Notes, on Louis C.K. and Chapelle transgender humor
Notes and Footnotes.
Fighting for LGBTQ rights in Latin America, lecture by Prof. Tamara Adrián from the Andrés Bello Catholic University
Kevin Birminghan brings judgment day home early in ‘The Great Shame of our profession‘
‘ If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation. Your roles as teacher, adviser, and committee member generate, cultivate, and exploit young people’s devotion to literature. This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.
Yes. The painting must go.
Aria Dean says ‘The Demand Remanins“: Schutz, similarly, invoked motherhood in her statement, writing that as a mother she felt sympathetic to Mamie Till. “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension…….For the black mother, the possibility of violence and death for her black child is a reality, not a conceptual impossibility that might by horrific, unimaginable accident find its way to her doorstep.”
And if Aria Dean is not persuasive enough, see Emmett Till (and poor Haitians) sell affordable yet gorgeous bikes.
April 2017 Ride a Beautiful Bike//We can’t force MLB to make baseballs in Haiti like it used to, although Haiti could use the work. We can’t force children to read Winnine-the-Pooh or Edward lear’s Book of Nonsense; and we can’t make the radio stations play “The Death of Emmett Till,” even during Black History Month. Frankly, they aren’t into it. We can’t help that, because we aren’t the boss of radio.//We are the boss of our bikes, though. //And our bikes are boss. They’re untrendy bikes for everything except racing. They’re affordable yet gorgeous, comfortable beyond beief, and much safer than carbon fiber bikes. They’re 2017 anachronisms, hard to find, and sometimes you have to wait a few months. That may be OK. Rivendell Bicycle Works 2040 N.Main #19 Walnut Creek, CA 94596 (800) 345-3918 rivbike.com/harpers
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.
It’s sloppy to blame Trump on poor white folk – when highly educated white folk (the only type of White I know) scapegoat poor whites for America’s love affair with that Big Ass Fat Mouth. Adam Theron-Le Rensch’s White, Rural and Poor talks (with some humiliation) about ‘my people’, poor white folk. He even uses the word ‘trash’, but with intimacy, and gentleness. I finally recognized, and had the adequate language to express, the shame I first experienced as a poor kid in elementary school, recognizing on some instinctual level that I needed to disguise my origins, that if I didn’t I risked ostracization. It was the same shame I had unconsciously attempted to escape by “becoming a New Yorker,” by performing a caricature of the hip, cultured intellectual with hopes of passing as a member of a more desirable class. Like my father, I was willing to do anything that might throw off the stench of my rural, trailer park past.
For a short but happy spell, I was a reviewer for Elevate Difference a forum for thoughtful critique that aims to embody the myriad—and sometimes conflicting—viewpoints present in the struggle for political, social, and economic justice. You can find its archival presence online here. I thought of my judgment of Phipps-Kettlewell’s collection of short stories “The Company of Heaven‘ as I read Theron-Le Rench’s account of going home, to his white, rural and poor America. I called Phipps-Kettlewell’s story telling unkind. It is unkind in the way one can be unkind when recalling a sibling’s awkward puberty or seeing for the first time, the humiliation of a parent by a stranger in a public place. She is unkind to her Haitians and yet she remains a family member, intimately invested and loyal. It is difficult to like even one of her characters, however, it is even more difficult to look away from them. Theron-Le Rench didn’t pretend that he had never met a Trump supporter, he said, they are my people.
A number of tremors unbalanced me as I read about white, poor and rural Americans: one was Theron-le Rench’s reminding me that, through an American economic lens, I am black, urban (suburban?) and rich. As of 2014, almost 52% of Americans make less than $30,000 each year, and a sobering 31% bring home an annual income of less than $15,000. Watch out, I’m going to channel Chappelle I’m rich bitch! Juggling and juggling debt, down payments and security deposits (I’ve moved twice in less than six months), tax returns, late payments for freelance editorial work, maintaining an East Coast mortgage and a Bay Area rental. Sure, I’ve been whining alot about the drop in my standard of living, the 100 point drop in my credit rating. And yet, for the last six years of my American life, I’ve been earning between 75 and 85,000 a year, about 60-65% above the average income of American citizens. I’ve known this for six years, from the moment I started to live and work in the Bronx, the poorest borough in New York City. It took me no more than two years to save up for a down payment on a mortgage for an apartment, and I had a black girl at the Hugo Boss shop who called when something she thought I’d like came in. But it’s good to see the figures in black and white, and at this particular moment. It won’t stop my whining, but it has helped me remember that I whine because I want more, and not because I need more: silk, lace, cashmere, Royal Dutch wax, leather and gold; more business class, more square feet, more Apple, more service, more status, power and success, more bubbly, more skinny. These are my appetites.
