Category Archives: race

Nina, girl, I know

I’ve been mad since 2012 when it was announced that Zoe Saldana was playing you and I saw the pictures of ‘you’ in blackface. Oh miss Nina, I’m so sorry they did that to you.

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Those of us who know, who you taught through your life and your music are heartbroken.  I have no real opinion of Zoe Saldana, you know how there’s always gong to be someone who doesn’t know. Someone not invested in your community. Not interested in how your art and activism for Black people, who you so loved, was integral to your being. Someone who’s never been called ugly because they were Black or had any barriers placed before them because of how they looked.  It wasn’t her story to tell, she should have said no, but she’ll learn…if she’s interested. She’s in a really terrible situation and Hollywood is on some real bullshit right now. The days of reckoning you talked about are upon us.  The frequent quote about her is that she “gave her heart and soul” to the performance to which I say, so what? She should have said no. She’s not the artist for this. She hasn’t seen enough, but then again, I don’t know that girl.

But let’s deal with the thing that I love most. Context.

They took you out of context and for that I’m sorry

& they don’t know about Mississippi at all anymore.  Goddamn indeed.

 

Nothing But a Man: The Understated Genius of Ivan Dixon | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Source: Nothing But a Man: The Understated Genius of Ivan Dixon | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Chapter III- Hopeless: Moving Past Postmodern Hip-Hop Adolescence

Chapter III-
Hopeless:
Moving Past Postmodern Hip-Hop Adolescence

Love and Basketball and Love Jones are culminations of all of the previous representations with the distinct voice of the hip-hop generation. They stylistically reflect the influences of music videos while addressing the biggest challenge the hip-hop generation faces– how are we supposed to behave? These films re-appropriate hip-hop’s superficially materialistic and sexual manifestations and show the ramifications those images have in our everyday existence. Gender lines are not as specifically defined in these films creating different approaches to relationships. Without the specific struggles against racism and classism, these films are also a reminder of the personal and spiritual work the black community as a whole must continue to do in their intraracial, interpersonal relations.
These characters are the beneficiaries of all of social, cultural, economic and political changes of the last thirty years. The hip-hip generation, imbued with the legacy of sexualized youth culture, sees marriage as the end to the freedoms (sexual and otherwise) they have enjoyed and seen as their right their entire lives. Marriage is a pseudo fantasy that for men marks an end of youth and for women idealizes security. It is also seen as something done by “grown ups” (an act performed by the previous generation) or whites. Sex- only relationships and strong male-female platonic friendships (most with the possibility of sex) are the dominant models for relationships. The blurring of the lines between these relationship positions reinforces the question of how the hip-hop generation is supposed to behave. No longer looking to their parents as models, the media offers behavioral cues. In these films, their portrayals begin to question what they have been taught and follow them on their explorations of how they learn to define their lives for themselves.
Love and Basketball tells the story of a young man and woman who grow up next door to each other and their love of basketball is what pulls them together and ultimately drives them apart. They grow up in an upper middle class environment in two parent homes. Throughout high school, they are best friends. Their intimacy for each other grows from their love of basketball.
Monica is a tomboy. She hides her dresses, hates having her hair combed, is obviously, as the younger of two girls, the son her father never had. She watches her mother defer her dreams and never stand up for herself and decidedly abhors anything she deems as “prissy.” Q is a talented and privileged young man who idolizes and emulates his father, an ex professional basketball player. His mother is a stay at home mom who tends to his and his father’s every need.
At the age of eleven, Q asks Monica to be “his girl” after watching her get her hair combed through the window while listening to his parents have loud passionate sex, thereby infusing Monica with sexuality. William Simon discusses the role of parental sexuality in the lives of adolescents:
“Parents, particularly the parents of the opposite sex for those experiencing themselves as moving towards heterosexuality, will obviously have many of the attributes that the adolescent is expected to recognize and respond to as being sexual. This connection becomes particularly significant when the child sees the parents as being sexually active, sometimes increasingly evident particularly to those adolescents who have witnessed parents returning the dating and mating game. The stereotypical notion of Victorian reticence and prudery clearly create a different set of conditions for managing the problems of inclusion and exclusion than would be true for most of the varieties of contemporary middle-class North American families- even where the family remains intact. (83)

