My newest piece. Blackness continues to be against the dress code.

“Imagine, if only for a moment, a 9-year-old white child being told that her straight blond pigtails were against the dress code. That she needs to (chemically) change the natural texture of her hair in order to not be kicked out of school. When you try to punish a sweet white student for her hair, you’re an over-the-top evil child hater, like the Trunchbull. When you do this to a black student, it’s just “rules are rules” — everyday racism, nothing to see here. It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. And it is every bit as ridiculous for a black child and her naturally kinky hair that needs to be styled in certain (different) ways.”

 

Read more…

http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1120599/black-girl-hair-school

Too Many Tamirs…another black boy shot while playing with a toy.

“Let me be very clear: When unarmed people are shot (especially when they are killed), I am uninterested in any excuses. Tamir Rice was a child and probably completely terrified when the officers pulled up on him, and probably unsure of how to react (though they did not give him a lot of time for that, anyway). I recognize that Dedric Colvin, like the now-deceased Walter Scott, ran from the officer(s), who identified themselves to him. Running away from someone is not a capital offense, i.e., it is not punishable by death in a court of law, and it should not be so on the street, either. And with the over-policing of black and minority neighborhoods, the war on drugs, and America’s past and present police brutality, who could blame them for running?”

Click the link below to read more!

http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/1120179/dedric-colvin-shot-by-police

Dope or Nope: Matt Damon the Martian

I’ve been away from the blogosphere for awhile now, but I’m back talking about one of my favorite things…MOVIES. 

As some of y’all know, I like to watch movies (old, new and everything in between, and usually with Rebecca and of the Disney variety). And because of my practice (see most recent post prior to this one) blogging about movies, I have decided I’m starting a regularly (ish) occurring column (if you will) called Dope or Nope

Here’s how it’ll go: I’ll go see or watch a movie, and will explain all of my reasons it is either Dope (good) or Nope (bad). There may be light spoilers (sorry) but I’m also going to refrain from summarizing the plot unless wholly necessary, because I’m not the plot section on movie wikipedia pages.

I’m kicking it off with the new movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon. Ready, set, go:

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First thoughts:

The movie was definitely better than I expected. It had a lot of famous people in it that I recognized from past movies, but also some actors I did not know whose faces I saw in the previews for upcoming movies literally minutes before this movie started. Pretty dope.

NED STARK IS IN THIS MOVIE. I REPEAT. FRIGGING NED STARK TAKES A BREAK FROM BEING THE DECEASED LORD OF WINTERFELL AND HELPS SAVE MATT DAMON FROM MARS.

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I’m gonna keep it 100 here and say I absolutely did not recognize Ned when I saw him. The hubs had to lean over and tell me who he was, and then I was stoked for literally the rest of the movie.

Other things that absolutely need to be discussed:

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some sort of sociopolitical commentary on this movie, and it is this:

BROWN PEOPLE SAVED THE DAY.

And by brown people, I mean people of color saved the day.

The first instance of this: this dapper fellow, Vincent Kapoor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), whose face I hope to see more often in movies (he’s just so likable!). He was the one responsible for Matt Damon not dying. And by that I mean he convinced the director of NASA to bring him more supplies and go back and save him. Good going, guy.

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Next up: (Spoiler alert!) The Chinese Space Program graciously donated moolah and some sort of rocket deal after NASA was like “nah we don’t need to do any routine tests before we send our boy Matt Damon more supplies ALL THE WAY ON MARS” and their little rocket guy BLEW UP shortly after launch. So huge props to the Chinese for being dope in this movie.

And last but certainly not least, Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover.

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Glover plays Rich Purnell, socially inept Astrodynamics person (not sure what this profession would be called, more on that later). And, lets be really real about this: Donald Glover being a super nerdy science whiz is MUCH more believable than him being a former star quarterback like he was in Community. (Sorry not sorry).

ANYWHO, Rich Purnell basically researches and finds the formula that will get the astronauts to within range of Earth to get the supplies the Chinese provided, back to Matt Damon on Mars to save him, and then back to Earth, without using extra fuel (that they don’t have).

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‘Twas awesome.

So yeah, the POC saving the day was pretty damn dope I must say. The only nope? Mars looks like Arizona, apparently. So there’s that.

