Join hosts Tori and Amanda as they celebrate Black History Month and kick off the celebrated occasion by covering Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and spend a lot of time talking about the black experience in America.
Happy Second Anniversary. This week we’re covering Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and we talk afrofuturism, climate change, why this book feels a little too real and the merits and power of being a black nerd.
In which hosts Tori and Amanda talk about dual-consciousness, the misery of having to slay a rabid lover and Zora Neale Hurston’s fantastic book: Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Amber and I were having another one of our famous talks. We were discussing life and history as always but I was then quickly reminded of a recent style trend that dredged up every negative feeling I had about 2017: snowglobe nails. Now, if you are fortunate enough to not know what these are, I’ll take a moment and let you find out a little more about this “style” trend.
Now, this is extra. Really extra. Why do you need to turn your nail into a snowglobe? But it immediately reminded me of a trend when I was younger: back in the day of velociraptors and chunky blonde highlights. In my high school, black girls did extravagant nail designs all the time. But back in those days, the black women that did such elaborate nail art were considered to be ghetto or tacky. Now they’d be the stars of popular Instagram accounts and Youtube tutorials.
This is cultural appropriation and gentrification. It’s when things that were once maligned due to its attachment to minority groups without admitting to any of its history and sanitizing it for the sake of popularity.
We’re going to go over a few examples that particularly earn my ire.
If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, you have a base concept of what Voguing is. It’s a dance move that was popularized by Madonna in the 80s and is rooted in a the traditions of ballroom drag which was formulated and perfected by drag queens and gay men of color. Voguing is throwing shade with body movements but when Madonna popularized it at first she paid tribute to the LGBT community. She admitted that drag queens and queers of color did it better than her and featured them in her music videos and on her tours.
But as time progressed popular culture associated the act with Madonna more and more and less and less with the queer people of color that inspired and created the dance move. Voguing is an important part of the LGBT community and is a secret language to queer people all over the United States. And with Drag Race now in the popular lexicon, more and more people are aware of Voguing and are not aware of the fact that it is rooted in decades of ballroom drag. It was not something that started in the 1980s and it was not started by white pop stars. My breaking point was watching the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars and one of the guest judges (Vanessa Hudgens) had the audacity to say she was very into voguing now. Like it was a recent phenomena. Like it was something she just discovered. It exhausted me and I still roll my eyes at it every time I hear that comment.
Now, I’m relaxed. That is an important aspect of black culture, I was told that my natural hair was not pretty and that I was not likely to be hired or desired if I retained my natural hair. But since forever, folks have felt it necessary to try out styles that were created by black people. Dreadlocks come to mind. Dreads are often times maligned when black people wear them for a myriad of culturally insensitive reasons. Dreadlocks are a hairstyle that formed with the Rastafarian culture and religion. They happen because of the kinky nature of black hair. So when a black man or woman has dreads, it’s often times political, spiritual and important. When a white woman or white man does it…well, let’s just say it leaves a lot to be desired. Again, the locks in dreadlocks are formed because black hair is naturally a little kinky, that sort of texture just doesn’t really exist for many others but that stereotyping does not exist for a white woman at Coachella in dreads. So while Zendaya wearing dreads gets a racist comment out of an E! News hostess, a white person in dreads is just eccentric and “worldly”.
The same can be said for many of the trends in hair braiding.
I got my hair braided a few times when I was younger and mostly for those times when I would be away from my usual hair stylist. Braids were a way to protect my roots from breakage. But when I had braids I was as far as the world saw any other black girl with box braids. I didn’t feel pretty with braids and I still look at those photos with any positivity. I can still remember the hours in the stylist’s chair and the pain associated with getting your hair done.
But when a Kardashian braids her hair, heaven helps us. Now, it isn’t appropriative because some form of braiding is almost as culturally universal as Bigfoot, but it is disappointing that something is typically seen as a negative for one race while it’s fresh, cool and edgy for another.