The adolescence of the parental relationships in this film teaches the children dysfunctional relationship models. Q’s parents ultimately divorced because of the father’s infidelity. Q’s identity was tightly wound with that of his father, and the women he later dates are sexually feminized like his mother. When Q sees Monica the next day, she has changed from the androgynous being, (who was beating him at basketball, leading him to push her on the ground, scarring her face for life) to a cutie in dress with her hair in plaits and accepting of his advances. When her mother told her the night before that Q was riding to school with her in the morning, she told her sister to make sure her hair looked nice. She’s developing a sexuality not outside of her tomboyishness, because after they share her (their?) first kiss that morning, he demands she ride on his bike because she’s his girl and his dad drives his mother. She refuses by telling him “ I don’t have to do what you say,” a verbal argument ensues before she pushes him off his bike and they start rolling in the grass fighting. Despite her change in costume, the performance of gender equality was the same. It was not until after he called her “an ugly dog” that she made the fight physical. She had already been initiated by the letting of blood with the scar he had given her on her chin the day before. She was not going to be his victim again.
Fast forward to senior year in high school where they are both the stars of their basketball teams. Q is sexually active and Monica is pining away, loving him but able to relate to him only through basketball. The use of the ball as the link between the two identifies her not just with Q but also with both his father and hers. The inclusion of parents in this film shows the hip-hop generation’s longing for behavioral models, but finding only antiquated ones. Monica complains that her mother never attends her basketball games. The fact that she played basketball took her out of her mother’s domain. Even after Monica has played all over the world, her mother does not understand or know basketball lingo; effectively not knowing anything about her daughter. Therefore, when Monica has a problem, she asks her father. Senior year, she asks him to talk to the coach so she can stay in the game that her temper keeps getting her kicked out of. Her contention is that she’s “a ball player” and if she were a man, she would just be showing heart. Monica is one of few black female characters that address sexism. Her playing a sport makes her gender conflict keener.
At one of the two games her mother attends, her mother scolds her from the sidelines for not behaving like a lady. The visual separation of Monica from what is traditionally “women’s work” is the division of labor in the household. While she is talking to her father, her mother and feminized sister are setting the table. It is here that she tells her mother that she is a lesbian, “well that’s what you think ‘cause I would rather wear a jersey than an apron.” It is also here that her father tells her that since she has not been recruited, that she might want to look at different roads. She’s upset by his lack of faith and her mother’s comment that she has more going for her in the off- handed compliment of her being smart and “[she] would be pretty if [she] did something to [her] hair”.
Later she goes to the Spring Dance that her college-aged sister not only gets her a date for but also her sister dolls her up. Naomi Wolf discusses the image of the “doll” as “[o]n TV, female sexuality was about these dolls who were obsessed with getting dates with men. It was not a mature sexuality…There was no power in their sexuality…Being doll-like was part of how you reeled in a man. But what you did with him after you reeled him in- I had no clue” (Wolf 17). Neither did Monica. Her mother’s advice was to “enjoy being beautiful”, but to what end. At the dance, she is visibly uncomfortable in her skintight dress and heels. Unlike the young women in music videos who fit Wolf’s “doll” image, Monica is attempting to define herself through her own actions and not through anyone else’s acceptance. She is redefining standard gender stereotypes without being all feminist about it. Monica is simply working on being comfortable in her own skin.
When she gets home and talks about her date to Q on their mutual rooftop, she tells him that she went parking with her date, and while he was kissing on her and touching her, she could not remember how many offensive boards she got in the finals. That is her version of sex. She has attached it to the power she feels on the court. Her performance is not in the doll-like prissiness of sexuality but in the intimacy, it gives her with the one man who understands her love for basketball. That night she and Q physically make love. Director Gina Bythewood does not portray her body as the “docile body” as described by Foucault, traditionally associated with female sexuality, and it is at this moment that the narratives surrounding the black female body collide. According to Peterson, “to the dominant culture the black body was often both invisible and hypervisible… or… the black female body could be perceived as simultaneously feminine and masculine” (xi).
Yet, her sexuality through the rest of the film is focused on Quincy- the masculine. When he is not around, she is not sexual. Q on the other hand uses their emotional and sexual intimacy as his power over her. When he needs her and she is not available to him because of her basketball schedule, he starts “dating” another girl. Monica, despite her love for Q, when faced with his ultimatum, chooses basketball over him, and he leaves her. She ultimately conforms, in a way, to a model of male domination. “Females who wanted black male partners felt they had to conform to sexist expectations. Tragically, where much attention had been given to these conflicts, all the attention was now focused on black male satisfaction.” (hooks, Salvation 166) Quincy’s emotional denial through his sexual infidelity further demonstrates the behaviors that sustain the lack of trust between black women and men.
When Monica loses Quincy, she loses her love for basketball, despite her playing in the European League. Like Tracy in Mahogany, success means nothing because she does not have anyone to share it with. She comes back to the states (five years later) to find Quincy, now potentially unable to play basketball himself, engaged to an archetypical female. She gives up basketball and takes a job at her father’s bank.
On her mother’s advice, Monica challenges Q to a final basketball game for his heart. She has no female peers, despite all of her years on female basketball teams. She has only bonded emotionally with Q. He is her only friend. Therefore, when she looks to matters that require a “feminine touch” the only person she has to turn to is the mother she has fought so hard not to become. She acquiesces to her prescribed gender role and is rewarded by marrying Q, having a baby and playing with the WNBA. Only when she gives up her youthful insistence of gender ambivalence can she achieve marital attainment. Like Bleek, Q had to lose his ability to pursue his passion for basketball to be able to finally settle down.
Love Jones is a standard Hollywood romantic comedy set on Chicago’s segregated Southside. It weaves through the lives of a group of middle class college educated black friends, focusing on the romance of Darius and Nina. Darius, a writer, pursues Nina, a photographer, who plays (not so) hard to get. They have a casual sexual affair—“ just kickin’ it”, begin to “catch feelings” for each other, and use half-truths and other manipulative tactics to discover the other’s feelings. They break up, get back together, break up, and ultimately get back together.
Where do they learn the social workings of their sexuality? In discussing adolescent sexuality, which all of the behavior in this film points to, William Simon’s comments,
… the collapsing into a brief period — some might say too brief — of the time between the initial sense of oneself as a sexually significant person and the point at which regular socio sexual involvement occurs…. Most adolescents, then, find themselves within richly sexualized subcultures where there are modes of acting in sexually significant ways that are not necessarily genital in uses of language and costume, as well as pluralized definitions of relationships in which they are expected to be sexually involved. There is probably more social support for adolescent sexual activity by peers and others than has been known previously in modern Western experience. (81)

The peer relationship is paramount in their dealings with each other and their advising support systems. Yet when the married person, the group’s older statesman of sorts says, “falling in love is the easy part, but could somebody please tell me what to do to stay there?”, how does anyone learn anything?
Darius is a standard twenty-something male losing the women that he loves by “trying to be a player”. Although he is the economic, cultural, and educational antithesis of the nihilistic young men in Menace II Society and Baby Boy, his sexual behaviors are exactly the same. His behavior is endemic of many young middle class black men who are in short supply among their female counterparts. His “music video” mentality of spreading himself around to avoid getting “caught up” ultimately backfires. This environment breeds the lack of trust that ultimately destroys their relationship.
Although Nina’s sexuality is more developed than Monica’s, her behavior is not. We meet her reminiscing about love lost as she is packing up her life to start anew. When her best friend, Josie, asks when Nina is going to return her former fiancé’s ring she says, “I would if I knew where the hell he was. Or maybe I’ll just keep it as a reminder to never make the same mistake twice…[Josie: get engaged?]… No, falling in love. Because that shit is played out like an eight track”. Nina does not trust that she will be able to become vulnerable again because of the betrayal of her ex-fiancé; and like Angela in Boomerang, she is.
She then goes to a poetry reading where Darius creates a provocative poem for her on stage where he invokes African and African American literary and spiritual images along side of:
Hey girl- can I be your slave…who am I? It is not important. But they call me Brother To The Night and right now I’m the blues in your left thigh trying to become the funk in your right. Who am I? I’ll be whoever you say. But right now I’m a sight raped Hun blindly pursuing you as my prey. And I just want to give you injections of sublime erections and get you to dance to my rhythm…. Come on slim. Fuck your man, I ain’t worried about him….Cause rather than deal with the fallacy of this dry assed reality I’d rather dance and romance your sweet ass in a wet dream.

