Category Archives: Race

Three Sistahs Talk Feminism And White Women

By Andrea Plaid

Home Girls

Happy New Year, SBF family!

We deeply apologize for our silence. Tami and I are going through some deep life changes on our ends–my relocating to Philadelphia and starting a class on social-justice writing while looking for steady-income work; Tami becoming an adjunct professor; both of us pitching story ideas and writing for other media outlets–so, we haven’t been around as much.

Forgive us?

One of the the project Tami and I are involved in is our homie Sofia Quintero’s upcoming transmedia book, Feminists Hate Men, which takes on the myths we’re so familiar with about people who work towards gender equity. According to Sofia:

“The ebook is going to be free to download for those who register for the Feminist Love Project which is a telesummit I’m launching in March 2014. The event itself is free, too. Registration opens on Valentine’s Day.”

We’ll give you more details about the telesummit soon!

In the meantime, after the jump is an excerpt from the upcoming e-book of Sofia, Tami, and me discussing the notion that feminism is for white women. (Unfortunately, we don’t have the transcript yet. Sofia said she’ll provide it soon!)

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We Rise Together: Resisting White Institutional Culture In Publishing

By Daniel José Older; originally published at his eponymous blog

Journal and Coffee

Had coffee with Saeed [Jones] today and we were talking about how, as people of color, we are socialized to feel gratitude to even have a seat at the table in the publishing industry, and how silencing that discomfort can be, the challenges of knowing how and when to push, how to gain and maintain a strong footing and sense of self while navigating the swamps of the literary world.

Then I went home and looked over a contract, noticing how every part of me just wanted to say, “It’s fine! It’s fine! Whatever you got for me is fine!” because I’m still just so happy to be paid for writing something, aghast at what that is and, even though I know I’ve earned it and I know it’s my path, there’s always that voice trying to barge its way in saying, Stay in line, be careful how you come across, don’t ask for too much, because it’s fragile, the weird world of publishing, the undefined, over-defined, never full, outlined beast called success.

And so WTF is success, right? I prefer the term “victory” because that’s what it feels like when shit comes together, but “success” is the word we hear most after the word “literary,” and what we believe to be “success” and “not success” matters. It matters a whole lot and what we’re never taught to do, not in MFA programs, not in [ridiculous] online how-to-be-a-writer-troll-ass blog posts, not damn anywhere–except maybe if you go to VONA–is that we have to, have to–as in it’s-a-matter-of-survival have to–deconstruct the fucked-up narrow version of success that we’re spoon-fed and create for ourselves a new understanding of what that means. Each of us has to do this, and we have to do this as a community.

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Sirius XM: Does That Umbrella Come With A Pink Slip For Babchik?

By Guest Contributor Alison Roh Park; originally published at Race Files

“I want to buy an umbrella [that comes] with an Asian girl…In my experience, girls who stand next to me longer than 20 seconds get a creampie.” Mike Babchik, Host of “Man Banter” on SiriusXM to an Asian American woman at Comic Con, October 2013

Mike Babchik. Image via 18 Million Rising.

Mike Babchik. Image via 18 Million Rising.

You may have heard about the racist misogynist Mike Babchik who sexually harassed at least one Asian American attendee at Comic Con this month, right here in my hometown of New York City. Mike Babchik is a creep. But we’re all familiar with creeps like him. All you have to do is walk outside or Google “Asian women” and these kinds of messages about Asian women’s servility, hypersexuality and availability to White men (and really all men for that matter) abound.

Here in NYC, I’ve experienced racist sexual harassment from [insert any expletive you want] like Babchik since I was 11 years old. And with 20 years of experience under my belt, I can tell you it isn’t about “free speech” or “irreverent humor” or any of the whitewashing terms that his corporate guardians at Siruis XM might throw at the public who is demanding Babchik’s termination—if they would even respond. How many APIAs and allies will it take for Sirius XM to even acknowledge the nearly 1,500 people who have demanded action?

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The Celebrity Dating Narrative

Brian Musso and Heather Headley.  Image via mychoicetolove.com.

Brian Musso and Heather Headley. Image via mychoicetolove.com.

Yes, there is a celebrity dating narrative, and it goes something like this:

Performer type–and it usually focuses on people who are actors and musicians by training and profession, not reality-TV stars or usually “internet famous” folks, who are still seen as outliers in the entertainment system–dates, mates, and marries someone, usually another performer type or someone in the showbiz industry. Usually the couple involved are cisgender, heterosexual, of the same stratum of star power, and the same race and/or ethnicity. If they met on the set, so much more romantic.

The more closely the performer hews to this narrative, the higher their prestige and paycheck.

How does it make itself known? Watch what happens when it’s followed–and it’s disrupted.

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Searching for Cicely: The Blanding of Hollywood Beauty

In the narrative surrounding the Emmys on Sunday, Kerry Washington was cast as a modern-day Diahann Carroll. But all the talk about the history of African American women in television, sparked a question in my mind: Who is the modern equivalent of Cicely Tyson, the dark brown-skinned, naturally coiffed sister who earned nine Primetime Emmy nominations and three wins? Is there room for such a woman–a black woman whose appearance defiantly contradicts the prevailing beauty standard?