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Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, though trapped on a foreign planet and probably terrified af, retains his arrogant and often frat bro level douche behavior throughout and regardless of his circumstances, and it brought some much needed humor to an otherwise terrifying movie. As usual, Matt Damon is stellar (see what I did there?) in the film. But the supporting cast of characters are every bit as great.

The ending credits start with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” which is relevant to the movie for many reasons, and reminded me of possibly the very first viral video. I think my dad got this in an email in 1998.

Ending thoughts: This movie made me realize that for all the knowledge I have about some stuff, I know literally nothing about space. Or Mars. Or chemistry. Or botany. Or anything. As soon as this movie was over, I raced to google to learn about Mars’ atmosphere (it doesn’t have much of one), how long its days are (almost exactly the length of Earth’s because it tilts similarly on its own axis –  its seasons are similar to Earth’s too, but its years are twice as long). Someone gimme an article about what Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye say about the film, and I’ll cosign, but for someone as sadly science illiterate as me, it was

Dope.

I’ll Make a Man Out of You: Brianna and Rebecca Watch the not-really-feminism of Mulan

As far as Disney movies go, one that is seemingly infallible from criticism is 1998’s Mulan. A woman of color protagonist? A stick-it-to-the-guys type feminist who saves China (and her father from certain death)?? LITERALLY NO WHITE PEOPLE???*
But alas, this movie has a great many flaws (as all Disney movies do). And Rebecca and I endeavor to go through them with you. (You’re welcome). So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Brianna: Omg how did I forget the Great Wall of China was in this movie? LOL

Rebecca: Literally what if a movie about the US drew English words that turned into like the Statue of Liberty. That’s dumb AF.

Brianna: LOLOLOLOLOL

Rebecca: Omg my kids keep talking to me. I yelled “I’m working!!” and then had to explain what you and I were doing and they made fun of me a lot.

Brianna: Look how dark the villain is compared to the not villains.

Rebecca: Dude the emperor’s assistant or whatever is so flamboyant.

Brianna: OH LOOK, ANOTHER FLAMBOYANT SIDEKICK (see our past post on Pocahantas)

Rebecca: Why are unlikable Disney characters always flamboyant? Also wtf why is the emperor a fortune cookie.

Brianna: He’s literally talking platitudes about rice.

Rebecca: Mulan’s dad being all “Why isn’t my daughter fuckable???”

Ugh, Mulan has no chill.

Brianna: She really doesn’t.

Rebecca: Her skin is so light.

Brianna: “Why everybody got an Asian accent but her”- Brad

Rebecca: Like, their whole family is so white. Is her grandma Betty White??

Brianna: But like literally. Is she? And grandma also has no chill.

Note: She was not Betty White. She was voiced by June Foray

Brianna: That’s a buff ass horse.

Rebecca: How old is Mulan? 16?

Brianna: Hmm…I have no idea. But, “Recipe for an instant bride” is an actual song lyric.

Rebecca: There’s so much idealization of Western culture, though. Like, it’s clearly misogynistic and the audience is supposed to realize that, I think.

Brianna: Right. Like I think it’s supposed to empathize that Mulan is not about that life.

Rebecca: But I feel like that’s assuming Western White men didn’t also own their wives. Like, we’re so quick to call out other (not white) culture’s misogyny.

Brianna: Yes. So much yes.

Rebecca: Like, she’s this feminist icon because she’s super individualistic, re: white.

Brianna: Agh noooo you’re right.

Rebecca: Like actually now that I think about it, what Disney movie with an arranged marriages plot WASN’T about a woc?

Brianna: FUCK. WHICH ONE.

Rebecca: Mulan, Pocahontas, Aladdin…

Brianna: NONE.

Rebecca: Is there any other???

Brianna: Also, can we talk about how masculine the matchmaker is?? And she’s supposed to be super unlikable, too.

Rebecca: Right? Like oooh dumb, ugly, matchmaking woman.

SHE LITERALLY HAS A MUSTACHE. Dude this is so transphobic and racist and sexist ugh.

Brianna: YIKES IT SO IS.

Rebecca: Mulan gives some solid dieting advice, though. Reflect before you snack!

Brianna: #reflectionsbeforesnacks

Rebecca: When will my reflection show what I ate inside.

Brianna: I know all the words to all the songs still. Wow, I’m cool.

Rebecca: Same though. As much as I’m prepared to tear this movie apart, I love it so much.

Brianna: LOVE IT SO HARD.

Rebecca: This scene is so complicated because it’s not BAD to look at these genuine self-esteem issues for young girls. But it has so many racist undertones.

