Sans Cilice

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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

Getting Mad About the N-Word

My next door neighbors are bad neighbors and gross people. It’s 4am and–not to sound like a cranky old person–but they’ve been keeping me up for a while. (The most recent excerpt might be the most charming: “Yo **cough, burp, cough** I’m totally throwing up exactly what I ate. It’s, like, the whole sandwich!”) They’re college students, so they’re fully entitled to smoke as much pot as they like and get loud. Actually, I’d grant those privileges to anyone…However, their manner of speaking really drives me up a wall.

Not only do they have the absolute dumbest conversations– most are about their most successful instances of cheating or the amount that they drink/smoke– but each is peppered with permutations of the N-word. None of them are black. Though I’d be hard pressed to think of a time when it would be OK for a non-black person to use the word, I think what angers me most about their usage is how casual it is. As far as I can tell, they’re not of the breed of racists who act intentionally on their beliefs. In fact, they’re a rather multicultural bunch and I’d be surprised if anyone of them didn’t make an energetic attempt to deny the obvious racism in their usage of the N-word. After all, they never direct it at actual black people. In fact, I think most of the time they’re referring to themselves. (They’re laughable individuals in a variety of ways) Whether or not they are making a pathetic attempt at irony is irrelevant. Their usage pisses me off because it displays such a lack of both self-awareness and consideration (in the sense of respect, not superficial etiquette) for others.

It may be wrong (and a tad hypocritical) for me to stare down my nose at them for their party noise. BUT, I feel totally justified in my disgust for them because of their audible stupidity and racism.

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Filed under: Current Events, Personal, , , ,

On the potential of color talk

“Why you and Ms. Shannon both light-skinned?” asked Alicia (not her real name) last Wednesday. Shannon is one of my employees. I’m white and she’s black. Not only that, I’m about as white as white can be– Irish descent, fair skin that sunburns in minutes, bright blue eyes, dirty blond hair (currently dyed brunette). Shannon has light/medium brown skin and dark brown African American hair. I think some would say she’s light-skinned and others wouldn’t. But, there’s really no need to examine our skin shades further; the point is that while Shannon and I may have any number of things in common, skin color is just not one of them.

—Long post! Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: education, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, Society, , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Do You Listen to Jimmy Buffet Records?”

“Because if so, you’re white.”

From The Colbert Report Interview with Nell Irvin Painter, 3/17/2010. 4:40/5:10

I’ll venture to say that this is one of the truer race-based assumptions out there. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: On TV, Philosophy & Theory, Pop Culture, , , , , ,

American Conversions to Islam

A week or so ago, I began to write about how converting to Islam sometimes presents African Americans a way to create a more specific non-American ethnicity and/or a way to rebel against the oppressive European Christian society thus further solidifying their identities as black. So, starting from the point that converting to Islam can in someway present black Americans the opportunity to be less a part of white society and therefore more or more distinctly black, what can be said about the unusual case of Jihad Jane?Understandably, many reports of this story have emphasized the idea that our stereotypes of what a terrorist looks like have finally been disproved. But not so many stories have examined Jihad Jane’s whiteness in comparison to other instances of domestic terrorism, as Renee Martin of Ms. Blog does here. As Martin writes:

But when LaRose took the name Jihad Jane–thus identifying herself with Islam, a religion many westerners view as violent despite its core teachings and the behavior of most followers–she disassociated herself from Whiteness. And that made it impossible for commentators to once again apologize for a White American who commits domestic terrorism.

Martin’s thoughts about J Jane and whiteness prompt me to examine how white conversions to Islam compare to black conversions. However, I think it’s unfair to the many white people who convert and do not embark on violent jihads. Also, I’m not sure that I want J Jane’s race to be emphasized more– I think she deserves to be treated as harshly as the others involved in the terrorist plot. While agree with Martin that it’s problematic that American culture views Islam as antithetical to whiteness, I don’t want J Jane to benefit from the insanity explanation given to other white domestic terrorists.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , ,

Feminism in Black American Islam: Intro

Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam

I’m currently reading Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam by Carolyn Moxley Rouse. I highly recommend it. Everything I had learned about Islam from grade school through college was situated in one of three very distinct settings: the Middle Ages, romanticized portrayals of the Black Nationalist movement, or the United States’ current war with the Middle East. Because of this, my understanding of the religion was neither cohesive nor flexible. Not only has this book taught me more about the “praxis” (in the Marxist sense as the conscious practice of belief or “synthesis of mental and manual labor”) of Islam in a context relevant to my own life, it has reinvigorated and broadened my engagement with feminism. I want to learn more about African American Islam because of its prevalence within the school where I work. As I learn I’ll post new thoughts on the subject. The next books I plan on reading are Black Routes to Islam edited by Manning Marabel and Hishaam Aidi, and Islam and Blackamerican by Sherman Jackson.