But I lost my appetite for food sometime in May, more than a year ago, when I started to divorce my old life in preparation for this new one. But I’m disciplined – I grew up with parents who grew up on the clock, a farming communities, mission schools and the military. I grew up in boarding school, and in a home that respected rhythms. As a result, I suspect I would thrive in the military or atleast married to an officer. Some rhythms are not negotiable: three square meals a day at the same time, lights out, rising bell, mufti into uniform, prep, games and tea time. So, I can’t taste, but I eat.
I’m not interested in God. But since I stepped into my new American life in the Bay Area, I’ve started going to a White Church faithfully. Not looking for the Christian God, I know he doesn’t live there, but looking for messages and guidance, about the state of my appetite, is it healthy, is it a sin, is it good, am I hungry enough? This morning’s sermon drew from the gospel of Luke, and Jesus reprimand about greed directed at the desperate woman who implored him to adjudicate over a property dispute. ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ So, the Bible reading didn’t say it was a woman, I did. The Bible says ‘someone in the crowd said to Jesus‘, but in my experience it is daughters and widows who beg men for their share. Yes, I look for messages in this Christian fellowship, and only a tiny few are palatable on my tongue that in that white space, becomes intensely black, African, foreign, woman and feminist. After church, I read an essay by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano the author of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives. Her assertion that ‘we should always want women to want more‘ hits a spot – the spot that the gospel missed by being gender neutral about that aggrieved person in the crowd. Whitfield-Madrano says a woman that wants is an ambitious woman. This is The Word I’ve been waiting for. Thank you.
I can live with that.
Ode to Ali
Black chattel slavery in North America was a de jure and de facto ownership of African men and women – their leisure, labor, product of their labor – everything from harvest to children (a polite way of saying ‘sweat to semen’) – belonged to the slave owner. Their arms, legs, backs, sexual organs…did not belong to them.
How is ownership maintained in a liberal democratic state? How are some black men and women confined to at worst, property/chattels and at best infant/dependant status?
My parents told me over separate whatsapp calls that they watched the entire Muhammad Ali funeral and week-long international coverage of his death. They asked specific questions like ‘What did you think about Billy Crystal’s eulogy’, so I couldn’t lie. I never loved Ali. I was slightly taken aback, to realise that they did. I asked, ‘Did you guys really care about him?’ And they told me how much Zambians of their generation -‘He was our age mate’ – cared for Cassius Clay and celebrated his conversion to Muhammad Ali and his unceasing defiance against white supremacy. ‘National television would, for a change, play through the night so that we could watch all the pre-fight action ahead of Ali, we’d all be awake early in the morning to watch Ali fight. We really loved him.’ We talk about the white media’s rejection of the name Ali, how names were imposed on enslaved and colonized communities, and how some white media refused to tolerate a black person rejecting the name given him by his owners.
Joyce Carol Oates ode to Muhammad Ali exemplifies this. I don’t read an ode, I read a display of an old arrogant right to name, to arbitrarily anoint one black and to condemn other blacks. To create categories of blacks, in this case, ‘white man’s Negros’ versus Muhammad Ali.
Oates’s assertion that boxing legend Muhammad Ali was ‘never the white man’s Negro’ raises the question: Who is this white man’s Negro? Is it Joe Louis, Archie Moor, Ezzard Charles – legends that Oates writes were forced to ‘efface’ or ‘emasculate’ themselves before white men? The white man’s Negro is a fantasy of white-owned media (and white op-ed contributors). It’s an arrogant exercise of white right to pin stars on good blacks.
