Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unleashing the Black Erotic

On the weekend of September 18th through the 21st, the College of Charleston hosted a conference titled Unleashing the Black Erotic: Gender & Sexuality, Passion, Power & Praxis. The conference featured a variety of presenters from colleges all across the nation.

This conference was the first of its kind to me where I saw and heard academia engage in discussion and research about gender and sexuality of black people. 

The first panel was titled Visionary Poetics: Imag(in)ing the Black Erotic. This panel gave us a working definition of the term eroticism as Charlene Regester of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill defined Eroticism as hyper sexualized image of women in relation to their body. This first panel gave a historical definition of the way society began to view black sexuality. From Jean Toomer's "Cane" to Dorothy Dandridge films and the poetry of Essex Hemphill, black sexuality began with a negative connotation. 

Joan Morgan's Keynote address set the tone for the rest of the conference with her lecture on The Pleasure Principle: The search for politics of Pleasure in Black Feminist Thought. She begins with the thought that there is  an absence of language that speaks across boards and that is "If you don't speak for yourself then other people speak for you". Not telling our own stories results in a misguided view of the image of black women and we thus become victims of other people's image of us, particularly those who are outside of our communities. The solution then for black women is to identify our own desire and eroticism and tell our stories of pleasure without the trauma and violence that is often accompanied by it, much like the women in Tyler Perry films. The final thought is that black women had to and continue to experience some form of pleasure in order to simply survive. Whatever is someone's pleasure that brings them happiness or joy then who are we to judge, especially when we as often as we can engage in our forms of pleasure.    

Day two of the conference  focused on the ways Black women engage in forms of pleasure and display their sexuality. Conseula Frances of College of Charleston, describes in her paper African American Romance Fiction and the Pleasures of Vulnerability  reasons black women should read romance literature. In many of the popular stories about black women embracing their sexuality, they are either seen as prostitutes and sluts or face some sort of repercussion for enjoying the pleasure of sex. The difference of romance novels is that the main goal of a Romance novel is to provide pleasure to women. These novels allow women to be their most vulnerable selves and enjoy sex with a tall dark and handsome hero and often times, risks his life to pleasure the woman. As cheesy as these stories might sound, they however provide a reverse to the degradation of Tyler Perry films, which seek to curse Black women for enjoying pleasure.   

The final panel on Day two explored the roles of Women and sex in Hip Hop. SaraEllen Strongman of University of Pennsylvania discusses in her paper, Erotic Ambiguity: Janelle Monae's Gender Performance as Liberatory Politics, the way Soul singer Janelle Monae is able to define her own sexuality. By her dress, music and behavior in interviews, Janelle Monae is able to preserve her erotic power and protect herself from those who might try to destroy her image. Monae has a new age and psychedelic soul sound that is quite different from the rest of her R&B contemporaries, not to mention her self-defined black and white uniform. She is almost always seen in a black and white suit ensemble and never wears anything too low or too short. Monae, quoted in an interview that her music is her work and just like her parents who everyday went to work and wore uniforms, she does the same. Janelle Monae is then able to control the image of her sexuality and keep everyone guessing by choosing not to play into the prescribed images of beauty and sexuality, a lesson for us all.

The conference was overall highly engaging and enlightening and I plan to personally to more writing that brings me pleasure, read some romance novels and reevaluate my personal wardrobe. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Does your Black Hair Say about You?

Here we are at the peak of the year 2013 and Black hair is still being criticized and cause for judgement on one's character. A few weeks ago, the nation caught news that 7 year old Tiana Parker's dreadlocks were a cause for concern to change the school's dress code policy to ban ""hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, Mohawks and other faddish styles". 

With a growing number of black women taking the transition and "big chop" as it were to go natural, one would think that america was becoming more accepting of black women wearing their hair as nature intended. But in certain places in the nation, particularly Tulsa, Oklahoma, natural hair is not okay. Even more closer to home, I found today that my black body and black hair in an overwhelmingly White environment was also cause for huge disruption.

Today, I styled my hair for work in my go-to nappy roots style otherwise known as my back up plan for when my roots get too thick for me to handle alone without professional help. For this style, I washed my hair then braided it in cornrows which I removed in the morning for a purposely crinkled and kinky style. The response by my young White students was utter confusion and concern. An otherwise bouncy and natural looking style sent them into a frenzy of questions about what had happened to me to make my hair look so crazy, wild and weird.

Since the days of slavery and the following years of the dreaded Jim Crow era black people have been forced to tame our roots, take down our tone and in other words, not to do anything that might be a cause for attention. The fact of the matter is, that in our most natural state, this is who we are and no one should make us conform ourselves to make them feel comfortable. Every sort of black art; song, dance, fashion, hairstyle, has been made of purity of us defining who we are despite the corners we have been pushed into.  
My advise, is to support black purity in its most natural state, whether you are natural or not, let no one discredit who you are, because it does not fit some sort of genre. Black people are beautifully made and create beautiful art.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Empowering Black Beauty

If you have yet to see "My Black is Beautiful's "Imagine A Future" Documentary, click the link above and watch it now! As a black woman, the question of self love is ever present in our lives. Growing up in America, we are constantly bombarded with images of a westernized concept of beauty that often times, many of us find ourselves in a place of self hate and low self esteem.

