No. You Cannot Be Excited About Beyonce’s Twins and Aware of What’s Going On.

 

Black History Month is off to an abominable start. On February 1st, Donald Trump made remarks to a handful of black supporters, during a somewhat ironically titled “listening session.” He used the session to discredit the media, brag about how well he did with black voters (a lie) and make vague statements about black historical figures that left some to wonder if he knew of the people he was mentioning, much less their impact on black history, and American history, at large. The session went from structurally offensive, a black history month program that focused largely on Trump and made no specific mention of black history, to overtly offensive: Trump said, “You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office, and it turned out that that was fake news,” as if the only means by which people would have been thinking about King last week were in relationship to the president himself.

 

On that same day, February 1st, Beyoncé posted an announcement to Instagram, which became the platform’s most liked picture in history: she is pregnant with twins.

 

Now you may be of the opinion that these news pieces are wholly separate, that they happen in two completely different spheres: but you’re wrong. They happen in the same cultural space, nation, and electorate. We may be more divided than ever in many ways, but in one characteristically American way we are not. We are, as a nation, more in love with the idea of money and its corollary prestige than ever before. We hold anybody who has been successful in making a lot of it on a pedestal, clouding our evaluation of everything they do or say as somehow more important or deserving of attention, gravity, and praise.

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On the other side of that very same coin, we have poisonous overarching beliefs about not having money. Trump was elected by poor whites who believed in his racist and white nationalist mythology that building a wall, would keep out “illegals” who are taking jobs and American resources.  They also believed, that if it weren’t for these people, they too might be as rich as Donald Trump — poor whites are raised to believe that their economic failures are not their own responsibility. In a different shade, American beliefs about money posit black people who lack money, largely for intentional structural reasons which we might reflect upon in a month such as this, as inherently inferior and morally bankrupt. And even as the gap between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and the other 99% grows, we hold fast to beliefs that through hard work and determination, anybody can become a success in America. Republicans tout “bootstrap” perseverance while Beyhive registrants and casual admirers alike continue to repost memes about having as many hours in a day as Beyoncé. These are both slogans of the meritocracy mythology, and they are especially dangerous as our economy creates methods to monetize our digital attention.

 

Liberals of all colors look at poor whites who voted for Trump and scoff at their stupidity. They see so clearly that they were used for votes, that his interests do not align with theirs, that he is using their false sense of connection to his white nationalism against their own interests. I’m not certain how the relationship between Beyoncé stans and Beyoncé differs. Beyoncé gains attention from her pregnancy photo shoot similarly to how Donald Trump gains attention for hateful tweets. And to what end? Well, she would very much like for you to put down your Sunday plans the next time she releases a surprise video collection. And when all of these artsy prints come out in a coffee table book, she would like it to be on your coffee table. And when the next line of Ivy Park comes out, your happiness at having been allowed to see her vulnerable pregnant body will be part of your consumer awareness, spoken or subconscious. I’m assuming you don’t know Beyoncé. Like, personally. If you do, like have her phone number, have met or worked closely with her before, please ignore what I have to say on the matter – it doesn’t apply to you.  But if you don’t have a personal relationship, as in she literally doesn’t know you exist – and she literally doesn’t care, you know nothing more about her than what she wishes for you to know. She has never called you and bared parts of her soul. She presents for you, a carefully crafted persona.  Motherhood widens Beyoncé’s appeal. But the framing as at once goddess, and at once every woman is, while tremendously artful marketing, just that: marketing. You will be asked to buy something soon.

 

The hyper visibility of Beyoncé, especially as a mother, makes us feel more connected with her, but does this attention benefit us? Does Beyoncé work for a greater social good? Does her expression of pop domination empower black women? And no, I’m not talking about the dopamine rush that comes with seeing a gorgeous woman in black power and Oshun costumes. I’m not referring to the arousal that something good and powerful might happen at the mere sight of such powerfully evocative and beautiful imagery.  I’m asking if “you know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation” (power and media domination), “slay trick, or you get eliminated” (prescribe to Beyoncé’s modes of behavior or be banished), and the obvious beauty and sexuality that accompany this messaging, work to make black women more esteemed and effective. I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be enlightened by a linguistically and psychologically specific mechanism as to how that works.

