Archive for the ‘LaCharles Ward’ Category

If you, like me, are an avid listener of great music, but especially jazz then this brief  (not that long, read it) review of my three favorite albums will serve useful for you. I have been waiting to write up this review for quite some time—I like to listen to the albums thoroughly before conversing about it to others. Thus far, I have listened to each of the albums almost everyday since their release. Each of the albums unequivocally add nuance to the genre of jazz in their own distinctive way, which, to be honest, is what contributes to their amazing success. Not to mention the musicians and vocalists. The albums are: Be Good by Gregory Porter, Radio Music Society by Esperanza Spalding, and Black Radio by Robert Glasper (The Robert Glasper Project). If you have listened to any of these albums then you are, of course, listening to some damn good music. The albums are sonorous, the arrangements are just fire, and the tracks, well—you will have to listen.

Be Good by Gregory Porter, which is a follow up to his album, Water (which I should say, was like walking across water, excellent!), showcased (yet again) the agility, classic, and impeccable voice of Porter. His soulful voice takes one on a rollercoaster of classy originals to perennial familiars—his adeptness with his assured tenor voice is nothing par of exuberant. Oh, and the horns, the horns on this album are, in my opinion, worthy of bowing down to the “horn gods” if they at all exist, the arrangements are just pristine. His song “Be Good (Lion’s Song),” is a nice and mellow original piece by him—its like sitting on the lawn in Chicago’s Millennium Park daydreaming—the slow tempo song allows one to tangibly and vicariously live through the vocals of Porter. Likewise the horn, piano, and drums in this piece will have you longing for more as the song nears its end (climax). Nearing the end of the album, Porter ends with what I would label his dénouement—with songs like “Worksong”—which is a breakneck version of the great Nat Adderley’s “Worksong” that will indubitably give you chills.  Porter’s singing is flawless throughout the entire album, and there is some great blowing, the improvisations are vibrant—featuring saxophonist such as Yosuke Sato and Tivon Pennicott. If you haven’t listened yet, you should.

Ah, the great jazz vocalist and bassist, Esperanza Spalding, brings it on her new album Radio Music Society. Sidenote: I have always liked Spalding, before her feature at the White House. Oh, and to be extremely clear, I was glad Spalding won that Grammy! Anyway, back to my review. The Portland bassist-vocalist opens with a groovy up-tempo song “Radio Song” that is bound to get you moving your body (or for the reticent, bobbing your head), she will truly have you “singing along with love in your heart, because you like to, because you need to”. As with Porter’s, her album showcases her nimble voice and mastery with the bass—electric and upright. Just. Splendid. This album melds pop, funk, and soul with airtight jazz—no easy feat. For example, the soulful sound of “Black Gold,” which is an affirming song for all people of color but especially Black men who, to put it lightly, are constantly put down. This song is aimed at listeners who may not have a deep interest in Jazz; however, Spalding keeps the track firmly rooted in a jazz lineage. Then we get to a groovy, sexy, and soulful-jazzy cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” between the saxophone great Joe Lovano and the vocals of Spalding, the two of them, listeners are bound to love this track. If you don’t have it already, you should cop Radio Music Society.

Lastly but certainly not least, Black Radio by Robert Glasper, in one word, is epic! Just the first track “Lift Off” will have you craving more. Analogous to Spalding, Glasper’s album is infused with pop, funk, soul, and, of course hip-hop, which we can hear throughout his album—just magisterial. This is a jazz musicians dream, the ability to fuel improvisations vis-à-vis pop tracks—Glasper does it with precision, soul, and adroitness. Oh, and be sure to adjust your ears to hear his excellent acoustic piano groove, wow! The album begins with a sultry rendition of Mongo Santamria’s “Afro Blue” featuring Erykah Badu’s sly voice while Glasper with his signature style keeps up the track with his acoustic obbligato, must listen! It is sinuous.  That’s not it.  On another track, Lalah Hathaway soulful and expressive voice covers  “Cherish the Day” by Sade—Glasper (with his incontestable skills on the keys) plays a running commentary around the vocal. Continuing his experiment, the sexy-as-hell voice of Me’Shell N’Degeocello sends chills down my spine as she does the vocals on the song “The Consequences of Jealousy,” her voice and the underlying soulful tones by Glasper on the acoustic piano is second-to-none. Oh, be sure to dig the groove session at the 5-minute mark. Then we have one of my favorites off the album, “Why Do We Try” featuring Stokley William (lead singer of Mint Condition), this is a track that is bound to send you on a nostalgic rollercoaster as it did me but also get you thinking about how underrated Stokely’s artistry is. As pop culture critic and professor, Mark Anthony Neal notes, “The genius of Glasper’s new recording is its willingness to expand the range of what we consider black music and what black radio might consider as appropriate for black or so-called “urban” audiences.  Similarly, scholar and musician, Guthrie Ramsey, who also just released his own album The Colored Waiting Room (review coming soon), writes, “[Black Radio] plays with sonic, social, and iconic symbols in a way that recalibrates calcified, boring ideas about genre and turns them on their head, all with a good sense of funky adventure. A must listen.

