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Archive for the ‘black women’ Category

Whitewashed

For much of my childhood, I remember my mother writing. She had scads of notebooks around, filled with her handwriting that I still could identify anywhere. She had a fascinating electric typewriter (yes, I said typewriter – remember those?) that I learned the qwerty keyboard on and played with at any available opportunity. I remember when she got a new typewriter and the old one became mine – oh joy! Mom wrote short stories and articles and submitted them to various magazines and other places. For a while she worked on a novel, and by then I was old enough to be her proofreader and we’d talk about the story as it grew. By then I was trying my hand at writing some of my own stuff. Mom is surely the number one reason I love words and why I idolize women of color who dare to write.

Mom did get a children’s book published. It was a sweet little story about my brother and I and our (my) pet bird. The things that happened in the story really happened, and she used our real names. I remember how very very exciting it was when a box with some of the published books came to our home. I was over the moon thrilled and so very proud. Some of my pride was misplaced, though – I think I was more jazzed about seeing my very own name in a real live book than I was by the fact that my mom had written it and gotten it published. Sorry about that, mom – I was ten.

The thing about the book, though. It were illustrated, simple line drawings, kids, parents and a parakeet. The parakeet, for whom the book was named (and the protagonist of the story, if you must know – yes, I was a secondary character BUT a character nonetheless) was on the cover of the book. But the people in the story were clearly white people. That was the first time I learned that authors have little or no control over what the book cover or illustrations look like. And of course that was one of my first lessons about the assumption of whiteness, whiteness as the “norm” for humanity, and then the more nuanced lessons about whiteness as “what people really want” or “what people really prefer” as in books with black people on the cover don’t sell, which is not to be confused with “black people don’t read” and/or “black people don’t buy books.”

Well.

All that to bring this to your attention. (h/t ABW and others)

Justine Larbalestier is a young adult fiction writer, and her newest publication, Liar, is about a dark skinned, nappy headed mixed race girl.

This is the U.S. cover of Liar.

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You can read Justine’s take in full here.

Here’s a snippet:

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

I get that publishers want writers to write, and they most, if not all of the time, writers take a back seat to cover design and other illustrations. But to change the visual representation of the way the author describes characters, especially when, as Justine says, it is important to the way the book is read – well, who does that serve, really? The Australian cover, by the way, does not give a visual representation of Micah, the main character.

I’m gonna see if I can get the Australian version of the book.

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I’ve been traveling and I like to take some junk food reading along when I fly. I found out about this (site is in French) in Marie Claire magazine.

Here’s the intro to the photo spread in the magazine:

French photographer JR has spent the past year taking portraits of victimized women in Africa, Asia and South America, then making massive, poster-size prints which he plasters illegally in places you’d least expect – on buildings, bridges, buses, and beyond. The idea, says JR, who doesn’t give his full name in case he’s prosecuted, is to celebrate the strength and courage of women who live in places where they are often targets in wartime – and discriminated against in times of peace.

As mentioned above, the text on the artist’s website is in French, but there is a video explaining the project which is in English. The photos are stunning. I would love to know what the reaction is of people in the towns where the photos are displayed, and what happens to the women. (As Ms. Cripchick points out in the comments, there is an English version of the site.)

The photo below is from Liberia.

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The internet, she is not my friend this week. It is mostly because of this.

And truly I have been uber busy these days without much time to check out the latest for which I am grateful. It’s been trigger city, folks. Forgive any muddleheadedness that follows. I don’t know what kind of a post this will be or if I will bring these meanderings to a logical conclusion. There is grading to do (always the grading), there is writing and there is research, there is work.

Remember the artist Kiki? She did the art for a t shirt I once had and wore to absolute pieces. It was captioned “Many Strong and Beautiful Women.” It was lovely and I kept it for a long time.

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This week my head is full of women… strong and beautiful and maybe not so strong but still beautiful even if they – we – do not know it. I am thinking about women and their/our stories. For the most part it is a happy convergence; I’m teaching women and stories this semester … yesterday in one of my classes we viewed the powerful “The Language You Cry In” – evidence of how blog reading is not procrastinating (at least not all the time) because I found out that film here and it fit in perfectly with what we are thinking/talking/writing about.

On Monday, Cara posted this so I was already thinking about the minimizing and trivializing that happens to those of us who have survived sexual assault in families – we even do it to ourselves.

