Monthly Archives: July 2012
The “hometown” has a special place in American folklore. There are dozens of books, films, and songs celebrating the hometown, and the position that it holds in our memories. My own hometown occupies such a central location in my life that I can’t imagine where I would be today had I not grew up in it. I realize that not everyone has fond memories of hometown, but I think most can admit that the hometown holds a special (or at least significant) place in many people’s minds.
I began to think about my own views on hometown life when I read a comment that seemed to look down on those who have never left their hometown. Six years ago I probably would have agreed with this person, but over the years I have come to appreciate my hometown a lot more. I think that time away from, and returning back to, my hometown has allowed me to appreciate it in a way that I didn’t necessarily appreciate it when I was growing up.
We often think of success in terms of leaving our hometown and making it “big” in another place, usually a town or city. Some people see “going off” to college or traveling the world as signs that someone has been able to rise beyond their hometown and the trappings that may exist there. This may be true for some people, but for others the opposite is true. I think that there are many ways to be successful in life. One does not have to leave one’s hometown in order to “make it.” If everybody was meant to leave the hometown there wouldn’t be a hometown. Some people have to stay and hold that culture down. These are often the people who make returning home an enjoyable and memorable experience. I love traveling with my father to his hometown, and seeing how his face lights up when he runs into old friends who never left. What would the hometown be without familiar faces from our past? What would it be if we didn’t have people to talk about the old days, and how much things have changed or stayed the same?
There are many ways to experience this journey called life. For some, the journey of life takes us out of our hometown; for others, the journey keeps us in our hometown. It is important to respect each other’s varied life journey’s.
“Mama-spoiled black man, will you mature with me?” – Toni Morrison
I am what most people would consider a “mama’s boy”. I am not at all afraid to admit that I am a man who is extremely close with his mother. I’m also close with my father, and he spoils me, too, but I am really close with my mother. Me and my mother have always shared a very strong bond. I have always had a respect and reverence for the women in my family. I suppose, this is one of the reasons why I am a feminist, and why I fight so passionately for the rights of women and girls.
My mother visited me yesterday, and during our time together I began to think about a line from Toni Morrison’s novel Tar Baby. In the novel she calls for the “mama-spoiled Black men” of the world to mature. I really began to think about her call, and my own relation to my Black mother and Black women. I began to think about the way sexism thwarts Black men’s ability to mature, and often makes them take for granted the “spoiling” given to them by their Black mothers and Black women.
Mama spoiled Black men, and our conceptions of our own mothers and Black women have been on my mind a lot. I am very aware of the ways that Black men perceive themselves and their mothers. One of the things that I have noticed as of late, particularly on social media, is the tendency for sexist Black men to demonize their mothers (by way of attacking Black women). There seems to be any number of images circulating on the web that depicts Black women as “difficult” and traitorous. These pictures posit that Black women are the enemies of their men, and usually use as their evidence that Black women have begun to take their own wants and needs into consideration. How is it that these mama-spoiled Black men grow up to resent their mothers? How is it that these mama-spoiled Black men so readily participate in the marginalization of their Black sisters? These are two of the questions that have been on my mind.
Sexist notions concerning the raising of children often means that Black women raise their children on their own. Fathers may be absent by choice, or force (the prison system holding many of our Black men), so the majority of the work of raising children is done by Black women. These Black women often spoil their Black boys. My own mother spoiled me even though my father was in the home, and I can think of many Black women who have spoiled their sons. When I walk around the shopping mall I see Black women hand-in-hand with their sons, and there is a affection and care there that is truly touching. Most Black boys have a positive conception of male/female relationships and mother/son relationships until these sexism is deposited in their minds. They are taught to devalue the bonds that they have with their mothers. I can remember being teased as a teenager because I preferred to hang around my mother. I can remember attending the fair and a group of boys calling me a “mama’s boy” as an insult because instead of walking around the fair alone I was with my mother.