Pushing our intelligibility of “what jazz is”, all three of these artists remind listeners of the complexity and nuances of jazz and what can be done to it as a genre.  The albums are always on rotation at my home—they should be on at yours as well. In fact, I just ran 4 miles while listening to Black Radio. Peace.

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“Autoethnography and autobiography signal the strained ability and the necessary reflection that marginalized groups must engage to find and redefine our identities” (Alexander, 2006, p. xx).

“The fact that we are Black men marks our racialized and gendered presence in the classroom. Our Blackness signals ancestral ties that for me, demand recognition as a struggle against invisibility” (Alexander, 2010, p. 366).

In her Southern yet Midwestern drawl, lets just say her oddly amalgamated Midwest-Southern accent, the professor asked: LaCharles, what does it mean to be a successful Black student? My body jerked as if I had just been awakened from a nightmare—I gulped, glanced out the corner of my eyes seeing all those damn White eyes on my body. They were waiting for me to respond, just like a bunch of tourists intently waiting for my “exotic” body to respond, as if they were doing a cultural study on my Black body. Or, where they? I swallowed (this time, longer) again as if I am fixing my mouth to speak—I’m not, I am quite amused by their nonverbal gestures as they patiently wait (hope) that I speak—I can see their privileged bodies scoot to the edge of their seats, as if they were watching a spectator sport, and my Black body was the spectacle. In that moment, I felt like George Yancy in Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (2008), that my body “has always already committed a criminal deed [his emphasis]” (p. 5). I didn’t respond, I remained silent, to be honest, afraid to speak. Not only afraid to speak for myself but more importantly, other Black men. However, I still wonder, was that a moment where I should have spoken up? What were the repercussions for not speaking up? By not speaking up, did I allow the stereotype of Black males “not excelling” in college discipline my body? Then, I asked, what is success to me? As an outsider-within or betweener (Diversi & Moreira, 2009) I asked in dialogue with myself, if I told them what success meant (to me) would they (and by default, me) assume that this is how all Black men define success? More emotionally, if I defined it, I wanted to know—would they leave my Black body alone.  

In this story, I attempt to use authoethnography, namely a personal narrative approach, meshing the academic and personal (Ellis & Bochner, 2000) to voice my experiences as a Black male student at a predominantly White institution. I enter this space at multiple intersections, as a Black, male, student, teacher, son, uncle, and brother. To be reflexive, all of these identity locations will (without a doubt) inform, in some way (good or bad), my story—our story. This story reflects on my experiences as a Black male student in the classroom; it is my attempt to speak up and talk back (hooks, 1989) to systems of domination. More importantly, I seek to reflexively mark how my body constantly resists educational spaces that labor to both disparage and deny my lived experiences. As Natasha Tarpley notes in Testimony: Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity (1995), “in the classroom, Black students often find themselves fighting battles similar to those waged against Black people on the streets” (p. 3). She further states, “the same forces that work to silence and render invisible Black people outside the classroom are also represented in our educational system” (Tarpley, 1995, p. 3). Just like my Black body is Otherized outside of academy, this is also the case within the academy. What happens to Black bodies in the classroom? It follows something like this:

Its now the third week of class, I am excited yet nervous because the topic for today’s discussion are about stereotypes of African Americans—the instructor usually uttered this with seemingly over-jubilation. I never understood—at least not until later. She would say, class be sure to read the readings for next week, as we will talk about stereotypes within the African American community. She glances over at me and the two other Black students in the class, I force myself to smile—a smile that says: Oh shit my dude, prepare to be the spectacle and spokesperson. The other two Black students who happen to be men, we synchronically looked over at each other, our eyes locked. We knew what was coming—the question was, how to prepare? I set in my chair, which had monstrous amounts of bubble gum underneath, shitty. I set as she began to lecture, still thinking about why she was so excited to lecture about this topic. Was this her version of incorporating diversity in the classroom? If so, I am not sure how—none of the readings were by scholars of color—all were by White scholars talking about Blacks. I was worried. I didn’t know why yet, I hadn’t gotten that far. Yo, LaCharles, Marcus, one of the Black students exclaimed, what the hell is she talking about? I responded in my seemingly academic yet sarcastic façade, she is attempting to add diversity to the classroom! Do you think its working? I don’t. He responded, hell naw man, she is only painting Black men out to be criminals, gangstas, and low-lifes. What about you, Daniel, and me? We aren’t any of those. I, of course, responded, I know brother, we aren’t but to them we are. I am reminded of “Br(other) in the Classroom: Testimony, Reflection, and Cultural Negotiation” (2010) by Bryant Keith Alexander, where he discuss the “brother” as cultural references that unite Blacks to collectivize their efforts around common experiences and oppressions.

The other Black student, Daniel, a transfer from Washington University in St. Louis raises his hand, the teacher visually acknowledges him yet chose not to call on him. The exchange between us:

Marcus: G, did she just ignore him?

Me: Yes, it appears she did, maybe she has more to get to in the lecture and she just don’t have time. At least this is what I am hoping.

