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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Otherworldly Videos: The Day They Came

“The Day They Came” is a Genesis Williams‘ directed short film starring Tony Doe and from the new Nigerian production company, Ficson. It seems like this going to be a web series, so I am interested to see more, particularly because of the special effects, which I read was done on a very small budget.

The My-Stery: Tribute to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes

After reading Shadow and Act’s review about the TLC biopic, Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story, I was reminded of how much Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes is underrated as an artist. In TLC, some thought of her as mainly the wacky and crazy rapper of the group who burned her boyfriends house down. But if we listen to her raps and works, they show that she was also an intelligent, sensitive, and beautiful thinker.

The biopic itself lacked the depth I wanted to see in the film; it felt rushed, focused too much on the drama of their relationships and gave slightly one-dimensional portrayals, even if the acting was good. At times, the film did hint at Lopes’ positive mind and spirit. For example, she was the only member who explicitly disliked the song “Creep” (which I admit that although I like, is a foolish song about cheating on your man because he cheated on you), her wanting to go in a different direction with the group, including take inspiration from Parliament and sci-fi, then her attempt to release her Outkast-like album Supernova, and her final spiritual journey. But I wanted it to show more of that side of her. By the way, she was also the TLC member who introduced us to the music group Blaque, who are know for their futuristic videos. She was definitely the most interesting member of TLC and I wonder what she would be doing today in her career with TLC and as a solo artist.

Lisa Lopes was a complex, inspiring and creative person and I wish we had more time with her to appreciate her. RIP Left Eye.

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Modern Griots Review: Wangechi Mutu’s A Fantastic Journey

Wangechi Mutu: Le Noble Savage
Wangechi Mutu: “Le Noble Savage” Source: Brooklyn Museum

To have a fantastic imagination requires a fluidity of perception of reality and that encapsulates Wangechi Mutu’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, A Fantastic Journey. Mutu’s medium of collage artwork provides a natural basis for her ideas that combine an ancient mythic and animistic values with the futuristic cyborg concepts to comment on global modern cultures’ interconnectedness yet monstrous excesses, objectification, exploitation and mechanization of gendered and racialized bodies.

Her discourse on the fluidity of being is establish very early in the exhibit with the first video instillation, “Amazing Grace,” where a woman sings the song of the same title in the Kenyan language of Kikuyu on the beach and immersing herself into the ocean. The video speaks to the exhibition’s themes of the displacement or dispossession of marginalized groups, either enslaved or colonized, a recognition of our disconnect from each other and nature, and a need of a womb-like re-immersion.

Mutu claims that our break of nature resulted in objectification, in which nature and “othered” bodies become material for exploitation. She discusses this primarily through employment of female bodies, since exploitation and violent violation is primarily gendered. Women, and by extension people of color, children, animals and even objects, becomes vessels for projections of power. Mutu plays with gender in her art, like inverting the power paradigm in “Yo Mama,” a tribute to feminist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Fela Kuti’s mother. Here, she replaces suns with dark suns and has a female figure stomping on the head of a phallic snake and getting the apple, alluding to the story of not only Adam and Eve, but also of Lilith, the rebellious woman who existed before Eve, and possibly the story of Ra and Apep. It symbolizes a reclamation of feminine and natural power. She again alludes to these mysterious, mythic feminine, and often racialized, powers, like Medusa and Eve again in “The Roots of all Eves,” that are debased and blamed for social ills.

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Otherwordly Videos: Anansi

Here is the first episode, “Spiderling,” of the Issa Rae-produced Anansi series, starring  Andrew Allan James, who played the role of “A” in the The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. I am not so sure how I feel about it yet, but I am intrigued by this kind of were-spider concept where he changes at night and has little memory of what he has done the next day. I want to see how it fleshes out. Also, it is nice to see James play a completely different character than the dorky one he does on Awkward Black Girl.