Friday, March 21, 2014

Possibilities & Personhood: Selfies, Women of Color, and Healing from White Supremacy

“We’re so erased. …If you’re a person of color, if you’re a woman, if you’re from a poor family, if you’re from a rural family, if you’re from a family who worked like dogs and never got any respect or a share of the profits - you know that 99 percent of your stories ain’t been told. 
In any fucking medium. And yet we still have to be taught to look, and to tell our stories. …Despite the utter absence of us, it’s still an internal revolution to say wait a minute, we are not only worthy of great art, but the source of great art.” - Junot Díaz
I don't take selfies; or at least, I haven't done it on a normal basis. I posted an "ugly Xmas sweater" look on Christmas Eve on facebook once. I posted a photo of how cute I looked for a Carnaval bloco, too. I own an instagram, a tumblr, a twitter, and facebook account, and I rarely post selfies. But I am friends with those who do. All of them are women of color, especially black women. I love selfies, and they are essential, because I see me.

I.
I am often told by many black Americans (whose ancestors arrived centuries earlier) that I am incredibly lucky to have immigrant parents: to know how sweet it is to be in close proximity to a well-defined ethnic group. Accordingly, it is a privilege to know what your direct lineage is. This has been said to me despite not being able to visit West Africa until I was 21. This has been said to me despite being acculturated into American blackness, by my parents choice. 

Jollof rice, highlife, and Twi did not prevent my predominantly white neighborhood from swallowing me into invisibility. Seeing my parents did not prevent me from being unable to see my own reflection, even when I looked in the mirror. Seeing family members did not prevent me from being unable to fantasize myself in dream worlds as a child without viewing myself as a white girl.

Here is evidence that being erased, even when you exist, is psychologically damaging. When I was a child, I believed so many career paths and opportunities were closed off to me because I didn't see any black woman, who I'd eventually become, doing those occupations. When I was a child, I believed fun without fear wasn't for black girls: zip-lining, swimming at friend's pools, buying Spice Girl dolls. Even venturing from these ideas was coined as "being white" - i.e., even when was viewed as trying to assimilate into whiteness, whereas they may have just liked something for the sake of it, was still seen as being an "other." I didn't deserve my grades as being a smart and clever black girl: I received those grades, according to classmates, for trying to assimilate into whiteness. Being "smart" is "being white," apparently.
Sometimes, I didn't even (subconsciously) want to be acceptable (re: white, but I'd never have admitted it). It seemed like Japanese and Chinese girls would always be considered cute, smart, playful, w/e. I had to learn that I tokenized them and I had learned that from white people. I also had to learn that I longed to be them because they were not touched by blackness. Likewise, I didn't understand that my childhood attraction to Anglo or East Asian dudes was another way of leaving blackness.
When I was a child, I didn't think black girls were pretty, even though I didn't really think of our multitudes and variations; but I knew a certain kind of black girl would be viewed as pretty, worthy of (an albeit, compromised and tokenized kind of) respect. I also knew I would never be that girl: I was was darker, very African looking, had the hair that had to be straightened, and didn't sound bougie or like I had a white parent. 
I had learned that I had no power, and carried that with me until I was 17.

II.
My curiosity, bravery, and will saved me from suffocating in that psychological violence. I had to learn how to unlearn, how to vomit out the toxic stuff - how to survive with whatever was left of me, and to rebuild myself. Studying history, studying the history of black people in the United States was, and continues to be, a solution to healing. I unlearned shame by learning the context of that shame. I learned pride, survival tools, and closure - this is why I am investing my time into it as my life's work.

But that wasn't necessarily enough. Sure, I'm seeing successes and gains and the strength and power my predecessors had in the past - but the present is just as important as the past. This Cassie was growing, definitely, but still empty.
I had moved from feeling invisible, to sort of visible, to okay: I could admit that I was pretty sometimes, but I was just existing. Makeup was not exciting to me, I still felt limited in what I could wear, and what was available didn't look flattering on me. It got a little better over the years: sometimes, I was really feeling myself.

Because of tumblr.

III.
There a countless people who are quick to dismiss tumblr as a black hole; sometimes, I am one of those people. There are many things about it that I really dislike/I find problematic. But even as the site is difficult, it can be affirming too. It was here that I came into community with girls just like me.

You cannot underestimate it: the feeling of being connected. Of seeing other girls have the same experiences as you, the same problems. Similar interests, dislikes, pains and sorrows, joys, illnesses and disorders and traumas. But all different voices, all different versions of yourself, even when you are all black. There is an intimacy in finally having access to those voices, after being starved almost two decades for this.