 

Understanding the nature of Beyoncé’s appeal and celebrity cult of persona is key to understanding why the timing of this announcement was so misguided. There has not been a more critical moment in recent history to focus on the struggles of blacks for freedom, civil rights, and the American dream.  Where we need to be evaluating the organizing strategies of activists in eras previous to ours, where we need to be focusing on the seriousness of people who risked and lost their lives to bring us the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts, where we need to be gaining wisdom from ancestors, and those who marched before us, where we need to be reading Baldwin and King and X, to ground ourselves in the history of the struggle, where we need to be thrusting the honor and dignity of activism to the forefront of our attention, we have been distracted. It is not a mistake: this very craving for a sort of empowerment was capitalized upon by an exceptionally savvy media team. Where we needed history and activism, Beyoncé has asserted celebrity and wealth. It could have waited a couple of days, it could have waited a week, but why would Beyoncé’s team, have wasted this moment, so rife for selling imagery, celebrity, and who knows what the next product will be? When black pain can be commoditized, strike while the iron is hot, Beyoncé’s current media strategy seems to go.

 

As wealthy celebrities, things that Donald Trump and Beyoncé do have a patina of wealth and glamour. They seem inherently good, not to all, but to many. What is the real likelihood that one likes every Beyoncé song, garment, dance move and post? What is the real likelihood that the consumption of these products is merely a habit of commitment to her persona? What is the likelihood that Trump’s apartment buildings, golf courses, ties and politics are truly superior? What is the real likelihood that the consumption of these products is merely a habit of commitment to his celebrity? When we allow celebrity in of itself to conscribe our attention, dollars and votes, in lieu of quality, moral righteousness, and true leadership, the Celebrity, as an archetype, has lead us astray.

 

Beyoncé’s announcement is one to be happy about. I’m not aroused beyond my normal state, but any woman who is excited about her pregnancy makes me happy. What is inherently better, though, about Beyoncé’s babies? How quickly, how shamefully, we came to pronounce these babies as holy, as saviors. But they are not saviors, they are celebrities (celebrity fetus’, at least).

 

As we now have a social media dictator installed, quite accidentally, we must begin to give our attention differently. It is a commodity we have given away too cheaply, and the consequences are apparently drastic. At a time like this, we can no longer support a celebrity culture that obscures people’s true nature, work’s true nature, and the timing of it all because we’ve invested in their persona. We can no longer allow our artists to be our activists. We can no longer allow our entrepreneurs to be our political leaders. Beyoncé fans are just as guilty for lack of critical inspection as Trump fans are. So to put a very fine point on it: can you be aware of what’s going on and still be really excited about Beyoncé’s pregnancy? No. A large part of the problem is how we understand celebrity and you are a part of that problem.

No. You Cannot Be Excited About Beyonce’s Twins and Aware of What’s Going On.

Open Letter to Members of Congress: Do Not Confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

To the Esteemed Senators of the 115th Session of Congress,

I am a former classroom teacher and a supporter of school choice. I find it necessary to volunteer up front that I am not a party line voter, and I share concerns that align with both sides of the current debate regarding President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Mrs. Betsy DeVos. My experience leads me to believe that our urgent educational landscape, an ever growing achievement gap, our students’ plundering proficiency rankings on the global scale, and an increasing student debt burden that now acts as a discouragement for higher education, to name a few of its aspects, requires a more experienced and accountable leader than Mrs. DeVos.

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My objection is not personal or political. Like Mrs. Devos, I believe (conceptually) that competition for attendance and the federal and state funding that it brings, may lead to better outcomes for our students. As was suggested by several senators during the confirmation hearings, I believe (theoretically) that an outsider to the “education establishment,” may indeed bring a set of solutions to the ever insufficient system. However, having worked in charter schools, including those helmed by so-called outsiders, I can say that neither these schools nor types of leaders can guarantee student success.

It is a shame that there was not a second hearing, nor second round of questioning such that Mrs. DeVos might give substantive and precise answers to the questions posed of her. Chairman Lamar Alexander insisted on use of a “golden rule.” Educators do not use this rule. When Billy is at a far higher level than Alexandra, they do not receive our equal attention. Alexandra gets more small group or 1 on 1 support.  In this way and too many, the senate is sorely out of touch with the citizens it serves, especially where education is concerned. We should have taken more time to assess this nominee, Mrs. DeVos, who is the first one in 30 years to not have any experience as an educator, administrator or lawmaker.

