Category Archives: Race/Gender/Sexuality

Rewind: Retrofuturism of SteamFunk, DieselFunk, Rococoa, Black Medieval, and Black Westerns

When it comes to depictions of black people in history from the Medieval era to the 20th century, the tendency is to show us only as slaves or to downplay stories outside of that narrative. But black people have existed in various forms throughout these periods of time within and outside the narrow scope of slave narratives. Many contemporary creatives have explored and are exploring these times to reconstruct and highlight those histories. Through speculative and historical revision stories in steamfunk, dieselfunk, rococoa/black medieval, and black westerns, they are showing us in a broader light, opening the door for everyone to revisit those times to include more of our faces and stories. Below are a few examples and resources to learn about and enjoy:


Panel discussion featuring Kevin Sipp (David Walker Blackstone), Balogun Ojetade (Chronicles of Harriet and Rite of Passage film), Milton Davis and Mark Curtis at the Alien Encounters IV Atlanta 2013 conference:

Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy

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Rewind: Dapper Ladies

Currently, when we think of a black woman artist who showcases an androgynous or gender-bending look, we think of Janelle Monae. But, before Monae, other black women have challenged gender coding and in less accepting times, and possibly with less conventionally attractive features. Black women doing gender-bending often received less attention than when it is black men who do it, but it is just as important to highlight it as one way black women confront a world that can be sexist, misogynistic, misogynoiristic, and LGBTQ-phobic. This is a way of showing your womanhood and black female sexuality through a traditionally masculine mask, even as society already declares you as too masculine to be feminine or attractive. These woman were groundbreaking in their own right and paved the way for artists like Monae to do her thing. Let’s take a look at other ladies who have broke the mold in the past:

1) Gladys Bentley: If you study deeply into the Harlem Renaissance, you will come across that several of the major creative people were not heterosexual, like Langston Hughes, but that is often suppressed. One known figure was Gladys Bentley, a lesbian, cross-dressing singer and pianist of the 1920s. She was out and proud as a lesbian, known as the bulldagger of the Harlem Renaissance, and was known for her top hats, coat tails and suits.

However, during the McCarthy Era, she feared for her life and family, so she forced “back into the closet,” so to speak, and supposedly fabricated a story of being cured of lesbianism, returning to the church, and marrying a man. Still today, she is celebrated for her bravery in an era that was not comfortable with black women (or woman in general_ expressing themselves in such a manner. Ms. Magazine did a piece comparing her to Monae. Several people have paid tribute to her:

*Rapper and poet Shirlette Ammons dedicated an album to her, Twilight for Gladys Bentley, which you can listen to below.

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MLK: Who His Dreams Were For

This is jazz singer, Jose James’, Martin Luther King, Jr.-inspired song, “The Dreamer:”

“I saw the dreamer raise his hand
Into a world of possibilities”

While today many will try to appropriate and sanitize his image and legacy for their own agendas (looking at you PETA), let us remember that King fought for the freedom of oppressed people all over the world, especially the black communities from which he originated. Hamden Rice on Daily Kos wrote about his legacy, helping black people to confront their fears of daily life living in the South and in general. Not that those fears or dangers have gone completely away, but that we can stand up to them.

Also, let’s be clear, that is what made him dangerous, too, and eventually why he was assassinated. Some can pretend that they love and respect him now, but probably would have been the same people back then who would have jailed him. Do you think they would have agreed so easily with speeches like, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” or “A Time to Break the Silence,” or any of his other later speeches. But some in America want the King stuck in time in 1963 like his perpetual Groundhog’s Day because it is easier to take and appeals to their own desires. But King envisioned a different world than what they had in mind.


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Otherworldly Videos: Colored Girls Hustle’s “Afro Aliens” + Pink Oculus’ “Sweat”

Here are premieres of two videos from women taking female empowerment to higher levels:

Colored Girls Hustle (Taja Lindley and Jessica Valoris) – “Afro Aliens”

Donate to their Colored Girls Hustle Hard mixtape fundraiser!

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Moving on the Wires: Colored Girls Hustle Hard Mixtape and Afro Aliens Video Premiere

After watching their Colored Girls Hustle videos, I wanted to give special highlight to these two women and artists, Taja Lindley and Jessica Valoris  and their Colored Girls Hustle artistic creations, including jewelry, poetry and music. I am definitely attracted to their positive message and mission of self-affirmation and self-expression for women of color, whether through physical adornment of jewelry, through their creative and world-building passions or uplifting other women.

