Archive for February, 2008

The Desert Place

Friday, February 29th, 2008

There is a false and persistent myth that strong people are persistently, perpetually, perennially strong. That creative people are persistently, perpetually, perennially, creative. That people of faith are persistently, perpetually, perennially faithful. These people, so the myth goes, never run out of steam. Never have dry spells. Never experience self-doubt. Never contemplate giving up.

Such people do not exist.

The truth is there are days, weeks, yes even seasons, when the soul is on empty.  Though deadlines loom, your mailbox is full, a new battle awaits you, your readers wonder where you’ve gone, the phone is ringing, and dirty clothes are piled high in the basket, you’re in a drought.

If it weren’t for the many psalms of lament in the Bible, I don’t know if I would have remained a Christian. It’s good to know that when I feel emotionally, spiritually and intellectually adrift, I’m in good company. It helps to know that I have not disappointed God when I feel empty and not up to the next task. God knows. Psalm 42 is my favorite psalm in the bible because I can empathetically imagine the psalter mumbling the words to the psalm to herself in a blues-like fashion as she kneads the bread for an upcoming ceremonial observance or as she gets up that morning to dress to sing in the choir.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember
       as I pour out my soul:
       how I used to go with the multitude,
       leading the procession to the house of God,
       with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
       among the festive throng.

  Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise the Lord, 
       my Savior and my God.

Thank God, droughts are seasonal. They are not forever, even though they feel like they are here to stay. Even though they make you think that you’ll never be strong again, that your creativity was a sham, and that faith is futile and everyone knows it except you. Don’t believe your drought.

Find some water somewhere and keep moving.

Turn off the computer. Unplug the phone. Go for a walk. Take a long drive. Read a book.  Hold a baby. Take a salsa class. Take a long bath. Kneel at the side of the bed. Put on some music that makes you cry. I did. I’m feeling better already. So good, “I believe I’ll run on and see what the end’s gonna be.”

Lorraine Hansberry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

A poll on one of my favorite blogs yesterday asked how many of us intended to tune into to watch  “Raisin in the Sun” on ABC later that night. I left a message saying that while I had the utmost respect for all the actors (except for one) I for one had no plans to watch the ABC remake. I loved the original version and its cast too much.

Raisin in the SunAt the time that I took the poll I forgot I had a teenage daughter. My daughter spread herself out on the couch last night watching “A Raisin in the Sun” being performed by a cast she recognized and identified with. Her cell phone beside her was quiet. Neither she nor her friends sent each other text messages throughout the movie. After I was done occupying myself around the house, my curiosity got the best of me. I joined my daughter on the couch. Making certain to keep my grunts and eye-rolling to myself when a certain male actor failed in my opinion to bring the depth of emotion to the part I was accustomed, I sat reliving the original movie. My daughter had nothing to compare this cast and movie version with, and perhaps that was a good thing. I decided to leave well enough alone and be thankful that she was being introduced to the talents of a literary giant. 

Lorraine HansberryBorn in Chicago on May 19, 1930 Lorraine Vivian Hansberry wrote once in a private journal of hers, “Eventually it comes to you, the thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which also make you lonely.” Hansberry’s genius was not simply in her talents as a playwright, but also her ability to use art to raise timeless issues. Hansberry was a woman ahead of her time. Imagine touching on race, feminism, class, colorism, colonialism and homophobia in a way that would bring black people to Broadway in throngs. All in1959.

Writing about his friend Lorraine’s famous play James Baldwin observed, “In Raisin, black people recognized that house and the people in it– the mother, the son, the daughter and the daughter-in-law–and supplied the play with an interpretative element which could not be present in the minds of the white people…”

Lorraine Hansberry was eight years old in 1938 when her family purposely moved into Washington Park, a white neighborhood that bordered the University of Chicago. They challenged Chicago’s segregation laws. Her father was a real estate broker and later won a landmark anti-segregation housing case before the Illinois Supreme Court. Her play, A Raisin in the Sun, was loosely based on this case. 

Hansberry’s career began as a reporter/writer. Coming as she did from a long line of activists and intellectuals, it made sense that one of her first jobs was writing for a newspaper called Freedom, an African-American newspaper. She later worked as a waitress and cashier, writing in her spare time. One of her writings was A Raisin in the Sun, which debut on Broadway in 1959. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway as well as the first play with a black director Lloyd Richards) on Broadway.  The play’s original cast was made up of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, and Diana Sands.  Lorraine Hansberry was only 29 years old at the time.

