The Socially Conscious Artistry of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”

by Channon Oyeniran

Video-Of-The-Day-By-Childish-Gambino-This-Is-America-Featured-On-Diabolical-Rabbit.jpgNot your ordinary feel good, music pumping, fun and colourful music video, Childish Gambino released “This is America” to the world on May 6th, and it has been a hot topic on all social media platforms since. Both the video and the song itself provide powerful social commentary, highlighting a variety of issues that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago for the black diaspora, not only in America but around the world. After seeing some buzz about the video on Facebook, I decided to watch it. I was struck by all that was going on in the video, the flashy dance moves, the beat of the song, all while trying to pick up what was going on in the background while Gambino was dancing, striking poses and showing off an impressive array of facial expressions. After my first viewing, I saw a few more articles on Facebook about the deeper meaning of the video. I was blown away that I had missed so much! I went back and watched the video at least four times and picked up on so many different symbols in the video. I would like to share three of the motifs within the video that you can easily miss if you let the catchy beat and entertaining dance moves distract you.

Guns vs. the worth of a black body:

There’s a pretty staggering image at the start of the video that struck me the first time through. (If you’ve seen it, you probably know exactly the one I mean.) It’s when Gambino pulls out a gun and shoots a black man in the back of the head. In doing so, he strikes a pose that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow character. After he shoots the man, Gambino carefully places the gun on a red cloth, while the black man’s dead body is dragged away. 980x(This motif is repeated when he places another gun neatly away a second time after he shoots church parishioners, a clear reference to the 2015 Charleston shooting of nine churchgoers.) It struck me how carefully Gambino places the gun back, almost as if he was being careful and giving reverence to the gun; meanwhile, the body of the black man was given no respect at all, not even a thought or look as he is dragged away out of the scene. This is an obvious nod to what is going on in America (and frankly around the world now) concerning gun violence. Guns have more rights, are more protected and are taken more seriously than the lives of black people.

The cell phone as a powerful (yet ineffective) tool for justice: 

“This a celly…That’s a tool…”

THisIsAmerica5

In one scene, you see the camera pan up and focus on about four people with cell phones in their hands, taking video of the chaos taking place below. At this point, Gambino raps, “This a celly…That’s a tool…”. This lyrical line signals the power that a cell phone has to capture the injustice that happens daily against black people in America. The cell phone has been used to capture concrete proof of injustices against black people time and time again (e.g. Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Demetrius Hollins, Rolesville High student, Jacqueline Craig, Keith Scott,  teenager at a pool party, Charlie Kinsey, etc.). However, it still proves to be ineffective in actually bringing justice and righting the wrongs of injustice committed against black people.

Some have speculated that the cell phone can also appear to be a weapon in the eyes of some, just like the case with Stephon Clark, who was murdered on March 18th, 2018 because the cell phone he was holding was “mistaken” for a gun. So although a powerful tool to capture injustice, holding a cellphone while black can also prove deadly. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown, particularly because of the short period of time between Stephon Clark’s death and the release of the video.

Black culture used as entertainment, while black lives are disposable:

Something else that struck me when watching this video, especially for the first time, was how much I got caught up in watching the dancing and enjoying the beat of the song. My eyes did not automatically go to what was happening behind Gambino and the dancers and the depth of what was occurring in each scene. 

Childish

I think for a lot of other people, including myself, who watched the video, we got sidetracked with the dancing and upbeat flow of Childish Gambino’s lyrics. I think that was part of the point. Black culture is so popular and influences every part of society; people from all cultures and backgrounds enjoy different aspects of it, music especially. However, when it comes to black lives, police brutality, racism and injustice against the black community are commonplace, and the world seems to turn a blind eye to these injustices that are literally killing us. 

Socially conscious art, like this music video, helps engage all who watch it, thus stimulating large-scale discussion on the subject matter covered in the video and raising awareness about things like racism, police brutality, suicide, gun violence, etc.  There are so many other meanings and symbols in this video that make it a masterpiece. The depth and thought that was put into this video is genius, and I really hope invokes thought and change for all who watch it. This video is important not only because it uses music to garner people’s attention, but also because it speaks on a very significant issue which continues to plague the black community but is often a tricky and sensitive topic – racially biased police brutality. I believe this video achieved what it set out to do, and that is to talk about a real problem facing America and how easy it is and has been for people to look the other way to the plight of the black person.

childish-gambino-this-is-america-video


For more information…

The Harmful Effects of “Colourblindness” in Politics

by Channon Oyeniran

“Failing to see race is a failure to see history and how it shapes the present.” – Vicky Mochama

With the Liberal Party in power in Canada and more people of colour (POC) holding Member of Parliament (MP) positions in Canada, the government, with Justin Trudeau as the Prime Minister, started to make positive steps towards healthy representation in government in 2015. In doing so, the government is attempting to showcase to both the country and the world the diversity within Canada and to create a government that reflects the various cultures of this country. Just like in 2015, I believe the current political climate in Canada right now is one of wanting change. However, one thing that has changed and is slowly improving, in the political world at least, is an increased reflection of people of colour and diversity. diversitypic-1Not only are these MPs doing great things for their ridings, they are also are leaving their marks across the country. One MP in particular who has made a big splash since she was elected to represent the Town of Whitby is Celina Caesar-Chavannes. Cesar-Chevannes is a Black woman who has garnered support and attention in recent weeks, following a Twitter spat with white male Conservative MP Maxime Bernier over “colourblindness.” This term is often used when talking about race and racism and is at the crux of a very public debate between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier. (Michelle has previously written about the danger of colourblindness in a personal context.)Desktop12

It all started on March 2nd when the Somalian-born Honourable Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for the Government of Canada, Ahmed Hussen, tweeted that the government had set aside $19 million for Black youth mental health programs, something that the Black community across Canada has long been advocating for. While this was seen as a success by many, the announcement by Hussen was also put under scrutiny by many others, who questioned why money had to go towards a certain group of people. One of these critics was the aforementioned Bernier, who tweeted: “I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same. Not to set some Canadians apart as being “racialized.” What’s the purpose of this awful jargon? To create more division for the Liberals to exploit?”

Retweeted 1.2k times and liked by 2.2k users, Bernier’s tweet obviously struck a chord with many, who most likely agreed with what he said, and who ostensibly don’t understand the need for putting money into groups who have been marginalized for centuries. Caesar-Chavannes then replied to Bernier’s tweet: “@MaximeBernier do some research, or a Google search, as to why stating colour blindness as a defence actually contributes to racism. Please check your privilege and be quiet. Since our gvt’t like research, here is some evidence…” And after that, Canadians were in a frenzy, on both sides. Those who sided with Bernier said of the Liberal MP (Caesar-Chavannes), “How could she, a Member of Parliament, be talking about ‘white privilege’ when she herself is in a position of privilege?” Others were glad she called out yet another example of white privilege.

