Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Janelle Monáe's Cyborg Love

via Waiting 2 Speak:

Mr. said Metropolis isn't a good album. He said it was "weird." He said its all about cyber love.

Metropolis is straight up Afrofuturism.

Metropolis is woman-centered. Perhaps even womanist.

Metropolis is also genius. And so is Janelle Monáe is--or, in Lex's words, a "post-human black girl genius."*

At UMCP Digital Diasporas 2008, Kara Keeling discussed how the meeting of digital media with the humanities could trouble the humanistic ideal. Digital diasporas can help us get to what she called the/a post-human. The multi-layered, anonymous, and constructive potential of digital African diaspora, or Afrofuturism, might possibly overturn the "human," the male, heterosexual, economically elite, classically educated subject of Enlightened modernity.

I mean, can you imagine it? A human that you didn't automatically assume was white and male and heterosexual? A human that you didn't have to spend time and energy converting into a black/Latino/indigenous/Asian female in love with women? What would she look like? Would she be black-skinned with kinky hair? Or would she be pale grey with dark grey tentacles and make love to you by massaging the nerve centers of your brain? Would "she" even be an appropriate moniker?

Would she--it--be a cyborg?

What else would disrupt the human so nicely but its extreme Enlightenment opposite? Mechanical. Emotionless. Clinical. Asexual. Literally "a product of the Man." ("Violet Stars Happy Hunting!")

And what would happen when that "product" decides its going to do its own thing? When it, *gasp,* falls in love with a human????

Cyborg love. Weird, huh?

Yeah, it is. Except that the idea that we (poc) are mechanical beings in "the Man"'s world isn't new for us. It's as old as genocide, as old as slavery. It isn't even a new idea in hip hop. Gnarls Barkley and Lupe Fiasco have both hyped their Go Go Gadget Flow.

Cindi Mayweather, the cygirl of Metropolis, is a similar take on the cyborg/mechanica theme. Cindi Mayweather is what would happen when that theme just happens to start coming out of a woman of color's mouth....

"Good morning cyboys and cyber girls! I’m happy to announce that we have a star-crossed winner in today’s heartbreak sweepstakes! Android # 57821, otherwise known as Cindi Mayweather, has fallen desperately in love with a human named Anthony Greendow. And you know the rules! She is now scheduled for immediate disassembly. Bounty hunters, you can find her in the Neon Valley Street District, on the 4th floor in the Leopard Plaza Apartment Complex. The droid control marshals are full of fun rules today! No phasers; only chainsaws and electrodaggers. Remember: Only card carrying hunters can join our chase today. And as usual, there will be no reward until her cybersoul is turned into the Star Commission. Happy hunting!"

Gnarls Barkley commits suicide on his human with every track. Lupe Fiasco randomly kills his human and then brings him back to life...to get killed again. Their subjects are men of color (although GB's may be questionable and questioning his race and sexuality and I refuse to count Fiasco's "The Streets"--her stereotyping is foolishness).

Their subjects are generally preoccupied with the Game and issues of Coolness--of conforming to stereotype and surviving an inherently destructive system. A system that makes you kill yourself, or gets you killed, over and over again.

They don't know their language/They don't know their God/They take what they're given/Even when it feels odd....

Monáe's unhuman is about conformity and Coolness too. But this cygirl is caught in the Game from a different angle.

It/She falls in love--but how when it/she's not allowed to? And then the questions roll in: Who are you to fall in love? Who are you to feel, to cry, to believe, to fight, to be bold, to be crazed, to grieve and to laugh? You're a cygirl, you're type-cast, your entire existence is regulated. Your soul isn't even yours--it belongs to the Star Commission. You were built to clock in, to work, to reproduce, to satisfy the Man sexually, and then to go home. Beyond that you don't exist.

(Are we speaking of mules and men?)

So Cindi dips. Why? Not just because she doesn't agree. If only. She dips because her particular brand of insurgency has been discovered. This cygirl is defective. She can experience emotion. And it's the most exalted of all human emotions--love. She must be taken care of: "They've come to destroy me...You know the rules." ("Violet Stars Happy Hunting!")

Cindi the cygirl isn't just resisting to resist. Cindi is outta there to save her own life:

"I can only speak for myself. But what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life." (Barbara Christian, 1987)

She is outta there to reclaim/take back/create her own soul:

"The act of writing is the act of making soul, alchemy. It is the quest for the self, for the center of self, which we women of color have come to think as "other"—the dark, the feminine." (Gloria Anzaldúa, 1981)

And on the run, what does she discover? An entire community, a network of firewalkers, a purple wondaland....

"We want to breathe, but we're stuck here underground/And everybody tryin to figure their way out. Hey, hey, hey!" ("Many Moons")

...debating, critiquing, and arguing together. Fighting to breathe, to create soul, to live. Contradictions abound--"You're free but in your mind. Your freedom's in a bind...."

...and life is a struggle....but still, the rejects, the Goonies, are building together. And their combined challenge is clear--"Tell me are you bold enough to reach for love?!?"

Cindi is bombarded, or bombards it/herself, with a parade of American grammar that are the enemy: "Silhouette, silver wall, hood rat, crack whore, carefree nightclub, closet drunk, bathtub..."

And finds that it's no longer just about experiencing human love with a human being. It's about being in love with herself. Tell me are you bold enough to reach for love.

In the chorus is the chorus, the community of non-humans, rule-breakers, nonconformists, insurgents, artists, activists, fools. The support network.

When the world just treats you wrong/Just come with me and I'll take you home/Change, change, change, change your life....

What a predicament. The paradigm shift is painful. After all, at first, it was only about a carefree romantic ideal--I want you and I won't take no for an answer!--But now, it's about so much more. You're entire history and identity is on the line. You go into cybertronic overload, you're caught in a "Cybertronic Purgatory." Not really in and not really out. You're waking up. But you've got decisions to make. Every day.....

Do you stay? Do you go? Do you fight? Do you stop for awhile in order to survive the maelstrom?

Q: What do you do, Cindi?

A: You sing a black girl's song.

("Sincerely Jane.")

Metropolis is next generation, my generation. The hybrids. The artivist underground, banging against the glass door and screaming. It's what happens when we shed the skin we're in and use it slap the Man in the face. Its the possibility of reaching across boundaries, creating coalitions, building a movement. Weird? Definitely. But if weird is code for not-normal (just like normal is code for knowing & following the Rules), then weird works just fine.

Weird is an afrofuturist harvest.

Tell me--Are you bold enough to reach for love?

And what does radical love look like?

Afro-Futurity: Going On by Gnarls Barkeley

Because the most insightful and exciting people I know walk here...

I'd love to know what this new music video for Going On by Gnarls Barkley makes you think of...


Kameelah Rasheed put me on to this video. I am first of all grateful for it. I love watching it. On the first 4 watches it seems to have a message yet to be revealed and unconcealed. I love the beauty of the people in the video, both in the choreographed movements and the way they are dressed which for me bring up today, the 1970's, tomorrow and beaded yesterdays still to be imagined. I love how the futurism of the video is not technological. I love the details of the door. I want to know that the circular dance that the people do in the first part of the video reminds me of. It reminds me of something I believe in and don't have a precise reference for. I wonder how skeptically Saidiya Hartman would look at me for relating to that music video africanized moment through the eye in my forehead for memory.

I love that the people are carrying the portal to the future in their hands. I relate to the way their exuberance transforms into fatigue. I am inspired by the way their fatigue becomes reverence. I love the words of the song, I love the way the words are highlighted strategically all along.