Raisin earned Hansberry the New York Drama Critics Circle Award making her the youngest and first black to receive such a distinction by the theater world.  Although she would die from cancer six years after Raisin’s debut on Broadway, Hansberry did live to see the play be turned into a movie starring several of the play’s original cast. Deeply committed to the Black struggle for equality and human rights, Lorraine Hansberry wrote other wonderful plays but none achieved the fame of Raisin.

 Sidney Poitier admits in his autobiography The Measure of a Man (2000) that he and actress Claudia McNeill, who played matriarch Lena Younger, locked horns continually in the play. Poitier felt that the play should not evolve from the mother’s point of view, but from the point of view of the son Walter Young, Jr. whom he played. But Claudia McNeill,  a force to be reckoned with, felt differently.  It’s obvious from the scene below that the tension between the actors spilled over into their performances and helped to give the play its dramatic edge, leaving audiences to debate and decide for themselves for years to come which is the play’s dominant point-if-view character, Walter Lee or Lena Younger.

What do you think? From whose perspective is Raisin in the Sun best told? Lena Younger? Walter Lee Younger? Or could it be Ruth, Beneatha or Travis?

Black Women’s Truth, White Women’s Arrogance

Monday, February 25th, 2008

After reading elsewhere on the Internet her provocative comments about the Michelle Obama-Cindy McCain flack of two weeks ago, I asked Rev. Melva Sampson for permission to reproduce her comments here  at Something Within. She agreed. Rev. Sampson is Project Manager at Sisters Chapel WISDOM Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga. Her reactions to how race, gender, and class privilege play out in the Obama-McCain flack deserve pondering and are sure to provoke response from readers of this blog.    

Over the months there have been lots written about Hilary-vs-Barack. We’ve talked about everything from the inherent sexisim and racism present in presidential politics to the perceived silence of black feminist/womanist as it relates taking Obama to task. We’ve talked about the need for us to look beyond race and identify candidates whose views and plan best support our own. Indeed the conversations even here on the Something Within blog have been thought-provoking. However, as I have watched the events over the last couple of weeks surrounding Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, I find it interesting that there was limited to no conversation around yet again a black woman’s experience in public life.

Earlier on, colleagues talked about Michelle Obama being a strong sister equipped with her own intellectual apptitude and personal swagger, which I agree. Yet there seems to be a sense of silence, in general, about how’s she’s having to justify her experience(s) as a black woman.

Michelle Obama has been criticized for the comments, with some suggesting her remarks were unpatriotic.

Let me bring those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about up to speed.

Campaigning more than a week ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Michelle Obama said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

wives

In a rare political move, Cindy McCain, wife of the Arizona senator John McCain, took on Michelle Obama’s comment when introducing her husband at a rally the next day. “I’m proud of my country, I don’t know if you heard those words earlier. I’m very proud of my country,” she said.

So my vent is this: does white women’s response to black women’s truthtelling translate into not patriotic? Really? There’s a deeper question in there somewhere that I working through. I’m not even sure if I have anything substantive to add to this conversation more than just to note that I am pissed at the fact that when Michelle spoke from her experience as a black woman that Cindy shoots back with, “I’ve always been proud of my country.” Okay, Cindy why wouldn’t you? When is the last time you had to recall a history where your womb was commodified? When is the last time in presidential election that you had to consistently respond to the question: “Are you a woman first or black first?” When is the last time that you had to prep your young daughtes about the triple threat of racism, sexism and classism that awaits them? Same gender does not mean same experiences. I wonder what the conversation would look like had Hilary responded as such.

Despite my admiration for Michelle Obama, here’s what I’ve finally decided: between Barack and Hiliary, neither will be political saviors for me. Budgets will still be unbalanced, bereaucratic backlash will continue to run a muck and backroom wheeling and dealing will probably be at an all time high. As a black woman neither candidate fully represents me. Neither understands as Anna Julia Cooper said best, “That when and where I enter my entire race enters with me,” or quoting the 1973 work  Black Women inWhite America that ”Black women’s experiences are still not legitimized and accepted into the body of American history.”

I guess you could say I am slamming down my race card because I feel McCain’s comment is supported by the larger society and this is what we’re really up against as black women. I’m in a place where I want to collectively ruminate on our perceived silence. At this moment I’m fighting for my voice and the damning feeling of going silently into the night.

The Body, the Booty, and Sara Baartman.

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Let’s be clear: this is not just another blog article. It’s a call to stand up. I, for one, am righteously pissed off.