That poem sums up the course of their relationship in this film. Who is he? Does he even know? How will she know who he is? Dealing with the “fallacy of this dry assed reality” is called living life. It is not realistic or practical to believe he can live in the fantasy of a wet dream. It is an imaginary existence reinforced by the constant perpetuation of youthful sexual freedom. The superficiality of their ensuing relationship is reminiscent of teenagers who have sex and do not know how to communicate their feelings for each other because they do not understand them. They just know they do not want their feelings hurt and will do anything to not experience rejection.
Immediately after that performance, Josie reminds Nina about love being played out and Nina responds with a guilty look. As if she is thinking about love with a man she does not know. Who is talking about love? Physical attraction is not love or anything close to it. He just did an inappropriate sexual poem about a woman he had just met at the bar. Afterwards she tells him that he probably would not know anything about love, in front of his three male (and one female) friends who begin a teasing ritual about what they would do to her if it were them.
Darius then uses his female friend to get Nina’s information and shows up at her house after she had told him she was not interested. She acquiesces to a date, which after much back and forth and “I can’t go out on a first date like that,” she sleeps with him. He awakens the next morning and makes breakfast, signifying that he, like Marcus, is “pussy whipped”. Darius’s married friend Savon appropriately states, “when a man gets a hard- on, ya know where the blood come from, right? … His head and his feet. So A. he’s stupid and B. he can’t run.” Is that what a relationship is? Is that what adult sexual expression is? Stupid men who cannot move their feet? Nina, like Nola in She’s Gotta Have It, is just as trapped in her role of a sexual being as Darius is.
Rose identifies a certain amount of resentment and hostility by black men towards black women based on women’s ability to control sexual situations using rejection and manipulations of desire. She states, in discussing hip-hop lyrics, that black men have an “…intense desire for and profound mistrust of women. The capacity of a woman to use her sexuality to manipulate his desire for her purposes is an important facet of the sexual politics of the male raps about women” (173). Black male masculinity, though evolving, is still equated with his sexuality; only it is how the sexuality is viewed and used that changes its perception.
The childishness displayed on all fronts can not help but lead one to believe that the collapse of time Simon discusses, has stagnated their emotional growth and relegated the idea of love to be forever synonymous with sex and sexual desire/ longing. Fear of being “whipped” and losing their male power is unfortunately the same fear bonding these young men to their behaviors, regardless of how destructive they are in their lives.
Nina and Darius’ reconciliation occurred when they had a “perfect date”, this time at Nina’s invitation, which did not involve “bumpin’ and grindin’”. That night Nina denied Darius sex claiming to want to “save something for later” to which he replied “Baby, you ain’t gotta save mine for later, I’d rather have it right now anyway”. She then asks him to unzip her dress, she seductively walks up the stairs, aware of his gaze and picks out a sexy negligee to sleep in. The night ends with them dancing over a montage of her adopting his habit of smoking and various “intimate and romantic” scenarios with them as a couple, with his friends. We never see Josie again.
Even after Darius and Nina reconcile, their lack of communication and the emotional blackmail they exact on each other, shows that romance leads to sex, not a mutually loving relationship. Nina is once again dumped and once again longing. She moves to New York, comes back to Chicago to do a shoot and, seeing his book published and dedicated to her, finally decides to perform a poem on stage:
“I was hoping a certain someone would be here tonight, but I don’t see him, so I guess I’m gonna get it out anyway. Funny what you can do in a room full of people that you can’t even seem to do in front of one person…It is the color of light, the shape of sound high in the evergreens… I am tasting the wilderness of lakes, rivers and streams caught in an angle of song…. I am dancing a bright beam of light. I am remembering love.”

Darius catches her outside (soaking wet in a rain shower- he’s dry as a bone) and tells her “I want us to be together… for as long as we can be…this here right now is all that matters to me. I love you. And that’s urgent as a muthafucka” This harkens back to slave days when the slave master could permanently end the time spent with loved ones at any moment. The urgency to love was hard and fast. Though the possibility that love might at any moment be stolen from them is still a reality for black men in America, the perpetuation of that kind of speed, on top of the speeding up of sexualities in a postmodern arena, leaves little time for the kind of honest self reflection needed in a mutually loving relationship. It leaves no room for the “care of self” Foucault discusses.
Comparatively, Love and Basketball fares better in it is depiction of romantic love in the hopefulness that in Q holding the baby while Monica plays ball, he may have abandoned his patriarchal notions of family. However, the audience will never know. Though it still has the Pollyanna happily-ever-after ending, showing the contexts in which these young people interact reflects their familial socializations giving them more depth than their Love Jones counterparts. Yet the sexualized roles of the female leads still fit into traditional Hollywood madonna and whore scenarios. Monica’s alleged (the filmmaker chose not to show her with any other men) sexual mummification denies her the growth beyond her childhood relationship. Nina’s sleeping with her fiancé, a man who left her allegedly without a trace, while still “kickin’ it” with Darius and getting upset because she saw him with someone else, is infantile.
These films attempt but fail to do what bell hooks suggests of black filmmakers (women specifically) and take us outside “conventional racist and sexist stereotyping” (hooks, Reel to Real 212). Instead their imitative qualities of standard practices lead black female viewers to use an adjusted oppositional gaze. There is a level of recognition and identification, yet upon closer readings, and outside the readers’ own romantic paradigms, the immaturity of the relationships is heartbreaking. Particularly, since the filmic fantasy of finding love is so seductive.
In a demographic marriage is being postponed further and further (if ever), and the ratio of black men of similar class, emotional and educational levels not being equal , simply seeing young black people attempting love is refreshingly dangerous trap for young women bombarded with a steady stream of hip-hop cultures abusive images. The relief of seeing people on the big screen “representing” lives more closely related to middle class blacks experience could arguably increase identification with the fantasy. “[Claude Steele] argues that ‘devaluation grows out of our images of society and the way those images catalogue people. The catalogue need not be taught. It is implied by all we see around us: the kinds of people revered in advertising … and movies (black women are rarely seen as romantic partners, for example)…” (Harris 183). These films images of romantic relationships do make visible experiences not commonly seen between blacks while, I argue, reinforcing their verisimilitude, “the norms of motivation for ‘believable’ behavior, the requirements for effects to be shown to have causes and hence the demand for certain forms of narrative conventions” (Cowie 368).
I suggest that the social effects of such portrayals on the hip-hop generation have been multifold. First, was an increased lack of trust between black men and women. If a relationship is simply sexual then there is no emotional bonding. When images of sexual abandon and freedom, independent of any emotional connection, are perpetuated; blacks not participating in romantic relationships become normalized. If the emotional connection that leads to an emotionally equal relationship is absent then it not only leaves no room for vulnerabilities to exist, but also creates a space for disrespect to abound. Such is the space dominated by hip-hop videos.
Secondly, the lack of emotional bonding also reflects the significant decrease in black marriage. Marriage is viewed as an alternative relationship in black communities. When the marriages in these films are dysfunctional or unseen, where can we look for models to learn the skills necessary to sustain a committed monogamous relationship? When only older adults or whites are seen getting married, it moves outside of the hip-hop generation’s perception of attainable goals. Our expectations or even desire to marry is a fantasy we cannot afford to have because as a generation so thoroughly and constantly disappointed by our models of marriage and each other; the idea of creating that bond is scary and unfathomable.
Thirdly, friendships become a familial substitute, which increases the space for men and women to discuss everything together without the responsibilities of a romantic relationship. It creates a space for emotional bonding but does not foster the skills necessary to create lasting emotional communicatively intimate bonds within sexual relationships.