Currently they are fundraising on Indiegogo for their Colored Girls Hustle Hard mixtape. Also, on Wednesday at the Caribbean (yay!) restaurant, Dee and Ricky’s, in Brooklyn, they will premiere the first single video for “Afro Aliens” (some of the behind the scenes you can see at the end of the campaign video). Here is their headline for the event:

“Afro Aliens call us weird. Traveled through the galaxy and we landed here. Xigga.

Brooklyn is a planet and we’ve landed.

Break the boxes of normalcy. Embrace your quirky, weird, queer, alien, extraterrestrial selves and come through to our “Afro Aliens” video premiere event. Peep the event on Facebook.”

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The My-Stery: Holidays, Celebrations and The Pleasure of Racist Masquerade

Source: News One

Anyone on social media has probably already come across the shitstorm of white people dressing in blackface/brownface costumes. The recent events have included dancer and actress Julianne Hough‘s Orange is the New Black costume, the 21-year-old Australian woman’s “African”-themed birthday party, the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costumers, Italian fashion designer Allesandro Dell’Acqua‘s “Disco Africa” themed Halloween party and the San Diego high school football coaches who wore blackface for their Cool Runnings Halloween costumes.

When we look at these photographs, we see ignorance, insensitivity, prejudice, and disrespect, but often we do not examine how these ritualistic masquerades are part of a production of and investment in pleasure and community at the expense of people of color. The main reason why they continue is that their is an enjoyment and communal, identity-structuring power, albeit sickening, in doing so. It is no coincidence that often these blackface costumes are done during times of celebration and joy, like Halloween, birthday parties, and Christmas, as in the tradition of Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands. As holiday season comes, we see the greater occurrences of these costumes. wrote a post, “The Delicious Pleasures of Racism”  about the sadistic kind of pleasure white Netherlands enjoy from dressing up as Zwarte Piet:

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Modern Griots Interviews: Renina Jarmon and Black Girls Are From the Future Part 2

Here is part two of the Renina Jarmon interview from yesterday. Below Jarmon talks about the significance of Erykah Badu, Octavia Butler and Janelle Monae, her future plans for Black Girls Are From the Future and the future she dreams of for Black girls:

6) The book includes discussions on Octavia Butler and Janelle Monae. What is the significance of science fiction/afrofuturism to the lives of black girls?

I don’t think that I am equipped to speak as to why Afrofuturism speaks to Black girls; I think that that is a dissertation topic. #AboveMyPayGrade. However, I will say that Ms. Octavia Butler and Ms. Janelle Monae speak to the importance of the knowledge production of Black women and girls. There work also speaks to the importance of being fearless in terms of creating the work that we feel needs to be made. When I say the knowledge production of Black women and girls, I am talking about the books, the blogs, the podcasts, the web series, the novels and the songs that we create. To that end, the book has an appendix where I list nearly 100 sites created by, for and about Black women and girls.

Back to your original question, in the essay “Erykah Badu, Octavia Butler and Janelle Monáe: Musing on Time Travel and Black Women,” I contend that Black women artist find time travel attractive because time travel allows us to create spaces of freedom. What I mean by spaces of freedom is current spaces or even future spaces where being Black, being a Black woman, being a Black man, being a Queer Brown person doesn’t always mean being dominated and being discriminated against. Racism is exhausting. Sexism is exhausting and racialized sexism will have you tired as shit. So this notion of being able to still be you and not be racially profiled, to not be confined to an under-funded school, to not go to the funerals of brown teenagers, to not be forced to live in a segregated neighborhood, to not have to deal with street harassment is just fantastic to me. This is what this freedom symbolizes. Also, I just saw the film “12 Years a Slave” this weekend, so the importance of the autonomy of Black bodies, of bodies of color, that freedom to move without being police, monitored and punished is what I think what some Black girls find attractive in the work of Ms. Butler and Ms. Monae.

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Modern Griots Interviews: Renina Jarmon and Black Girls Are From the Future

 Renina and Jessica share notes before the meet and greet. Erica Jane takes photos.

Renina and Jessica share notes before the meet and greet. Erica Jane takes photos.

Renina Jarmon is a writer, cultural critic, blogger and educator whose work centers on Black women’s sexuality and pop culture, as well as race, technology and the concept of self. She recently released her book, Black Girls Are From the Future, a collection of essays based on her popular posts from her blog New Model Minority. Here is part one of my interview with Jarmon in which she talks about her inspiration for her book, what to look forward to in it, its appeal to a variety of people, her documentary, and social media and women of color. Part two will be up tomorrow.

1) What or who was your main inspiration for the putting together the book?

First let me say thank you for creating the space for the #Blackgirlsarefromthefuture online book tour (#thetour), I really appreciate it. I remember that you reached out to me way back in February so I just wanted to state my gratitude. Having folks check for me earlier this year means a lot.