After many comments and commentaries written about this situation, Celina publicly apologized to Bernier: “@MaximeBernier I am not too big to admit when I am wrong. Limiting discussion on this important issue by telling you to be quiet was not cool. If you are willing, let’s chat when back in Ottawa. We are miles apart on this important issue and it is possible to come a little closer…”.

14345660However, the Conservative MP was less than forgiving in his response: “Thank you for recognizing my right to air an opinion. I don’t think we can find much common ground beyond that however. You and Min Hussen implied I’m a racist because I want to live in a society where everyone is treated equally and not defined by their race. We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish. And we should recognize that Canada is big enough to contain many identities. As a francophone Quebecer, I can understand this. But that doesn’t mean the gov’t officially defining us on the basis of “intersectional race, gender and sexual identities” and granting different rights and privileges accordingly. This only creates more division and injustice and will balkanise our society.”

“To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.” – Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The backlash that Caesar-Chavannes received for her comment was, in my opinion, unfair and uninformed and really took away from the issue at hand: addressing “white privilege” and the racism that is so prevalent in Canadian society. What was so evident to me in this “dialogue” between two opposing party members, by a Liberal and a Conservative, by a Black woman and a white man, was that the Black “voice” continues to be silenced, when the truth needs to be heard. Colourblind ideologies in politics are ultimately unhelpful and lend themselves toward racism rather than away from it. Dr. Monnica T. Williams put it this way:

“Racism? Strong words, yes, but let’s look the issue straight in its partially unseeing eye. In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American [or Canadian] life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives. [Emphasis added.]

Blog-Image-YoungWomenHugThe $19 million that the government has allocated to Black youth and mental health will be spent over five years to research “culturally-appropriate mental health programs for black youth at risk.” Though the government has not decided yet, exactly how the money will be spent , according to MP and chair of the Canadian Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, Greg Fergus, “the $19 million will […] be tailored to meet diverse needs.” Mental health experts across Canada have commented that the funding will help to improve access to treatment for a large section of the population who has been and continues to be marginalized. Bernier said himself that “We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish.” We cannot do this while ignoring the realities faced by marginalized communities, which are so often different from those faced by white Canadians. In addition to the $19 million, the government has also set aside $23 million over two years, which will help support cross-country consultations concerning the new National Anti-Racism Strategy.


It is vitally important to allocate money to groups of people that have been oppressed for centuries. In Canada, systemic racism and oppression have plagued the Black and Indigenous communities and that legacy continues to this day. That’s why it is so important that employment equity is at the forefront in workplaces across the country. 3500Employment equity encourages workplaces to be free of barriers and conditions of disadvantage and recognizes that marginalized groups have for a long time experienced systemic racism in relation to employment. It’s also important to have people of colour in positions of power and influence, so that people in marginalized groups can see that they are being represented and feel that they have a person(s) in a position of influence to hopefully make things better for their community.

The colourblindness ideology is not an effective solution for addressing and solving the systemic racism that marginalized groups have faced in Canada for centuries. The spat between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier highlighted the lack of understanding on this issue and showcased the need for further education and enlightenment for those who believe in it.


For more information…

Black Panther Resource List

As I thought about how to address Black Panther on the blog, I realized the best thing that I could do is exactly what we always do at Tuesday Justice: provide LOTS of resources! It’s been by reading various articles that I have come to better understand why this film is so needed, so beautiful, and so loved.

by Michelle Palmer

IMG_0905I’ve purchased advance tickets for a grand total of three films in my life, Black Panther being the most recent. One of the friends I went with told me as soon as the credits rolled, “You have to do a Tuesday Justice post on this!” (At least, that’s how I remember it. I was still reeling from the overwhelming beauty of the whole thing.) My first thought was, “But how?!” How do I, especially as a white woman, write about what this film means? How do I try to communicate its importance? There were so many issues that the film touched on that we talk about here (modern slavery, historical slavery, mass incarceration, immigration, refugees), but I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.

First and foremost, I wanted my dear friend and Tuesday Justice co-founder to share her thoughts on the film. As a proud black woman, passionate about her heritage, I couldn’t wait to hear her reaction to the film. She graciously agreed to type it up for us!

Channon: “The excitement that I felt leading up to the evening that I was to go and see Black Panther was indescribable! I’m not normally someone who gets caught up in the hype of something, and that was the case leading up to the Black Panther’s release.seun and channon before black panther However, as I started to read more articles on the movie on Facebook and started to see all the of the clips of people going to see the movie decked out in their African attire, I started getting excited about going to see it!  The evening my husband I went to see the movie, we definitely dressed in our Nigerian and African attire (see pic) and even did a mini photo shoot before leaving for the theatre! LOL Getting to the theatre (45 mins before the movie even started!), we were with a long line of people waiting to enter. We finally got to go in and waited with anticipation for the movie to begin and once it did, man, were we blown away! It’s not just that there was an all-star cast or that the story was from the Marvel comic series or that the storyline was great and entertaining. It was the fact that I was watching a movie with an all black cast, with a black director, with a black woman as the costume designer, showing the masses what Africa is and will be as a continent when we unite, rise up and take back our voice and story that was taken so violently from us centuries ago. My favourite scene of the movie (there were many!) is when King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) goes to be crowned King of Wakanda and all of the various tribes and people of Wakanda were standing on the mountain in their various clothing and traditional jewelry. The colours in that scene were so bright, so colourful, so vibrant and all of those people represented the different people, traditions, customs, cultures and languages that make up the African continent today! I also really like all the symbolism and meaning that the movies contained (e.g. the Jabari people being reminiscent of the Maroon people of Jamaica) or the green, red and black outfits that Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira’s characters wore in the casino scene, representing the colours of the Pan-African flag. The movie was just full, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was proud to see myself and my heritage represented!”

IMG_0607.jpgAs I continued to think about other ways we could talk about Black Panther here on the blog, I realized the best thing I could do is exactly what we always do at Tuesday Justice: provide LOTS of resources! As a “colonizer,” it’s been by reading various articles and editorials that I have come to better understand why this film is so needed, so beautiful, and so loved. Like Channon, I arrived at the movie theater 45 minutes early with my crew. We didn’t have a photoshoot beforehand, but I did manage to sneak a (terribly lit) selfie with the stunning Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). And it really did feel like something special from the time we stood in line to the very last tag scene. And after three viewings, it still feels like there is so much more for me to unpack and understand.

I started a list, only to be surprised with a much more comprehensive list. Dr. Brian Keith Mitchell, history professor at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, produced a fantastic reader list for faculty to use in classroom discussions of the film, which made it way to my mom’s inbox (she’s on staff at UALR) and which she thoughtfully passed on to me! (Thanks, Momma!)

Admittedly, I’ve not read every single article on the list, but the ones that I’ve read (or watched) and that have helped me the most are listed first (with excerpts). The remainder are listed below and categorized, thanks to Dr. Mitchell.

  • Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America by Carvell Wallace for the New York Times – “This is all part of a tradition of unrestrained celebration and joy that we have come to rely on for our spiritual survival. We know that there is no end to the reminders that our lives, our hearts, our personhoods are expendable. Yes, many nonblack people will say differently; they will declare their love for us, they will post Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela quotes one or two days a year. But the actions of our country and its collective society, and our experiences within it, speak unquestionably to the opposite. Love for black people isn’t just saying Oscar Grant should not be dead. Love for black people is Oscar Grant not being dead in the first place.”
  • Race, Barriers and Battling Nerves: A Candid Conversation With Oscar’s Only 4 African-American Directing Nominees in 90 Years by Lacey Rose for The Hollywood Reporter – John Singleton: “There are enough people now that you can go to, to have a conference with or to say, “I don’t understand this world, can you help me?’’ So, I’m not assailing against anybody white trying to do a black story — try it, but get someone to help you. What’s interesting when you see Black Panther is you realize it couldn’t have been directed by anybody else but Ryan Coogler. It’s a great adventure movie and it works on all those different levels as entertainment, but it has this kind of cultural through-line that is so specific that it makes it universal.” behind the thrills black panther costumes
  • Costume Design in Black Panther from OkayAfrica (Video)
  • Black Panther’s Costume Designer on Dressing Every Woman As a Queen By Lindsay Peoples for The Cut – “When you put on your shapely garments and your beautiful color palette, and you wrap your hair and you put that knot at the top, you feel a sense of pride. Even though Wakanda is made up, it is still a part of the continent from which our ancestors came, and it gives people a context with which to think of people of color in a positive way — instead of in a radical militant way or a negative way. We’re making Africa chic again, and I hope when women see that, they go, ‘Tomorrow when I go to work, I’m going to wrap my hair up!’” – Ruth E. Carter
  • Black Panther director Ryan Coogler thoroughly breaks down the symbolism and visual effects of the Casino Fight Scene from Black Panther from Black with No Chaser (Video)
  • Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther by Casey Haughin for The Hopkins Exhibitionist – “The first step after this movie is to publicly confirm the reality of the situation; museums need to step up and acknowledge the fact that Killmonger’s anger in the exhibition and the experience he had were not entirely fictionalized, but rather a magnification of museum practices in the modern world. The next step is to listen. Listen to people of color, to communities, and to whole countries who see themselves both robbed by and cast out from international institutions. By communicating openly with the audience of a museum, professionals can determine how better to adapt their practices and make the institution a place that is relevant and respectful for all visitors. Until a truly symbiotic dialogue is established, this scene in Black Panther will represent the reality of museum politics where fact is truly more alarming than any fiction.”
  • Ryan Coogler Breaks Down The Making Of ‘Black Panther’, Black Girl Power, & Building Wakanda from Hot 97 (Video)
  • ‘Black Panther’ is a chance for black moviegoers to finally just enjoy the show by Zack Linley for the Washington Post – “It’s something many white filmgoers just don’t get. I’ve seen it many times: someone claiming it’s a double standard to celebrate all-black movies while calling all-white movies racist, or resenting that race is being brought up at all. It’s only a movie! Can’t we all just enjoy it? This is a question you would ask only if you had been overwhelmingly represented in every genre in every era of American film, and you simply don’t understand the sense of urgency for those of us who have not.”
  • In ‘Black Panther,’ Black Women Thrive by Erin Canty for Man Repeller – “Because I am a 32-year-old black woman immersed in a cinematic universe where black women thrive, I am overjoyed for the children who will grow up seeing these confident, courageous women taking up space and telling stories that are larger than life. black-panther-latitia-lupita-danai-angela-1_13005521_ver1.0I think about the young black girls who will watch these women and grow up inspired to carry out big dreams of their own. I think about all of this, and I am delighted.”
  • Feeling White Privilege When Watching Black Panther by Zoe and Ama from Not So Young and Dumb (Podcast) Also available here for non-Apple users: CastBox
  • The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman BY SHOSHANAKESSOCK – “I could continue to break down the narrative even further by speaking about the power of all these women and their representation as women of color, but as I said there are POC out there far better equipped to handling that conversation. In the matter of that topic, I step back and want to speak less and listen more. But in contrasting Wonder Woman and its feminist ideology alongside that of Black Panther, I can only conclude that while Wonder Woman brings us a kind of exceptionalist feminism, Black Panther brings us a vision of what a truly gender-equal society can accomplish, breaking down the barriers of gender stereotypes to present opportunity for anyone to be anything they wish in their full complexity and freedom of choice.”
  • Black Panther Is the Most Feminist Superhero Movie Yet (Yes, including Wonder Woman.) by Aisha Harris for SlateMoving as it was to see so many little girls dressing up as Wonder Woman, the fact that Black Panther has a wider variety of Wakandan women is a crucial step toward truly progressive feminism on screen.
  • The Most Important Moment in Black Panther No One Is Talking About by Benjamin Dixon for Progressive Army – “It is in that sadness that the film demonstrates the potential for the greatest impact: There is no Black Panther coming to save us. There is no Wakanda to go home to. And in the absence of such wonderful dreams, we — Black people around the world — must continue to stand up and be the fantasies of which we dream — just as T’Chaka told his son, King T’Challa, as they stood in the solemn moment of the ancestral plane, ‘Stand up. You are a King.'”
  • The ‘Wakanda Curriculum’ Is One Teacher’s Attempt to Take Black Panther Conversations to the Next Level by Julie Muncy for Gizmodo – “Tess Raser, a teacher of sixth graders at the Dulles School of Excellence in Chicago, has built the “Wakanda Curriculum” to drive discussions in advance of and after viewing of Black Panther. As Blavity reports, Raser was inspired after her own conversations about the film to take those debates—about black revolution, black feminism, and the legacy of colonialism and anti-black racism—to her students.” The 46-page unit can be found HERE. (More resources for teaching about Black Panther: The Best Resources For Teaching About The Black Panther Movie)

19panther-students-superJumbo.jpgBut this next one was far and away, THE BEST….

  • ‘I Took 7th Graders to See “Black Panther.” Here’s What They Said.’ [The New York Times]

 


Academic Food for Thought  

  1. Introduction to the Wakandan Syllabus
  2. ‘“Black Panther” Forces Africans and Black Americans to Reconcile the Past’ [Buzzfeed]
  3. ‘The Revolutionary Power of “Black Panther”’ [Time]
  4. “Black Panther” and the Invention of “Africa”  by Jelani Cobb for The New Yorker
  5. ‘Behind the Scenes of “Black Panther”’s Afrofuturism’ [Wired]
  6. ‘How “Black Panther”’s Costume Designer Created a New Vision of Africa’ [Refinery29]
  7. ‘“Black Panther” Is Great. But Let’s Not Treat It as an Act of Resistance.’ [The Guardian]
  8. ‘“Black Panther” Is Not the Movie We Deserve’ [Boston Review]
  9. Black Panther Movie Boldly Tackles Black Excellence – Refinery29
  10. Killmonger is the real hero for those who refuse to assimilate into an elitist blackness that leaves many behind
  11. How Black Panther Echoes Afrofuturism and Disses French-Speaking Africa
  12. The Viral ‘Black Panther’ Middle School Curriculum Provides Parents Real Insight
  13. The ‘Black Panther’ Revolution – Elitist
  14. “Black Panther” Is Inspiring Black Brazilians to Occupy Elite, White Shopping Malls
  15. ‘Black Panther’ is a revelation but also a reminder of what we’ve been missing
  16. “Black Panther” villain Killmonger is a symbol of Black pain
  17. Opinion | The Afrofuturism Behind ‘Black Panther’ – The New York Times
  18. How ‘Black Panther’ Changes Marvel’s Message – Forbes
  19. The Real History Behind the Black Panther – History in the Headlines
  20. Black Panther’s symbolic African costumes – HeraldLIVE
  21. Black Panther: The Ultimate Alt-Right Hero | Squawker
  22. The Racial Politics of Black Panther | Psychology Today