Beyond the hearing format, particular concern about Mrs. DeVos’ experience stems from the outcomes of her decades of what is admittedly tireless work in her home state of Michigan. She has donated massive sums to support politicians and organizations that advocate for parents and students right to escape the trap of their zip code. This effort is admirable. However, the results have been mixed. This pursuit has led to only marginally better average performance in Michigan charter schools (just a few percentage points where proficiency is concerned). Alongside this insufficient improvement, however, is a negligent if not harmful relationship with traditional public schools. Mrs. DeVos has been quoted as saying she sees public school as a “dead end,” and played a dubious role in a political event that completely defunded Michigan Public Schools while she supported Governer Engler (who was at the helm of this debacle). I’m not sure, following the hearings that took place last week, just how Mrs. Devos plans to ensure that her support will not have the same consequences on a national scale. She provided no such plan for the dual ended support she would need to give America’s public and charter schools. Even if just in the capacity of a figurehead, American students in every type of school deserve a leader who believes in their right to succeed regardless of school type.

Of greatest concern, though, is Mrs. DeVos total inability to explain any particulars with concern to the job of being Education Secretary, and this gets to the heart of the accountability issue with which DeVos and every responsible educator nationwide need to be concerned.

Allow me to provide a framework for how I understand accountability as an educator. Firstly, I understand it as assessment. There is an elementary, triangular shape to analyzing school success: what do students need to learn (standards), how do we teach it (program/curriculum) and how do we know that they’ve learned it (assessment/accountability)? I believe both Democrats and Republicans stand to do a better job in diversifying assessment modalities so that tests can better capture the understanding of students who perform poorly on tests, or on specific sorts of tests, but still understand more than they can show.  However, Mrs. DeVos did not make any specific mention to how she might influence schools and districts on this subject. She did not talk about accountability as assessment with any specificity. Where Mrs. DeVos seems to have a clear vision in favor of school choice, she has no plans for how to enact that vision, nor any corollary beliefs on education programming/curriculum. Given her history, it is especially important to know that these plans will not undermine traditional schools.

A second experience that guides my understanding of accountability is my master’s degree coursework. In a course that is somewhat standard across Master’s programs, Educational Linguistics, I learned to listen to conversational interactions between teachers and students. Coding conversations gives educators important tools for understanding informational exchanges, and power dynamics of their classroom, as well as student levels of proficiency and comprehension. The practice records a conversation, and analyzes each statement: an inquiry, an open question, a statement of fact, a statement of opinion, a direct answer with elaboration, etc. What I have found particularly helpful about being able to code a conversation is that I can identify whether a student understands a specific element, whether they understand deeply and can elaborate with their own words, or whether they shift or evade answering questions, thereby demonstrating lack of understanding or willingness. This is how I hold students accountable.

When answering questions during the senate hearing, Mrs. DeVos was not accountable. She did not demonstrate understanding of basic federal laws regarding education. Specifically, she seemed quite unprepared to answer questions about how she would manage civil rights for students with disabilities as well as sexual assault cases, and these were not creative questions, these were merely recall of existing laws and guidelines. She detailed no procedure, no intent besides that of “working hard,” “working together,” “helping,” “diligent review,” and consideration of “[states’] unique challenges.” She demonstrated no system of analysis.

It’s a bit like dancing the salsa. You see, the words are easy to manifest. I can dance salsa, I might easily assert – but do I know what the steps are? Do I have a specific intention to move my feet positions they need to be in with respect to my partner? Do I have the athletic capacity to do this in keeping with the rhythm of the music? If I cannot do these things, I cannot dance salsa. I may attempt to, I may say, “I commit to working together to learn to dance salsa,” but my tacit admission here is that I do not know, that I am unprepared to do this dance now.

A linguistic analysis of the hearing yields a stark and upsetting result: either Betsy DeVos has no plans for the nation’s top educational post, or she refuses to share them with the HELP committee and the American people.

Can you imagine how quickly a teacher with lesson plans that read like Mrs. DeVos’ testimony would be dismissed? Can you imagine how undereducated our nation’s children will be if plans for educating them included plans as vague as “working hard?” Do you know how many teachers, overworked, this weekend, wished they could have written in their lesson plans, “we will work together,” or “I will work hard,” or “I will diligently review?” When has this level of accountability ever been acceptable in education? Mrs. DeVos testimony had a level of specificity I would not have accepted from my Kindergarteners. What does your hard work look like? What are the actions I can expect to see? I might have asked. I can’t help but wonder how, even if just as figurehead, the nation’s highest ranking policy maker in education can be allowed to share so little content or strategy and be confirmed with confidence.