Brianna: *Rubs off makeup.* *Still has rosy cheeks* lawl

Rebecca: Lololol is her dad talking about her chest? Don’t worry girl, you’ll bloom one day.

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Ew go away, dad. #rapeculture

Brianna: All of the men literally speak in fortune cookie fortunes

Rebecca: You’ll be fuckable one day!!

Brianna: I think the flamboyant guy is Mr. Chang from the hangover. PLEASE BE SO.

Note: He’s not. He’s voiced by James Hong 😦

Brianna: Yo, were they really gonna send an old man to war tho. Like…he’s old af. He’s got a pimp/limp walk, too. #pimpwalklimpwalk

Rebecca: It’s so weird because like this is definitely all fucked. I just feel like there’s this undertone of like, “ooooh the backwards Chinese folk!” When like, women couldn’t talk or fight or anything in the Western world, either.

Brianna: “Oh they’re dumb af about honor!”

Brianna: Was there a Western world when this is supposed to take place?

Rebecca: When does this take place?

Brianna: I wanna say Han(?) dynasty China. Like, really old. Ima consult Google.

Brianna: “Know your place, bitch”- Mulan’s dad.

Rebecca: *slowly chants in the background* patriarchy harms men, too. PATRIARCHY HARMS MEN, TOO.

Brianna: Okay yeah, 420-589 AD Old AF AF

Rebecca: Oooh yeah, that’s hella old. Kind of like this 80s inspirational soundtrack going on right now.

Brianna: I NEED A WORKOUT MONTAGE.

Brianna: He can’t wake up when his daughter steals his war shit but he wanted to fight in a war? LOL okay.

Rebecca: Wait Mulan’s mom looks just like Miriam in the Prince of Egypt.

Brianna: Omg plot twist.

Rebecca: THEY’RE SO WHITE.

Brianna: I forgot how much Eddie Murphy makes this movie.

Rebecca: Have you read the Chris Rock quote that’s like, “cartoons are great you can play anyone. For example black people can be donkeys or dragons”

Brianna: THAT MAIN ANCESTOR IS GEORGE TAKEI DHSHFDHHFUUDFHDH

Note: he actually was tho.

Rebecca: I wish I knew more about the actual history because I’m sure there are some sassy little jokes here. Like in Hercules.

Brianna: Said with great disdain: “Your son used to cross dress”  LITERAL TRANSPHOBIA THOUGH.

Rebecca: No one in this movie has any chill.

Rebecca: Eddie Murphy’s character is literally named Moo Shoo. Holy shit.

Brianna: What do you make of the fact that the most disgraced ancestor protector guy is black?

Rebecca: Also that he’s the major comic relief. Like the animal sidekick for comic relief.

Brianna: And he’s funny but like…

Rebecca: This movie is so dark though. Disney movies are fucking dark. Like, that town is on FIRE.

Brianna: Right. And speaking of dark, the Huns are dark AF.

Rebecca: Also that main bad guys eyes are yellow. Like he looks like his hawk.

Brianna: He has FANGS.

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Rebecca: YOU HEAR THAT DONALD TRUMP?? BY BUILDING THAT WALL YOU CHALLENGE STRENGTH.

Brianna: LOLOLOLOL

Rebecca: Okay, I know it’s really dark that they killed the second messenger but I just cackled. Oops, I’m evil maybe.

Brianna: This black church moment right now.

Rebecca: Like, gospel music and everything.

Brianna: Also, it’s worth noting that the guy who plays the Hun leader is Latino IRL.

Rebecca: All non whites are the same, duh.

Brianna: I think there might be a really interesting thing to mine from this. Like, what does it take for Mulan to pass?

Rebecca: Yeah. and also the acceptance of the story because she’s not actually into drag or trans. So it’s acceptable for the audience to root for her.

Brianna: LOL Brad says all the dudes are stupid af.

Rebecca: HE JUST SAID TOFU. AMI MOMMY TOFU.

Brianna: WHAT EVEN.

Brianna: ALSO, DICK JOKE ON FLEEK. “Limp noodle.”

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Rebecca: There are so many caricatures and stereotypes I cannot even begin.

Brianna: Right. Also Mulan always likes her commanding dude. But he isn’t interested because he thinks she’s a man. But as soon as he learns she’s a woman he’s about it. Hmmmmm.