Overviews/Ending

  1. Black Panther – Rate And Discuss With Spoilers
  2. Black Panther End Credit Scenes: What Happens, And What They Mean
  3. One Major Mistake Black Panther Makes
  4. Why Black Panther Included That Character In Its Post-Credits Scene
  5. The 9 Funniest Moments In Black Panther
  6. Why Black Panther’s Surprise Cameo Didn’t Happen Until The End Of The Movie
  7. The 9 Coolest Wakanda Inventions Shown In Black Panther
  8. Kendrick Lamar Gives ‘Black Panther’ a Weighty Soundtrack

Reactions

  1. What Marvel’s Chris Pratt Thought Of Black Panther
  2. Oprah’s Review Of Black Panther Is Better If You Read It In The Oprah Voice
  3. What Marvel’s Kevin Feige Really Thinks About Black Panther
  4. What Michelle Obama Thought Of Black Panther
  5. How Disney’s CEO Reacted To Black Panther’s Success
  6. Review: ‘Black Panther’ Shakes Up the Marvel Universe
  7. Black Panther’ Brings Hope, Hype and Pride
  8. ‘“Black Panther” and the Revenge of the Black Nerds’ [The New York Times]
  9. Black Panther Review: the Marvel Universe Finally Shows Us Something New

MCU Connections

  1. How Black Panther Sets Up A Possible Future For Iron Man
  2. Black Panther Has Some Shocking Similarities To A Recent Marvel Movie
  3. How One Black Panther Scene Nods At The Original Iron Man Movie
  4. Why Black Panther Doesn’t Have More Ties To The Larger Marvel Cinematic Universe
  5. Ta-Nehisi Coates Helps a New Panther Leave Its Print
  6. The Black Panther Reading List
  7. Black Panther Royal Family Tree (Video)

Characters

  1. All The Major Characters You Need To Know In Black Panther
  2. Is Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger Marvel’s Best Villain Yet?
  3. Where Black Panther’s Shuri Goes From Here In The MCU
  4. Why Black Panther’s Agent Ross Is Different From The Comics
  5. Did Black Panther Reveal An Important Development For A Key Marvel Hero?
  6. In Defense of Erik Killmonger and the Forgotten Children of Wakanda
  7. ‘Black Panther’: Why Not Queen Shuri? (Guest Column)
  8. Why Black Panther’s T’Challa Is a Better Man Than Most Superheroes …

Gender

  1. Finally, “Black Panther” Is a Movie Black Women Can Celebrate’ [Independent]
  2. ‘Kevin Feige on the Future of Marvel’s Women’ [Vulture]
  3. Black Panther Breakout Letitia Wright Smashes Disney Princess Expectations
  4. Princess Shuri: The Hero We Needed | The Amherst Student
  5. There’s a True Story Behind Black Panther’s Strong Women. Here’s …
  6. The women of ‘Black Panther’ are empowered not just in politics and …
  7. Black Women Are Black Panther’s Mightiest Heroes – io9 – Gizmodo
  8. Black Panther, black women, and the politics of black hair | Cinema
  9. The power of ‘Black Panther’s’ army of African women – The Lily
  10. In ‘Black Panther,’ Wakanda’s Women Are Both Funny And Fierce
  11. The Powerful Women Of ‘Black Panther’ | HuffPost
  12. After Black Panther and Wonder Woman, Batgirl needs a female …
  13. The Women in ‘Black Panther’ Rock – Why ‘Black Panther’ is a Win for …
  14. Get to know the Dora Milaje, Black Panther’s mighty women … – Vox
  15. The Female Cast of Black Panther Is So Freakin’ Badass, I’m Crying Tears of Joy
  16. The Most Important Debate in Black Panther Is, Unsurprisingly … – Elle
  17. How Danai GuriraOkoye redefines the female warrior in ‘Black Panther’

LGBT

  1. ‘“Black Panther” Screenwriter Joe Robert Cole Addresses Rumors of a Deleted Gay Scene’ [ScreenCrush]
  2. ‘Don’t Play With Our Emotions: “Black Panther” and Queer Representation’ [The Root]
  3. Could There Have Been a Lesbian Romance in Black Panther? Let’s Investigate

Director/Cast Takes

  1. Ryan Coogler’s Open Letter To Black Panther Fans Is Wonderful
  2. The Amazing Black Panther Set That Led Daniel Kaluuya To Recognize The Epicness Of Black Panther
  3. The Best Wakandan Technology, According To Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan
  4. Black Panther Director Ryan Coogler Explains His Infinity Stone Decision
  5. The Stars of ‘Black Panther’ Waited a Lifetime for This Moment
  6. Black Panther’s Director Ryan Coogler Breaks Down a Fight Scene
  7. Black Panther designer Ruth Carter reveals the African symbols … – Syfy

Box Office

  1. Why Black Panther Overperformed At The Box Office
  2. Black Panther Made Even More This Weekend Than We Thought
  3. Black Panther Box Office: There’s A Party Going On Over At Marvel
  4. After ‘Black Panther,’ Will Hollywood Finally Admit That Black Films …

Opposition to Black Panther

  1. ‘Alt-Right’ Group Takes Aim At ‘Black Panther.’ Ryan Coogler …
  2. Alt-Right Group Tries To Take Down Black Panther Film – Refinery29
  3. ‘Black Panther’ Targeted By Alt-Right Trolls Who Also Tried to Tank …
  4. An alt-right group threatened to attack ‘Black Panther’ on Rotten …
  5. Racist trolls are saying Black Panther fans attacked them. They’re lying …
  6. Black Panther: Twitter bans trolls who claimed white cinema-goers …

OTHER:

  1. Can Superheroes Be Woke?: Black Liberation and the Black Panther
  2. ‘Black Panther’ teaches women how to show up for themselves in life and in love
  3. The power of ‘Black Panther’s’ army of African women
  4. ‘Black Panther’ fully embraces its blackness — and that’s what makes it unforgettable
  5. Wakanda forever: The overt feminism of ‘Black Panther’
  6. ‘Black Panther’ Cast Made Sandra Bullock Cry ‘As A Mother’

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween & the Problem of Blackface

by Channon Oyeniran

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Every Halloween, someone, somewhere, knowingly or not, insults black people and the painful and dark legacy that slavery left behind. From using blackface to dressing up as an enslaved person, Halloween 2017 will likely be no different as several examples of such behavior have been in the news recently. It baffles me every year that people still don’t understand why this behavior is deeply offensive. Blackface, in particular,has a deeply problematic history. “Blackface is more than just burnt cork applied as makeup. It is a style of entertainment based on racist Black stereotypes that began in minstrel shows and continues today.” (Source.) Blackface was used in vaudeville, Broadway, silent movies, racist cartoons, and early television to degrade and mock black people. Despite this fact, many people still decide to use blackface every Halloween. Let’s take a brief look at some of the headlines that have been in the news recently regarding the use of blackface and inappropriate costumes for Halloween.