Not only are the forces of mass media; television, magazines, movies and social media a constant destruction of the confidence of black women, so to are the very people in our lives. Our own black communities are telling us that black people with dark features are not enough. We are told by our own people that dark hair and dark eyes and dark skin is ugly. Our very own dark people praise those of lighter skin and hail them as the most beautiful of our race. But why?

The pure beauty of people of color is the that fact that our shades, facial features and body types are so varied. The westernized ideal of beauty was made to praise one particular type of beauty and if everyone bends themselves to fit that one type of beauty, we'll all the look the same and where is the beauty in that?

"Imagine A Future" highlights a major issue among young black women, that of not finding the pure essence of who they are beautiful. A solution, we, black people as a whole need to reinforce the beauty of who we are individually and as a whole to ourselves and one another. Instead of constantly praising western beauty, we need to embrace our own beauty as seen through our art, culture and history. There is a reason why other cultures are constantly taking the things that we have created.

Talk and read about black history. Explore the history of your ancestors from Africa. Watch black movies, television shows and documentaries. Take part in creating a better world for our children to grow up in. Create a space for children to believe in their beauty from childhood. Hang paintings of black art. Tell your fellow black sisters and brothers, that they are beautiful. Make a statement to Willie Lynch that we will not be pitied against each other anymore. That whether we are light, dark, brown or biracial, we are are beautiful in our own right.      

I believe that my Black is Beautiful because it has been poetically designed that way. What makes your Black Beautiful?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Trials of Womanhood (My battle with AAMCO)

Recently, I was asked what it meant to be a black woman in America. After I thought about it, I discovered that for me black womanhood has a lot to do with many of the opportunities I do not get as well as the way different types of people interact with me. One particular industry that is especially known for mistreating women is that of the car industry. Whether there're selling you a car or servicing it, men in the automotive industry tend to treat women in general as if we have knowledge of life itself.

Which leaves me to my never ending battle with my local AAMCO Transmissions & Total Car Care. This local sub-par repair shop has decided that upon giving up my car for a free diagnostic that I lost all rights an privileges of humanity.

My car has been going through issues for the past few weeks and after spending some time on the side of the road as I was leaving for work, I decided no more. After calling around to a few different transmission shops, I decided on one to take my car to with the advise of an employee at Advance Auto Parts. I arrived at AAMCO at 9:30 am with the hopes of being out by 1:00 pm, just in time to make it to work. To my dismay, the service manager relates that I must leave my car there all day. After much relenting and searching for a ride to work, I agree to let them keep my car. After I get off work, I receive a call from the repair shop, where I find out exactly whats wrong with my transmission along with it's quote repair price of $414.17.

AAMCO then takes me on a six day uphill battle to fix and return my car. I decide to let them keep the car over the weekend, mostly because I am a woman and have no other choice. On Monday I call in 8:30 that morning for a re-explanation of the repairs that need to be made and the price. Now, all of a sudden, the price has been pushed to $501.00 for other mysterious issues.

I relate to the service manager that I am unable to pay the price in total at the moment and ask if I can set up a payment plan or at the very least pay half Tuesday on pick up day and the rest on Friday. The service manager proceeds to tell me that "sure that's fine, if you don't mind going without a car all week". I relate to him that I need my car and in return, he relates "well I need my money in full, in the real world a written and signed statement means nothing. You must pay all the money before I can hand your car over to you." He then suggests that if I have good credit that I finance through a company called Spring Leaf or I can call TitleMax and exchange my title for the cash to pay a $500 service charge. After telling him I refuse to take out a title loan and plead to pay half now and half later he advises, "just take out the title loan, I don't know why you are so afraid to do that." Finally, I scrape up the money and decide to pay it all on Tuesday when I come to pick my car up. When I asked the service manager if my car would be ready on Tuesday by 1:00 pm, he retorts, "I cant give you an exact time but don't see why it won't be ready then." I go on to explain that I need my car Tuesday by 1:00 pm so that I can go to work.

Surprise, surprise when I arrive on Tuesday my car is still not ready, due to some technical issues and the shop being very busy and all. The service manager continues to feed me excuse after excuse about why my car is not ready and then proceeds to tell me "remember, I said, I'd call you when it was ready and now it is not ready." I did not recall him saying that at all and I completely resent him talking to me as if I am a child. As a paying customer, I deserve to be treated with some decency and respect but because I am a women, this guy thought he could get over on me and jerk me around as if I don't depend on my car for life necessities, including going to work so I can pay his obscenely high service charge.

Being a woman at a repair shop, means to be treated like your car is worth more than you are. I was not treated with even the slightest courtesy as he held in his possession my car. As woman in a service center, we are in a position where men feel free to walk all over you. My advise is to stand up for the rights you deserve and when you are not afforded those right take a stand.

BOTTOM LINE: NEVER EVER TAKE YOUR CAR TO AAMCO! They will jerk you along, all the while increasing your bill and keep your car until they feel like returning it.