Rebecca: But doesnt he kind of have a crush on her when he thinks she’s a guy? Like, it’s kind of great. He’s kind of gay. And freaking out because he’s maybe kind of gay.

Brianna: BD Wong is gay! His voice! He’s also the dopest SVU character. Have you gathered I watch too much TV/movies? #Whoops

Rebecca: Mulan’s dude voice is so great.

Brianna: Her male stereotypes. LOL

Rebecca: Right? Fix things. Kill things.

Brianna: COOK OUTDOORS.

Rebecca: Mulan’s face when he takes off his shirt, though. Honestly, same.

Brianna: #girlboner

Rebecca: hahahaha feminine men! Classic!

Brianna: HILARIOUS. IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE WOMEN ARE INFERIOR.

Rebecca: I’m not even going to pretend I’m not belting along to this song, though. It’s so hard to dissect racist misogyny when I feel motivated to run a marathon. YES BE A MAN UGH YAAAAS SLAAAAAAY.
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Brianna: “How could I make a man out of you?” he says to a woman.

Rebecca: That individualism is what saves her, though. Like oooo he said I have to leave but I climbed the thing anyway.

Brianna: SLAY BITCH. KICK HIM IN THE FACE.

Rebecca: Side note, they should really make a disney movie about Ayn Rand. That would be a great review.

Brianna: Okay but why does the villain sound so Latino. And have yellow eyes. And claws. He literally look like a monster?

Rebecca: Hahaha there are a “couple of things” that will give me away.  A COUPLE THINGS. BREASTS. HAHAHA BOOBIES.

Brianna: “There are so many dongs out right now”-Brad

Rebecca: Ugh, men are so gross.

Brianna: SO GROSS. She really doesn’t wanna see dick.
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Rebecca: Dude, who can blame her?

Brianna: Homeboy needs to chill.

Rebecca: This movie is a really interesting example of equality vs. liberation. Like, the goal of the movie is for Mulan to be equal enough to murder people.

Brianna: LOL, right.

Rebecca: Not to like, reexamine the value of violent masculine traits.

Brianna: WAS THAT GUY A WOMAN, TOO? HIS TOWEL WAS UP TO HIS BOOBIES AND HE HAD A TOWEL AROUND HIS HAIR. The flamboyant dude!

Rebecca: No, no, I don’t think so. I think the joke is he’s just sooo flamboyant and feminine and we’re supposed to think it’s funny.

Brianna: This song, though. “I want her paler than the moon”

Rebecca: Hahahaha, the fat man doesn’t like sex he likes to EAT. Also the women giggling at that cat call.

Brianna: Omfg

Rebecca: Yo, but how much do you wanna bet that flamboyant guys girlfriend lives in Canada. They’re just like really long distance right now, but she’s so great, and totally real.

Brianna: Oh hey, and reality check of war.

Rebecca: Wow, people die!! War is fucked!!!

Brianna: This is super bleak and awful.

Rebecca: Look at that! It’s almost like we shouldn’t celebrate violent masculinity! It’s almost like it leads to murder!

Brianna: Ooh shit, his dad is dead.

Rebecca: That doll gives me so many feels, though.

Brianna: LOL Mulan sucks at war. Also, in the Mulan legend she’s away at war for 12 years and she’s never found out to be a lady. And it’s only revealed when she goes home and puts on her lady clothes.

Rebecca: 12 years/2 weeks. Honestly, same thing.

Rebecca: The bad guy is so majestic, though. Like dang, look at that hair blowing.

Brianna: His sword looks like he’s been chewing on it.
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sword noms

Rebecca: I like this scene because I like to think it represents breaking away from violent masculine thought. I mean okay, like maybe not a great example since it’s still hella violent. But like…it’s creative murder with a feminine touch!!

Rebecca: Okay but Shang definitely digs Ping at this point. GAAAAAAYYYYY.

Brianna: Right?! Also, I’m upset there isn’t a single shihtzu in this movie. They’re Chinese dogs (my dog is a shihtzu)!

Rebecca: The lack of well-rounded dog representation in the media really gets to me, man.

Brianna: He super loves this movie. Except not, because he isn’t represented.

Rebecca: #alldogsmatter

Brianna: “You the man! Well…sort of”

Rebecca: Okay, but I wanna dissect this. Like, it’s so extraordinary that she’s so skilled because she’s a woman. Like it’s not just “oh, she’s strong, cool” or whatever.