I wonder about what levels of love are meant and residing there in words that seem to be spoken by I man (but they say what I want to say). I wonder who the singer is speaking for. The video put the words into the mouth of the lead man, and projects them onto the sometimes smiling, sometimes pained, sometimes pensive face of the lead woman. I wonder if the words about there "being a place for you too" are for a lover, a gendered lover? a whole gender of us to be left behind while male explorers forge forward again? I wonder what it means for the words of the song to vascillate between telling the imagined person being sung to "I'll see you there" and "I'll miss you." The main questions of the video for me live with the woman distinguished half way in as the "lead woman." What divides her from the "lead man" what connects her to him? Their movements are similar, the framing of the video makes it seem that a love relationship connects them, but the words to the song, which seem to be about leaving someone behind while also projecting that person into the future seem to divide the two characters. Most explicitly the command "don't follow me" made in words that seem to come out of the portal doorway after the man jumps could be meant for the woman who follows and jumps through the doorway, just as athletically anyway. If the words come to the viewing audience from both of the jumpers...why are they timed between the two jumps? Is the woman actor or audience in this video.
And to what extent is she or is she not me? Imma be thinking about this for a while. I'd love to know what you think.

p.s. In related news...the reason my reading of this film is mediated by Saidiya Hartman is because (in addition to her brilliance and perpetual relevance to all my thoughts) even as I write this I am supposed to be revising my review of Hartman's Lose Your Mother for the special issue of Obsidian on Ghana...so any thoughts about Hartman's book would be much appreciated too!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hood Credibility and Womanist Work(s): Thoughts on Colonization, Academe, and Keeping it Real

i straddle many worlds, literally. i resist and construct my own freedom everyday. i make choices, choices are made for me; i run between worlds. not because its particulary fun, but probably because making a choice to reside in only one sphere of thought, only one space of understanding acutally defies all I believe in a growning creative human being black woman artist poet daughter dancer painter thinker community member lover of tapas and sangria and victoria falls and houston-humidity and large front porches.

with this said i struggle to reconcile my diverse and promiscuous relationships with academic institutions, artistic institutions, community institutions and institutions in specific as i explore creative autonomy and radical expressive in and with community. i crave intimacy, group intimacy and soul stirring energy in everything i do from writing a 25-page research paper to choosing what color sheets to place on my bed. holla if you hear me!

i am concerned sistas and brothas about the politics of work, energy, and spirit as it pretains to my my involvement with institutions. keeping it real, i am concerned about all of us. i have had the displeasure of seeing black women work themselves sick and worse in and through institutions. i have seen our ideas, dreams and desires used for profit and to advance the goals of the institution and then squelched when they were no longer deemed necessary. i have seen us conjure fires and put them out on the behalf of these institutions. i have seen our spirit, scholarship, inventiveness, creativeness and so on and so forth all up and through multiple institutions and spaces but AT What Cost?

Keeping it real, hood credibility does not only apply to rappers from the suburbs wanting to be down with ghetto experience(what ever that is) but it is just as prevalent in other aspects of society. Is what we add to these spaces so uniquely ours, so uniquely necessary that no one else can bring it like us? Yes! Is our stuff, as elder-in-the-game Ntozake Shange reminds us, only ours and no one else can really do anything with it? Yes! What is the it I am referring to? Spirit, working spirit, creating spirit, making space for spirit~~~all day everyday.

here is the question...how do black women performing women's studies engage in and with different institutions that need our work but don't necessarily honor our processes? how do we take care of home/self/body/desire and engage where we are needed regardless of the larger politics? alexis and mama nia holla if you hear me? how do we check the colonization practices of institutions while engaging in our work(s)? should we have any progressive and wholistic requests for the instituions and groups we associate with? i say YES! but what do yall think.

final thoughts. our mamas, grand mamas, and great grand mamas had/have visions that we could make this world different. give thanks to all the sistas we know and dont know who have been performing women's studies since the beginning of time. we know alot about how some of us prevailied and about how some of us struggled against defeat until death. how can we articulate rules for engagement for the here and now?

i am all ears/eyes/heart~~~~

ebony golden

Rebecca on Alice


"The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother - thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.

You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Feminism, Race and Electoral Politics

Hillary Is White by Zillah Eisenstein


It seems clear that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president this fall. Nevertheless, it is crucial to clarify how wrong-headed Hillary Clinton's campaign has been so that the legacy she leaves does no more damage to a multi-racial, multi-class based feminism/womanism both here and abroad.

None of the pundits and journalists appears to be wondering and worrying about black women in this post-Indiana-North-Carolina-West-Virginia moment. Instead, all eyes, and especially Hillary and Bill's are on the so-called "white-hard-working working class". Hillary's pre-occupation with white voters is a dead give-a-way of how she thinks about gender, and being a woman. Gender is white to her, like race is black. Bill and Hillary Clinton have thrown African-Americans to the wind because they thought they could play the gender card with its history of whiteness and win.

And here lies the rub. Hillary Clinton presents herself to the electorate as a woman. She argues that she wants to break the glass ceiling of/for gender. But the truth is that she is not simply a woman but both a woman and also white. The very fact that she ignores her own race, in a way that Obama cannot, is proof of the normalized privileging of whiteness. In this instance white is not a color, but the color, the standard, by which others are judged. So she silently, inadvertently but knowingly, uses her color to write her meanings of gender and mobilize older white women and angry white men by doing so. She presents herself as a woman but her real power here is as white. Misogyny—the fear, hatred, punishment, and discrimination towards women—ensures that Hillary's privilege is her whiteness.

Most often the term white is not spoken alongside the term woman; there is no need. One only specifies color when it is not white. Women are assumed to be white if not specified otherwise, especially if you are speaking about gender or women's rights, or feminism. Forget the fact that it was a group of black women that initially challenged the Supreme Court in the first sex discrimination case in this country years ago.

Hillary speaks of herself as a woman, and then speaks separately about race, as though she does not embody both at the same time. She has as much `race' as Barack, but her race is not a problem for her. It is for him, even though it may not be as much as a problem as she is trying to make it. As such, Hillary, as a (white) woman pits herself against Barack (as black) with a race so to speak. So Hillary (as a woman) is falsely, wrongly, pitted against Barack (as black). Her whiteness privileges and pits gender against race. She encodes her whiteness as though it is central to her gender, and to her kind of feminism without saying a word. She re-awakens and rewrites the history of 19th century U.S. feminism that pitted black men getting the vote before white women had that right. More recently, women's rights rhetoric was used to justify the bombing of the Taliban and brown people in Afghanistan and Iraq. Feminism has a history of being bankrupt on this issue so this is nothing new. What is forgotten here is that women's rights come, or
should come, in all colors.

Barack Obama has said he wants to embrace the new notions of race and the racial progress that has occurred. He is not post-racist, but recognizes the newly raced relations as they exist at present. Nevertheless, he must give a speech on race although he says he does not want to be a racial candidate. He recognizes that the country has new-old racial hierarchies with complex identities and that he himself represents white and African blackness, whatever this might mean for him. Meanwhile Hillary says she is running as a woman, and never gives a speech on gender because white angry men and women, would not be pleased by this. So patriarchy, or sexual discrimination, or the structural hierarchy of masculinity with its racialized and class aspects is never mentioned in her campaign. She uses whiteness as her weapon and pretends to be speaking about gender. But she never once mentions the unacceptable misogyny of this country, or the sexual hierarchy of the labor force, or any of the great racial and class inequities that define women's lives today. This is a misuse and abuse of her gender.

Feminisms of all sorts have moved beyond the idea that feminism is a white woman's thing; or that feminisms should be particularly beholden to the white mainstreamed part of the U.S. women's movement. Large numbers of women, especially women of color, but many white women as well, know that race and gender are inseparable and that is why most of these women, whatever their color, are voting for Barack Obama. Hillary should not be allowed to push feminism backwards for her own political ambition. It is not surprising that it is older white women who disproportionately support her. They identify with old notions of womanhood—a homogenized notion that all females share an identity, and race and class are not connected issues to be named and spoken. This is why younger women and progressive women from the civil rights and women's movements, some of whom are older, disproportionately support Obama.

My thoughts about Hillary Clinton have their own history, which also coincide with her history. I have not been a fan of hers. I have written critically of her for more than a decade now. She has never spoken on behalf of women or as a candidate with a woman's agenda, let alone as a feminist when she was in the White House. Many of us who are her contemporaries were active in the Civil Rights Movement and Women's Movements and Anti-Vietnam War movement—while she chose not to be. Her one speech addressing the exploitation of women was delivered in Beijing, China, as though it is women outside, but not inside the U.S. who face untold discrimination. Now she runs for president and has become a
gun-toting, war mongering white woman who asks for your vote if you are an angry white Reagan Democrat. Maybe she thinks manly gender is the answer for breaking glass ceilings for women.

I would argue that she is not breaking gender boundaries but rather has embraced and extended masculine/misogyny for females. And misogyny always comes in racialized form. She remains female in body and hence parades as a decoy for feminist claims. And her white self is central to this decoy status. Susan Faludi wrote in the New York Times that Hillary is having a success with white male support because she is willing to battle, and engage in rough play like one of the boys. She is supposedly willing to "join the brawl" and as such has won their confidence. She has "broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys" opening the way for women to finally make it "through the glass ceiling and into the White house". Barbara Ehrenreich in The Nation hesitantly embraces this assessment and then more forcefully criticizes Clinton for her ruthlessness. Ehrenreich writes that Clinton has "smashed the myth of innate female moral superiority in the worst possible way…demonstrating female moral inferiority."

