Friday, January 23, 2009

History in the Making???: A Call to Make History

on january 20th, 2009, i joined nearly 2 million people on the mall in our nation's capital to witness the 44th president of the united states being sworn-in.  so many emotions swelled within me throughout the swearing-in ceremony.  

so now that the red carpets have been rolled up, the millions have returned to their homes, and the first african american president has begun to sign executive orders, i cannot help but ponder what's next for those who invested in the message of "hope" and "change".  there is no shortage of work to be done from international crises such as the fragile cease-fire between Israel and Palestine, the global economic meltdown, global warming and the detrimental effects of climate change and the genocide in Darfur to domestic issues such as the reinstatement of civil liberties and personal freedoms that the bush administration eradicated in the name of "security", the erosion of the public education system, the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else, and the lack of full civil rights for america's LGBT citizens. the to-do list grows day-by-day.  so it should come as no surprise that no man, no matter how charismatic, handsome, well-intentioned, intelligent, or politically savvy can get our country "back on track." 

while i supported obama, i by no means agreed with him on all issues.  nonetheless, i firmly believed in the momentum and energy he sparked among people of my generation.  it is this energy that i believe can be transformative and progressive.  it is time for us to take our place in history as a generation that must confront complex challenges with compassion and open-mindedness.  getting obama elected was the easy part. though many in my generation were politically and socially engaged well before obama even formally announced his intention to run for president, his election does provide an opportunity upon which we must now capitalize.  the vision must extend beyond a single figure, the ideas and ideals of democracy trump the accomplishment of any one person.  we, yes, we must move and commit to moving in spite of the setbacks we will encounter.  

do not let the symbolism of this historical moment dwarf the significance of the organizing and mobilizing that made such a historic moment possible.  we are powerful beyond measure.

signing off,
a diva feminist

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Locating Voices of Color on Television!

A brief moment of silence for The Wire... I had to start by honoring perhaps one of the most  compelling, intelligent, and engaging dramas EVER!  Though I am avid Desperate Housewives fan, Sunday nights will no longer serve as home to the best show on television.  Critically acclaimed, though summarily unrecognized by awards, The Wire will be missed by those who tuned in to the gritty and multilayered show faithfully for five seasons.  Reruns (though edited for content and language) appear on BET, so I encourage you to rent the Series DVDs.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can express my utter disappointment with the lack of substantive dramas and witty comedies starring predominantly black and browns casts.  Admittedly, I watch Grey's Anatomy, which has quite a diverse cast and a dynamic black woman writer.  Nevertheless, shows focusing on the lived experiences of black and brown in people in United States are quite limited.  The ridiculousness of Flavor Flav continuing to search for "love" reached its peak with the airing of a third season.  I tuned in for Seasons 1&2 as a guilty pleasure, but remained conflicted about my complacency in popularizing this postmodern minstrelsy that continues to entertain the masses and perpetuate damaging racial and sexual stereotypes.  Perhaps it was the absurdity or perhaps it was the extreme behavior of the cast of this show that drew record-breaking audiences, but at what point do I ask, why is this trash so intriguing?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Where Do I Begin?

So no justice for Bell?  For the past few days, I contemplated how I would respond to this denial of justice.  Rev. Al Sharpton called the decision an "abortion" of justice.  Though I am reluctant to use such gendered, emotionally and socially-charged language as "miscarriage" and "abortion", his outrage resonates with me as well as that of Bell's family and supporters.  The images of his fiancee after the verdict was delivered are etched indelibly on my mind.  

I do not have a critical, well-thought out response to what occurred.  I just feel empty.  When I discussed my frustration and utter disappointment with several of my closest friends and esteemed colleagues, it became clear that I was not alone in my disgust and in my desire to formulate a plan of action that speaks to many of the pressing issues confronting black and brown and poor communities in the United States.  This is certainly not the first time the justice system has disregarded and devalued the lives of black and brown bodies (and I am speaking about the past decade, we already know about the centuries of racial, sexual, psychological, and structural violence people of color and poor people endured).  My friends and colleagues feel motivated to move, but do not know how or where.  

I believe in words and informed action, but am at a loss for words and not quite sure what informed action looks like in this particular case, and more broadly, in this distinct historical moment.   If not a riot, then what?  If not a protest, then what? If not several well-written articles about racial injustice in the justice system, then what? If not thought-provoking sound bytes from recognized leaders from black and brown communities, then what? If not a revised "covenant" or "plan of action" detailing the most important issues confronting black and brown communities and potential solutions, then what?  What is a substantive step forward in advocating and working for change?

I do not claim to have answers to these questions, but I know they must be grappled with and engaged.  For now, I will keep Bell in the front of my mind as I press forward and try and find direction.

in the struggle,
a diva feminist

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ms. Rap Supreme???- Diva Feminist Nostalgia

Throughout my high school years, I found myself mesmerized by the racy lyrics of women hip hop artists such as Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, and even (dare I say) Trina.  Their unabashed and often profane performances of female hypersexuality, crass materialism, and criminality (the ride or die bitch) intrigued me.  I knew every sexually explicit lyric from each of their debut projects.  Needless to say, questions about their authorship of these lyrics and their "Bad ASS" images arose and remain somewhat unanswered.  We know that male hip hop heavyweights such as the late Notorious B.I.G. and self-proclaimed (and oft critically acclaimed) best rapper alive, Jay-Z heavily influenced the careers and personas of the women hip hop artists who brought a new version of hip hop femininity to mainstream hip hop.  The words of these women, raunchy and un-ladylike, ushered in a new moment in hip hop history in which women embraced a pleasure politics that rejected being a lady.  Though the sexual exploits, six-figure shopping sprees, and illegal drug economy were a far cry from my experiences attending an elite private school in upper-Northwest Washington, D.C., their lyrics were a part of my "coming of age."  