The last hair trend I’ll cover is weave, extensions and wigs. I’m a cosplayer and I spend a lot of time in wigs and I’m a very handsome blond. But there’s a special relationship black women have with their hair and that means that many of my sisters in melanin have hair that they were not born with. And back when I was young in ye olden days, they were dissed for it. My great-grandmother was a snake of a woman but her wig collection was enviable. And as soon as I started collecting wigs, my aunts immediately made comparisons between my love of hair that was not mine and my great-grandmother, Ida. But let a celebrity throw on a neon wig and she’s a trendsetter.
Long weave is a staple for many ethnic communities in the United States. They became an important way to express style for many black women and for some black men.
And that does not mean that all my brothers and sisters with hair not their own do it right. And many of the criticisms of my think piece will be on “ratchet” and “ghetto” individuals. And while yes, there are plenty of folks who are not the pinnacles of fashion or design, the double standard is real and exhausting.
Now, in hindsight, I realize I’ve been extra my whole life. From the velvet jumpers to the always perfectly done hair, I’ve been extra since between it was a word used to describe people and not food. And back in my day, I realize now, that many of the girls and ladies I went to school with back during the days of raptors were extra as hell. Weaves that were several feet long, nails that sparkled like the hot white sun, velour tracksuits and purses that cost more than my rent payments. Today, that woman is extra. Years ago, that person was ghetto. And the big difference between what made a person “extra” versus “ghetto” was often tragically, race. Being extra is seen as a thing mostly now done by white people but comically, it’s something that many queer people and people of color have been doing easily for decades.
Speaking of queer people and drag queens, let’s take a small sidebar to talk about appropriation of language.
Queer people made up our own language decades ago. Shade, vogue, work, look, trade and more all mean something very different to the average gay man or drag queen. This language was created first and most importantly out of safety. Moons ago, being a gay man was not a fashionable thing to be and these codes and secret languages kept gay men and women safe from a hostile world. This secret language kept gay people alive and safe during the AIDS epidemic, during Stonewall and during the rough and tumble conservative eras in American History that you won’t learn about in history class. And as much as I love RuPaul’s Drag Race there’s been an entire generation and section of the populous that gets to “speak Drag Queen” without any of the background knowledge about it. And what’s even more frustrating is watching a woman at Walmart say “YAS, QUEEN. SLAY!” while also refusing to let LGBT people have the save civil liberties they deserve.
You don’t get to say “Yes, queen! Work!” and also think that gay people are still going to Hell because of religious dogma.
Cultural gentrification and appropriation are one of the most exhausting aspects of the modern pop culture landscape. It’s right up there with microaggressions as far as things that just wear me down. Gentrification and appropriation suck the life and history out a thing that matters to a minority community, sanitizes it and re-sells it at a higher rate that often locks out the original owners of that media, act or pattern for mass consumption. But through education, careful research and analysis of media trends and a decent level of empathy: we can combat cultural gentrification together.
You’re so pretty for a black girl.
You’re so well-spoken, I’m impressed.
You went to college? Amazing. Were you the first one in your family to do so?
Your hair is so straight! Is it like that naturally?
Did you grow up with both parents?
I only date black girls.
Those are just a few microaggressions and all things I’ve heard before in some form or fashion and all of them make my eyes roll so loudly that you may just be able to hear it from wherever you call home, dear reader.
Let’s talk about microaggressions.
A microaggression is a seemingly innocuous comment usually hurled at people of color that to the deliverer of the comment (typically a white person) does not seem problematic but to the person of color is either mildly or highly offensive.
The problem with microaggressions is that due to its mostly harmless appearing nature, it’s difficult to challenge them or call someone out on their statement. It doesn’t sound racist and overreacting is a surefire way to to essentially confirm many of the stereotypes attached to people of color (being sensitive, overreacting, being dramatic).