Vision is good and Mrs. DeVos has that – but it is a point where a triangle is needed. There needed to be more questioning of Mrs. DeVos, and in its absence, perhaps in the tacit admission that nothing more substantive would have come out of additional hearings, I ask you, undecided senators, and those with lingering doubt to vote against confirming Mrs. Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

I may not know with the same breadth as the senators who spoke on her behalf the work that would demonstrate Mrs. DeVos’ readiness for this position. But as an American and a concerned educator, I think that after 3 hours, I should have a far better idea of what she intends to do in the capacity for which she is nominated. All that I do know is that she is exceptionally talented in avoiding questions and evading affirmative statements of plans.

These three hours that we have spent getting to know the conversational maneuvers of Mrs. Betsy DeVos were deemed unreasonably long by Chairman Alexander, but instead I urge you to think about this: how many millions of hours do we waste if we do not properly educate our children? How many life paths, lives and potentials? How many hours of productivity? Not for either party, not for career, or political expediency, but for the children who will spend far more than 3 hours of agony righting the wrongs of inadequate education – do not confirm this nominee.

 

With Great Respect, Hope and Patriotism,

Amanda Williams

 

Open Letter to Members of Congress: Do Not Confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

(Black) Sad Girl Wants Your (Political) Love

I’d like to be of more service, more healing-sense-making, but to tell the truth, I am out to sea. This year, as many of you know, I left my full time job as a teacher to become a writer.  The process of going freelance after 26 years of knowing exactly what was coming has been difficult in its own right, but more so because the text that I anticipated needing to proliferate now seems utterly futile.

 

My central mission of course, has always been love: political love, societal love, philosophical love. To state, perform, and explain that black femmes are equally deserving of love. To dismantle the narratives, overt, subtle and surreptitious, that say we are less than deserving.

4-up on 8-23-14 at 11.45 PM

 

Yet in the wake of Trump’s election, I’m learning, as I proceed with each day, each news item, each appointee, each midnight repeal, the texture of hatred. I took comfort in an earlier stopping point — having studied the history of black people (kidnapped) out of Africa to this continent through our present era of social controls (mass incarceration, carcereal hyperghetto). However, this enemy I have chosen, that has chosen me, reveals itself more starkly each day. I’m unprepared for Tomi Lahren, Donald Trump, a KKK resurgence. I’m wholly unarmed for what happens with the backlash to a black president because I don’t know that I ever accepted Obama’s election as more than the most beautiful dream I could ever come of adulthood to. And now, not knowing where to start, which hot take to jump on, which strand to pull, I am overwhelmed.

 

So here’s what I can do now. I can bleed in public. I can let you know how difficult it is to get out of bed. I can let you know how weak and fragile I feel, because I know I don’t seem it. I can let you know that because if you feel that way too, you’re not alone. And if you don’t feel that way, I need you to take the lead and make sense for me, and perhaps, where there is no sense, to make change? I need you to tolerate me when I’m spinning out of control, and hold me alongside your sense of duty. I am not aside your sense of democratic responsibility – I am its direct benefactor. I need your kindness and your love and encouragement, as a matter of your commitment to progress. To clarify: I don’t need anyone to like me. Liking and loving are different, especially where patriotism is concerned.

 

To those who have offered this, I am aware and grateful for your softness. I ask that you continue to remind me of beauty and of hope, and of the eternal fight for justice. My remaining strength is a willingness to learn and ask for help, and the inkling that perhaps where logic recedes poetry emerges.

(Black) Sad Girl Wants Your (Political) Love

Goodbye to the Messiahs and Myths of Respectability

Like many progressive minded Americans, I cried the night Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States of America. My tears, were not just joyful ones, but also tears of relief. Without having voiced it in so many words, I thought of Obama’s presidency as the panacea for racism. (Naïve, I know, but I’m not alone for having wanted it.)

It wouldn’t just be Barack Obama’s policies that changed the national discussion around race. His presence, warmth, and relatable demeanor would be a testimony to the very humanity and sentience of black people. His charisma, grace, intelligence, diplomacy and wit, would be evidence of another of racism’s faulty premises – that blacks are naturally inferior. Racism, (once again) shown to have no basis, would collapse under our black president.