What becomes of a mama-spoiled Black man in a sexist world that teaches him to devalue the feminine? Most often he grows into the kind of man that takes women for granted. These are the Black men who forget the many sacrifices that Black women have made on behalf of Black men throughout American history. These are the Black men who forget that their mothers and sisters were right beside them in the field, and still came home to cook for, nurse, and nurture their Black sons, brothers, and husbands. Too many Black men have bought into sexist notions of male/female relations and misguidedly see the Black woman’s rightful fight for gender equality as an attack on their manhood. These sexist Black men are the sons of the Moynihan Report–they take for granted their mamas many sacrifices in a racist and sexist society.
I pride myself on being a mama-spoiled Black man who does not take Black women and girls for granted. I am deeply thankful for the sacrifices that Black women have made for their communities. I have a responsibility to challenge sexist and racist notions about the Black woman. I refuse to see the Black woman as my enemy no matter how much racist and sexist propaganda is shown to me. Yes, I am a mama-spoiled Black man, but I am also a mature man. I call for all my Black brothers to mature with me by committing to end sexism. When we blame Black women for our failure to be seen as “real men” in a White racist society we only show ourselves to be immature. Our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our girlfriends, our wives, and nieces are not our enemy.
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde
I never thought I would be creating a top ten list of books. It’s impossible to narrow down all of the great literature out there, and even harder to specify it among racial lines. Different books speak to us for different reasons, and it’s difficult to pin down the top ten books that someone else should read. The following list will include ten of the books that have resonated with me the most. They do not appear in any particular order, and they all are immensely important to me. I don’t know what kind of person I would be today if I had not encountered these works of literature. With a humble mind, and a sharing heart, here are my top ten book recommendations.
We all know of a straight Black man with a wife/girlfriend who got his woman on the side pregnant. But we’re blaming gay men for the spread HIV among straight people? Just as surely as he got his woman on the side pregnant (while married or with a girlfriend) he can just as easily transmit HIV. I know of plenty of straight men with a girlfriend/wife who got 1-3 side women pregnant. Straight people need to sweep round they own porch. We all know of straight Black women who have a boyfriend/husband and ends up pregnant from another man. But gay men are to blame for HIV? I really don’t want to go in cause I will call heterosexuals out and not give a fuck. Y’all sexual recklessness has nothing to do with gays.
The language to discuss what I call “whiteface” in the Black community has eluded me for some time. Fortunately, the idea has remained fresh in my mind simply awaiting the moment when I would find the words to bring it into fruition. It has become apparent to me that “whiteface” is rampant in the Black community, and I find this both interesting and disturbing. It is interesting to me because society has went to such lengths to condemn the opposite of “whiteface” which stood out overtly as a form of racist dehumanization of Black people. It is disturbing to me because there seems to be little interest in condemning “whiteface,” something that I feel has just as deadly consequences for Black people. If “blackface” is one of the heights of racist dehumanization of Blacks then I would wager that “whiteface” does not fall too far behind. Much of this essay will key in on media images as they relate to Black life, and celebrities are overt representations of Blackness. Nicki Minaj, Vybz Kartel, and Beyonce are just a few of the people who perform in “whiteface.”
“Blackface” has been described as a form of makeup used to stereotype Black people. Many entertainers used “Blackface” to reaffirm ideas about the Black body and intellect. The practice was used to reinforce negative notions about Black people and Black culture. There is widespread contempt of this practice, mainly because it is such an overt form of racism. One of the most dangerous things about social issues is our tendency to only key in on those issues that are overt. We often give a free pass to those issues that are subtle. In my opinion, “whiteface” is a subtle form of racist dehumanization that we do not always key in on. “Whiteface” is used by Black artists to promote white supremacy in the Black community. Not only is white supremacy being promoted, but Blackness is once again being ridiculed and marginalized. This is the byproduct of Black performance in “whiteface.”
