AAE, Actually: Black English as Literal Gag

Saturday Night Live had a little fun recently by poking a little fun at the 2016 presidential election. It’s a digital video short—a parodic take on the iconic note card scene from the movie Love, Actually.

All the big punchlines are about Hillary putting in some overtime for the holidays. Hillary’s making the rounds with a particularly persuasive cache of giant note cards, to cajole white female delegates into changing their minds and casting their electoral college votes for her instead of Trump. The note cards’ captioned Black English is a clever comedic prop, a literal gag where she’s not allowed to speak. Rather, she must soldier on, quietly and supportively. You know, the way a nice lady is supposed to behave. And poor ol’ Hills… overachieving as always, giving it her all and trying to keep it “cute and on mute” in her last-ditch effort to win over just enough faithless electors to reverse Trump’s victory.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Watch what happens at 1:06-1:11; 1:39-1:43; 2:18-2:28. Check out the discursive leveler, zero copula, final consonant reductions, and number concord inversion… But as we know, and the post-election data clearly indicates, the real gag is in the silent majority of white voters who chose a pussy-grabbing sexual predator over a competent and seasoned stateswoman who was—quite arguably—the most qualified presidential candidate in modern US history.

Chapter 15 of this book can tell you more.

postracial hauntings book cover

The Battle for Equality Is a WIRED Issue

Serena Williams isn’t just a tennis champion and singularly great athlete; she’s been a leader in the fight for equal representation and pay in her sport.

Source: The Battle for Equality Is a WIRED Issue

Women’s Health: Team Pink v. Team Purple?

I’ve always thought it strange how Breast Cancer Awareness takes place during the same month as Domestic Violence Awareness — both in October, signified by pink and purple ribbons, respectively. Aside from the feminized color palette (pink and purple = “girly” colors), it’s also unfortunate because this timing seems to pit one vitally important women’s health issues against the other. Make no mistake about domestic violence being as much a health issue as breast cancer; up until the Affordable Care Act was passed, both were considered pre-existing conditions for which women were routinely denied health insurance!

IMG_0776-1.JPGIndeed, the concurrent timing of these awareness campaigns almost seems to suggest that no more than one month can be devoted to women’s health at a time. The manner in which we talk about cancer and abuse differ considerably. Breast cancer’s impact on the women and loved ones of those afflicted by the disease tends to be viewed far more sympathetically than matters affecting women dealing with physical and emotional violence at the hands of their romantic partners. Women who’ve overcome cancer are rightfully called “survivors,” whereas women who have triumphed over the tolls of physical and emotional battery are more often than not referred to as mere “victims,” at best. Worse yet, society often holds domestic abuse survivors in disdain and personally blames them for their situations. In terms of which of these two awareness campaigns receives the most media attention and fundraising dollars, unfortunately, it’s pretty clear: boobies trump bruises every time.

These are among just a few of the reasons why I decided to take up the cause of domestic violence by spearheading and organizing the English Matters Colloquium (EMC) Town Square this evening. Finally, after months of planning, the EMC Town Square culminates our months-long cell phone donation drive in partnership with the Fayetteville alumni and Fayetteville State University’s undergraduate chapters of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in hosting a forum with local area activists and experts in the area of domestic violence.

I’m especially delighted because this is the largest community outreach event the FSU Department of English has ever sponsored. For me, it’s important that humanities departments assume a leadership role in shaping conversations of this magnitude and scope. I think it’s crucial that cultural studies help society rethink the discourses of domestic abuse in terms of the way the media singles out communities of color. It’s valuable work for English departments to help in removing the shame and stigma associated with domestic violence.

Because of the particular circumstances faced by our campus community, topics we’ll be discussing include:

* issues in HBCU and African American contexts
* military families and wartime environments
* cyberstalking and computer safety
* gender stereotypes (e.g., same/opposite sex couples)
* support and understanding for victims (not judgment)
* local advocacy programs and intervention opportunities

And, since it’s homecoming week, we’re looking forward to a major turnout tonight too.

#FSUNOHOE

Blowing Up or Selling Out: Carol’s Daughter & Scents of Nostalgia

A Black Cosmetic Company Sells, Or Sells Out? : Code Switch : NPR.

I remember when she started as an apothecary in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue. It was in the early 90s… She used heavy mason jars, essential oils of ylang ylang, bergamot, sandalwood with *actual* jasmine flowers — all made to order and combined to heal. Her potions and balms were an indulgence and were more than affordable considering the quality. I used her baths and oils to pamper my young babies and spoil myself whenever I could and could not afford it. (She was artisanal before artisanal was a “thing” and the originator of what Joan Morgan’s doing nowadays.)