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Growing up, I believed deeply in this kind of politics of respectability (a term loosely borrowed from Evelyn Higginbotham) – that the behavioral acknowledgement of (white) America’s values and social styles could earn one social and professional positions of esteem, moderate economic success, and, ostensibly, approval and insulation from racial animus. It was an assimilation style meritocracy theory that was even pedaled by Civil rights activists: if blacks could act in certain respectable ways, they could show that they deserved the same rights as whites. Barack’s success, of course, is in part because he is so palatable for whites in many categories: articulation, manner of dress, a stellar education, professional success, and even European admixture for the phenotypically preoccupied voter.

When elected, though, nothing shielded Barack, Michele, Malia, nor Sasha Obama from racial animus (hereon known as racism). Remember when Representative Joe Wilson yelled, “you lie,” while President Obama was giving a speech?  The Washington staffer who said the Obama girls should show some class for wearing skirts? Or the multiple elected officials who commented negatively on the first lady’s physical appearance?

By 2010, Republicans had made it clear that they would not so much as consider co-operating with the President. Then Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said the party’s top priority was getting Obama out of office. In 2011, House Speaker John Boehner rejected a request from the President to address a joint session of congress. This isn’t politics as normal, in fact, it was the first time in history that occurred. These are not acts that we think of as overtly racist, but Obama’s race obviously played a role in the extent of Republicans’ insolence.  In these cases, it seems, Obama’s respectability only compounded the rancor against him.

Like Barack, I too had grown up trusting and loving white people. I was obsessed from an early age at excelling in all markers of white mainstream excellence. At 7 years old, I stated to my best friend’s family that I would be attending one of New York’s most elite high schools, followed by Harvard, followed by some public service before a return to law school. At 12 years old, I ran for my elementary school president (on the mostly white Upper West Side of Manhattan) and won. I was a skilled interloper of white achievement, and for this I’d imagined I’d be rewarded with what is a reasonably enviable white privilege.  But as his first term neared its end, I began to feel this concept within which I’d housed all of my ambitions and pathways was becoming flimsy.  It was not enough to hold the leader of the free world in a protective post racial sphere, and it certainly wouldn’t sustain my own ambitions. Obama tried to work with Republicans to no avail. That last summer of his first term, Trayvon Martin was murdered for what his assailant considered suspicious behavior in a neighborhood where he didn’t belong: black people weren’t seeing white people abandon racism, we were seeing a racist backlash.

Republicans have been unyielding from the moment Obama took office, and they didn’t let up in the re-election or second term. In 2011, then Republican primary candidate, Donald Trump popularized the birther lie. And do you remember when republicans were so upset about Obamacare that they actually sued president Obama for overstepping his constitutional authority? (I think the constitutional authority they were confused about was that 3/5 of a man part). The year after this lawsuit failed to stop Obama, the Republican house engineered a government shutdown for sixteen days. Obama has had to work twice as hard to get half as much, even as president. This is something I’d hoped we would leave in the past.

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As Barack Obama and his incredible family leave office, and I move on from a difficult 2016, I’m leaving respectability behind. It seems a faulty tool to have to devote so much effort to. I don’t want to dismiss how important Barack Obama’s presidency has been, but I certainly don’t want to go in to the next phase of the struggle for equal rights hoping that a well-read, articulate black messiah can lead us out of racism. And in my own life, I’ll pay more attention to what I’d like to be and feel within a racist context, rather than waiting to overturn the racist context to be and feel. This is a sort of acceptance I had tried to avoid. That racism is not over, it thrives, and moreover, I am subject to it, despite the accolades of whiteness I’ve managed to grab. And this acceptance opens up a world of questions that I’ve only just begun to answer: how much of my time should I devote to trying to make the world a better place? How do I make right, in my system of thought and feeling, the bitter inelegance and lack of logic that undergirds too much of my country’s decision making? Can I be fully myself and play a role in society, or must I always stand aside society? And most terrifying of all, how does one pursue justice, livelihood and the pursuit of happiness while black?

It’s only fair, if I have to give up on respectability, that all of the people who hitherto refused, have to cop to the tyranny of structural racism – I mean tyranny here in it’s literal sense. It is not cultural, behavioral, or economic, sometimes. After too many years, I will no longer endure the suggestion that my class or education mean more than my race. These elements effect the sort of racism I experience, but I do experience it. People, most people, are tribalist, otherist, groupist, and there’s no amount of accolades, or permissions, or institutional credentials that can change that. In the wake of a Trump election, it seems more people are willing to acknowledge just how racialized the Barack Obama backlash is, but it is just as quickly being normalized.