Kudos and salute to Muhammad Ali for refusing to submit to white supremacy and patriarchy in the ring. Kudos to Anita Hill for defying white supremacy and patriarchy in the work place, and to Sandra Bland for fighting to the death against supremacist policing. However, Joyce Carol Oates’s ode to ‘Muhammad Ali never the white man’s Negro’ becomes an odious slur against African Americans whose resistance is not memorialized by the white media as iconic as the likes of Bland, Hill and Ali. Oates’s intemperate use of the ‘white man’s Negro’ demonstrates that the white media is still undecided about exactly which black lives matter.
Not everybody is waiting for the media to make up its mind though. Let me end with love. Big love for Women’s NBA. I’m all over them, since I left New York and fell in love with David Jeter’s Player’s Tribune. Hearing WNBA & New York Liberty players Swin Cash, Tanisha Wright and Essence Carson declaration: I do this for a living, gave me a new mantra for my workstation. And the WNBA did it again. Silenced the media’s narrative, refusing to be fined or named. They’re not talking basketball, they are talking about black lives. “It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players so whatever you want to ask about that feel free but we’ll only be taking questions about that today…” Yes Tanisha Wright.
A white American friend once asked me, mournfully, whether Africa would ever see another Nelson Mandela. I was very taken aback. I called this friend an asshole. Not out loud. I was angry, with him, but to be fair, with the precariousness of my life at that moment. But I managed to remain courteous. I said ‘Mandelas are born every day in Africa.’ He was taken aback. Today I would add that ‘Mandelas are born every day in Africa and amongst the black Diaspora, in Israel, in Cuba, everywhere, whether You laud them or not. And just because We snuff them out through our school to (psychological or physical) prison pipelines, it doesn’t mean that the beautiful ones are not yet born.
Reading, Review, Rumination
Now this is what I call ‘doing gender’. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez presents a thematic report on gender perspectives on torture. Yes, yes, yes.
“The new report assesses the applicability of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in international law to the unique experiences of women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The report recognizes that historically, the torture and ill-treatment framework evolved largely in response to practices and situations that disproportionately affected men, and that the analysis largely largely failed to employ a gendered and intersectional lens or to account adequately for the impact of entrenched discrimination, patriarchal, heteronormative and discriminatory power structures and socialized gender stereotypes.”
After Sammy from James Kelman’s How late it was how late, Kid Coole aka Parnell Coole is the biggest love of my literary life. Sammy gave me my mantra. It has saved my life a couple of times, actually, as recently as yesterday. I had a burning head and a cold chest in a strange country, and the time difference meant that everybody I love was asleep and couldn’t talk me out of my affliction.
‘Ye’ve got to get up off yer arse. Especially when ye’re skint. Going to bed’s the easy option, trying to sleep away the shit, trying to hit limboland; but it’s no as if ye’ve got the flu; when ye’re skint man don’t mix it up with the fuckin’ flu, know what I mean, trying to hit limboland; ye’re no ill ye’re skint. So ye’ve got to get out there.’ Sammy/James Kelman ‘How late it was, how late (1994)
I want to marry Sammy, but I want to mother Kid, hold his head still and clean the blood out of his ears. Union Docs introduced me to the The Brooklyn Rail, and the BR introduced me to M.G. Stephens and his boy, Kid. “Parnell Coole is a quiet, even inarticulate person. Outside of boxing, he is not a particularly violent person, although he lives in a violent world.” Sometime, this past Spring, I was introduced to Kid. Kid was six and one, all wins by knockout. The loss was a lie. A mistake. Some guy named Blue Rivers from Schenectady or Troy. It didn’t matter one good shit where fuckn Blue Rivers came from. Kid would knock him out the next time they fought. He would not leave the decision to a bunch of bozo judges. And it’s been months, I’ve waited faithfully, for an update on Kid and his reckoning with this Blue Rivers. And this month’s edition of the BR, Kid finally gets to fight Blue Rivers again. And the way M.G. Stephens describes Blue, I almost fall out of love with Kid and in love with Blue Rivers. I can be fickle.
