I love Ginger Adams Otis . She asks the best questions. How does the NYFD stay so white? Her book Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest gives a great historiography of New York’s Fire Department – you put it down knowing that racism and sexism still live in the firehouse, but then so do the bravest of the brave, firewomen and men who want to burn down institutional codes and customs that maintain the untenable status quo. Otis writes like a journalist and an ethnographer, the work is solid, but you feel it, she loves firefighters, loves them enough to be hard on them.
In her first column for NYDN she asks, why a fearless girl and not a grown ass woman? If it had to be a girl – if that’s all men in finance could tolerate – I’d ask, why not an American girl with a flat nose, or bad hair, thick thighs, an American girl whose first language is Chinese? Someone raped the fearless girl while bystanders did what bystanders do…egg the rapist on with their silence or their cheers, or take a picture. Smartphone documentation counts as resistance right?
I believe if they’d made the fearless girl a grown ass woman: with a blouse that strained a little over her back and over her potbelly because she hasn’t really been able to clothes shop or fit into her work wardrobe since she delivered her second child two years ago; a GAW with a bunion throbbing in her one comfortable pair of pumps; a GAW with a determined chin and a second softer fatty chin grown under it; a GAW that is on the first day of her period and worrying whether she has time to change her tampon before the meeting with the shareholders. You know, a woman Donald Trump would give a four or a five. Think of the one really powerful women in your department (if your employer employs women at the leadership level). Creating this type of statue as a symbol of equality and taking down the boys’ club would be fearless and powerful. Having said that, I’d hazard the prediction that this fearless and powerful statue would have grown ass men rubbing up against her several times a day for a laugh. Wall Street would have to build a wall around her, drill a little hole and crowd control the queue of peeping toms waiting to catch the shenanigans going on in the peep show. Makes me wonder what solution Madame Tussaud came to with respect to all the ass licking, humping and grinding Nikki Minaj got from patrons. Sure, she was on all fours, Anacondaring it Up! so, it was all a joke. And I guess so was the ass grabbing of Kara Walker’s mammy sphynx at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. Our mothers promised us a place in the public space, and here we are, representing them. And yet so much of our sickness, self-loathing and shame comes from our participation in public life. Marine nudies, Kellyanne Conway’s Fatal Attraction, European Muslim women fired because they refuse to remove the hijab in the workforce, athletes asked to be grateful when raped by a celebrity doctor – Olympian Jessica Howard’s testimony of childhood abuse is devastating and at the same time a powerful strike at the usual deniers. Neither the center nor the margins are safe, although they do pose different dangers, toss unique missiles – and I suppose the question to ask is what type of danger are you willing to die fighting against? How else to decide, whether to maintain the charge into the center, or retreat into the home, with its anoymity, and closets where the monsters shares your family name?
Most of the time I don’t understand. But I’m learning. So slowly, but I’m learning. Amin Husain’s dedication to Basel Al-Araj , his distinction between the activist and the organizer, and the reminder that ‘power is all around you’, and ‘You have to build as well as resist. Are you building power? How are you pushing?’
I’m still thinking of disability and desirability, which is ofcourse a very heteronormative frame: Always fretting about ‘am I still fuckable…in a wheelchair…in my forties…in an aggressively white landscape…in size 6 jeans…’
The writers at the Ladies Finger continue to queer it up, crip it up…they are thinking about (thank god) disability and desire. Virali Modi remembers a bad love:
‘With tears running down my face, I asked, ‘Whore? Why am I a whore?’
‘Well, what do you call someone who sucks dick without a problem. You call them a whore, right?’ he said nonchalantly. I was devastated.
We ended things there, but got back together because I had started to believe that no one else would want me. I started to accept my life with him because he would take me out to parties with his friends. I believed that I was worthless because I was trading blow jobs for a social life.’
And Nidhi Godya remembers an unrequited lover and a prospective mother-in-law’s rejection.
‘Our friendship grew and matured with time. Perhaps his love for me became intense. But as the days passed, contrary to what he’d assumed, it was clear that I didn’t want him as a partner. Something of his persistence must have shown at his home, because his mother was furious about our growing friendship.’