Hillary has proven that sometimes the best man for the job may be a female posing to be a man. In other words, Hillary has simply clothed herself in men's tactics and strategies. She can nuke with the best of them. Hillary not only authorized the war in Iraq but she repeatedly continued to do so for several more years—up until the time she began running for president. She allowed, along with Bill Clinton, the egregious trade blockade against Iraq as hundreds of thousands of children starved to death after the `91 war. She more recently has supported Israel's terror bombing of Lebanon and has newly endorsed "the total obliteration" of Iran.

But this is just part of the sad story. Hillary's embrace of a masculinist machismo embraces the very misogyny that most feminists want to dismantle. Instead of challenging the gender divide Hillary simply slides over to the other side of it. Instead of offering a new vision of what it might mean to have a female president she offers us old versions of white privilege and war mongering. But the structural privilege of patriarchy is ignored and obfuscated with Hillary's race card. Nevertheless many (white women write, like Marie Cocco in the Washington Post (May 15, '08) that she won't miss the misogyny of the campaign when its over—she lists the sexist T-shirts, and array of commercial goods circulating at present. While I abhor any form of degradation of girls and women, or any human being for that matter, I am also hesitant to see this as a sufficient critique of the problem.

Hillary Clinton should never be demeaned for being a woman. But being a woman comes in all colors and classes. Hillary has done the unforgivable. She has used race—the whiteness card—on behalf of gender. We, the big `we"—the huge diversely defined feminisms in this country and across the globe—are better than this. Black feminists in this country, during the 1970's and `80's women's movement made sure to break open the race/gender divide and clarify that gender is always racialized and race is always gendered. No person ever experiences one with out the other. Only when whiteness parades as an invisible standard can you think that gender and race can be separate. As such Hillary is white and a female and Barack is black and male. They are each both. Everyone is.

Hillary's manipulation and misrepresentation of her gender reveals her sexual decoy status. Being female is not enough to allow one to claim their gender as a political tactic. Such claims must be rooted in a commitment to end gender discrimination and their racial and class formulations; not pit races and classes against each other in the hopes of being the first woman president. Clinton does not share a political identity with women of all classes and colors and nations simply because she has a female body. She first needs to claim that body and demand rights for it—reproductive, day care, health, education, etc. She has no multi-racial woman's agenda because she has no anti-racist agenda.

Meanwhile she is thrilled that she won big in West Virginia. West Virginia is "almost heaven" to Hillary. She says it shows the country that she can win the "hardworking white Americans" in November. But West Virginia is not heaven, nor is it like much of the rest of the country. It may look like what the U.S. used to be, but that is exactly the point. It does not have the diversity of color, age, culture that defines the U.S. today. Neither does Hillary's vision.

Hillary is a sexual decoy. She looks like a woman but is not a feminist nor does she speak for or on behalf of most women. She speaks for white people while identifying with her gender, as a woman. But she has trumped herself here. If a female prepares to bully the rest of the world with war and white privilege hopefully we—the big `we'—the `we' that spans across our differences will defeat the political forces she represents.

And this means building a coalition for the November elections that makes sure that a non-misogynist agenda is part of the anti-racist politics of the Obama campaign.

Zillah Eisenstein is professor of politics at Ithaca College, a feminist anti-racist activist, and author of ten books in feminisms and feminist theories across the globe. Her most recent book is SEXUAL DECOYS, GENDER RACE AND WAR IN IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY, (London: Zed Books, 2007).

Thanks to Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Carla Golden, Rosalind Petchesky, and Richard Stumbar for reading an earlier draft of this discussion.

Tania Major

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Engendering Peace

via impulsive acts
on gender and violence

development in process with the students at New Horizons

Session 1:
What is Violence?
silent writing to music- what is a time that you have been hurt?

Definitions: facilitator asks the participants what their definitions of violence are. What are some examples of violence that people you know have experienced?

Dictionary definitions:
1 Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence.
2 The act or an instance of violent action or behavior.
3 Intensity or severity, as in natural phenomena; untamed force: the violence of a tornado.
4 Abusive or unjust exercise of power.
5 Abuse or injury to meaning, content, or intent: do violence to a text.
6 Vehemence of feeling or expression; fervor.
(American Heritage Dictionary)

Breakout groups: (each group presents on their definitions of the following terms)
Gang Violence
Violence Against Women
Domestic Violence
State Violence

Collectively write a definition of violence.

Session 2:
follow-up segment...silent writing to music: What is your relationship to violence?

What is gender?
Definitions: The facilitator asks the participants their definitions of man, woman, boy and girl. (All of these get written on the board.)

Discuss: What is the difference between a boy and a man? A girl and a woman? A boy and a girl? A man and a woman? A girl and a man? Do these words describe everyone? What if I am neither a girl nor a boy nor a man nor a woman?

The facilitator brings definitions of gender and sex. Volunteers read the definitions out loud. The participants discuss what’s the difference between gender and sex?

How do people experience violence differently because of their gender? Age? Sex?

Session 3 Recognizing Violence:
follow-up segment—how do you identify
Music video clips, magazine/newspaper clippings, photographs, song lyrics as examples for breakout groups.

Each group presents their clip....etc and presents answering the questions “Is this violent? If so, who is it violent towards? What is violent about it?

screening of short film on the after-effects of assault on black women (by Bonita Walker)
debriefing discussion.

Session 4 Engendering Peace
silent writing to music- (this is a free write to Common’s “Heaven” on the Electric Circus Album)

visualizing exercise: facilitator has the participants close their eyes and visualize what a peaceful day would look like for them...from when they woke up to when they went back to sleep

partner interviews: what does peace look like to your partner (try to arrange partners across gender). use only verbs to respond.
(e.g. sleeping, loving, eating, hugging, swimming, struggling, listening, leaning, healing)

create a collective definition of peace (do people experience peace differently based on gender?)

individually writing: what are 3 things that you can do to create peace as we’ve defined it in your life?

collective discussion: what are things that we can do as a group to create peace for members of our community?

what are demands that we have from our communities (schools, parents, government) that would make our lives more peaceful?

(possibly have participants do their writing about peace on a photocopied hand portrait)

NO! by Aishah Simmons as a crucial teaching tool

via impulsive acts

What follows is a statement that UBUNTU created for its use of NO! as a community outreach and educational tool. You may find it helpful to share with students and viewers as you use this important film in your teaching.

Because we...:

The UBUNTU education working group has chosen to use NO!, Aishah Simmons’ groundbreaking film about sexual violence in African-American communities because it exemplifies, informs and pushes our struggle to create a world that is free of sexual violence and full of community accountability and a sustaining, transformative love.

This is our collective reasoning for using this film and our vision for its impact on our communities.

NO! Because we love this film. Because this film is made up of warriors showing up for their own liberation, starting with Aishah Simmons, a survivor who created this film through 10 years of sustained community work to raise awareness about rape. Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred. Because there are survivors here. Because this story speaks to and for all of us. Because this story pushes us beyond words. Because this story has the power to heal. Because men need to be aware of the effects of sexual assault. Because this lets you know what you need to know fast. Because you have shown up and you will recognize your own fears and experiences here with a new clarity. Because you have shown up and you have survived and you are not alone. Because this film will make you think about sexual assault in your own community and in your own life. Because the history of sexual assault matters. Because you have shown up and this film might provoke you to demand and create your own freedom. Because this film can make you recognize your own situations and your own actions. Because this film will remind you that you can act. Because this film is brave and honest about fear and asks us to be brave and honest with each other. Because this film is real and encourages us to be real in this space. Because this film can push us all to acknowledge and share our emotions. Because this brings this issue home to all of us. Because this film insists that all oppression is connected. Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate. Because this film encourages us to change the way we respond to sexual assault on an institutional level. Because this film shows us how to hold our communities accountable without always buying into the flawed legal system. Because this film is about responsibility and not blame. Because this film teaches us something new every time. Because this film shapes and propels our analysis and our action. Because this film demands that we reimagine the whole world. Because we believe that the best place to make a new world is right here, together, with you.