Chapter II- When Ya Say Ya Love Me It Doesn’t Matter- Goes Into My Head as Just Chitta Chatta: Black Womanhood

Chapter II-

When Ya Say Ya Love Me It Doesn’t Matter-

Goes Into My Head As Just Chitta Chatta:

Black Womanhood

The black women portrayed in this chapter’s films are perceived as sexually manipulative, emasculating and untrustworthy. Simultaneously, these same characters are often developed in a way that supports sexist patriarchal models. For better or worse, newly re-sexualized images of black women update post-reconstructionalist racial stereotypes. When given an oppositional reading, the manipulative, licentious, Jezebel and emasculating, ball-busting Sapphire are more complex than they appeared. Within the confines of the given film texts, they are predictable and stereotypical. Based on the films I critique, these women are willing but unable to reach levels of emotional equality, communicative intimacy, and reciprocal vulnerability because of the lack of care and respect given to them by black men. The men in their lives treat them as objects for their pleasure with no thought of reciprocal care and support.

In the representations in these films, black women exist only in relation to the black men in their lives or lack of men thereof. The historical representations of black female strength and independence are now charged with the sexual energy and freedom the women’s movement provided for them. It could be argued that this strength and independence was largely based on the feminist notion of women not needing a man contradicting the reality of a lot of black women’s lives. They might not need a man, but many desire male companionship, comfort and care. Because of the lack of trust and expectations between black men and women, women’s desires are often unarticulated despite their actions betrayal of them.

The women in Boomerang, Mahogany, and She’s Gotta Have It are professional and upwardly mobile. They easily fitting into the hip-hop generations’ new mystique that black women are more economically stable than black men. The real economic hardships that plague the audiences were not these women’s concerns, furthering their role model positions in a filmic fantasy world and allowing their black female audience the fulfillment of their unspoken desires. In discussing the relationship between fantasy and the cinema, Elizabeth Cowie wrote,

…reality is realistic in representation insofar as it conforms to the accepted conventions of representing. ‘Realism’ in representation can be seen both as a defense against fantasy and as a ‘hook’, involving the spectator in the fantasy structure ‘unawares’, and thus as froe-pleasure. This making real of what isn’t real reaches an extraordinary culmination in cinema,… For not only does cinema offer the specularisation of fantasy, but it offers this as a real experience, at the level of auditor and visual perceptions (366).

The women in these films represent lives with no practical everyday difficulties and as such their main concern was ultimately satisfying their own desire for male attention and affection.

It must be noted here that while films like Daughters of the Dust, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Losing Ground, and 30 Years to Life by black female filmmakers such as Julie Dash, Leslie Harris, Kathleen Collins-Prettyman, and Vanessa Middleton are also important examples of how black women are portrayed in the context of black loving relations; I have chosen to focus upon three films that were key to mainstream cinema’s affect on the social development of women of the hip-hop generation. It is also important to note that when black women attain the opportunity to shape the portrayal of blacks in visual media, as Dash et al have, the portrayals begin to achieve the complexity and insight necessary to reach my definition of loving. Yet because these films were independently produced, they arguably have made little social impact on the relationship practices of members of the hip-hop generation because of limited mainstream distribution.

In Mahogany, Chicago aldermanic hopeful Brian Walker woos aspiring fashion designer Tracy Chambers. Their courtship is classic Hollywood romantic drama; except in classic Hollywood studio system, blacks were not allowed to play the ambitious man and the career girl roles. The chemistry between these two actors made the affections believable and textural.

Brian and Tracy are playful and affectionate– behaviors not commonly seen in films featuring blacks until that point. (They have a similar dynamic in Lady Sings the Blues.) Williams courts her. They like each other and have a good time together. They fight, laugh and love together; even moving toward reciprocal vulnerability and communicative intimacy. They do not achieve emotional equality because Brian is too resistant to Tracy’s ambitions. She finds a way to create a space for herself in Chicago to aid him in his campaign and show her designs, despite his insistence that his work was more important than hers. She is supportive of his dreams, which by films end he never attains, while in the same time span she has lived what seems like two lifetimes but is incomplete without him.