Bridgewater, Massachusetts: “Elementary School Apologizes For Picture That Shows A Black Girl On Leashes

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In Bridgewater, Massachusetts at Mitchell Elementary School, a picture from the school’s pilgrim enrichment program, showcases a black girl in what are called “lead strings”, held by her two white co-students. Apparently in the 17th century “lead strings” were used to keep children from wandering or to help them learn how to walk. While the school says the picture and activity were taken out of context, many people who saw the picture say it is totally disrespectful and offensive. The school, school district and a spokesperson for the pilgrim program issued apologies for the activity and the activity. However, many parents of other students at the school were stunned and disgusted when they saw the picture.

London, UK: “Anger after primary school in Manor Park asks pupils to dress as slaves for Black History Month

Letter-UKAt St Winefride’s Catholic Primary School, in London, year 2 students were sent home with a letter on October 13th stating to “to come into school dressed as slaves for Black History Month.” They then proceeded to include pictures of enslaved black people to show examples of how students should dress! Like really?! This school is asking students to dress as enslaved people, but is this school teaching these students what slavery is, their country’s role it is, why it was wrong and how an activity like that is offensive to many Black Britons and other black people worldwide? Those are these questions I asked when I read this article. Although this letter may not have been an accurate reflection of the entire school and only one teacher, it raises many questions. A spokesperson for the school said this: “We understand the importance of Black History Month and celebrate this by studying the success and achievements of black role models.”

Fort Bragg, North Carolina: “Fort Bragg busted for ‘Spooktacular’ Halloween party with children dressed up in blackface

BlackfaceDuring a Halloween party at Fort Bragg, a military installation in North Carolina, two children were photographed dressed in blackface and with marionette strings, yet another example of someone using blackface, not thinking twice about the history and if it’s offensive to other people. The Fort Bragg community are shocked and many offended that a costume like this would be used. Genessa Bingham, whose father is currently deployed overseas said this: “This is what’s wrong with the country right now,” she said. “People can just be as racist as they want. Then you’re supposed to laugh it off. You know, segregation wasn’t that long ago. My dad is African American.” The picture was removed from Facebook and an apology was given. However, just like the previous examples as well many other examples, it’s clear that people don’t think about the history of things or how it will affect other people.

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We CAN do better.

Blackface is certainly not the only way to be offensive this Halloween. For more on cultural appropriation of other cultures, see the resources below. Furthermore, you may be asking, “Does this mean that white people can’t dress up as a black person they appreciate and admire?” No. But there’s a certain way to do it, and there is absolutely NO need to change your skin color to do so. 

GQ published a helpful (and hilarious) how-to last year with Kumail Nanjiani: How To Choose a Halloween Costume That Isn’t Racist” by Caity Weaver. Here’s an excerpt: 

Choose a Subject Identifiable by Name

When it comes to costumes, the more specific your outfit is, the funnier it will be. Dressing up as “a black man” is a bad idea. Dressing up as “Barack Obama” is a mediocre idea. Dressing up as “Casual, Retired Obama” is a funny idea—and a great opportunity to eat frozen treats while wearing comfy clothes.

How To Be You, But Casual, Retired Obama

  • Pair a baggy short-sleeve button-down shirt with baggy, pleated Dockers (belted above the navel).
  • Top with a salt-and-pepper wig, extra salt.
  • Wear a thick gold band on your ring finger.
  • Eat tons of ice cream cones, you ice cream monster.

Moral of the story: Be thoughtful about how you (and your kids) dress this Halloween. Keep it fun for everyone, by not unintentionally offending an entire people group.


For more information:

On Halloween Costumes:

On Cultural Appropriation:

On Blackface:

Cotton, Sugar, & the N-Word: Why History Matters

Maybe the n-word is just a word, maybe cotton is just a plant, maybe sugar mills are just historical artifacts, but when a person is keenly aware of their history, IT. MAKES. A. DIFFERENCE. We cannot ignore historical context in modern discourse.

ON THE N-WORD

by Channon Oyeniran

“When I hear the N-word, I still think about every black man who was lynched—and the N-word was the last thing he heard.” – Oprah Winfrey

As I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook a few weeks ago, an article caught my attention, “If you truly knew what the N-word meant to our ancestors, you’d NEVER use it.” I thought to myself, “That’s for sure!” I know the word is horrendous, and I have cringed every time I hear it and have been called it, but I still decided to click on the link so that I could learn a bit more about the origins of this detestable word.

768px-you27se_just_a_little_nigger2c_still_youse_mine2c_all_mine_28nypl_hades-610093-125607929The author of the article, Brandon Simeo Starky, said this about the n-word and why it was used: “The best explanation of what I gleaned, what social scientists called internalized oppression, describes the psychological trauma that ensues when a person from a stigmatized group believes those negative stigmas. White folk indoctrinated them into accepting their supposed inferiority. These [slave] narratives illustrate the success of this campaign of mental terrorism, and no word conveyed the depth of this internalized oppression more than ‘nigger.’” What was clear to Starky while reading these slave narratives was the self-perception that those enslaved had about themselves based on the use of the n-word. It was clear to him, and became clear to me as I read, that the primary purpose of the n-word was to dehumanize, demean and break the spirit of those hearing it. It was used every day, all day, 24/7/365 and has been around longer than the existence of the USA. For this reason, many of those who were enslaved, and their descendants, internalized the meaning of this word.

 

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Enslaved black people were called the n-word as if it was their name, and the word was found in literature, media, entertainment, comedy, marketing and advertising of products, etc. If I haven’t gotten this point across, know that this word was everywhere, used all the time to degrade the very souls of black people. Doing a slow, psychological work in them, causing deep emotional damage, passed down through generations, that will take many years and much work to undo.  

Some say that it’s okay for black people to use the word. I disagree. I get that they have tried to reclaim it and use “nigga” instead, but I just don’t think it’s necessary or warranted. Whenever I hear black people using this word, I say to myself, “Do they know all of the history behind this word, like really know….?” 10214542_1_xThis word was used as our name. Although we had names, we heard this word so much that we started to internalize it and believe that we were n*****s and nothing more, that we had no value.

To see what others had to say about the n-word, Michelle and I sent a series of six questions to black women and men of different ages. We got back four responses and many of the answers were quite similar. (Huge thanks to those who participated and sent responses back!)