Brianna: Like, me and my lady brain can’t do nothin right.

Rebecca: We’re supposed to support her being in an army (so like, still fucked) because she’s THE strongest of them. And that’s so amazing because she’s a WOMAN.

Brianna: smdh.

Brianna: THE BOOBIE MUSIC. LOLOLOLOL

Rebecca: Everyone is just staring at her tits…

Rebecca: Shang’s so mad because she made him think he was gay.

Brianna: Lol why is this the law, tho. “Women must be executed because they’re women.”

Rebecca: That’s a very specific law, too. “If a woman cross dresses and tries to join the army but we see her boobies she MUST BE DECAPITATED”

Brianna: Ah, yes. Article 2 of section 6.

Brianna: Lol moo shoo eating the dumpling by the tiny cricket fire.

Rebecca: Wait, I really hope that horse is actually a sheep. Like, the secret backstory of this whole movie is actually about the sheep’s journey to horsedom.

Brianna: Ugh, this fucking falcon.

Rebecca: Oh, lol I called it a hawk earlier.

Brianna: I have no idea what it is.

Rebeca: Birds are so confusing.

Brianna: #NotAnOranthologist

Rebecca: Are these bad guys zombies, though? Why are there only six of them? Why does that guy have a bladin mullet?

Brianna: How are they shirtless and survived an avalanche?

Rebecca: I have so many questions.

Brianna: “Why is Mulan different than Ping?” Cause misogyny.

Rebecca: There are so many defiant stares in this scene.

Brianna: So like, I guess they live every day like it’s Chinese New Year???

Rebecca: That’s a great life motto. Live every day like it’s Chinese New Year!!

Rebecca: The emperor reminds me of Dumbledore.

Brianna: That bad guy is such a Trojan…uhh…Chinese Horse!

Rebecca: He was even perched like a bird. IS HE PART BIRD??

Brianna: That’s the actual plot twist.

Rebecca: The horse is a sheep. The man is a bird. And now, the men are dressed like WOMEN.

Brianna: Why isn’t the captain dressed in drag, tho.

Rebecca: Because he’s too sexy, Brianna. U can’t cover those guns.

Brianna: Even the whites of the evil guys eyes are black. Wtf.

Brianna: THE EMPEROR LITERALLY ONLY SPEAKS IN FORTUNE COOKIE SAYINGS.

Rebecca: I like that the cricket doesn’t have a name. Just cricket.

Brianna: LOL. The dog’s name is little brother. Which is funny because in the legend she has a little brother.

Rebecca: The emperor is literally Dumbledore. This is like an end of the year Dumbledore speech.

Brianna: TEN POINTS TO RAVENCLAW.

Rebecca: It’s weird how she did all this for her family and just wants to go home. Because like, that’s not a BAD thing. It’s not wrong that they have her value family or anything. But, it’s also enforcing gender roles.

Brianna: Right. Like, come on.

Rebecca: Also: “you fight good.” MEN ARE BASIC ACROSS ALL CULTURES.

Brianna: Grandma is so fucking thirsty.

Rebecca: I could pretend I’m not rocking out to this ending song, but I’d be lying.

Final Thoughts:

Brianna:

With trans identity being a much-needed topic in the national conversation, I’ve found myself wondering, as a ciswoman, why, I am always read as female, regardless of how short my hair may be, how baggy my clothes are, what sports I’ve played, and how deep and raspy of a voice I have.

I’m not sure I’ve come to any good conclusions (sorry!) but watching Mulan made me realize how little thought was given to the making of this movie. Though the movie has many instances of transphobia and mentions of cross dressing, all Mulan has to do to pass as male is cut her hair (from long to medium length) and wear armor. That’s literally it. You’d think there’d be very little transantagonistic violence in the world, given that all anyone apparently must do is wear gendered clothing of what gender they are/wish to be.

But we all know it isn’t that simple.

Additionally, I’ve always felt it important to acknowledge our general feelings regarding femininity and women are evident in how we approach cross dressing women, homosexual women, and masculine women. Though in our heteronormative society we prefer women to be somewhat feminine, we much more quickly accept little girls who are tomboys before little boys who are “effeminate” or like “girl” things. We much morequickly accept women who date and/or have sex with women (just look at the polls and stats on lesbian porn) before men who do the same with men. Throughout history we’ve given our daughters names that were previously male names, but there’s no pattern of the reverse. We freely accept, as in the case of the movie Mulan, women giving up their femininity because we don’t value it. But men or boys with the slightest bit of effeminacy are a problem (just look at the emperor’s councilor, or ask a parent why their little boy can’t wear pink or play with dolls).