Brian and Tracy’s relationship mirror the social changes of the black community as a whole. Their love being torn apart reflects other social conflicts of the mid-late 1970’s. Each character shows a side of the black struggle for identity after the civil rights movement. Brian’s main concern is the rebuilding and empowerment of the black community. He wants to do the grassroots work necessary for self-sufficiency. Tracy wants to reap the benefits of desegregation and explore her identity by moving outside of the community to experience the different social and cultural milieu that has been made more accessible. She uses her body to get there. Like her ambitious and misguided artistic progeny of the rest of the century participating in “a wide variety of videos, photos and other aspects of creative production and marketing, women who are called “hotties” or more derogatorily “video hoes” or “skeezers” are willing participants in their own exploitation” (Rose 169).

She loves him but she wants to see life outside of the South Side of Chicago while for Brian his life is the South Side of Chicago. She supports and respects Brian’s political aspirations, while he feels she should spend more time helping him empower black people than making pretty dresses for white ladies to wear.

Jane Gaines describes the larger social struggle between Brian and Tracy as the “two struggles which structure the film: the struggle over the sexual objectification of Tracy’s body in the face of commercial exploitation, and the struggle of the black community in the face of class exploitation. But the film identifies this antagonism as the hostility between fashion and politics, embodied respectively by Tracy and Brian, and it is through them that it organizes conflict and, eventually, reconciliation” (407).

Tracy leaves Chicago, goes to Rome, and becomes a supermodel named “Mahogany” by the psychotic photographer who discovers her. Brian is confronted by the world she desires and inhabits versus the Tracy he loves. Tracy now internally identifies with the egotistical objectification thusly becoming “Mahogany”. They fight in her apartment when she tells him nobody loves him because he is a loser and he tells her “success means nothing without someone you love to share it with”. This conflict corresponds with the women’s liberation movement and the common teaching that women do not need men. She eventually comes back to Chicago after becoming a huge success in Europe. He asks her if she will love, cherish, and stand by her man if she got him back to which she emphatically answers, “YES!” ending the movie with their kiss.

How is this loving? Since the movie is posited from Mahogany’s point of view, the audience sees her transformation from poor art student/ department store secretary to super model to “mega hit” designer. We witness firsthand the selling of pieces of her self associated with success in the “white world”. She sold her imagined self back into the mainstream and was rewarded for it. The adoration she receives from her fans and friends eventually “means nothing” because she does not have her black man “to share it with.” Yet, Tracy’s emotionally unequal relationship with Brian does not provide the space for her to articulate her desire to be loved for herself (whoever that is) and not simply for her accomplishments. She apparently abandons her success for a man who cannot acknowledge her beyond his own desires; and does not appreciate or respect her hard work and personal sacrifices regardless of agreeing with her goals or not. Black female personal sacrifice for black males has historically been a linchpin in the Civil Rights movements.

Brian believes personal sacrifices must be made for collective freedom. Despite her successes, he was the fulfillment of a middle class dream of creating success within the black community to create economic, social and political control. This control rests on the perpetuation of a patriarchal model. Middle class success was not only financially rewarding, but also garnered the distinction of being a credit to the race. Tracy must fit into his world because he is not interested in understanding hers. Black women are shown that their safety and survival relies on standing behind black men. Brian’s constant and unwavering loyalty to black people makes him a hero despite his inability to empathize with his female counterpart’s dreams. By offering herself sexually to a white man, after rejecting the black man who loves her– regardless of their interpersonal problems, she must be punished. The perspective outcome of this film can only be that black women’s sexuality is for black male use only regardless of the level of care, understanding and support reciprocated.

Tracy is punished for her individualistic counterrevolutionary and emasculating actions; first by a near fatal car accident at the hands of her original white savior, the fashion photographer, after his failure to perform sexually with her. She is punished a second time, for the same reason, after her second white savior finances her clothing line and expects her to sleep with him as repayment. These examples reinforce the idea that white men only want black women for sex and black women- to attain social status and financial security- are willing to give it to them, thus proving their licentiousness.

The moral of the story becomes how Tracy-cum-Mahogany demonstrates trusting whites corrupts success causing one to lose one’s self and the adoption of their standards leads to destruction. Or perhaps Mahogany/ Tracy comes to the realization that, despite the sacrifices made by those who worked to get her the freedom to even become Mahogany, in order to be in a loving relationship where emotional equality, reciprocal vulnerability and communicative intimacy- sacrifice of self must be made. We do not know. All we get to see is that she misses Brian and leaves her life as a designer in Rome behind to return to him. Her personal desires and motivations other than Brian are unspoken.

He loves her, and she loves him. They are going to compromise (well — she is going to compromise) to build together on the South Side of Chicago. It is Mahogany’s sexuality and exoticism that made her a star in Rome. On the South Side, she gets to be Tracy and to be a star because her man is a star. This film supports the patriarchal black bourgeois standard of life that corresponded with traditional civil rights and Black Nationalist traditions in the midst of the black filmic sexual revolution occurring around it.

It reinterpreted the classical patriarchal models of romantic dramas of the ‘30’s and 40’s when career girls chose having husbands and families as enough to fulfill them. We do not know if she really had to give up her dream, but the movie’s ending shows that he definitely is not, and she is definitely going to be with him. Ultimately, Mahogany had to relinquish her power and status to get her man, because she had to have a man.

As the social climate changed and the idealism of the civil rights movement became the bitter reality of the Reagan years, the gulf between classes widened and many blacks were struggling to make ends meet. The new burgeoning middle class was still reaping the benefits of their material comfort and position. Young women and men were exploring the new opportunities as Tracy did, only with the egotism of the “me” generation.