  1. Is it ever okay for non-Black people to use the N word (in context, joking, repeating, etc.)?

The general consensus was a resounding, “NO!” But Subria had a great response to this question.

Subria: It is never okay for a non-Black person to use any variation of the word: nigger, nigga, or my nig. When non-Black people use it, it comes with a history of violence. If a non-Black person says it, they are demonstrating their complicity in that violence, it will never be their word to claim, no matter how many rap songs and no matter how many black friends they have. And the black friends that don’t call them out need a history lesson as to why it’s grounds to whoop that a$$. (Q: Can I say that last part?)

  1. Is it okay for Black people to use the word?

Gail: After really understanding where that word comes from, I don’t know why they would want to. I think it’s best to educate them and have them really understand the history of it. There are some great books and movies that will really hit home (12 Years a Slave, Birth of a Nation, etc). I feel like if black people really understood the weight behind it they would not use it so freely.

Subria: Yes, it is okay for Black people to use the word. It surprises me that, particularly among black academics, the choice is made to use “the n word” instead of writing out or saying the word “nigger”. It’s a hurtful word and it stings on our ears. Just like the violence of the word stung our ancestors and continues to do to their offspring. This choice to use the “the n-word” pacifies the continued reality of its violence and this upsets me tremendously. Adding an additional perspective, I’ve yet to encounter a black person who says the word nigger casually. When the word “nigger” is used by a black person [casually], it is usually in haste and a demonstration of a black person displaying anti-blackness. [Emphasis added.]

Shenaz: I am not particularly fond of black people using the N-word, although some would say that by using it as a black person it takes the power away from non-black people; however, the history behind the word never changes.

[Sidenote from Michelle: Scholars like James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have used the n-word in its full form to great effect. Christian hip-hop artist Sho Baraka also used the word on his album, Talented Xth. I believe the word can be useful in particular circumstances, for particular purposes, by black artists, scholars, writers, etc. at their discretion.]

  1. Does it really matter? It’s just a word!

Gail: It’s not just a word because there’s a lot of history behind it. It may not mean anything to person who is ignorant of that history, but it can be hurtful to someone who does

Muna: It’s the intention behind it that matters more than the word. You can always tell when it’s ill-intention for the most part.

Subria: It certainly matters. Language shapes culture and culture creates norms.  It is still normal to inflict violence on black bodies because white supremacy and racism have deemed that black people are inherently “lazy, violent, brute, a burden, and niggers”.  Black people are loosening the noose on centuries of white-violent branding. Black people are replacing, reclaiming, and kicking racism where it hurts through languages. Shifting and rewriting the narrative through a Black perspective is liberation, and this is why language that concerns Blackness in its entirety matters.

In all of these responses, the history of the n-word and where it came from was mentioned — How it was used to dehumanize, degrade and oppress black people from slavery to the Jim Crow era. How this word was created to differentiate and then used solely to demean people because of the colour of their skin. This word was a tool of oppression to the enslaved, to break them down and to kill their minds and spirits, especially while working in the fields cultivating things like cotton and sugar that ultimately filled the pockets of those who enslaved them and meant privilege for their descendants.

ON COTTON & SUGAR

by Michelle Palmer

Desktop7-001For most people in my circle, the reasons why using the n-word is a bad idea may go without saying. But there’s another issue that may not be so clear: cotton. A friend sent me an email about the cotton display at Hobby Lobby and asked for my opinion.

On one hand, as a white person, I personally don’t see it as racist at all. I have white relatives who are cotton farmers and did a family portrait in front a field of cotton. I just saw it on my Facebook feed a few days ago and thought, “That’s so precious!” It was beautiful, it represented who they are as a family, I loved it. My sister-in-law has a cotton bud wreath that I think is gorgeous. It’s literally just a plant. It, on its own, is neutral, at least to me, a white person.

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That being said, I was at Kent House last weekend, and I saw something that turned my stomach. The thing that bothered me most was seeing a sugar mill, with sugarcane planted around it, and the sugar kettles on display. It turned my stomach because I’m keenly aware of the effects of sugar on slaves. I think about it every time I pass a sugarcane field. Desktop7-003I’d probably think about it if I saw it at Hobby Lobby too. Harvesting and refining sugar was one of the deadliest things a slave could do. I didn’t see any reference to that. In fact, there’s an event coming in November called, “Sugar Days,” where the whole process will be demonstrated. And I’m guessing the dangerous, life-threatening parts of the process will be omitted. I’m also assuming they won’t discuss the high death rates and low fertility rates amongst slaves associated with sugar production. The sugar is neutral, the kettles are neutral, but being SO in tune and aware of the history makes me feel sick to see it being displayed in that way.

Maybe to display cotton as décor isn’t inherently racist, but if this woman was as keenly aware of the history of cotton in America as I am about the history of sugar, I can sympathize with her reaction. Since then, I’ve talked to several others who had the same reaction as this lady. Desktop7She isn’t alone. Of course, I wish she had expounded on her thoughts more to help others understand the depth of her hurt and why it upset her so much, but when someone is triggered that way, we can’t expect them to do the hard work of educating the rest of us as well.

Maybe the n-word is just a word, maybe cotton is just a plant, maybe sugar mills are just historical artifacts, but when a person is keenly aware of their history, IT. MAKES. A. DIFFERENCE. We cannot ignore historical context in modern discourse.

So, fellow white people, here’s the deal: We can probably never do away with the n-word. We can probably never do away with cotton and sugar mills and all the things that conjure painful imagery for people of color. But we can acknowledge the pain of others. We can minimize the triggers. And we can definitely do better.

I saw this comment on the post from Lipscomb University by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, and she said so eloquently what was in my heart as I thought about the issue:

“If you can only see this as an issue of being offended by cotton, instead of a deeper systemic problem, you will never be able to meaningfully connect with our black brothers and sisters. You will continue to drive a wedge in this already tenuous relationship by refusing to acknowledge the pain, racism, and microaggressions they experience daily. […]

Reconciliation must start with white people. You may say that’s racist, but let’s be intellectually honest here. Collectively, it has been our people who have systemically oppressed, intimidated, threatened, and subjugated black people in our country. We should absolutely be trying to bridge that gap and heal deep wounds passed down from generation to generation.

Again, if you are offended by other people’s offendedness, it is not about you. […]

We may make mistakes and be clumsy in our approach, but we pray God will give us grace as we learn what true respect and reconciliation looks like.”


For more information…

The Day I Became a White Man Was the Day I Became a Black Man: A Story About Race

Michelle here! Just a quick note about today’s post. No, it’s not the 5th Tuesday of the month, but we’ve got a guest post! We are so thankful to publish this piece by Vershal Hogan while we’re a week into our 2017 Tuesday Justice Survey campaign. We have already seen several requests for more ways to get involved and to tangibly work towards freedom, equality, and justice. That is coming, I promise. But this post isn’t it. With that being said, I fully believe that some of the most important work we can do is in our own hearts and minds. Vershal’s story has encouraged me to come to terms with my own whiteness and how that affects my interactions and relationships. As a person passionate about these issues, it’s mandatory that I regularly confront this in my own life. I hope this story helps you do just that, like it did for me. 