Racism won’t be over until our communities, schools, and prisons look different, at the very least. Barack Obama’s presidency did not signal that racism was over, nor did it make it so. It cannot just be one man who broke the race barrier to the most powerful office in the the American government. The end of racism will free all people of color. But the shattering of my illusions taught me, and this is a certain good, that progress doesn’t move linearly, and the struggle will be neither brief nor simple.  I had estimated that maybe one day I might see a black president, and a branch of that thought envisioned a post racial world, the one like so many exalted at Obama’s election, but I realize now that the two realities are quite distant, quite unconnected, and that the later is still very much deserving of our attention, effort, and perhaps, our lives.

Goodbye to the Messiahs and Myths of Respectability

Mandy Malgamator: I Know this Much is True

The election of Donald Trump has made it even more important for me to be proactive about telling the truth, sharing the truth, and spreading the truth. Not only just the dissemination of the truth, but the styling of the truth matters.

In an age of reality t.v., obviously a large element of our culture, the image and the editing of truth must be reconsidered. Simple. You can make anything seem true when you edit a stream of words, events and interactions. Reality t.v. is, therefore, not real. This strategy, editing, seems to have caught on in cable news, as well. Bits and clips of what politicians and public figures say, interspersed with a pundit’s value judgements here and there, have served to completely obfuscate the truth.  Even more troublesome, there is a new set, largely confined to the internet, of stories that completely lack any factual basis. They are totally fake, rather than just deceptive.

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There is, however, a form of truth that is as stylish as it is factual: in this day and age there must be an active effort to reclaim non-fiction.  Can this form be sexy? Can something that is fact-checked be enjoyable? Does this comfort allow for other risks to be taken? A contortion of empathy? A deeper intimacy? I hope that this form will come back to it’s prior status. It’s need is so evident. It’s newer champions surely deserve recognition, from Ta-Nehisi Coates historical discussion and reportage for personal and familial justice, to Hilton Als whip-smart, high brow cattiness, non-fiction is not invisible, but it can do more, and now it should do more. Now, non- fiction writers must set the attitudinal tone, they must imagine, forecast, and connect, basing their arguments in facts, historical and observational. But moreover, we must listen, and patronize, and discuss those writers who are out there.

Today, I’m presenting several media which range from poetic to historical. What I know at their very heart is that they are all true. More than just the true of facts — the true of political history, the true of emotional landscape, the true of sense, and shame and admission:

– Published before the election, this New Republic essay by Jeet Heer examines how the “southern strategy” created the rhetoric and voter base Donald Trump used to win. This phrase refers to the strategy Republicans used to catalyze white resentment over Civil Rights increases to change Democratic votes to Republican ones. This is also not like some fringe theory: Republicans have admitted to this. Extremely important to understand this history so as to understand how to not repeat it hereafter.

– In order that you understand exactly what the effects of this strategy to coalesce white resentment did to the black community, check out Ava Duverney’s “13th” documentary.

– Book of the month is: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Read that to understand where we are and how we got here. (Trailer here)

– Late on these, but speaking beauty to truth, reflections from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Junot Diaz, two of my favorite fiction writers, lending the poetry of their imagination to the realities at hand.

 

Enjoy these, share these, hold them precious. Talk them over with friends and family.

Let freedom ring: it sounds like the truth.

xo,

Mandy

 

Mandy Malgamator: I Know this Much is True

Digesting Fashion Week: The Politics of Getting Dressed Up

Wrapping up earlier this Friday, New York Fashion week brought in models, editors, and debutantes alike to catwalk the city’s official and non-official stages. The real trends to watch, of course, are what aesthetics (i.e., the fashion industry’s principles) will be proffered for the upcoming seasons. Nowhere am I more curious than where these aesthetic choices concern ethnic diversity. Readers of this blog are no strangers to the idea that the high fashion industry’s choice in models has an effect on beauty culture: that is, what is deemed presently beautiful influences and is influenced by designer presentations at fashion week(s). This beauty culture, in it’s valuation of social capital, has actual behavioral and experienced outcomes in day to day life. Despite how removed high fashion may seem, these images appear in magazines as pronouncements on the season’s sartorial, cosmetic, and hairstyling expectations. Being included or left out in contemporary trend reports has real consequences for women around the world.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-38-52-pm(Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images North America)

While designers have shown increased aptitude and sensitivity towards diversity — the industry has shifted from overwhelming majority “conventional beauty,” (see white, Eurasian) towards greater inclusion where race, religion, gender, ability, and even experience of trauma are concerned — there is still a glaringly erroneous rate of misinterpretation about what constitutes authentic inclusion.