So today we’re going to go over a few microaggressions and we’re gonna discuss why they are problematic and how to respond to them if you encounter them in the wild!
You’re Pretty for a Black Girl/I’ve Never Dated a Black Girl/I Only Date Black Girls
Welcome to the beautiful world of exoticism, my friend. There’s nothing like a qualified compliment. I hear this one a lot from mostly white men and they mean well, they really do. But short of a little extra melanin, I’m not too far off from a white girl. I like comic books, video games, anime, costumes, I bake, I go through a book a week: none of those things have anything to do with race. Now, if it’s a statement about how “hood” one may be, well, that’s a whole different bag of troublesome. I’d also like to point out much of the irony in these sorts of statement. I as a black biological female who mostly dates white guys am frequently called a racist for it. But if a white man dates black women because of how “hot” they are, he just likes something different. And if a black man dates white women because black women are too “mean” or too “dramatic”, he just wants to avoid crazy. Thus proving that the patriarchy knows no bounds.
You’re So Well-Spoken./Did You Go to School?
Apparently, it’s a surprise that a black girl can read. Apparently, it’s still a surprise in 2018. Dear reader, if only you knew how my eyes do roll when I’m told that I’m well-spoken, intelligent or smarter than expected. I’ve been told I talk “white” which unless you have synesthesia, shouldn’t be a thing. I’m fortunate that I was always a curious kid. I’m lucky that I was able to go to college and finish school with a degree and I’m even more fortunate that I get to work in a field I love and studied for. I’m aware of all of my brothers and sisters regardless of race that are not able to do what I did: but a thinly veiled statement about how surprised you are because I am black and educated happens to be tiresome.
Did You Grow Up With Both Parents?
No. I did not. I was raised by my aunts and other family members. But Death was the factor that separated my family not a “deadbeat dad” or the American prison system. I’m aware of the stigma that any people of color have strained relationships with families: realistically, that’s a very universal thing. Sometimes families are not nuclear. And sometimes that’s okay. I am so lucky my aunts raised me after I lost my dad and I know plenty of well-adjusted people who happened to be missing a parent or two due to a myriad of reasons. I am not the person I am just because I’m a member of the Bruce Wayne Orphan Club and it’s never an excuse for anyone alive on this planet.
Is That What Your Hair Looks Like Naturally?/ Your Hair is So Pretty! Can I Touch It?
Nope, it sure is not. I get relaxers because I was told from a young age that I couldn’t be too black and I needed relaxers to fit a certain hegemony. I’ve been getting relaxers since I was 7 and now I’m somewhat dysphoric about my hair. I do not feel attractive or good when I have too much new-growth. Also, never try and touch a black woman’s hair or anyone’s hair without their explicit consent. If I had a dollar for every well-intended person who thought it appropriate to touch my hair…well, I wouldn’t have a day job. I feel even more for my brothers and sisters who go natural. Hell, even at times I’m tempted to touch Amber’s hair but I would never because most black women have hair full of secrets. Now, you are allowed to compliment my hair! I spend plenty of time and money on it for it to be seen. However asking if this is what it looks like naturally is naive. Also, please do not ask if it’s real or not…we’ve made excellent advances in weave technology for a reason.
Where Is Your Family From?
My family is from Texas and Alabama and I have family all across this great nation, even on up in Yankee territory. Oh, you meant like which part of Africa? Good question! You see, there’s a problem when a person is not considered a whole person for over 100 years and continued systemic racism suppresses any data or information about them: it’s hard to find records. Now, I can get a DNA test and find out based on genetics and such but I personally have very little interest in where in the Motherland I came from. That being said, I do have a DNA Kit in the trunk. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it.
Do You Celebrate Kwanzaa?
No, my family has been Catholic and/or Christian for decades. My Father was Baptist and ended up at an anti-science fundamentalist Church in North Texas that wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter or play Pokemon as a kid and Mom was born, married and buried Catholic. I’m a lapsed Catholic but a Catholic at that. And while yes, I am black, I celebrate Christmas like any other Christian and I eat an entire Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve like any other bad Catholic.