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Vershal and his son quite a few years back, closer to the time of the story than today.

by Vershal Hogan

At the time, I was in my first year of working for a newspaper in southern Mississippi, in a city renowned for its preservation of antebellum homes and — to some extent even now — culture. Any discussion of race in the city inevitably mentions its historic tableaux, which was originally known as the Confederate Pageant and wasn’t rebranded until the early 2000s, but even outside the spring and fall pilgrimage seasons — in which the city’s garden clubs open their historic homes for tours — the historic realities of the Civil War, slavery and Jim Crow are a part of a complicated history and present. Some embrace that history with unquestioning enthusiasm, waving the banner Lost Cause, while others wrestle with being the inheritors of estates that were built and paid for by human chattel. Many members of the black community are descendants of those slaves, growing up in the shadows of homes that were raised by the blood and sweat of their kin but never gaining any social capital from it. Couple that with Jim Crow and civil rights eras that were as violent as the worst parts of the country, and race becomes an issue that almost always simmers just below the surface.

I met David one day while I was out doing an assignment for the newspaper, a weekly feature in which we threw a dart at a map and then went and wrote a story about whatever we found. It was usually an innocuous, inconsequential story, usually something about a grandmother spending time with her grandchildren or about friends who worked on antique cars together – typically, it was something very middle-class.

That day was different, however. The dart had landed on a street in a historically black neighborhood that had once been renowned for its success, but had drifted into decay in recent years. My editor had given us a rule that you were allowed to go only as far as one street over from where the dart landed to find a story, and normally that worked. In that town, one street over from shacks leaning in on each other could very easily be gentrified, or just as likely, bourgeoisie. Economic degeneration and revitalization in southwest Mississippi is a strange thing.

The street the dart landed on was by far the better of the three choices we had using the one-street-over rule, and even then there was a gang of Bloods standing at the corner eyeballing me and the photographer, Frank.

The first couple of houses we approached had “Keep Out” and “Beware of Dog” signs, and when we saw David sitting on a porch, he was working on a neighbor’s kerosene heater, tinkering and trying to get it to fire up. He had a plastic cup and a bottle of cheap whiskey on the porch next to him, whiskey I smelled before I ever saw it. It looked like a lazy afternoon, and he would be someone we could speak with and get a story quickly.

“Hey, Mr. Frank,” he called out, recognizing the photographer, who seemed to know everyone in that town, “What are you doing with that Jew in this neighborhood?”

After Frank and I both laughed at the comment (I’d been mistaken for being Jewish a number of times, several of them while with Frank in black neighborhoods), we explained what we were doing, and David agreed to talk to us. He talked about the history of his neighborhood (he alleged, among other things, that a nun had been hanged in his house in the 1880s), about his personal doubts about organized religion even though he occasionally attended a church, about how he wanted to help people and how he gathered and distributed information around his neighborhood about how to get back into school, start a business or get corporate grants. He talked a lot about race relations, how they had gotten better and how, in some cases, they had gotten worse.

He had a master’s degree in agriculture production and had been part of a program that had the goal of teaching young black men how to be commercial farmers and catfish producers. That had been going well until his work in the field got the best of him, leaving him out of commission for a long time, he said.

“Sunstroke is a hell of a thing to happen to a man,” he said. “Especially to a black man.”

Through all of this, he would occasionally give me a strange look.

Finally, he came out with it: “You look white, but I know you’re not all white.”

Like many people in the South, I’ve got some Chickasaw-Choctaw Nation genes, but I’ve never considered myself to be anything but white and have certainly never been bold enough to try to identify otherwise.

“You know how I know you’re not all white?” David said, his eyes intense. “I know that because you look me in the eyes. White people don’t look me in the eyes.”

Here was a man who — while a little rough around the edges — was educated and articulate (yes, I said it), but conditioned by a dynamic that expected me not to treat him as an equal. His bringing up what he perceived to be my own ethno-racial identity was predicated on the safety of the neighborhood.

I don’t remember what I said after that. Back then, making eye contact in conversation wasn’t so much a professional or human courtesy as it was a compulsion because I had a teacher who berated me for not doing so when I talked to her when I was 15. I was just trying to be polite to an adult who was much older than I was, and for a brief moment, I felt a pointless pang of corporate white guilt even though he had praised me for doing what he didn’t expect me to do.

I had already come to the conclusion that in the South race problems were rooted in more than just a hatred or disdain for that which is different, that it was a social construct that conflated socio-economics with melanin. The city was the location anthropologists chose to study in the 1941 (at the time) groundbreaking anthropological study, “Deep South,” and though at the time I hadn’t read it, I’d noticed similar dynamics to what the authors published — that racial boundaries are often about maintaining a caste system, which is why, for example, it’s often considered shameful for a rich white girl to date a black boy (even a rich black boy) but not for a white girl from one of the poorer trailer parks.

But David then did something that made me realize that everything we do, consciously or unconsciously, reinforces those caste systems.

He reached over, put his hands on my shoulder, and said, “Because you look me in the eyes, I now adopt you as my black brother. You are now one of us.”

That was the day I really grasped how my own race could import an unspoken dynamic into a conversation, especially with someone who has the living memory of some of our shared culture’s uglier moments. Here I was, a kid just out of school interacting with a man three times my age and with twice the education, and he was socially conditioned to assume I wouldn’t grant him a basic courtesy, whether out of a sense of superiority or fear. Until that point, my general beliefs about racism had been facile, the thought that if one does not speak or think with overt hatred they’ve covered their bases, and a few years later, when talk of non-verbal racism became mainstream, I thought back to that occasion.

The story I wrote from that afternoon, like many dart features, wasn’t very long or memorable. I’m sure that if David even read it, he laughed at it, as he would laugh at this writing.

But I remember it, and sometimes I still think about it. Since then, I’ve had opportunity to attend sessions where black people — especially older people — talked about the conditioning that was drilled into them from a young age, how they weren’t to look certain people directly in the eyes, how deferential language was non-negotiable and even how where one positioned themselves in a room or a public space were important considerations. While most of the overt behavior codes of the bad old days are now gone, the complexity of our interactions continue; in fact, it may be more difficult to root out now because most people will affirm that racism is bad, and thus don’t want to admit their own shortcomings.

(And if you don’t see how that doesn’t sometimes translate into frustration or even rage…)

I am fortunate in that I don’t get to qualify my own failings with the old social crutch of “That’s how I was raised;” our home was pretty open. But the culture around me being what it was, there were a lot of unconscious cues that I absorbed, and I’ll admit that there are still things I have to work on.

But I’ll give this: If I have to be called out for something, I’ll at least be looking you in the eye.