“Blue Rivers looked a little bit like Sugar Ray Robinson. His hair was conked. He was tall and thin, wiry and very muscular and strong. He had a big, radiant smile, and he swaggered. Easy in his bones. All street. Cock of the walk. If you could become a champion on looks, Blue Rivers was the man. Blue would be the unified lightweight champion of the world. He was handsome and stylish, and he looked like a fighter from another era, like the 1940s, when there were really great fighters. It was his demeanor, Billy Farts said. It was his demeanor that beat Kid Coole that first fight.”
And Kid starts their second fight all jittery and disobedient, he does it his way, and not the way Billy Farts in his corner tells him. He bleeds.He falls. He ‘staggers around‘. He can’t find his corner. His ‘head feels like dead.’
“Blue Rivers keeps hitting Kid Coole in those two places in Round Three. Blue wacks him there. Eyebrow / cheek. Cheek / eyebrow. Eyebrow. Cheek. Cheek. Eyebrow. Eyebrow. Eyebrow. Cheek.”
It’s enough to make me cry. And then Kid is crying. Because finally, he does what Billy Farts told him to do. “He put the motherfucker away with those two vicious body shots.” He is pumped up with adrenaline, he is booed by the crows, and Billy Faherty tells him off, tells him to change his “stinkn thinkn” and his “fuckn asshole tune.” It’s a beautiful moment, better than Polly and Rocky, better than Champ and baby Ricky Schroeder even. And then M.G. Stevens cuts it off. To be continued…
This is the third novel by M. G. Stephens in a series about the Coole family, and the Rail is proudly running Kid Coole as a serial over the next twelve issues.
Why haven’t I ordered the novel and ended my misery? Waiting a full month for more Kid kills me. Spreading out the magic, I guess. I don’t believe in buying books, that’s what public libraries are for, but once I read Round Twelve in the R, I’m going to buy this novel and read ROunds one to twelve in one long sip.
My Colorful column is reserved for colored girls, and Kid is a boxer, I imagine red thin hair and brown freckles and thin white skin that cuts and bleeds easily. But Kid is colored by Ralph Half-Dog, a barbecue on Muhammad Ali Way, tea with his boss Mr. Kim, and Mrs. Kim’s judgment. “Also, she wasn’t quite so sure that Kid Coole was white. He wasn’t exactly black. He certainly wasn’t Korean. But he didn’t seem white either.” And he’s a colored girl too. TBC…
The New York Time reports that Japan and Korea “have resolved one of the most intractable logjams in relations between South Korea and Japan.” An apology and cash. Justice for women whose truth is denied often looks like this. An apology and cash. A headline in Artforum reads ‘Nikon loses court battle against photographer over comfort women show. It also suggests that an apology and cash are forthcoming
South Korean photographer Ahn Se Hong has successfully sued Nikon, which canceled an exhibition featuring his photos of South Korean so-called “comfort women,” the euphemism for the sex slaves forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, reports the Japan Times. Nikon, back in 2012, had consented to host the show in its galleries, but then had a change of heart. Now, according to a Tokyo District Court ruling from last Friday, Nikon will have to pay Ahn around ten thousand dollars in damages.”
I cried out to god when I read about Marie and how she was forced to recant her rape and persecuted and prosecuted for being a liar. It wasn’t rape, it was just a dream, she said. Apologies and cash were proffered. The Marshall Project‘s ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’ is its own form of justice.
Why couldn’t I finish this book? It was much more than a revulsion for the sensationalist reporting about men like the ‘Cleaveland kidnapper’ Ariel Castro and Austrian Josef Fritzl arouses. In the LARB, Sarah Blackwood captures my feelings so accurately: ‘Reader I hated it.’ She calls Room, misogynistic…and hers is the first review of the book I have felt close to. I don’t believe that every book, movie that lets the raped, beaten or otherwise downtrodden woman escape qualifies as a feminist fable. And I think neither does Blackwood.