You Have a White Name!/You Don’t Have an Ethnic Name.
No, you are right. I do not and that was very intentional. And the idea that a black woman should have a more “ethnic” name is troubling for a startling list of reasons. I was given my name because it fits me and my family. There have been plenty of studies that confirm what many black men and women knew forever: having names that are too ethnic does sometimes stifle you as far as opportunities go. It shouldn’t, but it does. Also, feel free to ask where my last name came from: the answer is slavery.
Microaggressions suck for an enumeration of reasons, mostly because they maintain a certain level of exoticism to people of color that we thought was lost in the Victorian era. It calls back to a day when people of color were spectacles and were described lushly while simultaneously being enslaved and mistreated. There’s plenty of blatant and labored discussion of how beautiful many slave owners found their slaves: but not beautiful enough to consider a full legal human until 1865. And they don’t just happen in Tinder conversations: they happen at work, on the bus, at the bus stop, in coffee shops, in bars, in Ubers and more. And while it may be petty to clock a microaggression, handling such things with grace is at times difficult.
And sure, there will be plenty who say I’m being too sensitive and that microaggressions aren’t real and that they were invented by libertard beta cucks or by militant feminists (which is a thing!) but rest assured, microaggressions are real, happen often and they do wear on the soul.
“An American, a Negro… two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W. E. B. Du Bois
It’s Black History Month I started thinking: I am painfully sometimes detached from my heritage as an African-American.
I grew up in a mostly white part of Texas. The few other black kids I remember growing up with were like me: mostly in white neighborhoods and were fairly “white” in speech and action. We watched cartoons, read comic books and even a few of us growing up were into anime and this was true for most of my childhood years and really up until middle school. We were all a pretty color-blind group of kids: a luxury of somewhat opulence and an upper-middle class upbringing.
The Barbies and dolls I owned were mostly white or Asian because I didn’t like the orange and yellow most of the African American dolls came in. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t looking for a simulation of me as a child I was looking for a totem; a more solid way to manipulate and express my vivid childhood imagination. My imagination had somewhat transcended skin tone as well and despite the skin tone of my dolls not matching mine, I could easily slip into their world. The same goes for the books I read and the games I played: the same can still be said up to now.
High school was the first time I realized that I wasn’t quite like most of the other black kids at my school. Many times I was told that I “talked so white” to which I realized that when people said that they meant properly. This distressed me greatly. I didn’t much relate or connect to popular aspects of black culture. Hip-hop and rap confused me and I didn’t much care for sagging. My hair stays flat, relaxed and short. My music stays indie or punk and my dress is conservative and preppy.
I wasn’t particularly close to all of my dad’s side of the family: mostly citizens of Crockett and Palestine and the drudgery of the trip out there to visit them fed my somewhat disconnection to my heritage. It was easy to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.
My mother’s side of the family is incredibly proud of their heritage. Many are movers and shakers in Tuskegee. I come from a long line of airmen and distinguished Tuskegee University alum. Many attended Historically Black Colleges and are fantastic examples of what it means to be African-American. I found their goals and aspirations to be nearly too lofty and therefore it was easier to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.
In college I found other mostly culturally abandoned folks. Most had renounced their family lines to essentially become Japanese: adopting bowing, suffixes and the language. I surrounded myself with other people like me and the friends that I had that were also of color were in a similar boat: culturally abandoned and “talked white”. I was content to speak French throughout college but couldn’t tell you too much about my family and how its lines were drawn.