Marcus: Man it don’t matta—that was bogus as hell.

Daniel: Just chill a bit, maybe she will come back to me. Don’t sweat it.

She didn’t call on Daniel. However, she called on two of the White students in class. One stood up, tall, blonde hair, green eyes…he said but aren’t stereotypes based off reality, and in essence, true? You could hear a pen drop, dead silence. In this moment my pours began to sweat, I could physically feel my body tense up. I thought to myself, please don’t let this woman confirm his racist statement. She failed me and every other Black person both within and outside of that classroom. She said, this is true but only to a certain extent. I SCREAMED internally, “to a certain extent!!” I cried but didn’t shed tears. I hurt but didn’t show the wounds. In that moment, our heads dropped…yet again, we were rendered voiceless. Marginalized. Subordinated. Silenced would be an understatement. Why did I feel hopeless in this moment? Should I have stood up? What if I was afraid of being disciplined? Actually, scratch that, I was afraid of being disciplined.

Hopeless.

I needed comfort—I couldn’t show or express this hurt to Marcus or Daniel, I had to perform a “cool pose” identity. I didn’t want them to see me vulnerable, didn’t need my manhood questioned in this already painful moment. That’s the last thing I needed.

Hopeless. Alone. Why didn’t they feel the same way? Or, did they? Maybe they, like me, were also struggling to maintain a hypermasculine “cool” identity.

This questioning marked a moment where I began to question hegemonic gender constructions; those that said men were not allowed to express emotions. In that moment, I didn’t want to be called a sissy, fag, or a punk for allowing myself to be vulnerable. It was here where the study of Black masculinity interested me as an undergraduate—I entered hoping to learn about myself in relation to others, but myself in relation to….myself. Like, Bryant Keith Alexander (2006), and so many other Black men, I performed the “expected Bad Black Man” both within and especially outside of the classroom. As he notes it is a performance “that perpetuates the expectations while it services their (and my) desire” (p. 81). My desire to maintain my (our and their) cultural membership. Similarly, Ronald Jackson (2006) notes, “a negotiation of masculinity ensues when perceptions of an individual’s masculinity prompt that individual to reconsider the meanings attached to his masculinity or else maintain and defend his perception” (p. 86). I couldn’t. I found myself vacillating between what others (society’s standards) wanted me to be and what my body, mind, and intellect wanted me to be. I was between and betwixt. As Hip-Hop artist, Lauryn Hill, states, “I was tired of frontin’.” I reconsidered and redefined what masculinity meant to/for me and by extension, success, especially from a (intra)cultural standpoint.

Knock. Knock. The sound of the door as I checked to see if my professor was in her office. I spent the entire night recounting the first and third day of class. I wanted to talk about both days. Come in, she exclaimed. How may I help you LaCharles? My palms begin to sweat, my body tensed up—hands shaking, I responded, I would like to talk about the first and third day of class. Oh ok, do you need me clarify some material? Uh no, I responded. Actually I would like to first talk about how I felt as a student on the first day in your class and second about how you made Daniel, Marcus, and I feel in class during the discussion on stereotypes. She breathed deeply as if she knew this was coming. Did she? Maybe. She said, can this wait, I teach in 15 minutes. Hesitantly…I said yes… wondering if she was trying to push off the conversation. I also breathed a sigh of relief? Why?  Great, lets schedule for this evening at 4:30. Um, ok, I will see you soon, I muttered.

In the meantime, I went to pick up some lunch, hoping to calm down. That was a failed attempt. An hour or so passed, its 4:15, lets try this again.

It is always so quiet in this building. I exclaim, as I walk through the Life Science building in route to the professor’s office. Looking at signs that read: “BANY’s Lab,” “Cognitive and Neuro Lab,” and “School of Medicine’s Physiology Lab.” Knock…knock…me gently tapping the door. It’s me, LaCharles, I murmured, as if she doesn’t know its me already. Oh, come on in, LaCharles.

The Professor: So, remind me again, what are we going to talk about? I forgot.

Me: I responded, nervous as hell, well, I would like to talk about how you made me feel in class doing the first week of class. The day we talked about success and academic motivation.

The Professor: Ok, what about it? How did you feel? Is it something I said?

Me: Well, yes, but its also the way you said it and the context of which it was said in. I felt that when you asked me: LaCharles, what does it mean to be a successful Black student? That some how I was not suppose to be successful and that for some reason my definition of success is different than the rest of the students. Which it is but that’s beside the point. Also, I felt that you chose me to be the spokesperson for all Black students, which made me feel a little uncomfortable. Tokenism.  I can’t be, while we might share a similar racial identity, we are also diverse and have different experiences and I felt you assumed that we didn’t. Lastly, by choosing me to define what success meant for Blacks, you were basically implying that somehow it couldn’t be the same as Whites. Why? Do you see where I am coming from?

The Professor: Sorta. First off, I understand where you are coming from but I didn’t mean to make you feel this way. I simply thought that you had a different perspective. Second, I wasn’t trying to paint you out to be a spokesperson….

