At the R’s main blog, The Feminist Wire’s Tamura Lomax and I chat about, among other things, the morphing stereotypes of Black women and the shifting ideas of what a PhD confers as far as expertise in this digital era.
In this second part of the interview, Tamura and I talk about the (dis)connections between African Americans and Black Britons and, relatedly, should Idris Elba be the next Bond.
I’ve read your incredible bio, namely that your research area include Black British and US Black Culture Studies. How did you get interested in studying that and where do you think the conversations are regarding these parts of the African Diaspora?
I was drawn to the study of race, gender, and media in graduate school. While my PhD is in Religion, I always knew that I wanted to study religion differently. I wasn’t interested in questions of faith or belief. I was interested in the operation of race and gender in religious ‘media’ like self-help texts, novels, music, advertising, sermons, films, etc. (varying cultural sites of meaning and meaning making). I want to explore how what we deem as religious operates and gets consumed in pop culture, for example the religious performance and functionality in Tyler Perry films, particularly that which undergirds his deployment of certain tropes.
Truthfully, I’m still trying to establish a place for this kind of work. With these interests, particularly in terms of the functionality of ‘media,’ I was naturally exposed to cultural studies. Trust, reading those sources and schools of thought awakened something within. This may sound totally nerdy but unraveling the process of turning a ‘raw’ event into a ‘story’ with a message—one that is ultimately encoded into the narrative, mass-produced, appropriated and consumed by the public—is exciting to me! I’m very interested in how ‘medias’ function to do this sort of work. Needless to say, I spent much of my time in graduate school peering through scholarship by cultural theorists.
In terms of where the conversation is going, I’m not sure. A key tenant of cultural studies, especially the black British school, is plurality. No one person can lead the discourse so it’s always moving in multiple different directions. Still, a significant move in the discourse was Stuart Hall’s work on representation, the turn toward how meanings get produced via (re)presentations and other signifying practices. I’m still in the discovery process there. The discourse may have moved on. I haven’t. Cultural theorists are incredibly dense writers. It takes years to peel back the layers, I think.
Some light questions: where did you grow up, your favorite books/TV shows/movies, do you think Idris Elba should be the next James Bond?
First things first, I’d love to see Elba play the next James Bond. However, I’m not convinced society, particularly North America, is ready for a black man to assert his sexuality in the way Bond characters typically do, which I have to problematize for a moment because the Bond franchise is simultaneously seductive and Orientalist. Bond is always looking to both penetrate and dominate. There’s this general tendency toward sexual and economic exploitation. I don’t think we’re ready for this side of the representation. Sure, Elba is foine and many of us want to see his aesthetic in action. This doesn’t mean that we’re actually ready to consume a black man in this way, particularly one with access to power, propensities toward dominance and sexual conquests, military intelligence, white women and weaponry. This is a lot to take in. Still, some complexities and contradictions are worth exploring.
I have several favorite books, however, Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass remain at the top of my list. Both articulate narratives of everyday triumph within contexts of turmoil. In terms of television shows, I am afraid to admit my televisual interests. However, I will say this, I am a fan of reality TV. I’m drawn to the most ratchet of ratchetery, especially if black women are involved. That said…Basketball Wives, [The Real Wives] Housewives of Atlanta, and Love and Hip Hop are my favs. I know we like to critique these shows (and we should!), however, many black women and others are drawn to them because, let’s be honest, we sometimes identify with the foolery. I definitely have a grotesque fascination with black women and ratchetness. No favorite movies. However, my all time favorite television performance is Diana Ross Live at Caesars Palace in 1979. Oh my. HOT!!
I’m from all over. I was born in Atlanta, GA. I moved to East Orange, NJ, when I was about two. We moved to Syracuse, NY, at five. I spent many summers in the Boogie Down Bronx with my grandparents during my adolescence. We moved to Mill Valley, CA, when I was fourteen. I moved back to Atlanta, GA, for college in the early 90s. My family and I moved to Nashville, TN, in 2005. Today we reside in Richmond, VA.
Anything else you want to add?
I love Racialicious. Seriously. It was one of the influences for The Feminist Wire.