So we challenge you as you watch this film to see yourself, your own fears and your own responsibility. This film is not about other people. This film is not about some pathology that is unique to the black community. This film is a specific and necessary examination of the manifestations of sexual assault in black women’s lives, but it calls all of us to recognize our own survival, our own silence, our own complicity, our own violence and our shared responsibility to create a world that honors us.
UBUNTU Education Working Group

To Be A Problem: Outcast Subjectivity and Black Literary Production

This course...piloted at Duke University is also in process online at tobeaproblem.wordpress.com

the Duke students created a number of brilliant publications now available for free download at BrokenBeautiful Press.

To sign up for this course email brokenbeautifulpress@gmail.com
“To Be A Problem”

Outcast Subjectivity and Black Literary Production
Instructor: Alexis Pauline Gumbs

This class will reinvoke DuBois’s 1903 question (“How does it feel to be a problem?”) and challenge the response that has sought to foreclose black feminist and queer critiques within the (so-called) black community: “Shh. We have enough problems.” We will explore trouble-making, radical performative critique and the transgressive and embattled act of (visual, textual, sonic and multi-media) publishing as possible responses to systemic and individual exclusions. If publishing is an act of stolen power for outcasts, this class will be a publication of what it can mean to be problematic in a society inflected by race, class, sexuality and gender norms. Our aim is not to solve the problems of classism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia as inflected by race, but rather is to create a space where it is possible to act, speak, write and think otherwise, anyway.

Required Texts:

Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle, (Picador 2nd Edition, 2001)
Michelle Cliff, Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant (Dutton, 1993)
W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Library of America: Vintage Books, 1990)
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, (Crossing Press Feminist Series, 1984)
Toni Morrison, Sula (Plume, 2002)
Me’shell Ndegeocello, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (Maverick, 2002)*
Letta Neely, Here, (Wildheart Press, 2001)
The Roots, Game Theory (Def Jam, 2006)*
Natasha Tretheway, Bellocq’s Ophelia (GrayWolf Press, 2002)
Richard Wright, The Outsider, (Harper Perennial, 2003)
*Musical Albums

Foundations (Weeks 1-3):

Week 1: An/Other Way to Be

8/27 Introductions or What’s in a Name?

8/29 “Forethought” and “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in DuBois Souls of Black Folk
“Ethno or Socio Poetics” by Sylvia Wynter (on e-reserves)

8/31 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #1 Due)

Week 2: At Stake—Violence

9/3 “Southern Horrors” Ida B. Wells (e-reserves),
A Long Walk Home www.alongwalkhome.org,

9/5 “Need: A Chorale for Black Women’s Voices” by Audre Lorde (on e-reserves)

(interactive performance #1)

9/7 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #2 Due)

my hands/wishful thinking by Mendi Obadike (PhD Duke U 2004) http://obadike.tripod.com/Adiallo2.html

Week 3: Dis/ease

9/10 Cathy J. Cohen, Introduction in Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999) (on e-reserves)

9/12 “U.S. Launches AIDS-Awareness Campaign In Botswana” http://www.theonion.com/content/node/40976

9/14 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #3 Due)

Positions (Weeks 4-9):

Week 4: Black Enough?

9/17 in class screening of Aaron McGruder’s “The Bookdocks”
(you are expected to have done extensive internet research on McGruder before class)

9/19 Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle

9/21 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #4 Due)

Week 5: Mindful

9/24 “Being Black” from Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks (on e-reserves)

9/26 The Outsider by Richard Wright

9/28 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #5 Due)

Week 6: Nobody Knows: Queer Epistemologies

10/1 from Nobody Knows My Name James Baldwin (e-reserves) “I am Your Sister” from Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

10/3 Here: (poems) by Letta Neely

10/5 Cyber-class (Post Assignment #6 Due)

Week 7: Some of Us Are Brave

10/8 NO CLASS! Fall Break

10/10 Sula by Toni Morrison, (in-class reading of “Between Ourselves” by Audre Lorde)

10/12 Cyber-class (Post Assignment (on Sula) #7 Due)

Week 8: Some of Us Are Brave Continued

10/15 “Falling Through the Cracks” by Advocates for Youth

10/17 Free Enterprise by Michelle Cliff

10/19 Cyber-class (Post #8 Due)

Week 9

10/22 Spread Magazine: Illuminating the Sex Industry (selections on e-reserves)

10/24 Bellocq’s Ophelia Natasha Tretheway

10/26 Cyber-class (PAPER DUE)

Models of Response (Weeks 10-12)

Week 10: Music and Fashion

10/29 Game Theory by the Roots and Cookie by Me’shell Ndgeocello

10/31 Wear an outfit you are prepared to explain. Bring a song (on CD) that responds to some of the issues that have come up this semester. (Web-assignment to be distributed.)

11/2 Cyber-class (Post #10 Due)

Week 11: HTTP and DIY

11/5 Reportbacks about blackrebel websites

11/7 (comparative distro/website research) In the People’s Hands (distributed in class)
(class meets @ the Sallie Bingham Archive)

11/9 Cyber-class (Post #11 on the ‘zine you would create)

Week 12: Collective Organizing

11/12 The Combahee River Collective Statement (e-reserves) Sista II Sista (on e-reserves) the Trans-Justice Statement (e-reserves)

11/14 Guest Workshop by SpiritHouse (preparatory reading to be announced)

11/16 Cyber-class (Post #12 Due)

Make Something (Weeks 13-15)

Week 13: Impulsive Acts

11/19 Collective Action Experiment (facilitated by UBUNTU Artistic Response)

11/21 NO CLASS!

11/23 Happy Thanksgiving!

Week 14: Do You

11/26 Project Presentations

11/28 Project Presentations

11/30 Cyber-class (last post—on revised projects…due)

Week 15

12/3 In-class zine production.

12/5 In-class zine production continued.

12/7 Release Party!

Always: The Queerness of a Reproductive Frame

via littleblackbook

The Combahee River Collective Statement, Kitchen Table Press (1977)
Need: A Chorale for Black Women's Voices, Audre Lorde, Kitchen Table Press (1979, 1991)
I am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities , Audre Lorde, Kitchen Table Press(1984)
Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall (1990)
Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology (Introduction), Makeda Silvera, SisterVision Press (1991)
Punishing Drug Addicts who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality and the Right to Privacy, Dorothy Roberts, Harvard Law Review, (1991)
Big Boots Zine (2001-2003)

Always. Like the word between love and your name in a love letter. Always. Like the pastel plastic promise that your period can become cute. Always. Like an ahistorical historicization. Like the production of eternity without witnesses. Like a recurring nightmare of hoping you exist.

This essay, informed by the works above is the place where "always" splits. Always become all ways and family, heritage and reproduction become an appropraited means for photocopying the zine quality black print of the new world in the basement of the university at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Seriously. I have been tripped up by the meaning of "reproduction" and the persistance of models of family and heritage that show up in works that I find to be foundational to my queer reading practice. What to make of this? Well...why not make what I usually make...an illegally printed freely distrubuted copyright defiant interactive publication. (click on the brokenbeautiful press link to your right). That is to say what if the central metaphor for reproduction was not the heteronormative biology of predictable birth into property and was not mechanism through which capital generated blindness and a surplus...but was rather (in a very Benjaminian "Author as Producer" type of way) a photocopy machine, illegally used for a purpose against capital. A performative mechanism, making multiplicity that called into question the unity and coherence of the status quo and that had the lovely biproduct of making words and images defer/difffer (yes. in the Derridian sense as Hall mentions) from themselves...becoming ever darker, ever grainer, ever less able to refer back to something true...because of their relationship to darkness and light and the means of production.

Can that machine that is used to make the status quo again and again be used to make something else? And that machine is the photocopier and that machine is also the idea of ancestry (hear Etheridge Knight...on ancestry...on Me'shell Ndgeocello's Cookie the Anthropological Mixtape...and while you're at it think of the burned CD as reproductive theft...and while you're there remember that the references in this essay are a glass bottle family tree) and family and the possibility of producing a future, and the idea of being connected to a past.

In other words, what does it mean that Big Boots, my favorite women/transfolk of color post-punk zine starts with an issue (that I love) on mother's and daughters called (so that I cannot avoid this) "ancestry"? What does it mean that in Audre Lorde's "I am Your Sister" the lesbian warrior poet frames her entire analysis in the structue of family? What does it mean for the Combahee River Collective, foundational black lesbian activists, warn against biological determinism in terms of gender while being able to claim what "Black women have ALWAYS embodied...resisted"? And what does it mean for Makeda Silvera, founder of SisterVision Press to come along about 15 years later and agree "We have always existed" and "our children will know who we are"? Race, motherhood, generations and the production of the future are central to each of these queer projects...so are they...not queer?