I’m running again, twice a week with a running coach and team. We’re fast…for our age group. Christine Crosby owes me money. I think of her book when I am running and my mind lingers on my body, the thud in my hip, a hot flush in my lower back or the fleshy ripples through the soft muscle on my arms. I can’t stop talking about her book ‘A Body Undone, Living on After Great Pain (2016)’ and forcing anyone who asks for a recommendation to buy it. I came across this postscript from Dr. Crosby My Lost Body: The Radical Claim of Militancy and Mourning unexpectedly on facebook this week. And I bumped into this one on fb too, and will make my pre-order soon: The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked.
I applied for the third time, unsuccessfully, for a Harvard fellowship in creative writing. And this year my proposal included Christine Crosby as an influence on my body memoir.
“The project is a body memoir, in the spirit of queer and feminist approaches that understand that the suspect body can be the artist’s voice and visage. In this regard I am most recently influenced by Christina Crosby and Merritt Tierce. In Crosby’s memoir, A Body, Undone: Living on After Great Pain, the body’s gender and sexuality is lost and never found in the aftermath of a road accident. Tierce’s Love Me Back exposes a body that is cut and burned through self-harming behaviors. While Crosby’s narrative runs thick with feminist and queer knowledge, Tierce’s narrator is victoriously anti-feminist. One body is numbed by paralysis, and the other by a livid promiscuity bereft of sexual pleasure. Society is quite frankly grossed out by these bodies, however, both bodies fight for their lives. My appetite for the knowledge shared by these white bodies provides an impetus for the memoir and affirms my conviction that knowledge and theory are alive in the subaltern and can be articulated by our bodies.” – Mibenge
I watch French film in large part because I like French nudity. They tend to show the good bits. On my flight to Dubai this past fall, I watched a movie un homme a la hauteur ‘Up for Love’. The love interest is a midget. A millionaire midget. A midget whose idea of a first date is a sky diving excursion. A midget who is an artist constructing European museums. A midget with a velvety telephone voice. A midget with a luxury car. (I am using the word midget through the lens of the able bodied ass.) His love interest is the whitest and blondest woman in France. She’s a lawyer, and in the final moments of the film she overcomes her able bodied and beautiful person’s aversion to the millionaire architect’s disability and declares her love for him dramatically with a parachuting stunt. But before this, there was a bedroom scene…a French bedroom scene sans nudity. I was not happy. We never saw the male lover’s (disabled) body. The able bodied ass wanted to know is his penis able? Does he have hair on his chest, or does his chest look like a boy who is still far from the 5-foot mark? His sex and sexuality are concealed beneath the child sized clothing and millionaire aura. He apparently seduces the tall blond woman with his luminous eyes, humor and huge sense of self-worth (in spite of his, you know, little problem).
95% of disabled characters in film are played by actors without disability. I know this. And it turns out that ‘Jean Dujardin thanks to digital effects, plays a 4-foot-5 man wooing a normal-height woman.’ Dr. Crosby’s body was present on every page of her book – and this is one of the most striking features of it.
What is happening OkayAfrica! Demons. #Talking t to my African Mom About Sex. Every time we kissed it tasted like cheetos. I will no longer be disappointed by African men in the bedroom. African hardcore. : Behind the Continent’s Porn Explosion.
Week 5 – 2017
Sometimes I read The Chronicle. Their interview with George Ciccariello-Maher was over-edited for length and clarity, but still, some strong points were spared.
Chronicle: “White genocide” is a term invoked by hate groups and white supremacists against interracial marriage and racial-diversity efforts. Mr. Ciccariello-Maher says many of those who reported on his tweet either deliberately or out of ignorance failed to explain that, or to indicate that his tweet was mocking the concept.”
GCM “It was almost entirely personal. This is part of what’s very revealing. Some people who have spent time online, for example, know there’s a word, called “cuck,” which has become a catchall insult of the right, for what’s perceived to be the soft men of the left. Without going into it, in its explicitness, it reveals a very deep sexual and racial anxiety among these groups. I was called cuck. I was called “low testosterone.” They speculated that I’m Jewish, that I looked and act like a Jew. Of course, these things begin from the personal because they’re rooted in a certain idea of what it means to be white.”
“Chronicle: At the same time, you’re certainly aware of the gulf of understanding between people in academe and typical Americans who don’t belong to a hate group but still might not realize that “white genocide” is code for something else. Were you concerned that you might just be feeding into the narrative of the smug professor?”