It is not only affirming to see words, but pictures too. The people I followed posted so many pictures of the girls and women, mostly black, often women of color, and rarely white. Women of color, doing everything: writing, dancing, singing, teaching, screaming, smiling, crying, numb, exuberant, living, and dying.
They also posted themselves doing the same things; but every photo was different and varied. Personal and impersonal. Neutral, normal, valid; when I was a child, those words were reserved for white girls. Why was I so attached and giddy and proud over these simple selfies?
I don't feel affirmed just seeing any picture of a black person, especially if it's chosen to be in the image of/approximation to whiteness. Are you capturing a kind of solidarity or community with me? Are you owning your humanity in the photo? Do you have control over the photo? And are you free in that control?

99% of the time, yes. It's not designated for white consumption; it's not even about my consumption - it's about the picture being theirs and whatever they would like to do with it. It signifies humanity and personhood; away from whiteness and independent of whiteness. The possibility of being possible on one's own terms.

That makes me feel more my own. To honor myself, dress up, smile, speak up, and do the things that I wish to do. To contribute to a community of possibilities, in a world that tells me the possibilities of love, pleasure, happiness, desire, success, and a prism of emotions is not allowed to me. Imagine if I had that as a troubled girl, with her issues invisible because the world was normalized and she didn't exist. 
This is why the majority of the people I follow are black girls and women of color. This is why they paint my pinterest boards. This is why I am studying abroad in the blackest part of Brazil. To reinforce possibility instead of closed doors. To reinforce my personhood.

That's why I'm behind selfies, because they are indeed healing. 
Maybe I'll be taking them more often.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Beyoncé dragging in the name of feminism is vile and racist.

I'm sure I don't need to write this post, as many women of color have added to the piles of articles on the net regarding white feminists' eagerness to discredit Beyoncé as a feminist. After the release of the self-titled album, I had quietly told myself that it wasn't worth to comment on, or else I would be livid for the rest of the year.

Yesterday morning, I came across this post.

"Beyoncé is not a feminist" articles are vile for several reasons.
1. Because they typically focus on her sexuality, they reinforce the notion that black women are worthless because they are viewed as inherently sexual, even if they take ownership of it. In addition to her wealth and power in the industry, she is cast as a Jezebel because she refuses to be a Mammy. This is why it is "heroic" for Miley Cyrus or Lena Dunham to express their sexuality, but not Beyoncé because as a whole we expect black women to become non-threatening if they are to maintain social links with white women.
2. No one posts articles about how Lena Dunham can't be a feminist because she said nothing when her best friend dated Terry Richardson and called him a friend, when Ani DiFranco tried to host a music retreat at a plantation, or when Kathleen Hanna played at an anti-trans women music festival. These mistakes/offenses are nothing to make light of; however, no one writes articles about how their "feminist cards" need to be revoked. Additionally, it reinforces the notion that when people of color make mistakes, the general public is less forgiving to them than their white counterparts.
3. In the era of Macklemore and Lorde, where songs against "urban music's so-called materialism" receive accolades, there is much being said about how that makes Beyoncé "unattainable," "unrelatable," and "only a narcissistic superstar who solely cares about her wealth." There's a hypocrisy (we don't complain about Madonna's wealth, or Paul McCartney's) and blatant ignorance re: context (many currently successful black celebrities came from working class or poor communities). If you had nothing in the beginning, why would you continue to live humbly when you finally have something?
4. One of the other issues that pops up in these posts concerns Beyoncé's lack of academic credentials in feminism, the idea that she must take courses or have read certain authors in order to take the title. This ignores that fact that feminist acts can be made without being read/educated in Western (specifically American) feminist lit and works, and that the grand majority of women who do what we would consider feminism do not go about their lives thinking of themselves as doing specific feminist work; however, we do not discredit the grand majority of women. It is something else to push artists who have been adamant about being non-feminists while those who proudly own the label are made to be pariahs.
5. Beyoncé is alienating to white feminists, eager to throw her under the bus, is because her feminism does not explicitly address their lives and concerns, but those of black women. In a society where "black" or "person of color" or "minority" means black men, and "women" typically means white women, it is startlingly to see a person use "feminism" but have all their stage crew be black woman, give jobs to black women, represent the multitudes of black women's lives, and puts a West African feminist on full blast, all without having to ask for forgiveness or approval. This is what is aggravating to white feminists who have beef with Beyoncé: she does not apologize for putting her experiences upfront while not catering to a group of people who want to control a label for themselves.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On Your Own Terms