Nicki Minaj is one of the most prominent Hip Hop entertainers in the world. As she has become more popular she has fully embraced “whiteface” as her primary way of communicating herself visually to the world. She utilizes Whiteness to legitimize her celebrity. She is often seen performing in “whiteface” with a blonde hair weave that is bone straight. Historically, straight hair has been one of the primary ways by which Whiteness contrasted itself from Blackness. White supremacy teaches us that blonde hair is superior to all other hair colors, and that straight hair is superior to all other hair textures. What does it mean when one of the most prominent Hip Hop artists in the world eagerly performs in “whiteface”? What are the consequences of this artist promoting straight blonde hair over Black kinky hair? The consequences are out there, and one of the primary consequences is self-hatred. When we are lead to believe that performing in “whiteface” is better than living our authentic Black lives we are in serious trouble as a race.
One of the features of “blackface” was the minstrel performer applying burnt coal to their body to to mock Black skin. This practice was done to physically symbolize the inferiority of Black skin in relation to White skin. Vybz Kartel utilizes a similar practice in his performance of “whiteface.” While Minaj uses weaves and makeup to perform her brand of “whiteface,” Kartel uses skin bleaching creams. One of the main features of white supremacy is it’s teaching that White and light skin are superior to Black and brown skin. Too many Blacks have internalized this message and seek to alter their skin complexion by utilizing bleaching creams. This is “whiteface” pushed to a pitiful extreme. There are many ways for Blacks to perform in “whiteface,” to buy into the notion that Blackness is inferior, and as such hair texture and color along with skin complexion becomes one of the ways for Blacks to perform in “whiteface.” White supremacy is a global illness, and the consequences of this are seen in the increasing performance of “whiteface” among Black peoples across the globe. Writers like Kola Boof continue to call necessary and urgent attention to this epidemic.
Beyonce is arguably one of the largest entertainers on the planet. She has come to represent the face of Blackness for many people across the globe. She has achieved a level of success rarely seen by Black artists. As an artist, she has always straddled the line between “whiteface” and Black cultural pride. In her early years she was known for rocking cornrows, a common hairstyle among Blacks in America. But it appears that as Beyonce has moved closer to the height of celebrity she has embraced performing in “whiteface” more and more. Her signature cornrows have been replaced over the years with curly brown/blonde tresses. It wasn’t until her most recent album “4″ was released that she began to wholeheartedly perform in “whiteface.” The album art for her CD was painfully and pitifully “whiteface.” Her hair was no longer the corn rows or curls we had formerly seen her rock, but now stringy/straight peroxide blonde. Her hair hair had more in common with a European model than any African or Black model I can think of. I will admit that Beyonce is a light skinned Black woman, but there was something unusually pale about the artwork for her latest album. Beyonce appeared at her lightest and whitest in these photographs. There she is, on the cover, in all her “whiteface” glory. It becomes apparent that Whiteness and white supremacy are being promoted in this album by a Black artist. “Whiteface” trumps.
America likes to pretend that it has overcome racism. Integration is pointed to as proof that our society is no longer beleaguered by issues of race. I believe that the prominence of “whiteface” among Blacks is proof that racism, especially internalized racism, continues to plague our society. It is fortunate that “blackface” is rightfully seen as a practice that stereotypes Blacks and holds Blackness inferior, but we have not yet reached a point where we recognize that “whiteface” is also about promoting Black inferiority. Blackness suffers when we give “whiteface” a pass. Blackness suffers when do not call out “whiteface” as the promotion of Black inferiority. How can we value ourselves when we are so eager to perform “whiteface”?
The artists that I examine in this essay are not the only ones in the Black community performing in “whitface.” Nicki, Vybz, and Beyonce simply provide overt and prominent examples of “whiteface”. The practice is a problem throughout the Black community and it needs to be examined and addressed. There are many conversations to be had, but we can’t have those conversations if we continue to pretend like Blacks performing in “whiteface” is not a problem.
Note: The term “whiteface” appears in quotes throughout this essay because I believe that it encompasses more than what I cover in this particular essay. “Whiteface” appears in many different forms in the Black community, and it is my wish that you all add to the conception and definition of what it means for a Black person to perform in “whiteface.”