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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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Sex, Lies and Photoshop.

This is a video suggesting magazines disclose when images of models are altered. I don’t hold out any hopes for that happening any time soon in the U.S.

But I have noticed something. I used to devour magazines – fashion magazines, beauty magazines, home and garden…. I loved having a big stack of shiny mags to while away an afternoon. I got away from partially because my time became more limited – I needed to spend my reading time on “serious” stuff… but also because magazines… basically are in the business of telling you how much you suck. You are not thin enough, pretty enough, your clothes aren’t fashionable enough, you’re not a good parent, etc. etc. etc.

So, I stopped with the magazines. (Full disclosure – I do buy magazines when I travel, and I do devote 1/2 hour (at least) every week to a trashy magazine. I’m not a saint, folks.) What I have noticed since I stopped reading magazines (especially fashion and beauty mags) is that I appreciate much much more the way real people look.

Real people. People who are no longer 20 years old. People who have some meat on their bones. People with bits that sag. People who don’t go to the hair salon (me). People who didn’t get braces when they were teenagers. People with big noses. People with scars. People grey hair, or no hair, or lots and lots of uncombed hair in fantastic colors. People with hairy ears. People with blue black skin.

People… real people… are beautiful, y’all.

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So here is a frame that is increasingly annoying and troubling. The idea that presence of the Obama family in the White House presents a new face to America about what black families are.

Black first family changes everything

I agree, wholeheartedly, that the images presented over generations of what black people and black families are have been severely limited and problematic. The article slants the piece in such a way, though, that focuses on pathologies in the black community as the only reality. It sets the Obama family up as the ones who will not only correct that notion, but also the ones that will straighten out black America. And yeah, I get that there is some of that going on and that it is good. I don’t want all the “role models” out there to be involved in sports or music. However, it has never been the case that that is where all the role models are, where all the successful black people are. The images that are chosen to portray us are drawn either from that stream – sports or music, or from the stream that shows us the poverty stricken criminals, you know, the ones that Bill Bennett wants to abort.

As one of the women quoted in the article says, “We don’t get to see black love.” She is right – we don’t get to see it. That does not mean it isn’t there, hasn’t been there, and won’t be there in the future. We don’t get to see it in the media because it is not shown. What passes for black love is too often fetishized and pathologized. We are not used to seeing black love, not because it does not exist, but because it does not fit into the narrow frame of who black people are, according to those who shape the images we see. And yes, I am well aware that sometimes those images are shaped by us – black people.

The black first family does not change everything, as the CNN headline asserts. Yes, I am glad – so glad to see them there. But what will change everything is not just the image of this successful, loving black family in the white house. What will begin to change some things, and then more things, and maybe work towards changing everything is making sure more people have the opportunity to achieve the things this family has achieved is to assure the basics of life that provide stability to every citizen. Things like health care, decent educational institutions that are adequately funded and serve all children well, and living wages. Supporting families so that they are able to get what they need to survive physically will go a long way in maintaining good psychological, emotional and spiritual health. And no, it’s not just about throwing money at problems. It is about building a national – no, a global consciousness that understands that within a society, individuals and individual family units are connected to one another and it is within the best interests of us all to tend to that interconnectedness. If a society decides to throw away a segment of their population (whether designated by race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, whatever) by first not acknowledging their humanity and from that denying them the rights and benefits of the society, then yes, things will go horribly wrong. Rugged individualism does not a healthy society make.

It is not until the very tail end of the article that we are given a glimpse of another reality:

Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.

She didn’t need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.

“It’s not new, but it appears new,” she says. “The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.

“It’s the only family I’ve known in my life.”

h/t Rachel’s Tavern

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SPEAK! Album

From Sudy

Speak! is a women of color led media collective and in the summer months of 2008, they created a CD compilation of spoken word, poetry, and song. This is the first self-named album.

With womyn contributors from all over the country, Speak! is a testament of struggle, hope, and love. Many of the contributors are in the Radical Women of Color blogosphere and will be familiar names to you. Instead of just reading their work, you’ll be able to hear their voices.

I can guarantee you will have the same reaction as to when I heard them speak, I was mesmerized.

Proceeds of this album will go toward funding mothers and/or financially restricted activists wanting to attend the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, MI this July. This is our own grassroots organizing at its finest with financial assistance from the AMC. We collaborated and conference called for months and here it is, ready for your purchasing.

In addition to these moving testaments, there will be a zine, featuring more of our work and a curriculum available to further process the meaning of each piece for yourself, education, or a group discussion. The possibilities are endless.

You get all of this for less than $20, you can order one for yourself or buy a gift card for friend which can be redeemed to buy the CD. Stay on your toes and look for more information come January 1, 2009. Only 200 copies are available.

Forward this promo vid widely and to the ends of your contact list. See the link here.

Much love.