I am an outsider looking in.
The first week in Brazil has been like looking at a kaleidoscope of emotions: curiosity, fear, loneliness, surprise, vulnerability, delight, and lost. It's incredibly easy to get lost and upset over things you have no control over, and in order to feel some kind of familiarity, you try to ease into behaviors that you normally would avoid, because its a way to feel some kind of solidarity, some kind of value outside yourself - and when you are hyper aware that its not your thing, you feel even more self-loathsome.

Remember to do you. Avoid the comparison games. Remember your purpose - remember the fights that you fought, the battles you won - what you struggled for: self-autonomy. Remember you have your own gifts to offer the world, unlike any other, and that it can only be done the way you imagine it to be done - the way your gut tells you it should be done.

Protect your dignity, individuality, and talents at all cost. Don't sell it away for comfort.

When it is all said and done, they should say "She did it in her own way."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mezzano.



September was mixed. It was confusing, awkward, and angry. Save for my very nice job and support (friends, fam, boyfriend), I broke various promises to myself and got involved in things that we're not worth my time. October will be settled down, chill, and a reaffirmation of my goals/another opportunity to get back on track. Here's a mix of what my life sounded like.

Words of Advice: It's better to try and believe in yourself than to wallow in anxiety or self-pity for fear of not achieving your goals. Be brave and bring back the goods, as long as you're doing your very best.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I'll Bring Back the Goods: Self-Bread Winner Space Lady Champ

the question isn’t “how do i become more confident/less self-conscious". you have to let go of the confidence/self-esteem model completely to begin with, it is totalizing and self-effacing. a more interesting question is “what do i desire?” “what can i live through?”
I just finished a 24+ page single-spaced academic paper. Now that I know that I'm capable of writing seminar papers, I feel much much better about pursuing graduate study than I was before writing. It's very nice seeing what we "wish" or "want" be achieved by "doing." As such, the quote above is reflective of that, and reinforces my current mentality.

As of late, I've realized that I am again hitting a limit with certain things: jokes people tell, other people's company, what I'm willing to put myself into. In the past, I would feel somewhat upset that I wasn't into going out to bars and drinking or dancing, or that I couldn't indulge in "typical college social behavior." But now that I have a solid social circle, stuff that I want to be involved in, and coursework that is fulfilling to me, worrying about whether I'm a freak or w/e is a waste of my time.

The goal right now is not to waste my time, ever. You could also call this purposeful living.
The ultimate goal is to become the equivalent of a space babe heroine. 

Space Babe Heroine is the following:
Femme.
Strong, physically and mentally.
Resilient. 
Active and assertive.
Sensual.
Forward thinking.
Ridiculous and kitsch.
Never gives up.
Asks for help.
Loves very deeply.
And wears a uniform.

I'm embracing organization now, so I bought tons of folders and a white board and planner. I have a lot to achieve and do this by the end of the year. The soundtrack to my mindset is Homogenic by Björk (without the gross cover photo).


Friday, July 5, 2013

June 2013, or, What I learned indirectly from (and because of) my parents.