Me: But you did, professor. And by doing so, all of the other White students were on the edge of their seats waiting for me to give the “Black perspective.”

The Professor: I am not sure what you want me to do….or say…

Me: Nevermind. Excuse me, I have to go.

Angered by her passive-aggressiveness and refusal to own up to her behavior and, frankly, privilege, I had to leave the office. I’d prefer her jettison these damn microaggressions. Also I wish she would stop trying to deny or excuse her actions, intent and outcome are different.  I felt myself becoming increasingly more intolerant of her avoidance, nicely-covered “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, and lack of respect about my feelings. Nowhere in our dialogue, more like, monologue, was there an “I’m sorry” or something to show that she cared. I wondered, did I shut down dialogue by leaving? Maybe, but would you have set through such dismal behavior? Should I not have been angry? Perhaps, but I was. In that moment, none of that mattered. I was already regretting having to see her in class next week.

As I recounted this story, one in which I will never forget, I remember how hopeless I felt as a student, especially as a Black male where there are more Black men in prison than there are in college (Justice Policy Institute, 2011). How does this moment define and/or (re)define me in relation to dominant discourse of and about Black students? I ask, as a critical scholar, how are my experiences similar to and/or different than other Black male students? How do I resist and redefine my identity as a student to an educational approach that is not culturally democratic (Ramirez & Castaneda, 1974)? For me, this resistance is through speaking up and through performances of resistance (Young, 2010), or, what Critical Race Theorist call counter-storytelling (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002) and what Communication scholars, Stacy Holman Jones (2005), Bryant Keith Alexander (2006) and Robin Boylorn (2011) refer to as autoethnographic storytelling. However, no matter how much I resist dominant discourse and canonical ways of knowledge production—I am very much implicated in this system as a student—yet, now I strategically oscillate to and fro, between and betwixt, my identity as a Black-student-teacher. As a student, I often felt that my ways of learning, knowing, and engagement in the classroom were restricted and unwelcomed. Rather, because of my particular approach to knowledge production and because my lived experiences resisted and challenged canons of education my body and experiences are labeled as “at-risk.” As an undergraduate student I struggled with this term and now as a graduate student and teacher, I continue to struggle.

Note: This piece is a re-worked/edited version of a seminar paper entitled “Leave My Black Body Alone: Negotiating, (Re)sisting, and Becoming in the Academy” for my Communication, Culture, and Pedagogy class.

References

Alexander, B. K. (2006). Performing Black masculinity: Race, culture, and queer identity. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Alexander, B. K. (2010). Br(other) in the classroom: Testimony, reflection, and cultural negotiation. In T. K. Nakayama and R. T. Halualani (Eds.), The handbook of critical    intercultural communication (pp. 364-381). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.

Diversi, M., & Moreira, C. (2009). Betweener talk: Decolonizing knowledge production, pedagogy, and praxis. Walnut, Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher   as subject. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.) (pp. 733-768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Holman  Jones, S. (2005). Autoethnography: Making the personal political. In N. K. Denzin &    Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.) (pp. 763-792).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jackson, R. L. (2006). Scripting the Black masculine body: Identity, discourse, and racial politics in popular media. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Ramiréz, M., & Castañeda, A. (1974). Cultural democracy, bicognitive development and   education. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Solorzano, D., & Yosso, T. (2002). A critical race counter-story of race, racism, and affirmation   action. Equity and Excellence in Education, 35(2), 155-168.

Tarpley, N. (Ed.) (1995). Testimony: Young African American on self-discovery and Black identity. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Yancy, G. (2008). Black bodies, White gazes: The continuing significance of race. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Young, H. (2010). Embodying Black experience: Stillness, critical memory, and the Black body.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

“For those of you who are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how much more tired we are of constantly experiencing it, second by literal second, how much more exhausted we are to see it constantly in your eyes (Smith, 1990, p. 25).”

The aforementioned quote has been a constant recurrence in my mind as I reflect on the pedagogical ways in which I engaged and discussed racism and privilege during a class I teach entitled, “Introduction to Oral Communication: Speech, Self, and Society.” In this section there are 20 students, four of them identify as White, one identify as Mexican, and the rest of the students identify as Black. So, one could argue that it is a predominantly Black class, which I love. The class is an all freshmen class—so they’re fresh, some, if not all of them are first generation college students. In this particular piece, I will attempt to engage comments made by two of the White students (one female and one male) in the class about the discourse on and around racism and privilege. My aim is to briefly highlight how their understanding and comments of and about race and racism is in part why we will never be in a post-racial society. First, I will define some key terms, and then I will present and briefly deconstruct a couple of the comments made by the students, and end with concluding comments.