As a sexually liberated woman rejecting black middle class sexual mores, Nola Darling in She’s Gotta Have It, is supposedly an independent, honest and self-sufficient woman who has to have “it” – it being sex. She surrounds herself with black men whose insecurities (which were not touched upon during the machismo of Blaxploitation but felt much more under Reagan’s thumb) are more readily seen. Her male entourage not only sexually fulfills her, but also each represents something different for her. There was Greer, the precocious Buppie fashion model; Mars, the comedic underemployed homeboy; and Jamie, the sensitive blue-collar stoic. They were all parts of a whole. This greedy desire to create one man out of three is the same cynical behavior hooks believes, “leads young adults to believe there is no love to be found and that relationships are needed only to the extent that they satisfy desires… Relationships are like Dixie cups. They are the same. They are disposable…Committed bonds (including marriage) cannot last when this is the prevailing logic. And friendships or loving community cannot be sustained” (All About Love 116). Greer best described her behavior when he said that Nola had created a ” 3 headed-, 6 armed-, 6 legged-, 3 penised- monster”. All of whom have more control over her body and mind than she does. Jamie kept asking her what she was looking for and she could not articulate her feelings.

Nola spouts a self-controlled dogma but behaves as a woman fully self-identifying with the role each of the men assigned to her. Like Tracy in Rome, Nola neglects the responsibility of self-definition because her self worth is based on her ability to perform sexually and be seen as a sexual object. Tracy and Nola both are reflective subjects in the eyes of those who look at them. “The mirror image can no more be assimilated than any…privileged objects, yet the subject defines itself entirely in relation to it. As a consequence of the irreducible distance which separates the subject from its ideal reflection, it entertains a profoundly ambivalent relationship to that reflection. It loves the coherent identity which the mirror provides. However, because the image remains external to it, it also hates the image” (Silverman 344).

It could be argued that Nola’s behavior, like the young women in music videos, is a “sort of exchange in which women do the pursuing can be interpreted as a mode of female empowerment. These women are choosing their sexual partners (more aggressively than most women do in regular situations) and collecting sexual experiences not unlike men do” (Rose 169-70). What Nola is really doing is trying to sexually satisfy an unknown desire due to her lack of self-reflection. Tracy was of a different generation and saw her sexuality as a patriarchal transaction for material gain while Nola’s is endemic of a generation of people defined from the outside with little interiority.

Writer/ director Spike Lee’s imitation of the dominant cinematic traditional male gaze dictates that his depiction of a sexually free woman equates her with being a freak. Nola hated the word “freak” like she hated the word “normal”. Greer tells her that she needed psychiatric help, that maybe she was a nympho. Only to have a female doctor tell her that she has a normal, healthy sex drive. The doctor tells her that total female sexuality begins with the beautiful sex organ between her ears not between her legs. Nola does not take that affirmation to a level of self-reflection, and continues to relate her own self worth only as a sexual being. Despite the use of monologue through out the film, Nola is only a mouthpiece for male desire and fantasy. The initial reading is that Nola and her partners are having a confluent love affair. “Confluent love,” Giddens writes:

…develops as an ideal in a society where almost everyone has the chance to become sexually accomplished; and it presumes the disappearance of the schism between ‘respectable’ women and those who in some way lie outside the pale of orthodox social life. Unlike romantic love, confluent love is not necessarily monogamous, in the sense of sexual exclusiveness (63).

Nola’s alleged control of her own sexual agency was a smoke screen to disguise a misogynistic sexist work pretending to be about black female sexuality. Nola’s consent to rape is not about loving. As she says, “It’s really about control. It’s my body, my mind. Who’s gonna own it? Them or me?” Unfortunately, those questions go unanswered. During Jamie’s attack on Nola he was barking the question “whose pussy is this?” to which Nola’s declared that it was his, simultaneously giving him the power and the orgasm he required. In the end, Nola became the victim of what could have been an interesting discussion on black female sexual empowerment—if she actually had any power.

Nola is “a patriarchal design: the sexually and mentally dispossessed woman whose body is a conquered terrain where men game, hunt, and create territorial boundaries through dating, marriage, and paternity. Nola’s relationship to Jamie, Mars, and Greer reflects such a patriarchal construct. Her dependence on them resembles the colonized racial object’s relationship to the sociopsychic forces that construct the colonized” (Reid 96). There is little space in these films for a woman to have control over her own body. The three men’s insistence on dominion over Nola’s body negates her personal desires. Despite the display of Nola’s sexual freedom, inevitably she is still a male creation who allows herself to be controlled by not one but three men.

Boomerang‘s female protagonists, when positioned beside Nola and Tracy, are the culmination of a group of traits common among black female portrayals; but transformed in several interesting ways. Boomerang is a film about gender role reversal. It shows how a sexually compulsive man would react if his behaviors were exacted upon him.

Jacqueline and Angela are the counterparts to Indigo and Clarke in Mo’ Betta Blues. All of the women are dealing with a “doggish” man, Marcus. Only Jacqueline is the female version of a non-committal man. Jacqueline is sexy, sexual and holds a more powerful position over Marcus, who is used to being in that position thus idealizing Jacqueline the perfect woman to him. Her perfection is rooted in his attachment to superficial attractions since he never develops relationships past their sexual level.

All of the tricks and romantic manipulations Marcus routinely uses to seduce women backfire with Jacqueline. Yet, when she reappropriates his own manipulations against him, he easily succumbs. Marcus is not used to socializing with women in this way, in any way outside of the sexual. Jacqueline turns Marcus into the “woman” in the relationship. She reduces him to the vulnerable position usually occupied by women.

During one of their love making sessions she is on top of him asking him “who’s is it?” as Jamie did Nola, only this is consensual in that Marcus does not want to have an orgasm and have this woman have such control over his sexual pleasure. Interestingly, in director Reginald Hudlin’s DVD commentary, he states that “since the whole movie turns on him being ‘pussy whipped’, we really wanted to deliver the moment where he’s broke down” and this scene, after the sex act Marcus covers himself with a sheet, is the “visual summation of the premise of the movie ‘cause it’s such a girlish action that he suddenly feels naked and violated.” Jacqueline is therefore the ultimate emasculator, even reducing him to sucking his thumb. Bram Dijkstra states “[m]edical science had shown that indiscriminate indulgence permitted women to absorb ever more of their mate’s ‘masculinity.’ Thus, from a biological point of view, women were growing stronger the more promiscuous they were, while men were growing weaker with each encounter” (Dijkstra 350-1).