Being a cosplayer and anime fan especially made me realize that I had distanced myself from the color of my skin. I was never one hunting for representation in comics, anime, manga or video games. I was okay with Superman being white; I would rather him be white than a gross caricature. I delighted when powerful black superheroes arose like Green Lantern John Stewart and in Pokemon Y when I could make an avatar that looked like me I was thrilled. But I always accepted that the characters I cosplayed as were on screen or page white and I can count the times on my hand where I felt like my race has held me back from attempting a costume. Anime especially made me aware that representation would be a rare and treasured find but it didn’t take away from my experience realizing that it would be difficult to write for someone like me.
Now, I’m not culturally ignorant. I’m aware that I’m African-American and aware of much of the collective history of my people. My mother’s side of the family came up from sharecroppers to the status they are now. But the talk of slavery, reconstruction and Civil Rights were all far afield for me living in the 90s and 2000s; it was relevant historically but not to me in my daily life. The pictures from history books of slaves being tortured were numbing and damning but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t happening in my lifetime. The struggles of racism were somewhat beyond me. I have personally not struggled much as a black woman so stories of systemic racism have always made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.
The event that came to change my opinion and really force me to look at how far removed I was from my heritage was a family reunion trip. I had seen Tuskegee U. I had heard all the legends but it was when we visited the memorial to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that I had to confront my family line. If you’ve never heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study…it’s a lot, to be conservative and to be liberal: it’s just a damn shame; so here’s some context. Back in the early days of unregulated medical testing a group of doctors used less than sound practices to test the effects of syphilis on the body. They used mostly poor black men and infected somewhat the diseases saying they were trying out new vitamin supplements. Many men died. Many more survived but with serious medical conditions after the study. When the truth of the study finally came out many of the men because they were mostly poor and black were not given the right to sue the doctors and it mostly went down as a negative footnote in American history. In the 90s, then president Clinton set up a memorial and memorial fund for those that gave up their lives and health under less than noble practices. To learn more about this terrible aspect of American history check out this link: it’s very informative.
The memorial was a pit stop for the family reunion and I learned something: I had family in the study. I can’t quite put into words what I felt. I suppose it was all the anger and rage I should have felt over the graphic images of slavery in my old history text books. I felt angry; Django Unchained angry. I felt sad. I felt awful.
I also in that moment felt strongly African-American and proud to know that despite the horrors of the study that my family survived and then went on to thrive. But feeling connected to my heritage didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t up until that moment felt connected to it. I didn’t opt to go to a historically black college. Japanese and French are still my main languages and not modern Ebonics and I still keep my hair very straight and very flat. My education and my upbringing are part of my life but my personality and likes influence how I deal with things. I’m proud of my family, my heritage and my legacy: but I’m still culturally abandoned as not just an African-American but as an American in general.
I’ll probably always struggle with the parts of that are abandoned from being an American as much as I’ll struggle with the parts of me that are abandoned from being African-American. I think a few otakus struggle with this: loving a culture that isn’t exactly known for it’s tolerance of gaijin or foreigners. The great irony of being an otaku is embracing a culture that likely would not embrace many of the individuals that call Nihon home in spirit. So while I’m culturally and mentally very much Japanese, I’m aware that there are cities in Japan that would see me as nothing more than a Westerner. And even when it comes to prejudice, when travelling overseas, I struggled more with being an American in Europe than an African-American in Europe. Many I spoke with were more fine with me being of British-origin and black than being black and from the US specifically Texas.
Just remember that the narrative of history is ongoing and though some are fortunate enough not to struggle there are others that are not as fortunate. I’m lucky to have the education that I do, the family that I do and the heritage that I do. The opening quote of this blog is about dual consciousness and it’s very true for most African-Americans: there’s a pride to us and side to us that many aren’t eager to show to others. A set of social cues and lines we just don’t break. The quote above was first mentioned to me while reading To Kill a Mockingbird when Calpurnia mentions to Scout that there were two ways black people talked: the way they did in front of white people and the way they did in private with other black people and that each one must be separated and kept away from each other: the two halves of the average African-American person should be separate but equal. There’s more than one spirit inside every person of color: it’s just a question of how many spirits that is.