Racism is often the systematic subordination of a certain racial group by (or historically by) the dominant (Whites) group in power—it can be defined as an individual act or institutional (systematic) practice that perpetuates inequality based on race, both tacitly and overtly (Orbe & Harris, 2008). Additionally, racism refers to a multiplicity of blameworthy attitudes, beliefs, and or actions (Arthur, 2007; Zack, 2003). As one may have already surmised, privilege is the granting of one person or a group a certain privilege over another person or group—often a benefit enjoyed by a certain group, that has in turn, rendered that benefit unavailable to another group. For example, as someone that is able to get up in the morning everyday to run or walk to my shower is a constant reminder of my able-bodied privilege that I have over another person or group—individuals for whatever reason is unable to benefit from this same privilege. However, as Black person there is a certain privilege that I do not benefit from, which is what scholars like Peggy McIntosh (2005) and Frances Kendall (2006) have labeled “White privilege.” According to McIntosh (2005), white privilege is “unearned power [privileges] conferred systematically (p. 112)” to White individuals and that to Whites they are usually thought of as “conditions of [their] daily experiences which [they] take for granted (p. 112).” Racism is slightly different; however, if as Kendall (2006) notes, “If we bear in mind that racism is systemic (p. 22),” we can “remain clearer about its connections to privilege (p. 22).” Keeping these terms in mind will assist us in navigating through and understanding how and why the comments two of my student’s made are problematic.

Before I move forward, it is important to note that as the instructor of this class and as Black male, my presence has already shattered and disrupted the notion of who is or should not be at the front of the classroom. Employing Butler’s (1990) notion of performativity, my Black body unsettles and challenges the privileges of the White students in my class. Similarly, as Bryant Keith Alexander (2007) reminds us, “our [Black] bodies are always already racially historicized, sexualized, physicalized, and demonized” thus, “in the classroom our presence is already a disruption to the norms of our social construction (p. 250).” As a note, I recognize that Alexander (2007) is speaking/writing about Black gay bodies; I contend that this notion can be applied to Black folk in general who enter the classroom as instructors, professors, or teaching assistants. Holding all of this somewhere in your mind will be quite useful as we move through two comments made by two students in the class, each different but similar in their own ways.

As we discussed the ways in which groups of people are privileged over another group, and how at times these privileges are invisible because as McIntosh (2005) reminds us they are often unchallenged. Immediately, following my comment on privilege, one of my Black students said, “like the fact that Whites have more privileges than us [Blacks],” I replied, “yes, scholars call that White privilege.” After that, my Black students were, I would argue, in some way excited that we were beginning to discuss racism—rightfully so, especially assuming how in both grammar and high school there is a void of honest (factual) discussions around racism and privilege. More importantly, they knew that in the coming moments that they were about to receive a deep understanding rather than a surface level understanding of racism. So as an instructor, graduate student, and Black student who studies and writes about race—I found myself negotiating whether or not I should engage in what would turn out to be a heated (but hopefully productive) conversation on and around racism and privilege or gloss over it (as it has been done in grammar school and high school). If so, will I risk letting down my Black students by not talking about it or possibly upsetting one or all of my White students by telling the truth? I went with the former. I was reminded of what Barbara Smith (1990) said at the Women’s Studies convention in response to notion that she would be sending Whites on a guilt trip, she said, “ I want to say right here that this not a ‘guilt trip.’ It’s a fact trip (p. 25).” We have been silent around the issue and continue to be silent around the dynamics of racism and by extension privilege.

In the middle of the discussion, the White female student said, “you are making White people look like they were terrible people” and then she later said, “the past is the past.” Before I could respond, some of the other student’s hand jotted up in an attempt to give a rebuttal to the statement that was just made. Instead, I asked the student, “can I ask you a hard question?” she said, “yes.” I asked, do you believe that what I am saying is “making” Whites look like terrible people or do you think I am telling the facts?” It was silence, which is what I wanted. I wanted her to critically reflect on her comment but also her privilege. My job in that moment wasn’t to bash her comments or to say that she was wrong (even though I knew she was); rather, I used that as a teachable (reflexive) moment to uncover what it honestly and painfully means to have privilege that prevents us from seeing its everyday and historical underpinnings. If we recognize that White privilege is constitutive of race we can see how her comments are imbedded in systemic privilege, constructed by people who look like her and maintained by people who look like her (Kendall, 2006); thus, growing up, the discussion of racism for her may have been existent or nonexistent. Which means, she has probably never been challenged on her views, thoughts, perceptions, and/or understanding of White colonization and probably became complicit in the system. As Raka Shome (2000) so eloquently notes:

Whites are taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage but not taught to see its flip side—white privilege, which is socially maintained and constructed, and which, through various interlocking systems of communication, produce whites as ‘raced’ subjects (p. 366).

Thus, if we think about the communicative ways in which language can be a site of oppression, one might be able to see the harm in her comments, especially in a class with Black students. Because of systemic privilege, “whites continue to be complicit in the oppressions of others whether we mean it or not (Kendall, 2006, p. 23).” In attempt to truly explicate the deep underpinnings of White privilege and racism and to move it from an only White/Black discussion, I discussed how Whites have also rendered the bodies of Native Americans invisible vis-à-vis Trail of Tears and their treatment of Japanese and Mexicans. This comment is an example of why the discussion on and around racism is so important even if its (un)settling, dis/comforting, or painful.