And what about Alexis? Radical queer girl to the core who is avowedly obsessed with her mother and grandmothers and who even dreams about bald pregnancy and waterimmersed childbirth at least tri-weekly. Is she not...queer? What to make of the way she claims the very texts she is writing about now as legacy, roots....even inheritance. (I saw her buy some out of print original copies of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Feminist Organizing Pamphlets Series just this week!)

Well. Since unqueering my whole world is absolutely out of the question let's try this. Remember the photocopier. What if always split into all ways makes a way out. In I am Your Sister, I would argue, Lorde frames herself as reproductive not only through her status as a biological mother of black children, but also through her mentoring of poets, her publication of books, her illegal "public art" vandalist fieldtrips with other black lesbian mothers. So what if this approach to making...to producing art out of opposition towards a liveable future by embattled and indeed often illegal means is also reproduction. Stolen. That is to say, since reproduction is a means of theft to begin with (a means of making property, a means of owning the bodies of women, a means of reinforcing an existing labour hierarchy) does the stealing of reproduction (a context from which queers are excluded from and by) reveal something fundamental, a switch on which flip the script of power? Think of this especially in the contexts of Roberts essay which argues that for black women's reproduction...their actual choice to ever give birth...is criminalized under the law in this coundtry. Reproduction in this sense is not something other than reproduction but rather the repetitive performative act based on a long lost, repressed, supressed past and looking towards a future of unlikely liberation, the proof of the lie of an eternal status quo in which we are oppressed and owned.

If so what does this have to say about the function of reproduction in the narratives of nation and diaspora? What does it mean for Audre Lorde to write "Need", strongest statement I can find against the consequences of the way that women are used and owned and raped and beaten and killed towards the building of a masculinist black subjectivity (that i would call nationalist) and frame the statement as one that enables black women to build nation. What would nation have to mean for that to make sense? (asha bandele spoke about nationalism in similar terms at the Urban Tea Party during the 2005 National Black Arts Festival in ATL GA) Ferguson might be interested in this idea of nation that refuses the heteropatriarchal.

But do you see what I mean about this pressure on words...this distance from originality? So when Stuart Hall defines diaspora as that which produces and reproduces itself again and again while at the same time insisting on Derridain differance and arguing that diaspora cannot be an attachment to a unitary past, what can he mean. Aside from his schematic constructions (scarily close to that of the creolistes) of the Americas as the child of/land of the procreative meeting of Africa and Europe I think he means diaspora can be a process of zine production and distrubution...through which the violence of dispersal becomes a relationship to the means of production that suggests an alternative.

Slaves Makin' Slaves

via littleblackbook

Das Kapital, Karl Marx, 1867
"Governmentality", Michel Foucault, 1978
"Do you want more?" The Roots 1995
The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective,
Antonio Benitez-Rojo, 1996
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty,
Dorothy Roberts, 1997
Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority and Women's Writing in
Caribbean Narrative, Belinda Edmonds, 1999
"Diaspora and the Passable Word", in The Practice of Diaspora, Brent
Edwards, 2003
"The Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester's Scream" in In the Break,
Fred Moten, 2003
Oxford English Dictionary Entries: "diaspora", "disperse",
"immigrate", "produce", "production", "reproduce", "reproduction",
"terror", "trauma".

(read the archives of www.okayplayer.com or see
if by the end of the post the title still perplexes you)

I've been wanting to explain diaspora through an impossible sonic
planetary art installation. Here's how it goes. The next person who
tries to compare diasporas (like Jewish, Black, Caribbean,
Argentinian, Laotian) or equates diaspora with privileged migration or
(god-forbid) vacation becomes the sculpture. This person immediately
leaves whatever building we are in and stands in a public place
screaming. This person continues screaming until they drop dead
(while being fed through an IV to prolong this process). Just keeps
screaming. Can never stop screaming. And even then 1% of the rage,
pain and loss that characterizes what I mean when I say diaspora has
not been expressed. I assign this to the next contestant to save
myself from having live that scream myself.

Let's see if it works.

So last time (always) I was talking about the relationship between reproduction, oppression and the appropriation of the means of reproduction (like the photocopier.) Which makes sense...since I am obsessed with paper and ink, BUT even then I was compelled to refer to Meshell's "Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape" so...given the presence of Moten and the advent of CD's called mixtapes at around the median publication date of the texts above...let's talk about this in terms of sound.

A remark: There are black people all over the world. If I don't hear them screaming it is only because I am blinded with the brilliance of their skin as it resists the marking of capitalism.

What is the relationship between reproduction, capital, race, diaspora and freedom? According to Marx capital reproduces itself through labor power, reproduces the capitalist character of the relations by reproducing the worker as a wage-earner. I think there is a silenced black woman somewhere in that statement saying what about what I make (enslaved, at home, on welfare NOT EARNING WAGES)? What about what I make? Babies marked and crossed out because with my race it's said I pass on oppression...like its natural and like I own it somewhere. What about what I make? The scream I take with stolen air naming this world that spins itself around the truth that I can be raped...so all can be raped...again and again and again.

The Roots always always include a hidden track on their records. In 1995 it was a sonic performance piece featuring Philadelphia spoken word poet Ursula Rucker called the "Unlocking". Some hip hop heads decide to gang-rape some girl. Some girl decides that this is not happening again. Some girl kills everyone with the stregnth of her words and the sound of her gun. There is a silenced black woman somewhere in here.

So why is it that Fred Moten, brilliantly explicating and riffing on the invaginated, screaming, gendered, impossible maternal moment that is the source of black radical performance that sceams value before/against exchange, does not ever say RAPE? Why is it that Antonio Benitez-Rojo claims that his is a non-sexist argument and then feminizes the Caribbean as a womb, inseminated by blood that gives and gives and gives and repeats and repeats and repeats into somesweet/nasty/gushy stuff that he finds "between the gnarled legs" of some old black women in Cuba and does not say...RAPE? Why is it that
even Belinda Edmonds, intent on not reproducing the feminized Caribbean landscape (but calling African-Americana, the Anglophone Caribbean and Africa "nations" quite easily) can talk about a "willing white woman" who is gang-raped, and a non-speaking black servant who can only be raped without pausing to tell us what do you mean by RAPE?
Belinda why when you introduce an original (and usually quite brilliant) idea do you say "I submit ________". What can your
submission mean here? Even Brent Edwatds cannot save us now. This is not a failure of translation. None of these are passable words for what is going on and on. The gulf that I am speaking across is shaped by repression, is the censored public secret that my body can be owned and used by someone else at any time. There is a silenced black woman
somewhere in here.

Listen. Diaspora is the STATE of RAPE. What is it about this violent, recurring, theft of livelihood, expropriation of land, walking on black women's bodies, over the possibility that we will create, that is silent even when present? Stand there. Keep screaming. Keep screaming. The character of capitalism witnessed and ignored again and again is rape. The experience of diaspora is the violent dispersal that scatters subjectivity, that disappears the subject; it is the trauma of rape. So how is the terror that is this global state contained?

Foucault says that governmentality is the mentality that has us think that the only thing to debate is how the government governs, deflecting any impulse to question the state (of things) itself. Therefore we are reproducing the state of rape by refusing to acknowledge it as such, as unnacceptable as a human relation. Can anyone hear this? Our dominant mode of relation on this planet is rape! Why should we be trying to understand this? As Edmonds points out even Lamming has accepted this violence (rape as such) as some precondition for decolonization. So what about what I make?

Talk to me. What can I say, what can I make that destroys the logic of the machine...that does not reproduce a relation that I cannot afford...a relation that we all silently survive?