A Black Cosmetic Company Sells, Or Sells Out? : Code Switch : NPR

Fast forward a decade and a half
==>>  Department stores began carrying Carol’s Daughter after word caught on. Once time had passed I noticed a decline in more than just the packaging and now I can’t tell the difference between Tui Oil and Hot 6

Though to be perfectly fair, I’m not the same hand-dyed-gele-headwrap-wearing-radical-vegan these days, m’self… I’ve made more than my fair share of personal adjustments over the years trying to pay bills just like everybody else.

Who am I to criticize? And if I really think about it, it’s been Carol Daughter’s — whether it be her originally sourced ingredients or outsourcing to L’oreal — that has inspired me to get back into my kitchen with my butters, mixers, and essential oils to indulge the scents and sensuality of my personal beauty routine and grooming habits.

So I say, Play on playa! Go on with yo’ bad self, Sista Lisa and tua u.  That last part means “thank you” in early 90’s Black Brooklyn speak. (And if you have to ask, you’ll never understand!)

Dear White Interviewer

I’ve not seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing Justin Simien’s film, Dear White People this weekend. Nevertheless, I’m already annoyed by the media’s tone in discussing the film. I’ve already picked up on a small sampling of apparent [white] media blind spots… It’s always disappointing, though unfortunately never too surprising.

Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Dear White People is a sly, provocative satire of race relations in the age of Obama. Writer/director Justin Simien follows a group of African American students as they navigate campus life and racial politics at a predominantly white college in a sharp and funny feature film debut that earned him a spot on Variety's annual "10 Directors to Watch."
Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Dear White People is a sly, provocative satire of race relations in the age of Obama by writer/director Justin Simien.

Case in point: I’m listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross and her interview with Simien today and hear the part of the interview where Gross describes the lead female character, Samantha White (played by Tessa Thompson). Ironically, even as Gross is asking Simien about the film’s themes on racial labeling and putting black people “in a box,” she refers to the black female character’s frustration and exasperation with white racism as “just angry” and “militant.”

In contrast, it’s difficult to imagine Gross so thoroughly disidentifying with, say, the depiction of a white protagonist (who is portraying a fellow radio host, no less!) and choosing to apply gender stereotypes like “unreasonable” or “just depressed” to a female character without at least attempting to take seriously the cultural and emotional (albeit, satirically portrayed) experiences of the character. I find Gross’s language choice indicative of how middle-American (read, white) moviegoing audiences are conditioned by the media to perceive black creative output so negatively. It seems to me, under different circumstances, Gross would strive to use more empathetic, nuanced language and go a little deeper than lazy, flat, racialized labels when talking to writer-directors about movie characters. It doesn’t seem too unreasonable an expectation since, ostensibly speaking, this is a quality for which Gross is so celebrated for as an interviewer. But nope… Gross instead selects reductive and dismissive language to frame topics related to the experiences and creativity of black people.

Anteeway… I’m going to check out this movie over the weekend and will post my thoughts depending on how the film strikes me.

#Grateful for the Life of Maya Angelou

Last week we lost another great one: Maya Angelou. Or, rather, Dr. Angelou, as she preferred to be called. When it came to addressing her by her honorific/title, nobody got a pass — not even Oprah.

Maya Angelou was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest University where she was Professor Emeritus and resided in Winston-Salem, North Carolina from her latter years up until her final passing. As a longtime North Carolinian, it seemed I was never more than one degree of separation from the artist-activist and attended several of her lectures and guest appearances over the years.As a public figure, Angelou was a towering presence — a descriptor that goes far beyond her once elegant frame. In her role as private citizen, apart form her public persona, I had a few occasions to partake of her charm and wit, though I also gleaned how Angelou could pose a rather intimidating — and at times downright disagreeable — presence.

It didn’t take much to note that Dr. Angelou would have no truck with any type of behavior she viewed as disrespectful or inappropriate. She had no problem whatsoever with instructing those around her in the correct manner by which they should conduct themselves in her company if they ever found themselves in the unfavorable position of not living up to her exceedingly high standards. Like all of us, she was a work in progress and maintained her strong ideals as something she expected herself and those around her to be continuously striving toward. Angelou was perfectly transparent regarding her own struggles to become a good Christian and decent human being.