“I find that it sustains some of our culture’s worst assumptions about the bonds between mother and child, and about the shame that attends female sexual violation. It reminds me of another debacle of failed progressive narrative: the 2004 movie Crash. Just as Crash was a racist exercise in trying to exorcise racism, Room is a misogynistic exploration of the suffering misogyny causes women. I’m just going to say it: Room is the Crash of feminism. I am sure the film is going to win multiple Oscars.”
The best ‘how to be’ manual I’ve come across. Thank you OOMK (One of My Kind) Zine for ‘How to be a badass Muslim female artist‘ , and ‘weaponise the internet’. I especially love the first tip : YOU ARE NOT A ‘PROBLEM’ You’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world and are daily reminded that every part of your Muslim existence is problematic. Self-appointed, as well as government appointed, saviours have taken it upon themselves to liberate you from your clothing, your parents, your God and your natural born inclinations to become a jihadi fighter or British bride living in an ISIS paradise. It’s time to learn about yourself and your religion away from the hype.
Akwaeke Emezi writes that ‘sometimes the fire is not the fire. sometimes it’s not everything that burns.’ Emezi’s childhood is that, a childhood that cannot be stolen by dead bodies on the street and police that fear vigilantes and armed gangs. She tells us about her Aba childhood not to shock and titillate or confirm the depravity and impossibility of African childhood but to show that the truth is not a story for an audience in Lagos, London, New York, etc. that wants to be shocked by the exotic. Rather her truth is in her gracious telling of how ‘they stayed children‘ and ‘how impressive it was that my parents kept their children as sheltered as they did in all the chaos of Aba…’
Gabrielle Bellot’s Flight of the Ruler in Guernica is the most moving account of citizenship as selfhood I’ve read. Words and strength to hold on to as I occupy my skin in my new decade: ‘I have been sexually propositioned by security guards in art museums in DC…have had numerous men speak to me as though I were beneath them for being a woman. And I’ve felt panic knowing that if I attempt to seek justice for a wrong I might be constrained not only because I am a woman of color but also, possibly, rejected or laughed at because I am a transwoman of color.’
Maybe slaves just needed better mentors? Kimberlé Crenshaw states it beautifully in an interview ‘We need Real Talk About Black Women and Girls’ with Colorlines: why ‘mentoring’ boys is an easy bribe paid to black communities, that denies women and girls social and economic marginalization, excludes more than a handful of boys from any real benefits, and ignores structural inequalities that make private, police and other forms of violence serious threats to black lives.
CL: What’s an example of how women or girls are disappeared from public discussion?
KC: The school-to-prison pipeline. Black boys go to underfunded schools that rely on punishment as a means of social control. That pushes them out of schools at very high rates, which in turn leads them disproportionately into incarceration. So how do we address that? We could simply say, “We’re gonna provide mentors for the boys.” Or, we can focus on increasing the overall resourcing available for schools, which means increasing the resources for girls as well as boys. Or, we canfocus on boys’ mothers whose lack of social and economic mobility is precisely what leaves so many families exposed to both police and private violence.
The overall vulnerability of the black community comes back to fully half of the population being stuck in jobs that pay virtually nothing [and] with…no help now that the social safety net has been completely shredded. Single moms are raising families with virtually no support whatsoever.
CL: And one-on-one mentoring, for example, doesn’t get at the root causes?
KC: Well, you’re assuming that the problem with the boys is a lack of mentors–rather than a completely defunded social structure, the presence of police, or a marketplace that discriminates against boys and men of color. Hell, one could’ve said slaves needed mentors. That wouldn’t have fundamentally altered the economic and political structure that was based on racism.
Mentoring is a deflection from what really is happening. And in some ways I’d say it’s a bribe. If we have enough money to give one boy out of 5,000 a mentor, is that supposed to satisfy all the rest? That’s inadequate and we haven’t even gotten to the 5,000 girls in the same underfunded schoolwho aren’t getting any attention.
We shouldn’t back into this idea of racial justice by thinking that programs that go to boys will somehow solve the most critical problems and we can allow girls to receive trickle-down impact. Trickle-down racial justice doesn’t work anymore than trickle-down economics.