  1. Lambchop hair is the fucking bees knees. Keep twisting!
  2. Burn uncomfortable bras.
  3. Eat a piece of fruit and some sweet potatoes once a day. Don't buy fruit you won't eat. Make sure said food is readily available.
  4. It's okay to go back to the gym.
  5. Practice coping skills everyday, no matter what level of stress environment you are in. When you wake up, ask yourself how you feel, commit it to memory or write it down, and then repeat in the afternoon, the evening, and before you go to bed. Refer to your moods when you evaluate the next day.
  6. Be honest about when you're broke. Forget trying to be altruistic when your father has at least committed himself to taking care of you until you graduate college, even as your parents are freaking out because they're stressed out and broke too. Tell your parents when you're broke and you can't pay them HOA and utilities because you want to eat this month. They won't refuse.
  7. If you have a weird feeling in your gut, don't do it.
  8. Rent to people on your level, and make sure they understand what your boundaries and baselines are ahead of time. Being clean is a priority.
  9. Do not befriend your roommates. Be cordial, but they don't have to be besties. Your home is a business.
  10. If you can't write something from the beginning, then write from the end.
  11. If your hands get antsy whenever you touch your phone, you should begin to leave your phone at home. I know all of your music is on there, and you use it as an alarm clock - invest in a new iPod and a cute alarm clock.
  12. Update your Mac, delete your files, clean routinely.
  13. Even when you tell your dad to be kind to himself, it should be a reminder to also be kind to yourself. 
  14. "Mom reacted as expected. She kicked her mistake under the couch and kept moving. If I wanted to keep a parent, I needed to forgive and accept her as she was - a 60 year old woman with an enormous capacity to love in the present, but never reconcile the past. I cut my losses and moved forward." - Calling Dr. Laura, p 251.
    1. It really sucks to have a panic attack on the freeway because you keep expecting your mother to respect your boundaries when time after time it is proven to you she never will. Remember not to take her so seriously, calm down, and just say okay, hang up, and go back to what you're doing. Cut your losses and move on.
  15. Drink a lot of water and raspberry tea.
  16. Eat your fruit discretely when fruit flies are patrolling your kitchen.
  17. You had a rough month - you don't have to hang out with people if you don't want to, even if they are in the same misery as you are. Don't be ashamed of admitting that you love hanging out by yourself/having your own space.
  18. Always do your best. Never waste anyone's (those people that you respect) time by doing less than your very best.
  19. ASK FOR HELP, GOD DAMN.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

When White Lady Privilege Goes Unchecked: Hard Femme and Erasure

Source: Lena Newt

We are all aware that white women have a problem when it comes to truthfully connecting with women of color, and especially black women. In our societal context, although white women continually advocate for a seat at the table for equality, there are no qualms with being racist to get to that table; and so, when interacting with black women, there can be an imperialist gaze, brought by white men, but utilized in a different form uniquely for white women.

I've observed this when I was on tumblr and within femme circles on the internet. I don't participate, but I do belong to a facebook group called Femme Realness (a sort of safe space for femmes to interact and talk to one another, find deals, etc etc). I am not enthusiastic about it because although it refers to itself as explicitly anti-racist, anti-transphobic, all the antis and calls itself inclusive, I rarely see brown or black women participating except for big names in the femme community - that is not inclusive (Hollywood is not racially diverse if its just Will Smith and Denzel Washington and Kerry Washington and Zoe Saldana are all that are visible). That lack of visibility is incredibly troubling when terms like "realness" are being co-opted from non-cis queers of color to communities that value and prop up cis femme white women. It intensifies the imperialist gaze, which others people of color and turns their culture into commodified props. 

Considering white women are indoctrinated into viewing black women as the extremes of non-femininity because they are opposite to white women (pure | evil / soft | hard / light | dark / beautiful | ugly / quiet | loud / virginal | wanton), black women get pathologized*. Because femme identity is subverting femininity by allowing anyone who identifies as femme to use that identity as a hammer against patriarchy and patriarchal creations of femininity, it is only natural (if one lacks or disregards anti-racist learning) that white women see black women's existence as hard femme: if for 500 years black women have been regarded as overtly unfeminine, tough, hard as nails, subversive to white supremacy, yes, white women are going to co-opt that shit, consciously or not. This is why in the #hardfemme tag on tumblr, you can have cis black women doing absolutely nothing and living their lives, or in extremes, black toddlers wearing hairbows and accessories (because black children never just get to be children), and having it be tagged #hardfemme. In the process, black women who actually ID as hard femme rarely get their voices or opinions out in the front, because, largely due to the trend of "group uniform" (which a single group that should naturally have varied opinions gets categorized as a single entity because of the large amount of visibility a small group of people have; i.e., see read tumblr feminists, think "brightly hair dyed pit hair growing flower crown wearing abortion rights wanting capitalists"), erasure happens and they no longer exist or, rather, they exist as mascots and tools for the larger white movement and their needs. 

Of course, this goes beyond small movements on the internet. The show Girls, famous for its lack of women of color even as the show is set in NYC, has no qualms about not giving visibility to women of color, even as they play their exotic, "bad" music (Lady's Yankin' and Santigold's Girls), the white lead woc sidekick syndrome, and always being background in advertising, fashion shoots, and cartoons (again, unless they are big stars see Naomi Campbell, Devon Aoki, Alek Wek, etc).

It's no surprise that when the need for intersectionality is pointed out, it gets ripped to shreds, as anti-intersectionality feminists are actually white supremacists.

* It should not be misunderstood that other women of color can internalize racist imagery against black women as well. Everyone is capable of anti-black misogyny.