The rhetorician in me is the part that will miss her most. As a scholar interested in the power of public address, it is her voice and the historical moment it represents that fascinates. Hearing the sonorous tones in her speech will always recall for me memories of the elderly church mothers I grew up listening to and imitating. The first row of churchgoing women took a special liking to me because of my ability to emulate their speaking when it was my turn to read the Sunday School card-class lessons, making me the happy recipient of whatever butterscotch or peppermint hard candies their patent-leather clutch handbags held. The way these white-gloved church mothers pronounced their words with such precision sharply contrasted with the staccato short-hand of my hip-hop contemporaries. Their earnestly delivered announcements of the weekly “sick and shut-in” list and hyper-proper recitations of Sunday scripture were uttered as if each syllable was deserving of its own special pew.

Maya Angelou’s high African American rhetoric, I believe, held audiences with rapt attention in a similar way. The expressivity of Angelou’s speech embodied sonic vestiges of late-Victorian epistolary inflections no longer found in most African American communities. The radical eloquence demonstrated by Maya Angelou’s speaking style effectively operated to appropriate the “master’s language” and audibly articulate black agency in order to subvert de jure segregation and race-based educational discrimination. Her manner of speaking was meant to celebrate the tenacity of African Americans’ collective will not to merely survive, but indeed thrive — and with a flair for the erudite, to boot. With Maya Angelou’s passing this covertly political style of black speech will be missed in mainstream American media. Regretfully, for many, a pithy soundbite and a Hallmark card aphorism is all that is left.

picture of Mahogany greeting card with Maya Angelou quote: "Do not reject. Do not demand. You can have life in the palm of your hand."
Maya Angelou’s “Mahogany” line of Hallmark greeting cards.

Though in my mind — as an African American mother, and a scholar of writing and rhetoric — Maya Angelou posed much too significant a figure for the occasion of her death to be marked with nothing more than a social media hashtag or image file of her glamorous, youthful heyday, accompanied by little else beyond one of her many well-turned phrases. Whereas she was most popularly known for her short poems, I don’t think a cut-paste of “Phenomenal Woman” will do her justice. As Angelou herself often noted, she was clever with words. The subject of her attention to craft was at times a topic of great debate among other African American poets. Whether this is fair to Angelou’s literary contributions, I cannot say. Although I have studied and thought about poetry slightly more than the average American reader, I don’t fancy myself an expert on what constitutes “serious poetry,” nor do I necessarily assume expertise about assessing one poem as “good” and another as “bad.”

As a casual reader of memoirs, however, I most value Angelou’s talent as a writer of the autobiographical form. Of course, her first autobiography is also her most celebrated work.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings powerfully conveys Angelou’s gift for personal narrative. Her socio-historical account of individual capacity for greatness and resilience in spite of childhood trauma is rightfully recognized as a well-crafted memoir. It is through this genre of her writing that Angelou’s prose emerges with a special resonance. She shows herself to be a foremost chronicler of the latter part of the Jim Crow era in her story of growing up in Arkansas. Her rich anecdotes beautifully capture the turbulent times that led toward her fulfilling her unique cultural niche, and prepared her for the space she would eventually find herself occupying in the singular role of vernacular dance performer, civil rights activist, political fundraiser, and occasional agent provacatuer.

Maya Angelou as vernacular artist or self-described "shake dancer"
Maya Angelou as vernacular artist or self-described “shake dancer”

Perhaps because of my own experience as an expat and having once been a young, single mother living in Accra, Ghana, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is by far my favorite of all her autobiographical works. In this book, she describes how she took on the role of personal host and special consort to the likes of James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, among many other literary, political, and diplomatic luminaries of the Black Power and African Independence movements — all too numerous to name in this short reflection. Through this richly textured account of Angelou’s decade of wanderlust against the backdrop of mid-twentieth century Africa’s global decolonization movements, All God’s Children proved to be an indispensable companion during my sojourn year following the 9-11 attacks leading up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Angleou’s writing helped me better contextualize what I was encountering in the social and political turmoil I personally experienced while toggling between West African airports, local guesthouses, and gated estate communities. Fed up with stateside jingoism and hawkishness, reading Angelou’s prose provided me with meaning and gave context to the social and historical forces I saw in play. Her writing gave me the much needed explanatory power I sought for a better understanding of the cultural dynamics that I was seeing and experiencing first-hand: the coup d’etat in Ivory Coast, Liberian living conditions at UN refugee camps, and Ghana’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings, to name just a few of these life-changing events. Reading All God’s Children offers the perfect vantage point for understanding the ground that was laid by her generation of black woman cultural workers and gave me the strength to return home to North Carolina and assume my local share of the work required for bringing about a more expansive vision of global ethics as a black woman and as an American. Yes. This is what Angelou’s gift was to me, and to us all. She showed us how to strive to become better, more responsive Americans and citizens of the world.