How you sound? Will there ever be a sound structure on which this girl can stand? Let me know that you are listening...

little girl parts or i may not get there with you

via littleblackbook

Hamlet Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare (Whenever and Ever Amen)
The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James, 1938, 1968
Pan-Africanism or Communism, George Padmore, 1971
The Production of Space, Henri Lefevbre, 1974
Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Mestissage, Francoise Verges, 1999
Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, Paul Gliroy, 2000
The Karma of Brown Folk, Vijay Prashad, 2000
Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, David Scott, 2004
Race, Rape and Third Wave Feminism, Toni Irving, 2004
Uncovering Stories; Politicizing Sexual Histories in Third Wave Caribbean Women’s Literature, Donette A. Francis, 2004
“Black is Country”: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy, Nikhil Pal Singh, 2005

(yeah it's been a long time...i shouldnta left ya)
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison, 1977
Betsey Brown, Ntozake Shange, 1985
Louisiana, Erna Brodber, 1994
Daughter, Asha Bandele, 2003
Pink Icing, Pamela Mordecai 2006
Inventory, Dionne Brand, 2006

I've been wondering (since back when the term actually applied): What does it mean to sacrifice a virgin? Why does that make enough sense to even be said often enough that you recognize it. I suspect it holds a place in the language of the familiar/l because it is actually going on. Now.
I have to think about this because I just realized something that scares me and that might scare you. In two(many) parts:
1. The rage, the anger that I carry around, that I try to still in classroom on buses and everywhere looks to me like an inevitable explosion, starting in my body and moving through the buildings to the structure of the planning and the breaking of the planetary orbit. I see it. Splinters of everything flying away from the sound that I cannot make.
2. I just realized that the referential image for this visualization of my rage, my terror(ism) is that formative image that my dad passed on (driving to birmingham without warning when i fell asleep in the car one day) it's the 16th Street Baptist Church blowing up, It's my little girl parts that I can't afford, can't hold, can't save. That's the image. My anger can't be contained.
So this is me. Trying not to become a suicide bomber. Or this is the study for a poem that I have to write. In Song of Solomon, the book that made me feel like I was falling into the ocean the first time I read it. The book that made me refuse to straighten my hair the second time I read it. This book that I am reading for the third time because of a random phone call that I shouldn't have taken... In Song of Solomon, Guitar, the quiet terrorist, the reverse nationalist, the unspoken sound, is charged with avenging the murders of these same four little girls, blown up in the 16th Street Baptist Church. I don't trust him to do it right though, because he says that even though the black woman is a pathological life draining mess, he has to avenge her "Because she is mine." I am nervous to conversations of property. Especially since Guitar is ready to rob three people who he qualifies as "women" when his friend misnames them as people to get the money to buy the bombs. Especially since he craves "legal tender" which he says "sounds like a virgin bride" to fund this project. Especially since Morisson equates committing murder to losing your virginity in this text, in reference to this man, Guitar, who is the second smartest character (Pilate is first) who a part of me wants to love...but I can't afford...these little girl parts. What does it mean to sacrifice. A virgin.
Especially since Morrison allows Corinthians to elaborate on the meaning of being owned, displayed like property and then splayed like whores in Babylon as the meaning of being a black daughter of a man who owns things (and people). Especially since I know this is the same act. I guess I should be explicit. Especially since I was sexually assaulted (sacrificed as a virgin) by someone who would have then and would probably now describe me as his...in a similar sick way. So what is the use of these little girl parts, of the sacrifice of virgins to the sense of a black liberatory narrative? Why do they need it?
In The Black Jacobins, that romance that tragedy of choosing between impossible choices, that tragedy (validated through Hamlet who finds the world too pregnant and hates women because they make men tragic through seduction and reproduction--according to David Scott) of "colonial enlightenment" that produced Caribbean intellectuals as conscripts of impossible desires and inevitable failures...little girl parts, the possibility that a girl can keep her body together is completely foreclosed. C.L.R. James, just finished arguing for West Indian Self-Government on strange and racist terms, tells this story beautifully. With an exception. Rape, when it shows up in the narrative, has to be part of a list of abuses suffered by the androcentric slave community all at once. Sex that is forced upon black and mulatto women is at best "seduction" by amoral slave owners and whites. One man insults another "man" by seducing his wife. By making her willing. By choosing the word seduction James is making her willing. And in a further move, unforgivable, he suggests that slave women were really fighting for (poisoning each other for) the chance to be "seduced" by the master. Sacrificed like versions of what? for the sake of lasting narrative of revolutionary struggle, of the rise of a man who was "master of himself" only because some things (it will seem) can always be owned, always be bought. Like those little girl parts...that body that I can't afford to keep. I want to ask the qustion that David Scott asks of this text in a different way. If Scott usefully, brilliantly asks that we use the mode of tragedy to realize the impossibility of vanquishing contingency, in the impossibility of predicting what we will really want, if we really are still alive, how do we make our desires loud? How do we resist the seduction of the predictable narrative that holds together partly because I'm not human enough to be included. This explains Toni Irving's article on the fact that black women are trained to know that when we speak about the violence that we have experienced we wil not be believed, we disrupt the narrative. Little girls are sposed to hush...
I mean literally. These little girl parts explode the narrative. Remember this. The civil rights movement led up to the brilliant and beautiful March on Washington, featuring the King who could see the mountaintop. And they blew up the church on Sunday during Sunday school, they sent the little girl parts flying into my my breaking faith AFTER that. AFTER that. I heard James Baldwin's voice break at the specificity "In a christian nation. On Sunday morning. IN A CHURCH. They do this..." Nothing is sacred, but somethings are set apart, like the sacrifice of virgins, making sense. An advisor of mine, Karla Holloway, asked me to be suspicious of the term coherence, of whose term that was. She reminded me that it really was not mine (add this to the list of things that I cannot afford). So now I have to name my own as the position that coherence excludes.
"Black is a Country", Nikhil Singh's readable and useful and wonderful account of the "unfinished struggle for democracy" points out the collaborations of the narrative of liberal economics and nationalist universalism in a way that I need. He does it in a way that I thank him for. But there is a growing list of things that I cannot afford (that he can afford?) and his book is only possible when I am amputated. I should have known when I noticed that the title quote is from my least favorite book of essays by Amiri Baraka..'Home"...the book that I literally wrote my senior thesis against...the violent domestication of black women (in the sanctified place that is going to blow up) that I cannot afford. I should have known but as usual I underestimated context (i can be a bad reader in the service of hope and Gilroy does it too...i'll come back to that). So the seamless slick narrative of black freedom discourse passed from man to man, and (as he explained) the way that this place tried to fool us into thinking that race was parenthetical he literally made gender parenthetical at at least two points in the text and then actually says that gender became an issue in the last chapter with the Panthers, despite Ella Baker...somehow. His students tell me he is thinking about that. They tell me that he repents. But the problem is that he had to do it..to make a book. He had to, to make a narrative that could hold. That couldn't hold the problematic little girl parts.
Franciose Verges admits that it will always have to happen in the next book. Her book on the family narrative of colonialism and the trajectory of emancipation struggles in Reunion could not include the experiences of colonized women...it will have to be another book she says. It will have be contained somewhere else. What does it mean to be set apart (into the sacred space that will be sacrificed first) , set apart onto the front lines. Dr. Verges and I once had a very strange and very short conversation about Condoleeza Rice and she said "It's something about the black woman destroying the black man. It goes back to slavery." I couldn't keep listening, for fear I would see Moynihan channelled, for fear I would lose the insights she had given about the relationship between rape and war. Really because I started to see those splinters in my head when I blinked. And I didn't want to explode the house of whichever kind faculty member's home I was in. And further..beacuse I can't be social under the specter of Conde. Conde is the epitome of what it means to sacrifice those little girl parts (that invevitability of power) and at the same time the even scarier violence of their recuperation. Carol Boyce Davies gave a talk last week in Toronto in which she pointed out the deadly irony of Conde (growing up IN Birmingham when girl parts were scattered right there right there everywhere) uses her proximity to say that she knows something about terror, she makes an exchange that I cannot afford, using her proximity to this explosion to turn black girls into soldiers, sending them into explosion demanding the form some form of themselves without little girlness, sending them to kill all the little girls in the world. A war on terror. God. I can't afford this. See how it explodes out?
So where is the hope (if not in the church). Gilroy (my fellow bad reader in the service of hope) sees it in technological innovation (which is where everyone sees it right?) arguing in Against Race that the move from blood and bones as the low tech house of rape into genetic penetrability makes a difference that affirms the exceptionality and the universal ethics that emanates from the killing of not quite racialized racialized people or something. But to do that he has to say that blood and bones and the place were race is marked and reproduced, which is difference from the genetic in a fundamenal way. He also has to say that through time we have moved from relative inpenetrability to technovisual penetrability. So he has to in other words, cut out the girl parts that were penetrable from the beginning (he actually says that somehow Micheal Jordan is more penetrable than Sartje Baartman was, she who was sacrificed exactly for and as the penetrability of stolen girl parts) AND say that the organs through which race is produced are neutral bones and blood and not the womb, the mark of the mother which reproduces race and social condition as one (in the time of slavery) and which is linked (even in his analysis) to the cellular reproduction of cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks towards genetic narratives that perpetuate social conditions by claiming to explain them genetically.
So I cannot afford to hope that race is finally over, or some such thing. I have to with Lefebvre say that a new social condition requires a new space (thus the explosion in my head again and again). That space is made and pointed to and furnished by Asha and Erna and Ntozake and Pamela and Dionne who insist on and insist on little black girl subjectivities, little black grils in pieces who deserve to be loved, who deserve the whole world. Little black girls whose experiences animate a critique of the police state that is black women held in place, and forced and sacrificed while virgins. Little black girls whose minds explode past death into the stories and desires of other black women. Little black girls who find new vantage points fr viewing a world that we thought was used up. Little black girls who suffer the trials of eight year old vulnerability for the simple joy of unjustified unownable pleasure. Little girls who count every single loss and happiness like it is theirs to hold. So really maybe the battle is in that exploding church, splintering my brain again and again. In the embattled belief that I am actually here even if no one admits this. In the inexcusable need to hold books while knowing that they may never be able to hold me....