Lastly, as the discussion wrapped up, I realized that we were almost at the 50-minute mark for the class. However, another student, who identified as a White male made a comment in which I had to step back and reflect on how I can pull from all of my readings, writings, and understanding of racism to respond at an accessible level. He said, “I think Blacks can be racist towards Whites.” From a critical perspective, Blacks cannot be racist towards Whites for several reasons; but there is one main reason. If we remember that constitutive of racism is power and dominance. And more importantly that racism is systematic, meaning that it is deep within the history and structure of our society. His comment is problematic because it inherently assumes that Blacks, as a marginalized group, have power (systemic/institutional) over Whites and that Blacks are somehow superior to Whites. As Kendall (2006) reminds us:

It is important to note that in the United States, while any racial group might view itself as superior, only the white group has the power to institutionalize that belief into laws, policies, practices, and culture and to subordinate others groups based on institutionally held power (pp. 21-22).

Thus since racism is institutional (systemic), structural, and is related to power and dominance, from a critical perspective then, Blacks or any marginalized group can’t truly be racists to Whites. Yet, marginalized groups can be prejudiced and discriminate against other groups of individuals, but this is mostly at an individual level not at a systemic level. Prejudice is “an unfavorable feeling or opinion formed beforehand without knowledge, thought, and/or reason (Kendall, 2006, p. 21)” and discrimination is the actual behavior and not feeling—it’s the differential treatment of a person because of their identity. The implications for racism are often far-reaching. Keeping in mind, always that racism functions at the micro, meso, and macro level—it is structural and has been since the founding of this country. From my experience, his comments are reflective of the assumption that many Whites hold about the ways in which racism functions and does not function.

To conclude, what is clear between both these comments is the rhetoric that denies the “complicity of average white people in the structure of racism (Shome, 2000, p. 369).” The students both attempt to offer up this notion that “I’m the good white person” and not “the bad white person,” but from a critical perspective, what are the consequences of such rhetorical strategy? What implications does such move have on the discussion on and around race? If we continue to allow the “burden” or history of racism to be sidestepped by the “I am a good white person,” it means, that the history and the voices of minority groups are further muted. Instead, we should ask that just because “you are a good white person” should you be let off the hook and out of the discussion on racism? As Raka Shome (2000) notes, such rhetorical strategy is “problematic in that it seems to locate the problem of whiteness at an individual level (p. 369)” and not at the structural and institutional level. Furthermore, when statement comes up “why make this a race issue,” as critical scholars, we must be able to say, this is not about someone or something; rather, it is never about itself (individual), but about a systemic one.

References

Arthur, J. (2007). Race, equality, and the burdens of history. New York, NY: Cambridge University press.

Alexander, B. K., (2007). Embracing the teachable moment: The black gay body in the

classroom as embodied text. In E. P. Johnson & M. Henderson (Eds.), Black quee studies: A critical anthology (pp. 249-265). Durham, NC: Duke.

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First, to be clear, I’d rather have a healthy woman than one who is unhealthy due to her attempt to be thick (fit in). Second, it is not my place to tell women what they should and should not do; however, as a being,  I do believe that I have a place to voice my concern and/or opinion about the situation. Now that is out of the way. In the Black community, it can be extremely difficult to get women (And, sometimes men) to think about living a healthy lifestyle and to be honest, I have always been perplexed by this phenomenon. As Vernon may know, this isn’t nothing new—there is history behind it. Moreover, I find that a majority of women (not all) find excuses to avoid working out or just eating healthy, which to me is worse than just being honest and simply saying “I don’t want to.” I don’t like excuses—but I also recognize that we all use them (don’t want to be hypocritical). Additionally, a large number of women (again, not all) believe that being thick is what an overwhelming majority of Black men are attracted to–so , in turn, they aspire to be thick and unhealthy ways. However, I must be self-reflexive, a lot of men are silent on their role—I think it is also important that men challenge their notions of what thick is? Do they prefer thick in an unhealthy way or in a healthy way? To be honest, a lot men have these ideas/ideals of what a thick women means, for some, it is often unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being thick—I just think there is a healthier way.

Also, when discussing these topics, I think its important that we construct our arguments in away that is not sizist in any way, it would be counterproductive. Instead, if we feel this is a concern within the community—we should be willing to speak out while also providing alternatives and showing that we (men) are attracted to healthy women. I think it is offensive to berate a person because of their size; sometimes it is inherited, which can be another challenge in it self. Additionally and more importantly, we must remember the economic factor, some women who do went to loose weight or live a healthy lifestyle may not have the financial means to do so. This is a sad but true fact. Similarly, many of them may not be able to afford a gym membership (I recognize they can do some exercising in their homes or YMCA) due to their finances. For example, the price of cheap and unhealthy food is increasingly on the rise—so one can only surmise that the price of “more” healthy food choices are also increasing in price. To be clear, this is not an attempt to give men/women more excuses but it is important that we acknowledge this fact.

