are Black people scared of?
MB: I think black people are afraid of their own queer desires. It's so
interesting that homosexuality is so threatening in our communities
that we'd rather institute draconian policies that limit all that we are or
who we could be out of fear. Homosexaulity and heterosexaulity are
recent concepts that don't effectively convey the diversity of human
sexuality, gender or biological sex. We hold tight to the notion that two
sexes, produce two genders which lead to two orientations but history
and our current world refute this at every turn. but we hold on. We hold
to these notions that ultimately imprison us and do nothing to transform
the world into what it could be. It's our desire to hold onto values, that
were never ours by the way, that keep us locked in a push/pull that is
not transformational or edifying.
RJ: Any other thoughts?
5 gay students who may or may not be wearing heels. How about
the number of sexual assaults that involve Morehouse students
and women in the Atlanta University Center? I can tell you it's way
more than five. How about the virulent homophobia and sexism that
goes unquestioned in the student body and in the administration?
As a feminist, I also want to call high heels into question as not
necessarily being indicative of a liberatory politic. Heels hurt your feet
and can even destroy them over a long period of time. I think it's interesting
that this ultra feminine footwear can be reclaimed as transgressive when
in some ways I think it can be the epitome of a hegemonic hetero-patriarchal state.
For more reading:
The difference between gender and sex
Elizabeth Gates's article in The Daily Beast: Morehouse College's Gay Tragedy
Article in the Paper Tiger, Morehouses newspaper: Is Gay the Way?
Latoya Peterson article at Racialicious: LA Times Explores Being Gay at Morehouse
Jason Harrell on Keith Boykin.com: Black and Gay at Morehouse
What does it mean that this is what Morehouse chooses to focus on?
Why Black folks sound like white 1950's or 2009 birther racist?
Did you know that Black MBA students can't wear locks or cornrows at Hampton?
This is material because they have a 5 year undergrad/MBA program.
What are we scared of?
Monday, October 12, 2009
Over the last few weeks, one of the hardest things, for me
to navigate has been deciding when to talk and when to shut
up. This has been an issue in all of my classes.
Yet, it has manifest itself differently because of my familiarity
with the material, my willingness to be vulnerable and ask
questions and my willingness to be passively rather than
In life and in the classroom it is much easier to complain about how
the class is ran rather than to do something about how it is ran.
It's much easier to complain about health care, rather than going
down to your local senators office, with a few of your friends
and getting in their faces about how they are voting.
Its much easier to complain than to elect that new.
Today, I rode for that new.
The classroom is political because whose voice is or isn't heard,
who does or doesn't speak and whether a space is made for historically
marginalized voices all impacts the way that we learn in the classroom.
Today, I entered the classroom with the expressed intent of not only
participating but moving the conversation towards one on focused
on providing a systemic critique, not simply focusing on the individual.
Because we read Killing the Black Body, which is about the Black
female body throughout history, from slavery to forced sterilization,
eugenics, modern reproductive rights arguments, moms addicted
to crack, adoption and surrogate parents, I knew that it was going
to be a class ripe with emotional landmines.
At one point we were discussing the coercive element involved with the
government forcing low income Black women to be sterilized if they
received public assistance.
The notion that reproductive autonomy as a human right simply wasn't
on the table.
Because of my Twitter interaction with Phonte last week about the ways
in which both men and women are socialized to hate women, I have been
emboldened. What I took from that interaction was, to the extent that I can
ask folks questions, I know that I can take them somewhere else.
A classmate, a Black male classmate who self identified as conservative,
mentioned that if a woman is on welfare with several children, then the government
can tell her what to get sterilized. He rested his case on the individual and personal
He went on to say that we are all here, in this classroom, we are given equal
This is material given the fact that the number one predictor of poverty,
in this country, is childbirth.
That rugged individualism runs so thick both in our academic and
mainstream media discourse that not only am no longer surprised
when I hear it, in fact, I anticipate it.
So, in order to get him to think about the system in which these women
lived in I asked him where he was from, and whether he felt that the ways
in which Black men are disproportionally sentenced for crack cocaine
rests on Black men or the system that they were in.
He was consistent, he answered that it was up to the individual, who got
caught up in the system.
I then said, if you are riding for individual responsibility answer me this.
Our country no longer produces products, we live in a service economy.
Walmart is the second largest employer behind the government.
We are a nation of people, where the majority of us, earn minimum wage
or work in service jobs.
Minimum wage guarantees that you will live in poverty.
How do you reconcile the need for individual responsibility with this economic
I didn't tell him was wrong, because doing that is not helpful.
I asked him questions to get him, and other students to think about other
It makes me wonder what it will take, and what will happen when we stop thinking
the individual, and start thinking about the group?
It felt good because I realized what Zora meant by "Speak,
so that you can speak again." I always thought that that statement was
over the top and corny, but today, it has real life meaning in my
What will it take to think about the group, rather than the individual?
Has the classroom been a political space for you?
Why is it so hard to claim my voice?
Is it possible that there is a connection between the writing voice and
the speaking voice?