So to answer your question. Well, I’ve written over 963 blog posts. About 100 of those are essays, full out essays with citations. My friend Garland McLaurin was the first person to say that my blog was like a book back in 2007. I have had two explicit conversations on my blog with blog readers about what they would pay for and the readers were very clear in that they would pay for a book, a magazine or any other kind of printed item. But they wouldn’t pay for blog posts. It was really important to have this information. In fact I wrote about how significant having this information was in the essay “A Mini Social Media/MBA Boot Camp For Your Brand: 7 Key Steps.” I recognize that it is rare to be able to connect directly with your community and ask them exactly what they would pay for, especially as an independent media producer.

Also, I know that there were plenty of bloggers, Black women bloggers who were using their platforms to move on to do other kinds of work, Britni Danielle (Clutch Mag Online), Jamilah Lemieux (Ebony Magazine), Luvvie Ajayi (The Red Pump Project and Social Media Trainings), Latoya Peterson (Al Jazeera) are just a few. It was helpful for me to help me to see these Black women making digital moves, 2013 – 2014 is #blackgirltime. What I mean by #Blackgirltime is that the barriers to entry are only going to get higher so it is important to make your move now, if you so desire.

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The My-Stery: Domestic Violence and Speculative Fiction is both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Black Speculative Fiction Month, so, I want to highlight a campaign and a works of speculative fiction that brings awareness to domestic violence. The campaign I want to focus on is 31 for Marissa in honor of Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot from a gun to protect herself from her abusive husband and faced 20 years in prison for it, following the rejection of the “stand your ground” defense. In September, she received a chance to get a new trial, but still without the “stand your ground” defense. Esther Armah from Emotional Justice writes about 31 for Marissa:

“Emotional Justice Unplugged, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women, Free Marissa Now launch a month long multi-media letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. Throughout the month, we are urging men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, share stories of violence experienced by women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic Cover for 'Flee: A Short Story'violence movement. Participants are also encouraged to invite, inspire, challenge and engage 5 other men to join the campaign. We are asking a nation of men—of all creeds and colors—to stand up and engage in the pursuit of freedom of a Black woman.”

One of the tumblr websites, theSWAGspot, as well as other voices have been participating in the campaign, writing heartfelt letters, poems, anecdotes and articles.

Authors have featured domestic violence and abuse in their works, like Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood and Patternist series. Last year, speculative fiction author, Alicia McCalla, published her short story, Flee, which tackles domestic abuse through a fantasy lens. It is suppose to be a prequel to her upcoming Soul Eaters book. You can read it for free, here and here.


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The My-Stery: Janelle Monae and the Struggle for Black Complexity in Mainstream Media

“Narrow views of Blackness lead to a sometimes stalled consumption of challenging art and media.” – Dara M. Wilson
While reading the Pitchfork feature on Janelle Monae, some of the issues concerning her art process and the reception of her art reminded me of the balancing act between black intellectuality and black physicality and the mainstream media tendency to lean towards more of the latter or other forms of stereotypical blackness.
Mainstream audiences have been trained to go and appropriate to the most accessible forms of black cultures that tend to fulfill stereotypes of black cultures (ex. Miley Cyrus and twerking, Madonna and vogue). Mainstream audiences do that in general, not giving as much attention to the more inaccessible/harder to decipher parts of cultures or to more than one part of them at a time.
I see Monae as part of the lineage of black artists who want to challenge the preconceived notions of blackness, like Sun Ra in the above clip from Space Is the Place. Or, as Nelson George said about funk bands, like Parliament Funkadelic, who were large, musically experimental bands that wore outrageous costumes with their chests all out in the open. They were not many people’s definition of a “safe negro.” They are not easily digestible, they do the unexpected, and I like that, but I understand that the majority does not because it’s scary. It is a possible reason why Monae does not receive as much attention as she should on the charts, according to Pitchfork.
Also, to top it all off, Monae includes what the other artists I mentioned before did not as much, black womanhood and black queerness. For example, her creation of the cyborg metaphor of Cindi Mayweather to comment on otherness and intersectionality. Or her latest album, The Electric Lady, as she tries to balance the two sides of the futuristic and earthliness more this time, we still have Monae paying tribute to womanhood and black womanhood in songs like “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Electric Lady,” “Ghetto Woman,” “Sally Ride” (think of the girl games that are often referenced in male musical artists’ songs), and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” (an obvious play on “Bette Davis Eyes” song, a nod to an ignored black sex symbol, and someone Monae looks a lot like). Monae pushes the mainstream to recognize black girl genius, black queer genius, black histories on the peripheral and black otherworldliness, and I love it!
The Electric Lady is out today!

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