Discipline and Discipline

via thatlittleblackbook.blogspot.comFive Families, Oscar Lewis, 1959
“39 Siezed at Queens, But Sit-in Resumes”, New York Times, Apr 2, 1969, p1.
“In the Colleges, ‘Separate’ Could Mean ‘Inferior’ for Blacks.” New York Times, Jan 12, 1969, p E9.
The Voice of the Children, June Jordan and Terri Bush eds., 1970
Public Sphere and Experience, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, 1972 (1993 translated edition)
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, Dan Georgakas, 1975
The Privileged Many: A Study of the City University's Open Admissions 1970-1975, The Women's City Club of New York, 1975
Open Admissions at City University of New York, Jack Rossman et al, 1975
Right Vs. Privilege: The Open Admissions Experiment at the City University of New York, David Lavin et al, 1981
A Comrade is a Precious As a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar, 1984
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Social Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue, 1996
Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, Andrea McArdle, 2001
Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones, 2002
Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City, Marilynn Johnson, 2003
Memory and Cultural Trauma: Women of Color in Literature and Film, Anh Hua (dissertation), 2005
Unspeakable Thoughts, Unthinkable Acts: Toward a Black Feminist Liberatory Politics, Sara Clarke Kaplan (dissertation), 2006
"We in Redux: The Combahee River Collective's Black Feminist Statement", Brian Norman (Differences), 2007
The Witch's Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme and the Image of Common Sense, Kara Keeling, 2007
No Snow Here #11, Nadia, 2007

In the late 1960’s New York City officials had a problem. During the 1950’s, 700,000 white people had moved out of the city and 700.000 black and latino people from the southeastern United States and the Caribbean had moved in. The market for unskilled labor was shrinking and the resonance of southern-born freedom struggles was growing. And black and Puerto Rican people were disproportionately on the welfare rolls. The city was funding the wrong public. Without the disciplining function of factory work, how would this population learn not to be free? The police force had one answer: shoot black and Puerto Rican children on sight. But riots and organized protests in black and Puerto Rican communities voiced a clear rejection of this form of discipline. Starting in the mid-1960’s it became increasingly difficult to ignore demands for a civilian review board, and even the associations for black and latino police officers within the force demanded disciplinary action against racist police violence. At the height of this controversy in 1964 the City University responded by creating the College of Police Science (COPS), which later became John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In 1969 the City University finalized what it had planned for a decade: the expansion of the public university apparatus. And not a moment too soon. Students at Queens College had already taken over their campus, demanding the right to choose their own administrators and an autonomous structure designed with the social and intellectual desires of black and Puerto Rican students at its heart. Students at City College had followed suit, taking over more than half their campus and renaming it “Harlem University”, flying the black liberation flag and the Puerto Rican liberation flag and insisting that the College would serve the interests of black and Spanish Harlem.
The decision to use Open Admissions (which offered every high school graduate a spot in the 4 year or community college in the University system) to expand the City University was a move to quiet tensions in New York City and to supply a space of discipline to help address the loss of factory labor as a disciplining apparatus. This transformation in the tuition-free City University coincided with efforts by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to expand the State University of New York. Furthermore this creation of a seemingly level playing field helped to justify the gradual shifting of government funds away from the social welfare programming, a shift which would reach its height in the Reagan years. The transformation of the university to include “minorities” then is not necessarily a simply progressive act.
I argue that the expansion of the public university system in New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s was an instance expanded discipline. Furthermore this particular context reveals the intricate relationship between the university apparatus and the police apparatus. Understanding the expansion of the university as part of the same disciplinary project that would lead to the expansion of the prison system by 400 percent in the decades that followed means we have to pay close attention to the function of the "Academic Industrial Complex" a topic that many brilliant people convened to talk about at University of Michigan recently.

What do teachers do when the University is a trick, a trap a prison...but is at the same time one of the few places where writers and thinkers can make a living, one of the few spaces of sustained and supported intergenerational dialogue. What happens when the most accessible portal to the future (not particularly accessible to begin with) is a prison? How do we teach here, think here, live here without forgetting what freedom might be?

Audre Lorde and June Jordan were case studies in this predicament. They were both conscripted into the ranks of "composition" instructors during this period. They were hired to manage the changed population of the City University of New York. They were supposed to be teaching the unruly to think inside the lines, believe within the structure...and they did...and they didn't.

Audre Lorde's teaching experience is the most poignant illustration of this point. After teaching, with June Jordan at City College and supporting the campus takeovers, she was hired as the first black member of the english faculty to teach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice...which moved to a new campus (appropriately an empty former factory complex) right as the new open admissions policy came to pass. Imagine this teaching environment....almost 100% male attendance, a stronghold of white ethnics...mostly irish, a new population of students from highly policed areas mostly black and puerto rican...and everyone but Lorde is wearing a uniform...everyone but Lorde has a loaded gun. Teach composition here.

In this most unlikely of utopian sites, Lorde pushed against discipline for transformation. She expanded past composition to teaching about institutional racism (the composition of the racist police state), she co-taught the first women's studies class and opened the converted factory rooms of John Jay to the mothers, girlfriends and wives of police officers and to the women of the NYC lesbian scene...pushing the open-ness of admissions well past their target audience for target practice.

In the 1990’s the state of California had a problem. Again, it was a problem of migration and public resources. The displacing impact of US trade interests in Central America had increased migration into California markedly. In 1986, California legislators amended their constitution to make English the official language of the state, beginning a series of “English only” legislative acts that continue to impact public education. And in 1994, the state sought to respond to increased immigration with Proposition 147, which would have required local police officers to collaborate with Immigration and Naturalization Services and denied health services to anyone not able to prove legal residence. At the same time, California was engaged in population control via the largest prison build-up in the country. Proposition 147 was defeated, but the growth of prison funding by billions of dollars continued (and continues). And again this problem of an unruled and unruly public had an impact on the university. Discipline is flexible, it will sometimes do opposite things to achieve the same ends. In this case the University constricted admissions by refusing affirmative action.

This was when June Jordan, not coincidentally, published her book of political essays entitled "Affirmative Acts". Jordan was in the newspaper and in the street demanding the structural acknoweldgement of racism within the University of California...on the level of admissions and also on the level of the extreme funding differences between the elite campus (her own Berkeley the best example of this) and the crowded community colleges. (Professors were/are paid less to teach more students, who arguably need more time with faculty to remedy short lifetimes of being educationally suppressed.)
And this was when and where June Jordan created a disciplinary intervention that lives on. The Poetry for the People curriculum, a creative writing/ethnic studies/literature/blackstudies/service learning/performance/student taught/high school inclusive/undepartmentalizable course, was democratic in form and content (in fact giving the word "democratic" a new poetic life after what Chandra Mohanty and M. Jaqui Alexander call the colonization of the word democracy by narratives of neo-liberal capital), juxtaposes discipline and poetic rigor which Jordan calls the art of telling the truth. Poetry produces the people
out of line(s).