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I am thinking about beauty, about acceptability, about the notion of real women, acceptable women, the impossibility of the ideal woman and the great distraction that happens when we focus so much on what we look like – and how nearly impossible it is in this culture to just look like what you look like, be happy with that because no one is going to judge you for it (but see, already it’s not just a simple matter of being judged for it and then saying I don’t care what other people think about me because what other people think about me can impact where I can live, the work I do, and that impacts my ability to make a living, etc. etc. etc.)

Remember this?

The distractions – when we are so focused on our own stuff, we can’t pay attention to anyone or anything else. We can’t be involved in the real work of caring for each other and the rest of the created order. There are women and girls whose lives are impacted by the choices I make.

(Greenpeace notes: Thanks to the staggering public support for our international Dove campaign in April 2008, Unilever has now agreed to play their part in saving the Paradise Forests of South East Asia. As the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world, Unilever has a special responsibility to help clean up the industry that’s behind so much forest destruction.)

So it is good to be on guard regarding messages about female perfection. But I was always a little squicked out by the fact that the first message came from a corporation that sells beauty projects. Shouldn’t a response to such an ad be “Yes! I’m going to say no to the messages about what I should look like/smell like/be like and the products and corporations that make try to sell me this stuff! I’m opting out completely!” My guess is that people who have made that decision aren’t buying this stuff anyway.

I don’t want to be the beauty/femininity/humanity police anymore than I want anyone to police me.

The other morning my 17-year-old daughter asked me to French braid her hair. As we sat on the steps I realized I hadn’t done this for a long time. There was a time when I did it every day. When she was small she had a considerable mass of long, thick hair. We struggled over it regularly because of the mass and thickness and yes, the nappiness of it. I tried to never give the idea that there was something “wrong” with her hair. Eventually she decided she wanted to get her hair chemically relaxed, and she continues to. I’ve been down that road… the hot comb (straightening comb, for you old school folks) and the chemical relaxers.

My preference would be for her to wear it natural… but I don’t want to police what she does with her hair and her body. What is the line between preference and self hatred? Is self-hatred birthed in being told you look like a freak?

From the advice column Annie’s Mailbox, September 18:

During my daughter’s last year of high school, she talked about getting dreadlocks. I didn’t want her to graduate looking like a freak and spoil her chances of finding a decent job, not to mention that getting rid of dreads can be nearly impossible.

(Note – I don’t know what racial category this writer and her daughter fit into. The letter is actually about her mother-in-law undermining her authority, and letting the daughter get dreadlocks. I have worn my hair in locks for over ten years now, and I’m happy to say that I don’t look like a freak.)

Some women prefer straight hair. Some women prefer light skin.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

h/t Siditty

It’s a long video – I’ll note some highlights. There are many heartbreaking things going on here – the damage these women are doing to their bodies, the generational hatred of dark skin. Also heartbreaking, though, is the condemnation of these women by the audience members and the show host herself. They never deal with the reality that our society constantly gives the message “white is right.”

At 21:56 Tyra finally talks briefly about living in a racist society. But only for a couple of minutes – then it is quickly back to trashing the guests – even tricking them by having a “doctor” offer phony medical procedures that promise to lighten the skin, although with terrifying side effects. That is horrid. The fake procedures that they describe to the women include burning off the top layer of skin, undergoing a skin transplant – sending skin to Switzerland?

The focus remains on fixing these women, and not on fixing society. Again at 39:05 Tyra mentions society, but again quickly blames the women for having a sickness, an illness. They are crumbling under pressure that other black women don’t cave in to. I’m not a therapist, she says, but there is something else there. She encourages them to do some “self reflection.” I suppose that makes for better TV, but really, in the end, what does it solve?

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If you read blogs or blog yourself then you are probably looking for something other than what mainstream and corporate media offer.

I like Bitch magazine and they are in trouble. Watch the video, donate if you can, publicize widely.

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Seriously, go read John Ridley over at the Huffington Post, where he is schooling in Palin-guage.

From Volume 1:

Black teen pregnancies? A “crisis” in black America. White teen pregnancies? A “blessed event.”

If you grow up in Hawaii you’re “exotic.” Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, you’re the quintessential “American story.”

Similarly, if you name you kid Barack you’re “unpatriotic.” Name your kid Track, you’re “colorful.”

If you’re a Democrat and you make a VP pick without fully vetting the individual you’re “reckless.” A Republican who doesn’t fully vet is a “maverick.”

And from Volume 2 – The People’s Edition:

If you get 18 million people to vote for you in a national presidential primary, you’re a “phoney.” Get 100,000+ people to vote you governor of the 47th most populous state in the Union, you’re “well loved.”

SoyAA says: If you are biracial and born in a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs darn near 2 years and 3 major speeches to “get to know you.” If you’re white and from a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs 36 minutes and 38 seconds worth of an acceptance speech to know you’re “one of us.”

Go read it all….

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