“GCM: It’s possible for any tweet to be misunderstood. But equally important is this question of the voluntary misunderstanding. Many people, white people in particular, are primed to interpret that tweet in a certain way. Why? Because, when someone tweets something very inflammatory — “Kill all white people,” for example — my first reaction is not to be angry because, first of all, it’s preposterous. It’s clearly not serious. But second of all, because I don’t, in any way, feel victimized by society. And yet part of what the dramatic shift in the narrative of the past few decades — very deftly charted by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s recent book, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, for example — is the sense of white victimization as we shift toward the so-called colorblind society. This “white victim” narrative has been very effectively deployed, and so to interpret my tweet in that way is in some ways to buy into the idea that white people have ever been historical victims in this country, which is not the case, which is preposterous, and which of course sets that apart from the other phenomena — for example, black genocide, indigenous genocide, ongoing historical realities that no one really wants to be talking about or be outraged about. And yet these are real things in the world that we live in as opposed to this mythical idea of white genocide.”
Aaron Bady’s Buffalo Skulls in the New Inquiry two weeks ago was my first introduction to this academic scandal.
In the Chronicle’s Research section ‘A Scholar of Racial Equity Describes His Painful Gratitude for Donald Trump.’
Shaun Harper: “I think that for better or worse, Donald Trump has actually given us a gift — in that the racial ugliness of our nation has been exposed. Many people interpreted the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as, OK, we’re finally done with America’s racist history because we’ve elected a black man.
Donald Trump has helped us realize that many of the racial problems had been sort of swept under the rug, or they had evolved to be more covert than overt. Not only has now President-elect Trump helped us realize that there are these covert manifestations of racism, but he’s also brought back out the plain old racists — the KKK members, the people who absolutely believe and say very racist and offensive things about people of color and immigrants.
The Chronicle: What role do you think higher-education institutions can play in these difficult debates about race and racism, in the context of a Trump presidency?
Shaun Harper: Despite the increasing diversity of college and university campuses in terms of composition, whites still remain overwhelmingly the single largest racial group that institutions graduate and send into the world each year. If we continue to send millions of college-educated white people into the world without a proper course of study on race and racism, it makes colleges and universities complicit in the perpetuation of racial inequity in the country.
For a really long time, white college graduates will continue to occupy the highest levels of leadership and decision-making in just about every sector of our economy. Look at the Congress, for example. Look at college presidents and governors — still overwhelmingly white college graduates. The role for higher education here is to ensure that students are leaving not just with consciousness but also that they’re leaving with high levels of skill in promoting racial equity. Because otherwise, they will go off into the work force and just reproduce the same racial inequities that have long plagued our nation. It’s our fault, until it isn’t anymore.
Week 4 – 2017
I’m rediscovering my childhood favorites: Watership Down, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Eva Luna, Chronicles of a Death Foretold. Still the best fight scene ever, Richard George Adams RIP:
Suddenly Woundwort leaped forward in a single bound and landed full against Bigwig like a branch falling from a tree. He made no attempt to use his claws. His great weight was pushing, chest to chest, against Bigwig’s. With heads side by side they bit and snapped at each other’s shoulders. Bigwig felt himself sliding slowly backward. He could not resist the tremendous pressure. His back legs, with claws extended, furrowed the floor of the run as he gave ground. In a few moments he would be pushed bodily into the burrow behind. Putting his last strength into the effort to remain where he was, he loosed his teeth from Woundwort’s shoulder and dropped his head, like a cart horse straining at a load. Still he was slipping. Then, very gradually it seemed, the terrible pressure began to slacken. His claws had a hold of the ground. Woundwort, teeth sunk in his back, was snuffling and choking. Though Bigwig did not know it, his earlier blows had torn Woundwort across the nose. His nostrils were full of his own blood, and with jaws closed in Bigwig’s fur he could not draw his breath. A moment more and he let go his hold. Bigwig, utterly exhausted, lay where he was. After a few moments he tried to get up, but a faintness came over him and a feeling of turning over and over in a ditch of leaves. He closed his eyes. The run was empty. General Woundwort was gone.