Personally, my approach is somewhat reducto ad colonialism —  a question of luxury capitalism in a post colonial world. I imagine the purpose of inclusion in fashion shows is for the world of luxury design (see also, excess) to acknowledge that high fashion is borne from, and supported by, the dividends of  colonization and slavery profits — that in France, Britain, Italy, the United States where these immensely well financed fashion parades occur, there has been some sort of dialogue towards assimilation that goes, “If you would only wear our clothes, accept our fashions and respectability…,” you could be French/British/Italian(not as much)/American.

Therefore, when these presentations are cast so as to suggest that black people, people of color, and other “non conventional beauties” have no business wearing these clothes, it serves to insult quite viscerally: exclusion from the beauty party is very hurtful and in a post colonial context, the exclusion serves as a societal betrayal.

The redoubling of this insult is the fashion world’s tendency to take the physical stylings of this exclusion from beauty norming (ongoing present tense here, because history has shown us norms regularly shift to facilitate society’s needs for women to fill this mold or the other) and present them recycled and somehow undiscovered. For example, locs, cornrows, braids, and natural curls have been excluded from respectability and beauty norms. But when these styles are rendered culturally acceptable  via their presence on a white person they are not just respectable, but artistic, cutting edge and hip.

Examples of this unfortunate ignorance last week included Kylie Jenner wearing a du-rag at the Jonathan Simkhi show, and Marc Jacobs’s featuring models with multi-colored locs. Although the locs were almost too cartoonish to take seriously, his stinging, uninformed response to criticisms of appropriation lacked no such ambivalence:

“All who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin color wearing their hair in any particular style or manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair. I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don’t see color or race — I see people.”

There’s no need for excessive judgement here. People do the best they know how with the information that is available to them. Jacobs is outraged because he doesn’t understand how privilege, respectability and aesthetics work together, and maybe he fears that not having access to the use of other cultures aesthetic expressions would hurt his work and ultimately his livelihood.

Alongside other misinformed attempts at progress, there is the lest mentioned and deeply frightening trend that resembles a half hearted attempt at reaching for a falling item while simultaneously realizing such savior is not truly desired. Inclusion has been overly simplified to mean skin color when the fact is that political phenotype has never been this simple. Rather, authentic inclusion would have to look at  bone structure, ethnicity, nationality, body type,hair type, and many other subtle factors. Plainly: though absolutely stunning, I do not feel included at the sight of light skinned black women, Dominican women, and East African women, the women who the fashion industry has charged with diversifying the runways.  I want to know that the black every woman of America, those who have been raped of so much beauty throughout this nation’s history, will finally have the chance at being the beauty included, incorporated into widened norms, or even,the beauty ideal.

So when Kanye West tweeted an open casting call for “multiracial women only,” I’ll be the first to admit, I bristled, having jumped to colorist conclusions.  West’s call seems to have lacked specificity, but Mr. West defended himself,“How do you word the idea that you want all variations of black? How do you word that exactly?” Maybe African-descended? I can understand the desire to be especially savvy and linguistically obtuse in his circumstance.

What became apparent, was that West had a beautiful Pan-African rainbow in mind. There were women of wide Pantone range, all seeming to have had at least 12.5% African ancestry, by indication of the aforementioned ethnic indicators.

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Tim Gunn may have been right about it the collection looking like stretch undergarments, but personally, I like the style of stretch undergarments. It’s practical, permissive, sporty, and muted.

Walking for the finale was fairly brown singer, Teyana Taylor, who has had massive popularity since the release of West’s music video for “Fade” (wherein she dances around an old school gym, reminiscent of a slightly more urbane Flashdance). Tweets and time told, the Yeezy season 4 show, was a respectful nod to African descended women of all shades, and a fairly permissive range of shapes, if not all sizes.

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Then, there was Collina Strada’s presentation, which handled the use of difference so deftly, as to show no fear, only celebration, in not just the suggestion of African ethnicity, but the saturation of African ethnicity. Designer Hillary Taymour’s decision to cast only black models seems to exemplify what I imagine would be a “post” racial ideal. She preferred deeper tones of brown, and coarse hair.  Blackness wasn’t explicitly part of the text, but it is hard to miss that the brown skin glazed iridescent, brought out the best in the clothes’ color palette and earthy glamour cum futuristic vibe. Black people are beautiful, it just seemed so evident, a simple, but wholly accepted premise of the show. Gender difference, while not erased in the styling is lessened. Men wear ruffles, draped fabrics, and the occasional dress, while women were dressed in boxy separates.

