In fact, masculinities, including black masculinities, are performed partially in response to the various external conditions present within the geographical spaces, like NYC, where they emerge. In other words, masculinities are shaped by skewed conceptions of gender, a sexist culture, and the range of structural conditions that impact black men quite negatively.
Consider, for instance, what type of black masculinity might emerge in response to a city funded teenage pregnancy prevention ad that pretty much tells black teen females that black boys ain’t shit in a city where police use tax-payer funded guns to shoot its residents? And how can we encourage black boys and men to resist the need to perform power (that hurts), toughness (that victimizes), and swag (that boasts chauvinistically) when, in fact, demonstrations of power, toughness, and swag might be performed by black boys and men to counter state violence? Thus, we should ask how we might re-create masculinities that do no harm and also consider the forces at work that tend to shape black male gender performances in destructive ways.
Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture. It is our responsibility as black cis and transgendered men to name and disengage caustic masculinities, but we should also consider why black men would fight so damn hard to perform the “strong black man” caricature in various spaces in the US, like NYC. Indeed, we black men must consider how our senses of self and the masculinities we perform are shaped by the conditions present within the spaces that we move through."
— Darnell Moore, “The Shaping Of Black Masculinities,” The Feminist Wire 3/14/13
Babies’ Mamas exists — or would have existed — in a television landscape that is increasingly devoid of shows with black casts, and the term “baby mama” itself makes a lot of people concerned about the number of black children are born to unmarried parents see red. It’s a perfect storm of anxieties about cultural representation and pathologies. There aren’t a lot of images of black people on TV, the argument goes. The ones that appear could at least be affirming, or barring that, not stereotypical.
One of the odd side effects of many reality shows — even those shows meant to paint their subjects as ridiculous or distasteful — is that they can humanize their stars. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s detractors are myriad, and they often single out the disdain the producers seem to take toward the Thompsons, the family at the its center. But the show’s fans point out that that disdain (which is nakedly class-based) is undercut by the fact that the Thompsons are affirming toward each other and actually kind of boringly level-headed about their strange notoriety.
If unconventional families — polygamists, huge broods, marginal celebrities — are a staple of the reality show genre, Babies’ Mamas would seem to fit neatly within those parameters. What if the show’s subjects were mostly concerned with mundane stuff like carpooling logistics and dance rehearsals? Isn’t it possible that Babies’ Mamas could have also granted some humanity to real baby’s mamas and complicated some simplistic, ugly stereotypes about them?"
— Gene Demby, “All My Babies’ Mamas Won’t Be Happening, But What If It Had?”, npr.org 1/17/13
“Every time I go see the comic book movie and I have a 3 year-old son and he’s always telling me he wants to be Spider-Man or Captain America. It’s unfair for little black kids not to have a superhero to look up to.
“When I got the call about the Falcon that was a no brainer. I feel that this is for a whole generation who has the opportunity to know a superhero like we did. We grew up with Spawn and Meteor Man. Every kid had a pot or can and thought they were Meteor Man, so I’m excited for a bunch of kids to say that I’m the Falcon.”"
The legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland once wrote, “Have I ever showed you my little blackamoor heads from Cartier with their enameled turbans? I’m told it’s not in good taste to wear blackamoors anymore, but I think I’ll revive them.”
A blackamoor head is a bejeweled bust of a dark-skinned African wearing a pseudo-Oriental turban. Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana recently caused a firestorm for featuring blackamoor imagery in their spring 2013 runway collection. Rapper Azealia Banks went on Twitter to boycott the brand. In its defense, D&G claims that the collection is inspired by Moorish imagery on Sicilian majolica ceramics. That’s a plausible rebuttal. The 9th-century Moorish invasion of southern Italy was so cataclysmic that it’s immortalized in Sicilian arts. But, the ornamental use of blacks in European luxury culture has a more complex history.
As early as the 1200s, African servants played a fashionable role in European courts. Rare, exotic, and expensive, their black bodies became synonymous with luxury. In the groundbreaking book, Blacks in Renaissance Europe, various historians note the aristocratic obsession with the African. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) so closely associated himself with African servants that a royal pretender in the 1280s kept an entourage of Africans to lend credibility to his fake persona. Marchesa of Mantua Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) went through extraordinary lengths to procure African children as human accessories. Catherine of Austria (1507-1578) showed off the opulence of her cosmopolitan court by gifting enslaved Africans to her family and favorites.
With its pseudo-Oriental clothing and jewelry, the blackamoor is a caricature of the Arab, the black African, and the Muslim. It’s unfortunate that his earrings, an African adornment, became an emblem of enslavement in European culture. In the 20th century elite jewelers such as Cartier, Nardi, and Verdura designed blackamoor brooches. Naturally, a new batch of European elites was again the most insatiable collectors of blackamoors. The visual language of race and representation in these brooches has received little attention."
— Guest contributor Rama Musa did a great analysis about a piece of jewelry that just screams for racial analysis: the blackamoor brooch. Check it out at the R today!
…The Central Park Five revisits New York City’s recent past to tell the story of a pack of ruthless predators.
Two packs, actually: Gotham’s prosecutors and police officers, and its reporters and columnists. Both groups went feral in 1989 against five innocent Harlem teenagers accused and then convicted in a rape and assault.