Aaron Bady blogs for the Chronicle and asks English literature department to fess up: they are still trying to get through their first Achebe. “Willful ignorance”.
Until now, Yale’s English department has not had a professor of African literature. According to its faculty website, Yale has about 10 faculty members who claim expertise on 19th-century British literature, while no Africanists are listed…But English departments will continue to regard African literature as “emerging” as long as the “usual suspects” of African literature, as Dimock puts it, continue to be people like Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, and Nadine Gordimer. If you can name only three African writers and two of them are white South Africans, you have a very odd sense of the literature. But this myopia is also general: English departments do have a very limited sense of what African literature is, which is why Dimock can lightly, ironically—even self-deprecatingly—reference her own ignorance of the field.
Paromita Vohra, (like Aaron Bady), is at her wits end over our insatiable appetitite for primitive documentaries. She does two things (1) She introduces me to the …punjammy and (2) writes a very short but so open letter to white feminist filmmakers …
Are you being forced by the backward thinking men in your families and society into making essentialist explanations about other societies to undermine feminist solidarity and political engagement? Are you being treated as cheap labour to make voyeurism that reaffirms the poor mindset of your society?
Calamity Jane talks about black boys”
“I wanted to be helpful to the police officers, in their search for the boys. So, I did something really stupid. I looked for boys who bore a resemblance to the boys I was describing, and pointed them out to the officers.
“The one kid had a nose that bridged kind of like this kid’s.. not that it’s him, just same kind of nose.. The other kid looked a lot like this guy, obviously not him, but a lot like him.”
“Like, how much like him? Percentage-wise?”
“Ummm… a good bit, definitely not him, but like 60% resemblance.”
“Yeah, around that. But that’s definitely NOT HIM.”
The detective shrugged, and slapped the binder shut. He stood up.
Chris Offut’s account of his ‘dad, the pornographer’ captivates for so many reasons. First, is the description of his father’s prolific output, there is a method folks! Farewell, writer’s block!
His goal was a minimum of a book a month. To achieve that, he refined his methods further, inventing a way that enabled him to maintain a supply of raw material with a minimum of effort… Dad was like Henry Ford applying principles of assembly-line production with pre-made parts. The methodical technique proved highly efficient… Ford hired a team of workers to manufacture a Model-T in hours. Working alone, Dad could write a book in three days.
And then it’s the foray – eyes wide open – into his father’s brain, and ultimately, his heart.
The idea that porn prevented him from killing women was a self-serving delusion that justified his impulse to write and draw portrayals of torture. He needed to believe in a greater purpose to continue his lifelong project. Admitting that he liked it was too much for him to bear.
So few of us (children) will ever have to get this close to our father’s urges, shame, desire, denial, sadness, pleasures and secrets. Amen. And bravo Mr. Offut (senior and junior). Bravo.
Jennifer Zohair defines her rape, and it does not define her. I believe that her essay ‘The religion of my rape‘ speaks to survivors of sexual assault (condoned/ignored by church and state) who do not want to lose their religion.
Zohair’s surprising reference to Joyce Carol Oates made me do a double take as I just read Roxane Gay’s excellent review of JCO’s book, the Sacrifice.
“Then there are the physical descriptions; this novel contains a lot of dark skin and nappy hair. Oates is particularly preoccupied with Ednetta Frye’s heavy breathing and high blood pressure. Cumulatively, these descriptions leave the reader with a distinct impression not of the characters but of the writer who created them. The n-word is used flagrantly, as if this were a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, often without plausible context.”
Finding the Real Lolita – a mystery is solved for me – and the truth is as sad as the fantasy of Lolita. But give me the truth about Sally Horner, any day. Sarah Weinman’s essay in Hazlitt is a must read:
“For six weeks, Ella Horner thought nothing was amiss—she believed her daughter was on summer vacation with friends. After the first week, Sally said she’d be staying longer to see the Ice Follies. After two weeks, the excuses grew more vague. After three weeks, the phone calls stopped.”
When religious men and politicians control women’s sexual autonomy, sex is a painful or repellent reproductive chore.