Second best fight scene I think of Billie Holiday’s “Stop that bitch. Stop her, goddamit. Stop that bitch. She sounds just like my goddam mamma.” It’s my favorite moment in Maya Angelou’s writing. It captures the venom and the fierce love with which Sisters fight. It reminds me of why I’m always trembling for days when I go at it with my Sisters.
And the third? I’d recommend the epic battle between the half man, Mugnaini the Goat, who was ‘no longer that deaf boy with the forehead like a wall and the dark eyes who liked to box, the Goat was suddenly life itself, and the Dancer, that ‘thin boy’. ‘The Goat waited for two of my lefts, parried to the side, delivered a left uppercut to my liver, took a small step back ad fired off the textbook straight right with the full force of his arm. I moved my right leg, pivoted on my left foot and sent a sharp left uppercut straight to the Goat’s chin, under his arm, followed immediately by a right hook that sent the Goat flying back against the ropes. I wish I hadn’t then launched the final straight punch, I really wish I hadn’t, but it came just like that by itself. If I could turn the clock back, I would stop myself firing off that final thunderbolt…I would let that right hook run its course and watch the boy bounce back against the ropes, wuld make it clear it was a mistake, then take two steps back and let the last few seconds run on in all their glory. But when you’re there you don’t have much choice…’
I usually wait up to twenty years before re-reading a favorite, but the men in Pietro Grossi’s Fists have given me such a haunting, I couldn’t wait more than six years before buying the kindle book.
Week 3 – 2017
Waving flags, wearing pussy hats, bearing feeding breasts – what to make of #WomensMarch? The stars and stripe hijab isn’t new to me, I first saw it on the cover of Joan Wallach Scott’s Politics of the Veil. I used this book in my political science classroom, with undergrad and graduate students for several years. The covergirl (Scott’s) wore hijab bold with the tricolore. I presented it to my students back then as the protesting woman’s claim to membership, to egalité, fraternité and all those good things. If I was back in the classroom, JooJoo Azad’s command to ‘keep the American flag off my hijab‘ would be on my syllabus, because my liberation will not come from framing my body with a flag that has flown every time my people have fallen.
“The WW told us we ‘looked beautiful’ and took pictures of us without our permission but wouldn’t listen...” Some news from #WomensMarch
Queering Brother Malcolm? Yaaass. It’s about time we eased off on the sanitised martyrdom that lets us make the Alis, Mandelas, and Ghandis as cuddly as Care Bears. Mary Mann’s review of Queering Black Art: Artists Transforming African American Art after Civil Rights, and Murray’s cover art (Brother Malcolm in my eyeshadow) just extended my winter reading list. ““Queering” is Murray’s verb for post-blackness. It’s the action of gender-bending and fluid sexuality that he finds again and again in the work of post-black artists.”
Week 2 – 2017
- The All-American-Menstrual-Hut, Mary Karr tries to convince millenial feminists that it’s gotten better: ‘I think women of your generation, they have better underwear. They have better eyebrows. They have better bra technology. Better politics. I think they like themselves a little better. I think the men of your generation are a little better, a little more sophisticated. They’re not going to call a woman a whore because she has a job that she goes out at night in a car.’ After a happy seven year separation from religious participation with an Anglican community, I found myself attending in 2016 a white Palo Alto Church, religiously. Karr’s account of what the hell is she doing in a Catholic Church is helpful as I try and fail to talk myself out of showing up on Sundays: For me, a lot of times I walk into Mass and I look at people and I think, These are not my people. Invariably, by the end of Mass, I walk out and people look different to me.
- Aaron Bady’s Buffalo Skulls thoughts on white genocide gives words to my consternation, a decade ago when I first heard a (crazy) lady lamenting the “Afrikaner Boer Genocide.”
Week 1 – 2017
Week 52 – 2016
Week 51 – 2016
Week 50 – 2016
Week 49 – 2016
The political aftermath of 9/11, like that of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an American massacre of the Constitution, of fundamental freedoms. Brandon Shimoda’s ‘Japanese American Historical Plaza‘ visits a history that is rewritten and erased by vague commemorative plaques, peekaboo facts, ambiguous apologies, and good immigrant badges. Jessica Leigh Hester’s essay, The Town That Forgot About Its Japanese Internment Camp, discovers that her childhood memories of rural Canada did not register a history of internment.