You’ve seen the cyber-ad alright. You simply tuned it out, that’s all. The spirit does that sometimes when it’s being assaulted.

A camera opens on a black woman sitting at her desk in an office carrel. Another black woman dashes in, her back to the camera, and starts swinging her hips and ample butt in an exaggerated dance movement. Suddenly the woman dancing figures out that she’s been caught on camera –by the boss, or is it by the gazing audience behind the camera? The woman twirls around to face the camera (the boss and the audience), her fingers to her mouth, surprise in her eyes, an expression on her face that says, “Oooops. Busted. You caught me being naughty.”

What’s all the naughty-booty-swinging-jubilation about? Why, interest rates, of course. The recent drop in interest rates means a savings for the woman presumably on her mortgage, car, or credit card.

You’ve seen the cyber-ad pop up on your browser. I know I have. At the Washington Post website. At the USAToday website. At the NewYorkTimes website. Everywhere men (and unsuspecting women) with purchasing power turn to for their news. The cyber-ad was up earlier this week on the “Inside Yahoo” browser when I clicked on to instant message a friend. It’s an odious and offensive ad that speaks to the dominant culture’s ongoing fetish with black women’s derrieres.

Marketeers have been using female body parts to titillate their audiences and ply their wares for centuries. White women’s breasts and black women’s behinds make the best props.

You’re correct if you’re thinking to yourself that our own men are just as guilty of exploiting black women’s body parts to market their videos. I agree, and the battle to rid our minds of how colonialism and slavery have turned us against ourselves continues. But advertisers can not be let off the hook.

That this ad using a black woman’s derrriere to sell cheap loans has stayed under the radar on “respectable news sites” all this time is testimony to the cunning of cyber-media. Ten seconds of a pop up. Ten seconds of titillating swinging hips. Ten seconds of a stereotypical image of black womanhood. Now you see it, now you don’t. Ten seconds, and it’s over. Forgotten. But indelibly imprinted in the memory bank as a way to define black womanhood. Cheap and jiggling.

Hottentot VenusHere’s a Black History lesson for you. Black women have long been stereotyped in this manner. Enter Saartjie “Sara” Baartman whom the English media dubbed “Hottentot Venus.” Born 1789 in South Africa to the indigenous Khoi Khoi tribe, Sara was kidnapped and taken to London in 1810 and exhibited naked in a freak show type atmosphere to European spectators who paid to gaze at her large breasts and behind. The show was a success and Sara was eventually moved and exhibited in France as well. Sara became the object of scientific and medical research that formed the bedrock of European ideas about black female sexuality. After her death, Sara Baartman remained “an object of imperialist scientific investigation.” In the name of science and as a further insult to women of African descent, until as recently as 1985 Sara’s sexual organs and brain were on display in the Musee de l’Homme.

In memory of Sara Baartman, let’s do what we can this Black History Month and next month during Women’s History Month to put an end to this particular ad which continues the fetishization of black women’s derrieres by money grubbing marketeers.

It’s time to put some legs beneath our prayers. Here’s one of those lines in the sand which I wrote about the other week  that women from different generations should be able to agree on.

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Update:

Thanks to everyone who’s been writing in to LowerMyBill corporate officers below  complaining about their exploitation of black women’s bodies in their ads. Keep it up.

Here’s how we can be more effective

Each time the offending ad pops up on your browser complain directly to the business (e.g., Yahoo, NYTimes, Washington Post). LowerMyBills created the ads, but these mainstream internet sites are the ones purchasing the ads.  Send your complaint to the public relations department of the offending site about how offensiveness you find of the ad. And each time you send an email complaining, be sure to copy LowerMyBills at the email addresses below to let them know that we mean business.

Stay tuned for more updates on this matter. A number of us brown women bloggers are having conversations on how to join forces on this issue!!

Finally, thanks Fal and Danielle, my Joshua generation sister warriors. Thanks Fal for sending  a link to a recent NYTimes article which discusses the many complaints lodged against LowerMyBills who created the ad in question and evidently many other idiotic dancing ads that folks take issue with. You can take a look at the ad I’m criticizing by scrolling down to the bottom of a page Adverlicio.us created which archives LowerMyBills dancing ads.  And thanks Danielle sending along the contact information for three LowerMyBills public relations officers to whom everyone can  shoot emails and faxes to voice their dissatisfaction.
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United States - Press ContactsDonald Girard
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Matthew Besler
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Heather Greer
Public Relations Director
Tel: +1 714 830 7756
Email: heather.greer@experian.com