Rebecca:

I also think it’s important to examine the role that white feminism plays in this movie. It’s telling that Mulan is often praised as THE feminist Disney movie. But, so many of the ~empowering~ feminist ideas come at the expense of tearing down people of color. I think (white) Americans revel in the satisfaction from denouncing the “backwards” ideas of non-white, non-Western cultures (re: arranged marriages, community-centered versus individualistic values) while refusing to examine our own culture of misogyny. Mulan finds “empowerment” (more on that, soon) largely denouncing her family’s culture and embracing a very white, very capitalistic, individualistic framework.  I’m ready for the Disney movie that challenges the misogyny in white culture, but I’m not holding my breath.

*It’s also worth noting that Mulan has the whitest eyes, and whitest skin of any of the characters- she is very literally modeled after white values.

Critiquing misogyny as a universal experience for women is not a bad thing. Only critiquing misogyny in non-white cultures, and portraying the only escape from the confines of that misogyny in white-centric ways is. Mulan relies heavily on the narrative of equality over liberation. In other words, once Mulan is allowed to stay in the army, feminism wins! Women are equal! But, is a world of “equality” where women are free to adhere to violent masculine norms really the goal of feminism? Some women might say yes. But, to me, true liberation means finding value in the traditional feminine as well as the traditional masculine (not to mention denouncing those gendering dichotomies in the first place). True liberation looks like rejecting the violent, destructive side of hegemonic masculinity, not just inviting girls to join in on the action. So, even though I love singing along to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” as much as the next guy, I can’t get on board with praising Mulan as a feminist film.

Rachel Dolezal: “Passing,” Passing, and Privilege

The controversy surrounding Rachel Dolezal is a great many things: frustrating, perplexing, hilarious, offensive, and strange. Born a blond and straight haired white woman to two white parents, the now-former NAACP chapter president out of Spokane, WA has steadfastly held her ground as a black woman, despite darkening her skin and manipulating her hair in order to perform her blackness, lying and falsifying claims that she was the target of racially motivated animus, as well as claiming an older black man was her father, rather than her very-much-white father from Idaho (or Montana?), and that her adopted black brothers were her adopted children.

She has announced to the media that she doesn’t give “two shits” what they think because this is between her and the black community (as if Black Twitter hasn’t been going in on her the past two days or so).

Well, Rachel, here I am, black as all get out, addressing you and whoever else directly so as to shed some light on my specific views in this situation, as informed by my educational specification.

Here goes.

When I first heard that Rachel Dolezal was dressing up as a black woman, my first thoughts were, as Kara Brown over at Jezebel so eloquently put it, “Girl, what?”

WHY?! And what do we call this performance?

Is she appropriating? I mean, I guess so. But at the same time it doesn’t seem to really fit. Usually appropriators take cultural elements from black communities while not caring too much about those actual communities. I think its possible that she cares about the black community and the black struggle and wants too hard to be a member of said-community and struggle. But she is wearing my race as a costume like Katy Perry, so it’s still pretty icky.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-01-at-10.05.25-AM-640x461 Unfortunately, there is so much more where this came from.

Is this blackface? I guess technically, but we’re still not quite there. She is literally putting on makeup to make herself black, and it is to perform a black identity, but let’s press on.

robertdowneyjrAt least everyone in Tropic Thunder got that blackface isn’t okay.

The only thing that comes to mind is racial passing, a practice that has dwindled in its necessity, but was very common in the past, specifically the first half of the twentieth century. This practice is different in that it was black people passing as white or otherwise non-black, in order to gain privilege and shirk disenfranchisement that comes with being black in America.

My master’s thesis is centered mostly at the intersection of blackness and womanhood, and the very wide range of experiences that this can entail, and how respectability politics began and flourished from Reconstruction through the Harlem Renaissance. I could not have written about black womanhood during this time without writing about racial passing, and in that exploration I developed interesting ideas about what it means to pass and why someone would/could do such a thing as change their race and live their life that way.