Finally, if we are to change the way women think about health and weight, we must be willing to ardently challenge  Eurocentric and I’d even argue some Afrocentric beauty standards. More importantly, we as men must be willing to show our support in women living a healthier lifestyle. African American people have always been a communal culture, somewhere along our journey we have lost this paramount and crucial aspect of our identity. Women must also work to become more confident in who they are (not what noone else think they are), they must be willing to invest in a healthier lifestyle, and the must realize that motivation is key to achieving anything. I think it is equally important to note that more and more women are beginning to live healthy or healthier lifestyles—going to the gym, running, healthier food options, etc).

To start the dialogue, I think some important questions/talking points are: What are some of the honest reasons women choose to be “thick?” Where did this notion/ideal of being “thick” surface from? What is your (women/men) definition of being healthy? 

Recently I have been contemplating and discussing with peers about why we (humans) are so recalcitrant about our sexual frustrations, sexual desires, or sex in general. An emotion that is abosolutly normal for humans seems to be so alien. Several of my friends have expressed that they don’t talk about being horny, sexually frustrated, and/or sexually inactive because they are afraid of embarrassment. While, I understand this rationale, I still believe that this is an important topic to talk about. To be frank, this is a part of communicating one’s emotions. At times, I tend to be afraid of talking about sex or being sexually aroused—at least on social networks. Why? Why are we afraid to admit that we are sexually aroused or not on Twitter or Facebook? Or, just in general. Now, I won’t be too naive as to think that every one is reticent when it comes to discourse around sexual arousal and desires.

On Twitter, the discussion of sex is omnipresent—there is no doubt. With occasional trending topics such as: #Twitterafterdark (which I have engaged in), #Confession or #Morningsex, it is obvious that some are having the discussion, lol. BUT, I question the “LOL” that often follows the statement, why must we end with “lol?” Is it to cover up that honest fact that what we say is indeed serious (true)? For example, last week, someone on Twitter said, “I enjoy having great morning sex…lol,” if that person actually enjoys morning sex, why must there be a “lol?” If you enjoy, you enjoy it! It is my contention that we avoid talking about our sexual desires on sexual networks because we are afraid of what others will think or that we don’t feel the whole world needs to know. All of which is understandable. However, I find myself reading topics/stories that have nothing to do with sex but somehow it becomes sexualized. For example, in the recent Twitter craze #Planking, I saw it go from just normal #planking to sexualized #planking. It is hard for me not to think about how sexually repressed some of us are.

Being sexually aroused is something that all humans experience, some more than others. It is nothing to be ashamed of nor something to hide, it doesn’t help. Trust me. Given all of the other things that are tweeted, surely talking about sex won’t hurt…unless you are too embarrassed about a natural bodily function. Today I found myself extremely demure in respect to tweeting about by urge to have sex (no I am not in a relationship). By the way, I DON’T believe in nonconsensual sex, there must be mutual consent. As I get older, I realize that a lot of these “rules of expression” become increasingly antiquated. Additionally, I believe that being more vocal and willing to talk about sex amongst each other would increase the discussions around sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is ok to express yourself sexually—it’s a part of the human experience. If you do, please use protection (condoms or other means), especially if you are unsure of your partner’s sexual status. There is nothing wrong with safe and mutually consensual sex. If you are interested in more on what I mean by “consensual” please email or stay tuned for a forthcoming piece on consensual sex.

Novak Djokovic (left) and Rafael Nadal (right) holding their respective trophies

Wow, so I have just finished watching the Wimbledon championships, the men’s finals. For those, who have no idea of what the Wimbledon’s are, it is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is considered the most prestigious. Dating back to 1877, yes, extremely historic. Welp, I am not here to give a history lesson; rather, I am here to talk briefly about the tournament. Today Rafael Nadal (no. 1) and Novak Djokovic (no. 2), two of the best players in the world played intensely to win the championship. A tournament to watch indeed. That is if you have any interest in Tennis. If not, I understand, a lot of my friends do not watch or play tennis….or, they think its nerdy, perhaps. In fact, yesterday during a text message exchange, a friend called me a “nerd” because I told her that I was watching the Wimbledon’s. There are several reasons why I watch tennis; I will talk about a couple here today that I am reminded of from today’s match.

In the sake of transparency, I am a Rafael Nadal fan and have been for quite some time, team Rafael! The reason why I am drawn to tennis has to do with the intensity of the game. First, tennis is a sport that requires a deep level of engagement; one can never take their eyes off the ball and the opponent. Second, as with most sports, I am drawn to the level of agility and adept that is required to successfully outplay the opponent, as Djokovic did with Nadal. Djokovic did not win because he is the best player in the world; au contraire, he won because he “played” like the best player in the world. Djokovic and his team knew that Nadal has won two of the last three Wimbledon championships and knew they had to play hard today. This win had a lot to do with dexterity and a hunger to beat the other player. The Serbian champion consistently landed shots while taking advantage of any small miscue from the Spaniard. If you ask me, I believe that Djokovic shot placement was superb and meticulous—it allowed him to win the first two sets. Let’s not forget that Nadal also played amazingly, remember how he broke the 2-0 lead in the second game of the third set, well played. However, in the final set, Nadal double-faulted, which made me cringe as a fan—he never double-faults. Let’s be honest, Djokovic’s defense today was at another level. ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe asserts that Djokovic dismantled Nadal—I disagree with this statement. Third and finally, I am drawn to tennis because of the sportsmanship, respect, and humility that is exuded on the court, particularly after a match. Something that is almost imperceptible in most US sports. For example, one of the many reasons why I am a Nadal fan is because of his graciousness and humility after winning or losing a game. His ability to admit and express his thoughts unequivocally is something that I admire about him.