Being Mary Janes or Being Moral Mules?

While partaking of various items in my websurfing diet I often find myself struggling not to get sucked too deeply into the veritable smorgasbord of mind-numbing, click-through slideshows. At the same time, I value and congratulate sites like Madame Noire and the constellating blogosphere within its close orbit. I like how it provides a viable platform for young black women to cultivate their voices and share opinions. So let me borrow a quote from one of the blog’s contributors when I say there’ll be no stank face over here.

Anyway, having recently found myself in the throes of binge-watching BET’s newest dramatic series, Being Mary Jane, I came across this blog post in today’s newsfeed. And as hyperlinking would have it, I found myself clicking to one content contributor waxing blogosophical about the social import of Being Mary Jane as somehow representing a cultural leap for black women. (Of course, I’m all too aware of the debates surrounding the applicability of “social import” when speaking of popular television shows and other trending media; that’s a blog post for another time.) The assertions about the show’s dramatic realism regarding the title character’s character match the general commentary made about the Kerry Washington vehicle, Scandal. For instance:

Being Mary Jane gives black women something shows with predominantly white casts have been hip to for a while now:  Our very own Walter White.  Dare I say, our first anti-hero.  She’s the woman we hate to love because she’s the perfect validation of the fact that villains have feelings too.

I understand the sentiment behind such perceptions, but beneath the accolades lies a flawed logic. The impulse to praise any opportunity in which black women can see their lived realities portrayed on screen, projected as multi-dimensional, nuanced leading characters is a temptation to be sure. However much beyond that, claims about cultural groundbreaking are farfetched. The concept of an educated black woman emotionally supporting her parents and extended family by succeeding through hard work and tenacity all while looking fabulous breaks new ground — really?

Mary Jane’s agonizing over the health of her living and unborn nieces, reciting the Lord’s Prayer on behalf of a terrified nation on live television, and baking awesome cakes from scratch for her mother’s birthday somehow makes her a villain of the highest order. Clearly, this assessment provides further evidence that assumptions about black female malfeasance have become so pervasive in our culture that other black women are themselves actively engaged in the vilification of black femininity. The logic doesn’t hold; black women having normal human appetites and unapologetically striving toward the fulfillment of those desires does not a monster make. As a black female character looking for love, good sex, and professional status, is Mary Jane an antihero? Does the shoe actually fit?

Yeah, okay. Mary Jane is evil because naughty noogy is exactly the same as being a meth-cooking, neo-nazi affiliated child-killer à la Walter White. I’ll buy that.

No, really I am buying it… every single month through DirectTV on demand. ”She pulled up her black fishnets and called in Verizon to come and watch…” It’s possible that I may not have gotten that quote absolutely correct. Oh, Zora, you were so wise! (I don’t care one bit about Richard Wright calling you a handkerchief head opportunist.) Indeed, “de nigger woman is de mule uh de world” as far as I can see too — especially when it comes to shouldering America’s social and moral burdens. Oh well, onward and upward! Episodes 4 through 8, here I come! And please, dear mother-goddess Afro-d!te, I promise I’ll be good if you don’t let Gabrielle Union kill anybody this season.

Ayy-Man!

South Carolina Politics and Racial Decorum by Anastasia of Beverly Hills

GOOD GRIEF! I will NEVER stop being absolutely flabbergasted by the power of EYE SHADOW in the New South. In case you haven’t noticed (in SC), a woman who goes out without her mascara is about as bad as a woman who leaves home without her bloomers!

Because of the exaggerated gender-norming etiquette down here people will assume you’re lazy, no-count, and simply write you off if you dare attend some public spaces bare-faced. True story. It’s jacked up, but I know how it is. I try to resist this conservative politics by playing with these ethics of “pretty-southern-lady” conformity.

In order to experiment with this concept and as a demonstration of my civic duty, today I chose to vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. I did so wearing full make-up face and dressed to the nines (like any *decent* Southern lady would, of course). I made an effort to dress stylishly, yet conservatively.

When I got inside there was less than a dozen other people. All white men (save one woman) and not a single person under 60 years old! The woman standing beside the door immediately greeted me with a huge smile and, for some reason, introduced herself to me as the wife of one of the men and that she was only there because of him. Seriously!! Of course, I responded with equal warmth, a huge smile, and nodded how I “completely understand” (whatever that was supposed to mean).