In Nella Larsen’s novella Passing, Larsen writes about the experiences of Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, both mixed-race women living in Harlem, NY (represent!) and Chicago, IL, respectively, during the 1920s. Because of the one drop rule, both women were considered black, despite their outwardly non-black appearances: Clare is described as golden-haired, pale skinned, with dark eyes (Larsen 29). Irene has olive skin and black, curly hair (Larsen 54). Irene married a black man who she notes cannot pass (he is obviously brown-skinned) and lives in the black neighborhood of Harlem, while Clare left her family, friends, and home to marry a white man who knows nothing of her racial heritage, and notes openly and often that he “hates n*ggers” (Larsen 40).

In regard to white-looking women who perform what racial identity they prefer, the women in Larsen’s novel do not do so by changing their own appearance. And while Irene does not lie about her racial identity as does Clare, she is quite disturbed that Clare does, especially considering her vitriolic husband. Clare declares she is a traitor to their race, and Irene inwardly agrees. As I note in my thesis:

“Clare’s marriage to a wealthy white man and giving birth to a white child are the mortar of the bricks she has assembled to attain the white identity she wants to be perceived as, which is made possible by her white appearance and her lack of parents, making her past easy to avoid. It is important to understand though, that Irene’s marriage serves the same purpose: she married a black man who could not pass as white and lives in a black community in order to be viewed as black, which is often made more difficult because of her white appearance” (Cox 19).

Throughout the story, it is made clear that passing in public spaces (so as to beat the hot summer heat in a nice restaurant) or hiding in plain sight from a husband so overtly racist that it is nearly comical, is not done by these women changing appearance, indeed, the only thing that (spoiler alert!) eventually outs Clare is her being seen with noticeably black companions in a black neighborhood.

While the act and history of passing exposes how flawed it is to view race, specifically blackness and whiteness as a binary, it also demonstrates that life was so bad for those who were black during that time, that many would do anything they could to insure the safety of themselves and their children. The way many went about this was to 1) “lighten the race” by marrying white or light, and 2) by passing – be that permanently or when convenient in public. The one drop rule was a way to keep anyone with any black ancestry from having full rights, but there were some who could circumvent the system. It is important to understand that being able to pass was a privilege, as it afforded access to some things that many blacks, like those who are super chocolately like myself, would never have access to. I’m still not sure if I think that this insuring of one’s own safety by means rejecting an identity and community is wrong. It is certainly anti-black at its core, which offends me to mine.

Fast forward to the present day: people do not feel the need to pass as they once did, but we still often enforce the one drop rule in ways that we do not even realize (myself absolutely included): people who are biracial, multiracial, or in any way touched by blackness tend to be considered black, regardless of how they self-identify. The police call about Tony Robinson, who was murdered by police in Madison, WI was not for a “possibly-biracial young man,” but for a black one. President Obama, raised mostly by his white mother and grandmother, refers to himself (and is treated by the general public) as a black man. Essentially, we find blackness as something can be lightened but still retain its blackness, but we don’t tend to regard any person whose heritage is mixed with white as just white; the slightest bit of darkening to whiteness makes it no longer white. Obama is not our white president, and my future children, despite having a white father, would sooner be identified as belonging to me, rather than their dad. This is in essence what the one drop rule does and was invented to do: it protects whiteness from blackness.

This makes Rachel Dolezal’s actions even more puzzling. She is an educated woman, a professor of Africana Studies, no less, so she no doubt understands appropriation, blackface, and racial passing. She is aware that “reverse racism” is not a thing, regardless of how many white people want it to be, so why is she doing this “reverse passing” while also not admitting any wrongdoing?*

Black academics like myself expect certain things in our quest for equality and spreading of knowledge:

When people in the public eye make racial fauxpas we expect them to apologize.

When people unwittingly and unintentionally perpetuate white supremacy and anti-blackness, we expect that to be acknowledged, and hope it to be remedied.

And when they refuse to do these things, usually with the excuse of “I did not intend to be racist” or “but look at my charity work/black friend/good heart” we have to explain (slowly) that none of this matters if they aren’t willing to admit when they’re wrong, grow, and move on.

Rachel: What you’re doing is blackface and serves nothing other than your ego. You can be white and an ally. You can be white and an NAACP chapter president. You can be a white Africana Studies professor.

Rachel: By being paid to tell your (fake) stories of growing up black and disenfranchised, you have taken that opportunity away from actual black women, whose experiences so often go ignored and unheard.