So it can be done, and not only by black designers, but also by well meaning tasteful white designers who have disabused themselves of antiquated notions of inclusion. There’s much to be desired, but alas, there were diversity standouts that challenged shallow notions of inclusivity at this year’s New York Fashion Week.

Digesting Fashion Week: The Politics of Getting Dressed Up

Mandy Media: More James, DWB, Dapper Dan

James Baldwin Month x Pop Literary Criticism

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One of the things I value James Baldwin for is his literary and film criticism, so I’m excited to be reading so much great criticism about Baldwin, the application of his messages and ideas to contemporary issues (or, expressions of longstanding issues), and comparisons with today’s writers.  I crave more popular black literary criticism (obv!). Two fantastic articles:

I’ve been slightly annoyed at the Ta-Nehisi Coates comparisons — I definitely anticipated that they would come a couple of years ago when Coates began to appear with more frequency and to more acclaim. I really like Vinson Cunningham’s figuring of Coates as “the rapper.”In the past, I’ve also felt that Coates’ writing seems to have a little bit more male ego to me. I know ego is a really loaded word, and I mean it as a mindset, more than any sort of aggressive thing, but I have had trouble relating to the sensibility of his writing, the particular angling in how points are made, although I do agree with a lot of his message. Baldwin, to me, speaks from the sensibility, yes of the church, as Cunningham says, but in my understanding, more so to love and loving potentiality. Not to paint him as a hippie: I think for Baldwin the premise for loving potentiality was an almost invasive, wrenching truthiness.

Also, let’s just go ahead and make this James Baldwin month on this blog, and to that end, here is a great article by JoAnn Wypijewski on why he is still relevant today.

And speaking of the power of great pop cultural literary criticism, this Holy Trinity comparison by Sesali B. is so good, I feel that I understand the appeal of, and kind of like all of those artists more now! (Except for Nicki, because my love for her was already enormous).

Zeba Blay is Awesome: 

Zeba Blay is one of my favorite young writers now and I really enjoyed her take on the absurd Allure magazine article about how white women can style their hair in to “Afros.” (Ugh.)

She also hosts a great podcast called Two Brown Girls, with Fariha Roisin.

Alex Landau’s Traffic Stop @ Storycorps/ The Power of Digital Narratives

I really enjoy the animation series from Storycorps. Animation lends its levity to serious and heartfelt narratives. It is appealing, it is digestible, it is a reasonable communicatory tool. Animation is just one tool among many that can be utilized by minorities to express complicated and difficult ideas. I think this also gets at why I like Blay and Roisin’s podcast so much, because the format is very much a private space shared by the new method of digital, internet interaction. What other unique digital narrative and communications work is being made in this framework of privileging otherwise under heard perspectives? (Seriously. I’ll love you forever if you share a good link in the comments below.)

Dapper Dan, and Appropriating Assimilation?

I read a great interview with Dapper Dan , the legendary Harlem clothier, who printed designer logos all over track suits, and stitched together leather and fur pieces, that became a signature look in the 80’s and 90’s. He’s got a fascinating story. I also can’t help but think about how he assimilated black styles, by grafting (illegally) white luxury branding. It’s interesting to think about how luxury brands work in a place like Harlem, in a context where the authenticity of said brands is not necessarily of the highest import, and storefronts still have mannequins draped in Harlemified luxury logo wear, and that it carries some remixed social capital of that original logo.

I think the Dapper Dan look returned in the early 2000’s when there was a  throwback early 90’s hip-hop look that was and still is trending. But in time for the vintage redux, it was authentic wares that became popularized. Now luxury brands openly and willingly identify with hip-hop. By then, fashion found a way to attract urban markets who already showed willingness to sport their brands. Think about the return of the MCM luxury brand’s renewed popularity, and tell me you can’t attribute that to the renaissance of the Dapper Dan influence.

Now, labels like  Moschino and Calvin Klein, seem eager to push a hyper branded look. Certainly a nod to the 90’s, but could it be perhaps a 90’s hip-hop logo driven era that Dapper is in part responsible for?

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Whatever way you slice it, this man is an Uptown Legend, for sure.

Mandy Media: More James, DWB, Dapper Dan