Angela is the “good girl” redemptive figure in Marcus’ life. She was the friend on the sidelines that his compulsion led him to after being emasculated by Jacqueline. She was the one who could reap the benefits of his newfound sensitivity only to have him lie to and cheat on her with Jacqueline in an effort to regain his manhood. Yet, she did not just sit back and take it like Indigo – she acted. She did not allow herself to be used and acquiesce to a man-sharing situation. She him left after confronting him honestly (and slapping him).

Her self worth was more valuable than just having a man around. She expressed to him how being vulnerable leaves one open to heartbreak by selfish people. She too controlled her own situation, but the relationship still highlighted the lack of trust between men and women. When she left- she left and did not look back. She went on to try to find herself and heal and just before she became too hardened; he came back. He came back to her months later with his new sense of love and having reprioritized his life told her he knew he loved her.

Angela and Jacqueline had been friends. In all of the films mentioned, the women have none of the female bonding the men do. (All of these films are also directed by men.) Black women are only given a voice in her bed and are voluntarily isolated from any supportive feminine contact. Men do not discuss women’s intimate friendships for fear of making visible partnerships where they are not the focus, much like the dominant media’s overall treatment of black sexuality. The unbalanced ratio of black men to black women in America breeds a culture of mistrust among black women vying for the attention of a lot of sexually compulsive men. The women in these films are in social and economic situations that make it difficult to have a larger pool of eligible candidates. Yet it is the lack of sisterhood that makes their lives appear empty when there is not a man around. Given these examples, it follows that lack of trust between women leads to a lack of loving in everyday life.

Since this was a mainstream studio production, Angela and Marcus reconcile because he realized he loved her and she loved him. She expressed her fear to him and trusted that he would not disappoint her again. But the final scene is of them walking off into the sunset discussing the new relationship. She wants to retain the autonomy she developed further during their separation. There is still a lack of trust, but more of a hope for trust. Angela, like Indigo, gets her man but she has more of a sense of herself than Indigo was felt to have, but Angela’s character was more developed than Indigo’s. She is more of a person than Indigo, Clarke, Tracy or Jacqueline.

Jacqueline was what Nola’s character was supposed to be. Jacqueline is comfortable having a sexual relationship with Marcus, only unlike Nola, she really is in control of her own sexual performance. She does not want anything from him but sex, and it appears that is all he has to offer her from her point of view. She is his boss and, like him, power turns her on. The power she has over men and the power the men hold turn her on. After Marcus became “pussy whipped”, according to the director, he became unattractive to her. She was the patriarchal ideal of manhood in a woman’s body without being masculine. It was an interesting gender switch. Jacqueline emasculated and feminized him by not acquiescing to his machinations. By not falling into the role he assigned to women, when she did not behave as he expected or needed her to, he assumed the feminine role. Jacqueline did this through both the power of her sex and the power of her position. This is a change from Mahogany’s Tracy who needs to share her success with a man. “In analyzing data collected from graduates of 28 selective colleges and universities, sociologist Donna Franklin found evidence of serious trouble with marriages where the wife was the dominant wage earner. The black women surveyed were much more likely than white women to have husbands who earned less; those who had been married were also more than twice as likely to have gotten divorced” (Cose “The Black Gender Gap”). This view of financially successful black women could arguably lead tot he conclusion that they only need black men for sexual satisfaction which further deepens the schism between black men and women.

The social effects of these particular portrayals is a general disrespect for women by black men, women’s acceptance of commodifiying hyper visual sexualization as reality, and the lack of expectation of love. Mahogany, She’s Gotta Have It, and Boomerang are three popular and easily accessible films available to the young women of the hip-hop generation when they were developing a sense of their places as women in this world.

The indifference for the personal and emotional well being of the women in these films reflects the cultural acceptance of disrespect and disregard for black women. This disrespect manifests itself in physical and emotional abuse by black men toward black women. Brian, for example, was not physically abusive toward Tracy, (as Jamie was to Nola), yet his lack of support does not emotionally foster the love he expected from her. His leaving her was a punishment of her success. The appearance of black female survival, within the mores of patriarchy, feminizes black men, as shown by Marcus’ character in relation to Jacqueline. The inability to perform the much-desired male patriarchal role contributes to the lack of social power and position. This, I believe, is one of the factors that led to the explosion of sexually degrading images of black women in music videos. This lack of trust in black women’s success leads black male media producers to create images of black women that feed into the white supremacist stereotypes of black women under the auspices of “celebration” of black female sexuality. On the other hand, the new common description of women as gold diggers and the popularization of that image in songs and videos displays the schizophrenic relationship black men have with black women. While black women are complicit in still showing up for the music video casting calls to populate these images, the artists could create work that is not so unloving.

The media’s constant assault on black women as hypersexual, compounded with the lack of care being offered by black men, leads many women to accept and manifest the ontology of the images presented of them. Laura Mulvey discussed women’s exhibitionist role as a “to-be-looked-at-ness” in terms of the male gaze and male desire (383). Yet when examining the racialized fetish of the black woman who is simultaneously sexualized and desexualized, that same degree of “looked-at-ness” becomes an acknowledgement of existence. When in the white American beauty/ value aesthetical hierarchy what is most valued is the antithesis of the black American cultural aesthetic of beauty, the desire to be desired- or even seen trumps the respect due her as a human being. “Clearly, negative stereotypes and myths regarding black women’s sexuality are prevalent within American culture and reflect her devalued position within it. That such falsehoods persist, that they are continuously propagated in the literature and mass media, speak directly to black women’s oppressed status in American society. It is as a result of their powerlessness that so often they are denied the freedom of self-definition, and instead must struggle constantly to ‘defy culturally imposed negative identities’ (qtd. in Brown and McNair). Black men, in hip-hop for example, reappropriate these negative identities and appear to honor them while simultaneously doling out emotionally abusive lyrics to songs or dialogue in movies (such as, worshipping shapely thighs and calling women “hos” at the same time), further deepening the distrust between black men and women.