NYT “The Orthodox Sex Guru” … when the rabbi says no kissing with the lights on.
The Guardian “Face-sitting protest outside parliament against new porn rules” … what? no more face-sitting!
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly.
Comedy must ‘punch up’ and not ‘punch down’. Call myself a lawyer, how did I miss this humor law? Lincoln Michel on Electric Literature breaks it right down to the ground, and asks the difficult questions about punching up while being awake to the collateral damage. Oh yes, and he provides a brilliant moment of illustrative humor with Bill Hicks ‘what you reading for’ and not ‘what you reading?’
Of course the pen has played its role as well. The pens that signed the endless Patriot Acts, anti-terror laws and other bills that entrenched police harassment and curtailed civil rights. The pens of the newspaper editorialists who whip up round after round of hysteria, entrenching anti-Muslim prejudice and making people foreigners in their own country. But the pens of newspaper editors were strong not by virtue of their wit or reason, but insofar as they were servants of the powerful and their guns.
Corey Oakley reminds us that we (in the west) are not fooling anybody: our pens are not bringing peace or enlightenment but writing a narrative that erases the crash of drones, torture and bombs that has few parallels in the history of modern warfare.
Richard Z. Santos, on the Rumpus, asks us if he’s passing too? Mexican enough?
I would tell him the truth and that’s everybody’s Passing, as something: As African American, as straight, as a card carrying heteropatriarch, as White, as middle class, as white Spanish, as hood, as feminist, as a natural birther and breastfeeder, as having good hair, as an Ally to (fill in the oppressed group), as anti-violence, as invested in the fight against social injustice, as liberal. Only fake Americans never Pass into community…
“Now, Muro has been forgotten because he’s just not Mexican enough. Okay, he’s not Mexican at all. For too many decades, Mexicans in art, literature, and film were slow-moving, over-emotional, violent, somehow both lazy and conniving. These depictions were created and even portrayed by outsiders, by people who, however good or bad their intentions, helped shape the stereotypes that still thrive. Of course Seltzer/Muro has been exiled from the canon of Southwestern writing. Why read a white guy from Ohio when you can read Miguel Méndez, or Juan Rulfo, or Rolando Hinojosa?
This debate hits close to home. I was born in San Antonio, a city colonized by the Spanish eighty years before the American Revolution. My ancestors have been living in New Mexico and Texas for nearly four hundred years. Yet I don’t speak Spanish and, as far as I know, I have no relatives living in Mexico. Still, I identify as Mexican-American. Should I? Or do you think I should identify as American, even though most people I see in movies who look like me are either gardeners or gangsters? My novel-in-progress features both Mexican-American and Anglo characters. If Seltzer doesn’t have the privilege to write about his wife’s community, then what community can I write about?
The question for me is not: Is Seltzer part of this community? The question is: Am I?”
Maaza Megiste in A Shrinking World is not giving up this land, it’s hers too. I love it:
“The body must be protected, not the thoughts.” I had believed, naively, that we had progressed enough in this country to move beyond the body. I thought it was possible to live in the world of metaphors and literature, to eschew the physical trappings of the body for the higher aims of the intellect. But now I am not so sure.”
Kiese Laymon captures violence in our intimate spaces – black parents – and coming from the nation and its institutes…and says the kids cannot be alright.
Twelve years after getting my Vassar College faculty ID, I sit here and know that the nation can’t structurally and emotionally assault black kids and think they’re going to turn out OK.
Vassar College can’t structurally assault and neglect black kids and think they’re going to turn out OK.
I think about time travel and regret a lot. If I could go back and tell my Mama anything, I would tell her that I love her, and I thank her, and I see her and I know that white racial supremacy, poverty, heteropatriarchy, and a lifetime as a young black woman academic with a hardheaded son are whupping her ass, but black parents can’t physically and emotionally assault their black children—even in an attempt to protect them from the worst of white folks—and think they are going to turn out OK.
We are not OK. We are not OK.