After today’s match, both Nadal and Djokovic spoke with profound graciousness, respect, and honesty. Nadal said after the game that he was “nervous at 5-4” in the first set. I admired that greatly, for a player to admit to their nerves is really strong. In a response to his win over Nadal, Djokovic said, “When you’re playing the best player in the world, Rafael Nadal, I had to be at the top of my game…” while commenting after his win he is sure to recognize Nadal as the best player in the world. For me, I am attracted to great sportsmanship, humility, and honesty. Humility and honesty is not something you see in all athletes, so when you do see it, its extremely important to mark it. For me, tennis is a sport that brings out my inner nerd but it is also a sport that I continue to enjoy for some of the reasons I have just highlighted.

This was a great match indeed. Novak Djokovic deserved the win; he played excellently both physically and mentally. Nadal made several mistakes that really hindered him from winning, all of which he admits to. Now Djokovic is the number one player in the world and rightfully so, congratulations! Rafael Nadal, I will see you next year and will continue to be a loyal fan. Team Rafa!

 At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance (2010) by Danielle L. McGuire

            A Black Woman’s Body Was Never Hers Alone,” this is what women were taught in the Mississippi Delta and I would suspect in other parts of the South. The women in the South not only struggled to find a place to sit on the bus, to protect their sons and daughters, but they also struggled to protect their bodies from Jim Crow White men. Black women were sexually tortured, harassed, and/or raped by White men who, because of Jim Crow, often escaped prison time or even being arrested. However, if a Black man was even falsely accused of glancing at a White woman he risked being beaten to death or lynched by aggressive White mobs.

In At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance, author, Danielle L. McGuire candidly and painfully give voice to the struggles that Black women faced in the Jim Crow South, specifically as it dealt with rape at the hands of White men. Her narrative and historical style is shown throughout the book as she revisits African American women’s long struggle against sexual violence and its larger role within the freedom struggle. According to McGuire, in order to fully understand the role rape and sexual violence played in lives of Blacks within the struggle for freedom, “we have to reinterpret, if not rewrite, the history of the civil rights movement.” As McGuire contends and I agree, At the Dark End of the Street does that, it meticulously attempts to (re)construct our understanding of the civil rights movement but more importantly the paramount role women played in resisting White patriarchy, violence, and everything else that sought to destroy the Black community. During this reconstruction, we (the readers) are taking on an historical journey in an attempt to uncover the history of the “Montgomery campaign” as a “women’s movement for dignity,” of how Black southerners resisted the “sexually charged campaign of terror” by White southerners to maintain a racial hierarchy and a bold and important challenge to the dominant historical discourse on/around the Mississippi freedom struggle by eloquently and poignantly documenting black women’s resistance to racial and sexual abuse.

For years, we have been taught to think of the civil rights movement as a series of nonviolent demurrals, led by ministers, who were mostly Black men that eliminated White supremacy. While this is true to an extent, but the roles of Black women are always, somehow, left out of our discussions on and around the civil rights movement. Well, not in At the Dark End of the Street, McGuire movingly re-articulates the decisive role(s) Black women played in the civil rights protests (i.e. Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer). As she tells the story of the catalyst that moved the freedoms movement to its apogee—I found myself crying, reflecting, and smiling all at different points of the book or simultaneously. As I read the line “It was like all of us had been raped,” I was brought to tears (in fact, I am tearing up as I write this sentence), as the voices of my ancestors recalled their pains and collective memories around rape—it moved me in ways that I am unable to describe. More painfully, as the women told their horrific stories of being raped by White men to the jury and the courtroom they were treated as whores, prostitutes, or somehow consenting tacitly to being raped, a hard part to read indeed. To have their intelligence, dignity, and stories contested/ignored in defense of White men who would used their racial privilege to brutally rape women had me ready to stop reading. In spite of this all, what kept me immersed in the book was the profound strength, respect, and dignity the Black women exuded despite their darkest moments were utterly gripping and humbling. Black respectability and womanhood stood as a beacon for Black women, my ancestors.

At the Dark End of the Street, was both painful and heartwarming to read—there is nothing like resiliency and collective voices. McGuire truly highlights what Black resistance means and the African American tradition of testimony. Through McGuire’s passion, adept, and dedication to the history of Black women, especially victims of sexual violence, she restores the memory of Black women, who together audaciously challenged not only the legal system but also White supremacy in the South. I recommend this book for anyone who has a heart and hunger for understanding the complexities and struggles of the human life or interested in reading the reconstructed story of the civil rights movement that includes the voices of women. Thank you Danielle McGuire for such a moving, complicated, and trenchant piece of work that will forever be a favorite of mine.

If you’re interested in the book, click here