When black women do not feel respected by the men they historically love and care for, they have no expectations of being in committed loving relationships with black men therefore they settle for non-loving sexual situations. The fear of vulnerability among the hip-hop generations women is a fear to expose themselves to men who now actively participate in a culture that has commodified hatred of black women. “Black male hip-hop artists who receive the most acclaim are busy pimping violence; peddling the racist/sexist stereotypes of the black male as primitive predator” (hooks, Cool 60). Salt, of hip-hop group Salt ’N’ Pepa, succinctly sums up the growing feeling among young black women: “I just want to depend on myself. I feel like a relationship shouldn’t be emotional dependence. I, myself, am more comfortable when I do not depend on hugs and kisses from somebody that I possibly won’t get. If I don’t get them then I’ll be disappointed. So if I get them, I’ll appreciate them” (qtd. in Rose 175).

My $.64 on that lady that needn’t be named

Today some crazy racist terrorist went into a Black church, prayed with some people then shot them. That’s real. In a state with no hate crime laws. That’s real. Will they fly their Confederate flag at half-mast? Real question. So let’s put this silly bitch to bed.  I’d written it a few days ago for this website, but today it just seems silly. & I’m so tired.  Here you go:

2992B1B200000578-3128908-Wedding_day_Dolezal_and_Moore_got_married_in_2000_but_the_couple-a-10_1434592741412Everything’s fun and games until Rachel Dolezal gives an interview on the Today show.

Look, I had as much fun as anyone last weekend playing #AskRachel. As a black lady, I needed to laugh to keep from crying about seeing a little girl with her braids pulled, face pushed in the dirt with a cop’s knee in her back cause she wanted to swim in what was obviously the wrong neighborhood. I couldn’t even watch that video (haven’t is more accurate). Then came this silly bitch.

And that’s just it. She’s not stupid, not in the least. But race shit has driven her crazy. Well, welcome to the fucking club. Race is a terrible construct created for money, power and control. It has no redeeming features at all. It’s made up. Even my black self would be a bunch of different races based on where I am in the world. But regardless, I can’t tell anyone “I identify as white”.

But here’s the difference, I wouldn’t want to. I’ve been having my own race musings since moving to England particularly and having race conversations with my brown father in law who identifies as colored.

But what is it exactly that makes me want to choke the shit out of Rachel?

The fact that she can identify as black as much as she wants, but at any moment she can “decide” to become a white lady again.

Being black is more than a whipped do and some self-tanning cream. And her doing her social justice work is excellent, I just don’t know why she couldn’t do it in the skin she’s in.

More importantly is the fact that dumb ass Matt Lauer told her she’s begun a very important conversation on race. See, she still is in full usage of her white privilege. Blacks have been having this conversation since before Plessey, but now she get’s “outed” as white and quits her job at the NAACP. If she were really in it for social justice, she wouldn’t have put that branch of that organization in peril.

And who were the people who knew she was white and went along with her foolishness? This is where we get into socially constructed race. She looks like mothers and grandmothers of my friends (which says something else since she’s not an old woman, but lies will make your black crack, apparently). She looks like women and men I knew, in my family, all around me. My mother and I still argue about my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Jones who I say was white and mom says was black. Race is made up. And made up of the skin tones of Africans + every other person on the planet. Period.

But you know who doesn’t give a fuck about Rachel and this stupid conversation? The Dominicans of Haitian decent who are getting deported back to HAITI this week. To the girl’s family in Baltimore who doesn’t get to tell anyone what she identifies as because she was raped and murdered. To that baby who was thrown to the ground like a ragdoll by an out of control cop at the behest of some white ladies who began a fight with children over a swimming pool.

This world is nauseating. Oh, and has Nestle pulled all of the water out of California yet, or that community that needs to water their golf course, how are they doin?

But Rachel, who sued our mutual alma mater Howard University, for racial discrimination against her when she was still white (oh wait, she’s been identifying as black since she was 5…her story is a narcissistic web of lies) now gets to go on The Today Show because I helped her trend on Twitter. Here comes the book, the tour, the movie and I helped, because sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying. I knew this would happen, and she’s gonna do it. She’s gonna Sarah Palin her way into hearts and minds.

We laughed last weekend. Now we need to pay very special attention to this conversation, because it’s going to turn really bad, really soon. We’re talking about identity and racial identity and there are few things more fragile in the world of social media.

A Conversation About Race & Choice

Charity Thomas Part 2 : A Conversation About Race & Choice (by Everyday People Project)

Traveling while black


Okay, so I’m in Tulum, Mexico. Tons of Italians (apparently August is their month off) and my friend Simone says Argentians. She’s deduced this from all the staring. And I don’t mean a curious look of not expecting a person of color (who’s not Mexican and in service of some manner). I mean a fork in the air- mouth open-full minute stare upon entering a room. Sitting at a table of compatriots and everyone at the table fully turning around and staring boldly even after the party of color- namely my friends and I- are seated and going about ordering cervezas. Sunni says it’s because I’m beautiful that the children stare (thanks honey, right back at you). I buy that but what explains the adults? There are few cultures left on the planet in which this degree of staring without speaking is acceptable and many more where it’s downright rude. When I give my friendly “Hola” there’s no response. Of course, they’re mainly Europeans and I must admit I don’t expect many human courtesies from them- sorry. But the staring must stop.

On the other hand, I must say that during this trip I’ve never been so happy to see black people in my life. Remember, I’m from segregated Chicago and honestly believe that there are black people everywhere. Or, at least, we’ve been there. The people I know have been all over the globe so I don’t believe I’m like James Baldwin when he went to Sweden. But, maybe I am. Dude. My people. We’ve got to travel more. It’s fucking cheap down here. and a black person told me about it. Only here it’s clothing optional (as I believe the entire beach is here in the Mayan Riviera) and I’m constantly aware of the historical context of my naked body (naked HOT! body). The reality of the skinny women in bikinis give me visions of Aushwitz. It’s very disconcerting. I do love that the Spanish and Italians have some meat on their bones. The Americans are crazy skinny or crazy fat.

But being black gives me the feeling of unwanted novelty. I’m obvious everywhere and everyone remembers me. It was easier to think about when my friends were here. But today as my first full day alone, we’ll see. I don’t want to go to the pounding techno music party in Playa but to one closer to home at Mezzanine down the beach. I was there last week con mi amigos. Lets see what happens when I go alone, dancing and a little drunk hopefully. We’ll see what the interest is then.