Now! anybody who knows me knows I *like* to play with make-up, clothes, and cute hair-do’s (so sue me!) —  I wore my favorite wellies, Karen Millen cape, and carried my Kate Spade handbag. I decided to accessorize with a pair of bronze/silver tone Akwaba doll earrings, plus an assortment of colorful, big bangle bracelets. It was raining hard when I pulled up to the polls, so when I got out of my car I decided to use my scarf to cover my head — as though it was an hijab. Once I walked in the door, for dramatic effect, I slowly unwrapped my scarf to reveal PURE AFRICAN CORNROW HAIR TWIST SPLENDOR! LOL! You would’ve thought a talking Panda had just entered the polling place.

It was hilarious. Every single one of those old white folk went out of their way to show EXTREME cordiality. I promise you, each and every one of them individually welcomed and greeted me! The whole room became chatty and smiley. And I was glad to oblige their hospitality! So I entered the booth, voted for the “Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrowsuper PAC candidate, Herman Cain.

AND HERE’S THE KICKER: When I exited the booth, one of the greyest, biggest of all the white men actually stopped me, SHOOK MY HAND, HUGGED ME, leaned in, and stage whispered, “So, who’d you vote for?” Then he slyly added, “Only joking.” The place broke into raucous laughter and everyone applauded as I left the polls!

Where else in America does this happen? South Carolina: too small to be a country, too big to be an insane asylum! Now here’s the question, folks. Has the South changed? You tell me.

The Cute Accused

Emanyea Lockett -- 9 year accused of sexually harrassing his teacher after he was overheard telling another student he thought his teacher was "cute."

There are loads of empirical studies on how quickly and inequitably many public school districts are willing to label black children as delinquent or pathologize them as sexually deviant. This is especially true when it comes to black boys. Here’s just one example that has recently made headlines. The following story is by Dedrick Russell:

GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) – Gaston County School district investigated an allegation of sexual harassment and declares the principal got it wrong.

It was reported a fourth grader at Brookside Elementary in Gastonia allegedly called his teacher “cute”, but the school principal reported the student used another word to describe the teacher.   The principal thought that was inappropriate and said it was sexual harassment.

The principal suspended the student for two days. Parents say the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

“Any teacher that would take that seriously,” Brookside Elementary School grandparent Irene Irvin said.  “I think she should have just shrugged it off and taken it as a compliment.”

The mother complained to the district about the suspension and that’s when the district launched an investigation. It found no sexual harassment happened. Now the district is regretting this happened.

“We will be sending an official letter of apology to the parents,” Gaston County Schools Spokesperson Bonnie Reidy said.  “Also the suspension will not count against the child and the child will receive additional instructional assistance to make up for the time out of the classroom.”

The incident has prompted the principal to retire. Parents are saddened he is leaving under these conditions.

“I’ve always agreed with the decisions he’s made,” PTA Leader Mandy Ballentine said. Reporter asked “Even with this case? “I would say yes,” Ballentine answered.  “It’s behind closed doors, don’t know the whole case, but I do know his integrity.”

No word when the principal’s retirement will go into effect.

The Political Camp/Pain of Herman Cain

This Stanley Crouch op-ed on Herman Cain deserves to be widely circulated. And I hope it gives us all something to ponder. Here are some key excerpts:

Though everyone talks about money, few know how powerful it can be. One of the largest private corporations in the nation, Koch Industries, is run by Charles and David Koch, who inherited a small company from their father, Fred, when he died in 1967.

Fred Koch was a founder of the John Birch Society, a coven of anti-Communists and intellectual louts. The Koch brothers success allows them to further their father’s work: They know well what money is, how to make it and what it can do when focused on ruthless ideology.

The annual revenue of their business is about $100 billion, but all anyone outside of those at the top of the company know about its workings is next to nothing.

Though disguising themselves as philanthropists, lovers and supporters of the arts and underwriters of sustained cancer research, the Koch brothers also live in a delusional billionaire boys club built for two and devoted to misinformation and factoids. It is decidedly in keeping with the John Birch Society’s record of lies shouted until they start to seem like truth.

But the Koch brothers may well have overstepped themselves at this point by reportedly aiding and abetting the energetic and essentially empty Herman Cain in his run for the GOP presidential nomination through a group called Americans for Prosperity. I m very proud of the relationship I have with the Koch brothers, Cain has said.

Cain, filled with the kind of down-home black Southern charm that is irresistible to some, is running a campaign that has no boots on the ground. A shadow candidacy is one thing, a shadow staff is another. The most serious Cain watcher, Rachel Maddow, revealed that reporters seeking to talk with his staff have discovered about four people.