 



For more on battling racism, check out our other posts on the subject:

#BlackHairProblems

As other posts on this blog have discussed time and again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with. So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

by Channon Oyeniran

afro2#BlackHairProblems – It’s a humorous hashtag on Twitter, but one of the big “problems” with black hair isn’t funny at all. The number of articles, news clips and stories I’ve seen and heard recently concerning black girls’ and women’s natural hair is both surprising and ridiculous. Are we really making such a big issue out of a person’s hair as to ask them to change it or “get it done” or suggest that they are breaking the school dress code…in 2017?! Seriously?! I must admit, the controversy surrounding this topic is puzzling to me in the sense that something so trivial as a person’s hair – the black person’s hair –  is creating such a stir.

Black women can do almost anything with our hair because it is so versatile. We can make it straight, curly, wavy, we can braid it, twist it, put it in a ponytail, cut it and style and so much more! We can also do all of this with our natural hair or with aides such as extensions, weaves, hot combs, curling irons, etc. Desktop6-008Many are now taking issue with black women choosing to wear their hair in its natural state, a trend that is growing in popularity, rather than trying to make it into some idealized view of beauty that the media and white majority have portrayed. For so long black women were told that our hair must be long, straight and flowing for us to be considered beautiful. Whether a woman chooses to go natural or not is not the issue. It is up to each individual and what she wants. The real problem is the pressure put on so many black women, from their workplaces, schools, and society, to “fit in” and conform to mainstream society.

This uproar is not a new phenomenon. Twisted views on beauty have been forced upon black women since they were taken from their homes in Africa more than 400 years ago. womenslaveThe black woman then had the western view beauty thrust upon her, internalized and then carried out among black communities. Black women who were lighter in complexion or of mixed race and had features that resembled white women were seen as “better,” and thus treated differently, than black women whose darker complexion and features were viewed “inferior.” This treatment extended to these women’s hair; in the eyes of the slave traders and owners, having long, straight, flowing hair was beautiful while having curly, short and wool-like hair was considered masculine, and unattractive. From the days of slavery, black people have had their value determined by their appearance and its proximity to whiteness. The more “white” you appeared, the more valuable you were.  This has led to an enduring pressure to conform to the styles, mannerisms and culture of the white majority.

As a black woman who has worn my hair proudly in its natural state for many years (e.g. no relaxers, weaves, or extensions in my hair) and for the past two and half years worn what are called “sisterlocks” in my hair (a trademarked locking technique where the hair is parted in a precise grid, utilizing a special tool that places the hair in a locking pattern: see photo), I have taken pride in being able to just wear my hair as it is and not fill the pockets business owners, many of whom are not black, who profit very well from black people coming into their stores and spending hundreds of dollars at a time on hair care products, weaves, extensions, etc. I, too, like many other black women used to relax, aka “straighten”, my hair so that it was bone straight like white women’s hair or add weave to my hair so that I would have the hair length like a white woman. Desktop6-001But after much money spent, and educating myself more on my history, who I am, where my ancestors came from, I came to the realization that my hair is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide or to change. My hair is beautiful, naturally curly…characteristics that many women wish they had. I also decided to not care what the media portrays to be beautiful or acceptable. The media doesn’t determine who I am or if I am beautiful or not (which I am!). Although this issue doesn’t only affect women, I will focus on three stories, from three different countries, that highlight the discrimination black women, in particular, have faced for wearing traditionally black hairstyles.

USA:

“Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook are being punished by Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Boston….[…] because of their hair.”

-Kayla Greaves (HuffPost Canada)

Just this past week, the story broke that fifteen-year-old twins from Boston, Deanna and Mya, have had to serve multiple suspensions since April, could potentially be suspended again for wearing box braids and were banned from school activities. According to Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s administration, the girls’ box braids violate the school’s dress code because the code prohibits extensions, and says hair cannot be “more than 2 inches in thickness or height.” deanna-mya-cook(This rule would insinuate a black student wearing their hair in an afro style would be in violation of the dress code.) Both girls are intelligent and active in school, so what’s the problem? Well, according to another parent whose daughter also wore the box braid style and was suspended, white children at the school have “coloured hair and you are not supposed to colour your hair, and they walk around like it’s nothing.” Many feel, and I agree, that these facts point to discrimination against black students who cannot simply wear their hair in a style that represents their culture, heritage and identity.

Thankfully, I came across a follow-up article to this story, which reports that the state attorney general sent a letter demanding that the school “[…] immediately stop punishing black and biracial students for wearing hairstyles the school said violate its dress code.” These are rules that the attorney general thinks are both discriminatory and unfairly enforced amongst students at the school. It’s a happy ending to this particular story as the Cook twins are again allowed to participate in their extra-curricular activities, as well as maintain their hairstyles, which represent who they are. However, these stories, which are all too common, continue to occur around the world.

Canada

“Cree Ballah models the hairstyle she was wearing the day she says two managers at the Zara store she works at tried to change her hair in full view of other employees.”

                                                                          -Philip Lee-Shanok (CBC News; Toronto)

Desktop6-002.jpgIn March 2016, in Scarborough, just outside of Toronto, Zara store employee, Cree Ballah, went into work with box braids and was asked by her manager to first take her braids out of the ponytail they were in and then along with another manager tried to fix her hair to fit the so called “professional look” that Zara was trying to maintain. Not only was this experience unprofessional and discriminatory, it was also humiliating for Cree as her managers tried to fix her hair in front of the store in a busy mall and in front of her co-workers. When this happened, Cree said she would likely quit her job as well as file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This is yet another common example of discrimination against black women and their hair. (See this story from BBC News, ‘Wear a weave at work – your afro hair is unprofessional’.)

South Africa

“High-School Girls in South Africa Are Protesting for the Right to Wear Their Natural Hair”

-Claire Landsbaum (The Cut; NY magazine)

29-pretoria-girls-high-school-protests.w710.h473On August 29th, 2016, students at Pretoria Girls High School in South Africa, protested against the school’s hair policy that many students and parents deemed to be racist. The policy indicates that natural hair is “messy” and suspends students for wearing their hair natural. In response to the school’s policy, a petition with close to 18,000 signatures was signed along with the protest by the students and support pouring in for them via social media. The students even had the support of Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who tweeted, “Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity.” The protest, petition and support appeared to work as the high school suspended the rules about the hair policies a few days after the protest. Another triumph, but a bittersweet one, as these situations expose the deep rooted racism against people of colour across the world.

Why the Double Standard?

Justine-Skye-purple-natural-hair-vs-Katy-Perry-purple-hair.jpgIn another article, written by Elle on Black Girl with Long Hair, the author does a comparison of the inconsistency between black and white women who colour their hair and how it is seen by the general public. It is seen as “hood and ghetto” when black women colour their hair and “creative and cute” when white women do it. This issue, along with black women’s natural hair, goes deeper than just the issue of hair. As other posts on this blog have discussed time and time and time and time again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with.

So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

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More stories of the “problems” with natural hair:

Positive and uplifting stories:

And a few more great posts on the subject…

 

UPDATED RESOURCES (These are stories, articles, etc. added after publishing.)

Black Panther, black women, and the politics of black hair – Al-Jazeera

When Black Hair Violates the Dress Code – NPR