Rachel: My race is not a costume. I am more than my skin tone, my hair texture, my box braids. My experiences are not fabricated attempts to make my racial identity more legitimate. I was born black, I was raised black, I have lived black, and I will die black.

By refusing to apologize, you demonstrate your privilege. By passing in this way, you have taken opportunities away from black women in the worst way. And by lying, you have lost the respect of many.

By performing race in this way, taking opportunities from other black people, while blocking white allyship, Rachel, you have sufficiently defined the word “irony.”

Maybe you should have been an English professor.
*Edit: I stated that because Dolezal is an Africana Studies professor and has professed a black identity and understanding that she understood that “reverse racism” is not real. However, in the days since this article was written, it has come out that Dolezal sued the historically black university she attended (Howard University) for reverse discrimination against her because she was white

When Property Matters More Than People

What did y’all learn about the Boston Tea Party in school? I learned about the Sons of Liberty – a bunch of persnickety colonists who, in their anger, rage, and resentment of being taxed without representation by the British Empire, threw the tea they were being so heavily taxed for into the Boston Harbor, destroying an entire shipment.

There were other political protests that the Sons of Liberty performed, and the fact that they destroyed property of what they felt what an oppressive establishment is taught in American History classrooms as a source of pride. They are American heroes, we’re told, because they stood up for what they felt was right; a stance, which we know led to the American Revolutionary War, which led to American Independence. The ones against the protests back then were British Loyalists. How very status quo! It is not at all comforting to know that hardly anything has changed. I’ve seen quite a few would-be British Loyalists that have seemingly forgot all of the times in American History when violence not only happened, but was readily justified – especially on black bodies.

Scouraged-Back-Private-Gordon-1863-M.Brady_-312x500

With history in mind, why are the riots and unrest currently unfolding in Baltimore (and Ferguson and Los Angeles and Harlem before it) seen as something shameful, perpetrated by looters, opportunists, savages, animals, thugs? Why, in the present day, is property more important than people’s lives?

Because make no mistake, if you’re focusing on the riot violence and not the violence that CAUSED it, you are part of the problem.

If you mourn broken windows more than lost lives and broken spines, you are part of the problem.

If you have zero qualms with the murder of unarmed citizens by those sworn to protect, you are part of the problem.

If you are falsely invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., thinking he would side with a racist militarized police force and not those being murdered by said-police, you are part of the problem.

If you can’t understand why white people rioting after sporting events vs. black people rioting after murder in their community is different in intent, deed, scrutiny, and media coverage, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Period. Full Stop.

  If the Boston Tea Party wasn’t a destructive and purposeful act of destroying property, what was it? If the Sons of Liberty weren’t petulant children and shamed thugs, what were they?   Careful how you answer, you might just reveal the coded racial weight given to certain words for specific people.  

Speaking of those specific people, why would they riot in their own communities, many ask (as a deflection)?  

For starters, your lack of understanding of how systemic dehumanization and injustice manifests itself in people’s behavior does not suddenly make them in the wrong.  

I understand why they are so angry.

I feel my heart ache whenever the next black man, woman, sleeping baby, playing child, is announced as murdered on the news.

I feel my blood burn when apathetic whites abound to tell me that they deserved it, and that a systemic pattern of violence does not indicate a system of oppression.  

I’m worried that if my understandable fear in the police leads me to run, I’ll get shot in the back like Walter Scott.  

I’m scared that because my brother and father are big and tall like Michael Brown, they’ll be thought of as automatically a threat, and shot in the street.  

I fear that if my teenage sister fights back for “not looking like she belongs” in a certain neighborhood, she’ll be called a thug who was asking for it, like Trayvon Martin.  

I wonder if my friends and family would believe the news or me if I told them that I, a peaceful protestor, was tear gased, or beaten, or had rocks thrown at me by police while I was protesting police violence (hey, irony).

I wonder if in that moment, I’d be able to hold it together and not fight back or for my life for fear of a death that people would say I was asking for.  

These feelings are hard to bear.  

No. These feelings are nearly impossible to bear.  

So, I’m not going to condemn those whose feelings erupt and spill forth.

The system takes and takes and takes, and now that people have decided to take back, maybe now y’all will listen. People won’t listen when we say, “Stop killing us!” But they’ll be around to comment when a CVS is broken into:   

It’s a shame black people aren’t property anymore.

Because white people sure care deeply about what happens to property, and not at all about what happens to people.

#BlackLivesMatter