I was always a fan of hip hop and always gave particular attention to the women in the industry. When I was 7, I named my first parakeet, Spinderella.  I mimicked Salt-N-Pepa, but always thought that the deejay was the most unique and underrated member of a group.  Little did I know then, in the earliest days of hip hop, the deejay was the superstar.  As I was becoming a loyal fan of hip hop, the transition from the focus on the deejay to focusing on the emcee occurred.  

I spent hours listening to MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah, Moni Love, Yo-Yo, Rage and any other woman emcee who dared to challenge and permeate the male-dominated culture. Though still marginalized within mainstream hip hop, throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, I heard an array of women's voices attempting to articulate possibilities for a defiant black womanhood that could inspire and influence a generation combating crack, post-industrialization, HIV/AIDS, Reaganomics, the feminization of poverty, the decline of the social welfare state and the rise of the corporate welfare state, and various other social, economic, and political conditions unique to this era.  

The height of this moment of what I will term "hip hop musical feminism" came with release of Lauryn Hill's first solo album, The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill.  To this very day, I can recite every rhyme, chorus, and interlude from this dynamic album.  In one album, she recreated the standard for what a hip hop album should be: evocative, emotional, vulnerable, self-critical, gritty, sentimental, sonically innovative, lyrically imaginative, creative, and most importantly, a sincere reflection of the life and times the artist/we experience.  I knew Lauryn Hill would be a definitive figure within hip hop after listening to The Score (The Fugees).  It was either when she rhymed "And even after all my logic and my theory/I add a muthafucker/So you ignant niggas hear me" or " So while you imitatin' Al Capone/I be Nina Simone/And defecation on your microphone" that I knew Ms. Hill would be synonymous with hip hop for me.

So how do I reconcile enjoying the depth and weight of Lauryn Hill and the raunchy and sexually explicitness of Lil' Kim (pre-plastic surgery)?  I don't!  I appreciated this era/epoch in hip hop because of the extant variety.  Foxy Brown's lyrics incited a boldness, while Queen Latifah and Moni Love made me think about what I called myself and what I allowed others to call me as well as how to think about the world from a socially responsible standpoint.  Salt-N-Pepa encouraged me to think about sex and sexuality.  MC Lyte provided a template for confidence that so many black girls lack.  The list goes on and on, but each of these emcees influenced my understanding of the possibilities for black women in my generation as well as how I could address the pressing issues confronting my generation.

So why this brief recollection of my love of women emcees in hip hop?  I can't find the love now.  It's not on most of the albums I hear.  It's formulaic these days, no variety and limited lyrical or creative prowess.  Exceptions such as Jean Grae exist, but I remember hearing at least 3 or 4 different female voices on a regular basis in an earlier moment in hip hop history.  I know that hip hop, as a musical genre, is on its decline, if not already dead as Nas eloquently stated.  I'm not lamenting the loss so much because I know that black and brown music must evolve and shift and reinvent Soul every few decades.  But I just can't stand seeing less-than-mediocre emcees, like most of those vying for the Ms. Rap Supreme title on VH-1's newest reality contest show, attempting to claim a stake within a modern tradition that helped me locate my feminist self.  Call me a hip hop elitist or a nostalgic hater, but I just want my last memories of hip hop to include women's voices that speak to black girls the way Hill, Latifah, Lyte, and even Trina (her earliest work), to an extent, spoke to me. 

Perhaps it will not be through hip-hop, but through whatever youth, musical culture that evolves.  Wherever it emerges, women artists, we need you, WE NEED YOU more than ever.  

a diva feminist

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Diva Feminism????

What is a Diva Feminist?  I often ask myself this question as I contemplate how I identify my personal politics and commitments to struggles for social, political, and economic justice and equity.  I came up with idea of calling myself a diva feminist in an attempt to recognize my "diva-like" persona ( I love fashion, eating out at wonderful restaurants, and jet-setting to relax my overworked mind) and my dedication to eradicating racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and other forms of socio-historical, political, and cultural oppression and exploitation.    Exhale, I got a lot of work to do!

For me, diva feminism exists in space somewhere between hip hop feminism, the black feminist tradition, "Third World" feminism, and perhaps "lipstick feminism".  I recognize the dangers of the objectification of black female bodies in contemporary popular culture, but also ponder if there is a possibility of "pleasurable objectification" for video models/vixens.  I am critical of campaigns that encourage "shopping" as a way to contribute to causes such as addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, and yet, I acknowledge the positive impact that these consumption-driven philanthropic/charitable initiatives can have.  We are living in complicated times which require careful consideration of all potentialities and perspectives.

The theoretical lens of diva feminism openly incorporates the importance of pleasure, visibility, and profit, while remaining critical of the exploitation and dehumanization that evolve as a result of our contemporary global political economy.  Diva feminism engages popular culture as a vehicle for thinking through and devising solutions to pressing social issues.  Popular culture is far-reaching and often representative and illustrative of the state of our societies.  Using pop culture also allows me to reach a generation of "potential" feminists, because of how integral popular culture is in youth culture.

So that's diva feminism in a still-forming nutshell.  I will be posting reviews, rants, commentaries, observations, and blunt criticisms on this site, so definitely check me out!  I appreciate any and all feedback.

in the struggle for equality, justice, and peace
a diva feminist!?