If the case doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps this word will help: wilding. That’s what police and journalists claimed was the kids’ term for what they did the night of April 19, 1989. In this film, all five former defendants reflect on what happened — one of them, Antron McCray, is heard but not seen — and none utters that verb. It’s just one of many words that were put into their mouths.
McCray and four other boys — Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond
Santana and Korey Wise — were in the north end of Central Park when a jogger was brutally ambushed. But there was no evidence that they attacked the victim, eventually identified as Trisha Meili, or even that they witnessed the crime. The five’s clothing was unbloodied, and DNA found on Meili’s body did not match any of theirs.
The lack of proof didn’t seem to matter. Five years into the crack wars that roiled American cities in that era, New York wanted a quick resolution, not logic or ambiguity. “In those days, there were probably six murders a day,” notes New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer, one of the film’s expert witnesses.
Historian Craig Steven Wilder discusses the role of racism in this and other miscarriages of justice, while social psychiatrist Saul Kassin explains why people come to accept blame for things they didn’t do — and how bystanders come to believe them.
The most devastating commentator, however, is Dwyer, who details the weakness of the evidence and explains how the prosecutors seduced the press simply with a tidy narrative. “Newspapers,” he drolly observes, “love chronologies.”"
—Mark Jenkins, “Rape, Race, And The Press Entangled in ‘Central Park,’” NPR 11/22/12
Maysles Cinema is premiering The Central Park Five tonight and through next week! If you’re in the NYC area, please check out the special screening on Sunday, 11/25! The deets below:
SPECIAL SCREENING OF THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE:
@ the Oberia D. Dempsey Center Auditorium
127 West 127th Street
(between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell)
Sunday, November 25th, 4:00pm
The Central Park Five
U.S. Theatrical Premiere
Dir. Ken Burns, David McMahon, Sarah Burns, 2012, 119 min.
Film followed by a Q&A with dirs. Sarah Burns and David McMahon and members of the Central Park 5 - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise.
For more information and where to buy tickets for The Central Park Five, check out the org’s website!
No, this post is about people who seem to think anything (or anyone) that isn’t ratchet is above criticism. As I and several other critiqued Steel Magnolias, several other came to its defense saying it shouldn’t be criticized because it showed positive images of Black people and it was better than the reality television that has been dominating the airwaves as of late.
That is a total and complete load of crap.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people use this argument. I saw it with Red Tails. I saw it with Reed Between the Lines. For some reason, there is a certain section of Black America that thinks any and everything positive is above critique. It doesn’t matter if it’s boring, badly written, culturally inaccurate or anything else as long as it doesn’t feature negroes fighting, tossing drinks or any other type of chaos.
Yes, the balance of positive images of Black folks to negative ones is severely off but that won’t get better if we just accept anything for the sake it lacking ratchetness. If anything, it’ll have Hollywood thinking they can just throw any ol’ “positive” movie or television show at us. I want characters with nuances. I admit reality television is one of my guilty pleasures but nothing thrills me like something with a good story line and even better character development. That’s why I just can’t get with something for the sake of it being positive.
To me, something that is really positive is complex and it has nuances. The Black community isn’t mostly comprised of ratchetness and it isn’t sunshine and smokescreens either. Our only choices shouldn’t be bland and ratchet.
Our media and art should reflect our complexities."
— Ashleigh Atwell, “Steel Magnolias And Positive Black Images Are Not Above Critique,” cross-posted at For Harriet 10/8/12
And Kaling, as a woman of color, faces even more unique challenges. When Lena Dunham launched Girls, Dunham was praised for creating and portraying a character not typically seen on TV screens: a young, post-college, average-looking, single woman with romantic woes, whose flaws and insecurities are on display. Kaling portrays a similarly flawed character, but has not received the same praise. Bloggers and critics hailed Dunham’s characters as relatable, real women.
But I haven’t seen one critic yet say “I can see myself in Mindy’s character,” the way many described the appeal of Dunham’s Girls. Kaling works extremely hard to make her character appealing to the broadest audience possible, and she seems to do this in part by stripping the show and the character of any racial characteristics at all, save for one brief “racist” joke.
One of the subtle, but important things about Kaling’s writing is that her characters are simply people, who happen to be Indian American – never the token ethnic character; never a larger-than-life cartoon stereotype whose racial identity serves as fodder for cheap jokes. While there is more diversity on TV today than in the past, the Asian and Indian- Americans you see on TV are still often cast as distinctly “foreign,” and have thick accents and portray tired racial stereotypes that emphasize their other-ness, in stark contrast to the other white, all-American characters they’re cast alongside.
Her writing quietly makes a statement about race without needing to explicitly on screen. One of the most striking anecdotes in the New York profile details a moment in production when Kaling sees a computer screen on set at her fictional OB/GYN office, filled with photos of white babies, and says to the crew: “Weren’t we going to have some babies of color? We’re going to have all white babies?”
By creating characters that are just people first, whose race is not used as a punchline or central to their character’s storyline, Kaling gives voice and representation on TV to a whole generation of Americans who very rarely see anyone like themselves on screen. In an interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, she said she hopes we get to a place where her race, and the race of her characters, isn’t the first thing people think of. “I don’t really think of myself so much as in terms of being Indian,” she said."
— I’ll be honest: I caught Kaling’s show and wasn’t feeling it. However, I’m proud she’s working the Hollywood system so she can be a showrunner for her own show. And guest contributor Nisha Chittal expresses similar sentiments about Kaling’s success on the R today.