I hadn’t yet heard the news about the whole Rihanna/Chris Brown thing yet… just some chatter on the radio about why they didn’t show up at the grammy’s or whatever. Then the noise about it increased during the day and I knew that I’d just need to try to stay away from it – I googled a bit at first just to see what people were saying about the situation and … always a mistake to read comments. How do we interrupt the kind of noise that blames a person for being violated because she “probably set him off” by saying something, or because she (and face it, it’s usually she) has the nerve to look a certain way or dress a certain way or what EVER… but usually all it takes is she possesses the identity of female. Be female and it is game on. Be black or brown and female, or transgress prescribed gender boundaries and the right to not be violated is at once absent. I don’t know how much more I want to say about that without doing more thinking than I want to do right now. I know that silence is not the answer. The problem then, is how not to keep being silenced because speaking out costs so much – when there are so many other voices – so much other noise – drowning out the stories that need to be told but are so hard to tell. That internalized, unvoiced pain comes out somehow, somewhere, I believe. Perhaps it is physical body pain, like the pain that is carried in my body on a daily basis, diagnosed as fibromyalgia. Perhaps it is realized in the pain that is in turn inflicted on others. Perhaps it is simply being numb to feeling and actually living life. But as has been said (y)our silence will not protect you/us.

Starting tonight and thru Saturday, I’m participating in a local Monologues production – inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues but anonymously submitted stories of women in this region – women who wrote down the sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, often utterly gut wrenching truths about their lives as women. It has been an incredible experience to carry these stories, to embody them and to speak these words into the air, and to talk with each other about our own stories. These kinds of gatherings are monumental acts of love. It is not only the gathering of stories and placing them in order, assigning the parts and becoming familiar with them and then putting on a show. It is also listening to the words underneath the words and feeling them. It is knowing “I’m not the only one this happened to.” It recognizing a place, a time, a moment, a person that are connected to geographies, histories, communities and honoring that. It is learning to speak. And very very practically – it’s about knitting scarves and making jewelry and collecting silent auction items and selling tickets and making as much money as you possibly can to help women and their children in this community whose backs are up against the wall.

It is this thing called survival.

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Anxious Black Woman has a great post up:

The same year Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial, indeed the same month, Billie Holiday recorded for the first time her signature song, Strange Fruit, a song about lynching, which she had called her “personal protest” song.

Both performances are etched in our national conscious, and the black female voice, as cultural studies scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin wrote, “is one of its founding sounds, and the singing black woman is one of its founding spectacles. But because it develops alongside and not fully within the nation, it maintains a critique for space and protest.”

Go read it all – it’s great. Oh – and it’s a Special Lurker Friday Edition post, so leave ABW a comment.

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Zora Neale Hurston

A post per day for Black History Month
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Because my students are reading Zora Neale Hurston this week, she is on my mind. I honor her for being a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, who was not ashamed of her culture, who was not afraid concerned with being a “nice lady” – who just didn’t conform. She loved her people – black people. She collected our stories and advocated for them being told. Although she died in obscurity, the revival of her works have gained new generations of admirers.

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1901 in the town of Eatonville, Florida, an all black town that was incorporated in 1886. As Hurson noted, it was not “the black part” of town, but a black town. Here began the forging of Hurston’s love for black cultural traditions.

In the opening piece to the Zora Neale Hurston reader (I Love Myself When I Am Laughing; And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, The Feminist Press, 1979), Alice Walker addresses critical reflections on Hurston’s work that deem it racist or sexist:

Is Hurston the messenger who brings the bad news, or is she the bad news herself? Is Hurston a reflection of ourselves? And if so, is that not, perhaps, part of our “problem” with her? (I Love Myself….pg 2)

The perceived “problem” with Hurston was that she refused to fit into a box, or perhaps more accurately, she determined the dimensions of the box herself.

In the same volume, Mary Helen Washington writes:

The controversy over Hurston’s work and her political views, which surfaced after the publication of Mules and Men in 1935, mushroomed and spread in the forties and fifties as Hurston, typically erratic, continued to make unorthodox and paradoxical assertions on racial issues. She was quoted in one newspaper interview as saying that the Jim Crow system worked, and that blacks were better off in the South because, although there was no social intermingling, blacks had the “equivalent” of everything whites had. (I Love Myself… pg 18.)

Hurston, accused of being a publicity hound and a sell-out, refuted the quote. She is on record as speaking out against the Jim Crow system. She also refused to let on that the North was any better than the South in terms of race relations. She roundly criticized the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education desegregation decision. In her mind, this decision represented the presumed superiority of white schools and white teachers, and the presumed inferiority of black schools and teachers. This she could not abide, as she believed black people were quite wonderful, capable of learning among their own and contributing much to language, poetry, song… to the arts in general.

Hurston also spoke disparagingly of blacks who spoke of “the tragedy of being Negroes.” She famously noted:

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. No, I do not weep at the world–I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

And:

Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

(How It Feels To Be Colored Me, 1928)

Hurston died on January 28, 1960 in poverty and obscurity. Alice Walker:

Only after she died penniless, still laboring at her craft, still immersed in her work, still following her vision and her road, did it begin to seem to some that yes, perhaps this woman was a serious artist after all, since artists are known to live poor and die broke. But you’re up against a hard game if you have to die to win it, and we must insist that dying in poverty is an unacceptable extreme.

Amen. Rest well, Sister Zora.

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Inaugural Poem

“Praise Song for the Day,” written and recited by Elizabeth Alexander on January 22, 2009

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

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