My apologies to fans of Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling, but I swear I can’t tell those two actors apart. Andrea can attest that I refer to them as “the random Ryans.” To me, the pair are illustrative of a modern bland and homogenous entertainment beauty aesthetic.

When I was a little girl the 70s, Hollywood favored gritty realism. Studios intentionally cast actors as disparate in their physicality as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino and Robert Redford; Barbra Streisand and Ali McGraw and Tyson. No one blinked at a show like All in the Family, starring two middle-aged leads, or its spin-off, The Jeffersons, whose female lead, Isabel Sanford, was more than two decades older than her TV partner, Sherman Hemsley.

But the age when actors like Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason could serve as headliners in films seems to be long gone, replaced by a narrower expectation of appearance–all hairless, bronzed and white-toothed. A Tom Cruise versus a Kris Kristofferson. If female, lithe and blonde and young–always the appearance of young, even for women who truly are in middle-age. Can you imagine a modern actress of any age volunteering to play aging and washed-up, as 42-year-old Bette Davis did in All About Eve? And if the way into the Hollywood spotlight has diminished, you can be damned sure that women of color will be left out in the cold.

If hyper-mainstream prettiness is paramount when casting, then where does that leave Black, Latina, Asian and Native women, who still struggle to recognized as attractive within the confines of the eurocentric beauty standards? Kerry Washington is beautiful and talented, but what of beautiful and talented black and brown women whose appearances don’t fit so neatly into the ideal–who aren’t young and petite and honey brown with long, silky hair. Would America still be shipping “Olitz” if Washington possessed a different look? If she were browner or nappier or closer in age to Tony Goldwyn, who is 53? (Some particularly odious Scandal fans and Olitz ‘shippers already shade Goldwyn’s real-life wife, Jane Musky, an accomplished production designer and art director, for looking her nearly 60 years. The logic goes that such a handsome man could never be truly in love with an older woman–even one who has stood by his side for 26 years. He must certainly be nursing a “thing” for the younger, more conventionally pretty, Kerry Washington.)

Viola Davis said last year: “I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time.” When I look at the actresses who are cast and feted as up-and-comers, I don’t see many Marsha Masons, but I see even fewer Violas or Cicely Tysons or Esther Rolles or Isabel Sanfords.

The same can be said, incidentally, of a different sort of artistry–fashion. Forty years after American models of color turned out Paris, as part of a 1973  benefit to restore Versailles, one of those models, Bethann Hardison, has to lead a charge against designers who only want their supermodels super white.

Had Kerry Washington snagged an Emmy on Sunday night, she would have been the first African American woman to take home an award for lead actress in a drama–and for a role that positions her as one-half of an interracial couple, including the POTUS, no less. I suppose this is progress. But I can’t help thinking that in 2013, despite gains, Hollywood is an even more hostile place for women of tremendous talent, who would have once been celebrated.

Slouching Toward Feminism

By Guest Contributor Deesha Philyaw

Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was raised to see the world in Black and White.

This manifests itself as an ingrained wariness of White folks, built in for the purposes of self-protection when I was bused from my working-class-on-the-decline neighborhood to the suburbs, beginning in first grade. My handful of White school friends notwithstanding, this was an us-versus-them kind of black and white. No one else–religious minorities, other racial and ethnic minorities, and people in other marginalized groups–was really on my radar in any meaningful way until high school. Even then, I heard friends and relatives use slurs against Asians (the least offensive reference was “Orientals”), “foreigners” (everyone who wasn’t identifiable as Black, White, or Asian), “sissies,” and “bulldaggers.” But I never used those words myself. Even as ignorant as I was, maybe I had a gut feeling about the ugliness and the harm in those words. I don’t know. 

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Image courtesy of All About Uni on Flickr

In 1989, I took an Amtrak train from Florida to Yale with my neighborhood friends’ warnings ringing in my ears: “Don’t turn White!”  In a panic, I’d read The Autobiography of Malcolm X from cover to cover during the train ride. In New Haven, I bought a fiery poem by a poet with an Egyptian name from a street vendor. I posted it on my dorm room wall right next to my bed, before classes even started.  I had to protect my Blackness. Don’t turn White!

By contrast, I’d grown up hearing a different warning given to girls who attended the HBCU that I’d considered attending: “Don’t get pregnant.” This school had a notorious reputation for “turning out good girls.” The lesson: At a Black college, I’d have to worry about sexual matters, but at a predominantly White institution (PWI) I only had to worry about race.

And worry I did, from the moment I stepped onto campus, overdressed for the occasion and the August heat, in a long-sleeved cobalt blue knit sweater set, matching shoes, and white tights. Immediately, I was aware of the differences between myself and the other Black women students. They wore cute cut-off denim shorts, flip-flops, and funky t-shirts.  By the end of the next day, I would note the class, regional, religious, speech, and cultural differences as well. Just like that, everything I thought I knew about Blackness went right out the window. If I wasn’t “them,” and if I didn’t exactly fit in with “us” in this new place…who was I? Turning “White” was the least of my concerns.

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