Robin Ryle’s missive to a dear student who says race is not a problem in the US:
Like many of you, I grew up in a small town with very few people who weren’t white. I didn’t grow up with a black president, but in many other ways our situations were the same. I saw black people when we drove into the city and I was taught to be afraid of them. There was an Asian-American girl in my school, and the only time we really much noticed she was different was when we made fun of her last name, because it sounded foreign and weird. No one stopped us from doing that, not even our parents. Native Americans were people with feathers in their hair or faces on the tub of butter. They may as well not have existed as real people at all. Hispanics were the men who were backside taking care of the horses at the racetrack where my mother worked. They were hard to understand. I learned Spanish in high school, but not really with any intention of being able to talk to those people.
That’s where I come from. That’s my legacy. So you might wonder why I’m here, feeling angry at some of you because you don’t want to see your white privilege.
Keguro tells us what ‘we will be told’ –
We will be told that a legal process was followed, that the rules of evidence were followed, that protocols about witnesses were followed. We will be told that the most convincing arguments won, that the most eloquent lawyers won, that the most compelling case won. We will be told that the deaths were accidental, the violence spontaneous, the stolen election a coincidence. We will be told that justice has been served.
And it’s shaming, to know he is right, we will celebrate and wipe our
asses eyes with our spirituality, and feed our appetites with our black Fridays
We will be told to look toward the future, to celebrate development, to forget the past of “little accidents.” We will be assured that the rapacious elite deserve to rule. We will be told to dance in sisal skirts for visiting dignitaries. And, when it comes time to remember the less fortunate, we will be encouraged to donate what we can.
The holiday season will be full of jubilation. We will celebrate the new-born king, the anointed, the fulfillment of prophecies we are assured exist. We will be told to embrace our destiny, to exalt our leaders, to marvel at our good fortune.
We will be told that the missing spaces at our celebration feasts are ordained, the will of destiny or fate or nationalism. That sacrifice will be honored. That martyrs deserve our attention. We will be told to light candles, to burn incense, to remember the gone, but not too much, for the future is bright, and we are one.
He should sing his song to the tune of ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’. I would buy that single.
Is Evan Calder Williams a seer? Let’s wait and see.
“A large red-tailed hawk was sitting on a branch, slowly devouring a pigeon in front of an American flag, too hamfisted to be an omen, too opaque to not be.”
An extract from my newsletter ‘The Love Letter’…reading Love Me Back sitting on a bus with a little girl I’d ‘advocated for’ in the sexual assault emergency room was not surreal , it was the real life.
I pull out a book Love Me Back, and it’s sad, pathetic, degrading, and deeply arousing. I read it like I’m drinking a slushy with a straw, no breathing out until my mouth is full. “I didn’t hide from Calvin how much I pretended. Pretended to like it, pretended to want it, pretended to have orgasms. He didn’t understand and I couldn’t explain. It had something to do with love and something to do with grief…I am not a mother, I’d think as I walked to the trash can. You can fuck a lot of people, Calvin would say to me, and still enjoy yourself. Make it about you, about pleasure. Atleast make it safe. But it wasn’t about pleasure; it was about how some kinds of pain make fine antidotes to others. So when they gave me their numbers and they were old and I’d seen them with hookers, I said yes. And so on. There was the night with Casey and Florida John.”
I want to highlight and underline this entire page, rip it out and give it to the German girl but it’s a library book.
“I am simply one in three women who is forced to accept violence as part of their life story,” I think the numbers are higher, women who are not victims of rape, are forced to accept the threat of violence against them because they are women and forced to accept violence as part of their sister’s lives – but deeply appreciate Teri Hatcher’s story of survival, and justice, delayed but still justice.
Aron Bady says we are confused.
“Anybody from that area should just stay there until all this stuff is resolved. There’s nobody affected here; let’s just keep it that way.”
Ed Sikov reminds us of a time when the Administration burst out laughing when asked about their response to the AIDS epidemic “What’s AIDS…I don’t have it do you? [Laughter] … Follow his Media Circus column for cutting edge reporting on the Ebola story. ” having lived through the AIDS epidemic we have a moral obligation to do so.” god bless you, Ed.
Duncan Osborne for Gay City News explains why AIDS activists denounce the quarantine.