Let's go.


radical black feminist: "always disrupting in transgressive ways racist, classist, and homophobic structures with courage, resilience and risk taking."
-Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Joan Gibbs

This first appeared onbilerico.com

As an LGBTQ movement, we often think of multi-issue organizing and coalition building as perpetual desire, always forestalled to a future we're trying to get to...someday. The life of warrior Joan Gibbs, a black lesbian writer, editor, publisher, lawyer and activist, is a testament how PRESENT the boundary-breaking, interconnected work that we need is already alive in our community. Our understanding of our movement as broad, powerful, and nuanced depends on who we centralize as examples of what LGBTQ revolutionary organizing is.

I think we should start by remembering the name Joan Gibbs.

Joan Gibbs was born in Harlem, raised in North Carolina and has been fighting for racial justice since the 1960s when she was a high school student. The scene for the struggle for racial justice that Gibbs continues to fiercely inhabit has multiple scales. She fights on the scale of the nation to transform the current climate of immigration in the United States, and working with the Jericho movement to demand that all US political prisoners get free...right now.

Right now, Joan Gibbs is a radical lawyer, shifting the story of the
law towards the hope that it will break into someplace liveable for
all of us.
Right now, Joan Gibbs is the general counsel for the Center for Law
and Social Justice Center at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn New York
and she is the project director of their Immigration Center.
Right now Joan Gibbs fights the letters that lockdown and exile the landless

Letter by letter.

None of us should be surprised by this.

All of us should find it natural, if not inevitable that Joan Gibbs
would be breathing life into misused sentences, opening space for
communities of purpose and vision.
We should remember that Joan Gibbs has been doing this all along. For
example, Joan Gibbs was one of the dreamers that dreamt up the first
conference for Third World Lesbian Writers. Joan Gibbs was part of the
Salsa Soul Sisters crew that revolutionized the New York City scene
with t-shirts, pins, and beautiful bold black and latina lesbian
visibility. Most important, we should remember that Joan Gibbs was
part of the Azalea collective, a group of self-declared "third world
lesbians" who created a literary magazine run based on shared power,
with rotating roles and a hands-off non-editing editorial style. And
we would certainly remember how Joan Gibbs co-compiled the
ground-breaking Top Ranking a collection of essays about racism and
classism in the lesbian community. Of course!

But maybe you didn't know any of that. I certainly didn't know who
Joan Gibbs was until less than a year ago AFTER I took it upon myself
to search archives, basements, offices and ebay for any published
trace of the diverse and powerful movement that lesbians of color
created in the 1980's.

What does it mean, that the name Joan Gibbs isn't remembered and
restated daily within conversations about lesbian herstories in the
United States? If Joan Gibbs was our central heroine we would be much
more likely to remember the interconnected flows of sexuality and
migration. We would remember that our struggle as queer folks is not
limited to the terms of citizenship. It is about how love moves
everywhere, and how the law denies it.

As an editor Gibbs refused to confine the words of other lesbians
within the confines of her own writing style. So it is no surprise
that she continues to fight against the ways the increasingly
draconian laws enforced by the Department of Homeland Security seek to
constrain the lives of people struggling to survive on the margins of
US society.
If we are a movement that claims to be inclusive that seeks to address
multiple oppressions through a fierce history of fighting back, then
Joan Gibbs is the perfect emblem of how queer politics, and especially
a queer creative ethic, must push on the language and the law at once.
Finding a way to honor the struggles, needs and rights of all the
people, especially immigrants in a post-911 state is a poetic act. How
do we honor the inherent contribution of everyone in our society when
the law would name so many of us "illegal"?

Joan Gibbs emphasizes the poetics of queer politics, an aesthetic that
lives also in the work of cross-cutting organizations that recognize
the links between migration, sexuality, class and state violence.
Southerners On New Ground (www.southernersonnewground.org), Queers for
Economic Justice (q4ej.org), the Audre Lorde Project (alp.org) and the
Sylvia Rivera Law Project are all organizations that are doing the
work that Joan Gibb's life exemplifies.
But the name "Joan Gibbs" is not ringing from the rooftops. It will
have to be enough for now that her name echoes of the walls and limits
of this post in excess, reminding us that there are warriors still
among use who are living the change we need.

Joan Gibbs is a warrior because her life is a lesson in how movement
looks, and where freedom lives. Our creative attention to structures
of captivity is more necessary now than ever.

for alexis from alexis: honoring alexis de veaux

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

the thing within
all of it

-from "Poem for the Poet Alexis De Veaux" by June Jordan

What a blessing when we can call our heroes by our own names!

I am writing this on a Sunday, giving thanks for the name, Alexis, meaning helper of all humanity. Giving thanks for Alexis De Veaux who teaches me that I am not the first one called to the task.

Alexis De Veaux, black lesbian feminist poet, playwright, scholar, teacher, and publisher has been dressing this old planet in her new words for decades. Alexis De Veaux is a warrior because she insists that if we have space or time to breathe or write it is because we have made it, demanded it and built it ourselves. The first words I heard someone use to describe Alexis De Veaux was "brilliant black feminist". This was from her mentee Mark Anthony Neal who credits Dr. De Veaux with inventing and calling into being the black male feminism he strives to live. The second description I heard was "brave". Cheryll Greene, who has been close friends with De Veaux for years, explained that Alexis De Veaux was always determined to live as an artist, even when that meant risking everything. And it does. Every time.

Alexis De Veaux has published about a half dozen books with well known literary presses including several books of poetry and a groundbreaking biography of fellow black lesbian feminist poet and teacher Audre Lorde. She is now the chair of the Global Gender Studies Department at the State University of New York in Buffalo. And I celebrate the way the world honors and rewards Dr. De Veaux's priceless and crucial contribution to literature and literary studies.

But today is Sunday, and I've long since stopped going to church. So I have to give thanks in my own way. Today I want to talk about the miracles that the world forgets. Because for artists, especially black lesbian visionaries, staying true to purpose means choosing integrity over security day by day. Alexis De Veaux teaches me to remember that a world worth living in is not one that can be bought into. The world worth living in is the one that we make.

Alexis De Veaux is a warrior. For example, in the bleak Reagan years which marked the end of the short period in which writing by black women was in high literary demand, De Veaux refused to allow the cold shoulder turned by publishers and the conservative limits of the National Endowment for the Arts to end the black feminist literary project that was her home. If institutional racism sought to silence the voices of black women, De Veaux countered by creating institutions. De Veaux opened up her Brooklyn apartment to young women of African descent and facilitated a writing circle called the Gaptooth Girlfriends, a group of women who grew together as writers and published their own work in anthologies with the same name. During the same period De Veaux and her partner at the time Gwendolyn Hardwick started a performance group called The Flamboyant Ladies which hosted brunches, made t-shirts and made space for discussions as complicated as the particular stake of black communities in the movement against nuclear war.

As long as Alexis De Veaux had a place to live, the black feminist literary movement had space to grow. And having a place to live (in New York City) is no simple victory as an independent artist. Strategically, in the 1980's, Alexis De Veaux used her talents as a writer to work for Essence Magazine, a popular lifestyle and fashion magazine which reaches a market of millions of black women. Talk about making miracles happen in the least likely places. Essence Magazine, bastion of the normative black family was (and is) more committed to selling beauty products than to sparking a worldwide black revolution. But against the odds, Alexis De Veaux and Cheryll Greene turned the conservative 1980s in to the most radical decade the magazine has ever seen. De Veaux celebrates the fact that with the support of editor Susan Taylor, she and Greene were able to bring a level of consciousness to the magazine that went further than the feminists magazines of the time, not to mention the mainstream press. With the help of fellow writers Toni Cade Bambara and June Jordan they reported on the struggles and victories of black people in Zimbabwe, Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba, South Africa and all over the United States, encouraging the women who subscribed to the magazine (and their daughters who secretly read it too...like me!) to think about black solidarity in terms much wider than the United States and much more substantive than electoral politics. As De Veaux explains "We were talking about black diasporic community long before that phrase became popular."

And it never stopped. Alexis De Veaux is still challenging readers and students to expand their minds and to understand the political importance of every situation, and every word we use.

Alexis De Veaux is a warrior all the more worthy of praise because she is still here three of the black womyn warriors who I have mentioned in this post (Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan) have already become ancestors too soon. But Alexis De Veaux is alive, in every sense of the word and she takes her responsibility to the past and to the future seriously. Alexis De Veaux is alive.

Give thanks. Give thanks. Give thanks.