Though I’m sure that most of the families in my school are Christian (either in faith or culture), Islam is a very visible part of the community. It is literally visible, in that many of the kids’ mothers wear hijab and/or niqaab, some girls wear hijab and some fathers wear kurtas or dishadashas. I think that those in the community who practice Qu’ranic dress are practicing Sunni Muslims, although I’m not totally sure. I also have the sense that, especially in the realm of clothing, different individuals feel free to apply Qu’ranic advice as they see fit. For instance, I know one mother who wears a hijab but her daughter does not, and another mother who wears a long curly hairstyle but whose daughter wears a hijab.

5 out of the 40 kids I work with have at least one practicing Muslim parent. While I would be surprised if more than 20% of the school’s families are Muslim, the secular/cultural manifestations of Islam are far more prevalent and point to a great variety of degrees to which families are influenced by Muslim culture. 9 out of the 15 boys and 8 of the 25 girls I work with have first names that are etymologically Arabic or Aramaic with European last names. There are also some students in the school who have Arabic first and last names, some of whom I believe are practicing Muslims and others not. The religious lifestyle is even manifest in a secular form; “no pork” is by far the most frequently listed dietary restriction. I bet it is listed on 1/3 of our students’ medical forms.

A few years ago I encountered the idea that for some African Americans, converting to Islam presents an opportunity to adopt an ethnicity or ethnic culture distinct from mainstream African American culture. I’m sure that the religion appeals to converters for a variety of reasons, but Islam–as a religion and way of life– may have special appeal to blacks who seek to differentiate their personal history and identity from the African American identity which has been significantly influenced by white oppression. The trauma of slavery and the ensuing centuries of familial instability have made it incredibly difficult for many blacks to trace their geneology back to a city or country like most white Americans are able to do. And, although there are many sources of pride within the African American culture and history, I have sensed and heard that this culture and history can also be a source of shame. Though I do not blame the problems ascribed uniquely to the black American community, writ large, on individuals’ apathy or moral failures, I can understand why some blacks disavow the culture which produces the individuals who add to negative stereotypes.

Black people searching for a more specific personal history and/or new cultural identity may find conversion to Islam appealing as it can address both concerns. The US is skeptical and fearful of Islam. To most of America–even liberals– Islam is decidedly “Other.” Americans associate it with a totally different part of the world and frequently assume that, as a religion, it is in stark opposition to the “uniquely” Christian values on which the country was supposedly founded. These differences– real or perceived–make conversion to Islam much more than a change in faith or a spiritual re-awakening; the conversion becomes a process whereby one can choose to identify with a part and ethnically and culturally different part of the world while also eschewing the system of values which was imprecated in the construction of the country which racially oppressed black people for centuries.

By thinking about African American Islam in this way, I became more sympathetic to conversion as a legitimate and authentic act of individual agency whereas previously I had only thought about blacks’ conversion to Islam as a largely political statement following the Nationalist movement. Clearly, at that point I knew very little about Islam in America. Even after becoming comfortable with conversion as potentially empowering to the individual who chooses it, I still viewed such a conversion as lamentable (especially for women) and detrimental to feminism much in the same way I lament the existence of conservative feminism; I was glad that women were at least consciously asserting their identities and grappling with the meaning of womanhood (maybe they’ll come around!) but was not in support of breathing new life into traditional gender roles. Conservative Feminism, whose female supporters strive to be exemplars of the subordinate yet (re)productive American housewife, remains anathema to me because I am not convinced by its members’ desire for women’s empowerment (which I believe is the one definite goal of all feminisms) and am disgusted by the way their proud servility feeds (literally and figuratively) white male capitalism.

Reading Rouse’s Engaged Surrender has completely changed my view of black women’s conversion to Islam. Although there are still some gender-related limitations which I think are morally wrong (homophobia in particular) I am very much in favor of the inherently feminist discourse which naturally emerges from the African American Sunni Muslim community. And, now that I have a better idea of the praxis of Sunni Muslims, I believe that feminist praxis has great potential to improve its local community and perhaps the black American community at large. In the next few posts in this thread I intend to examine the feminist discourses and attitudes facilitated by Islam as they have been written about by Rouse. I also intend to deal with other examinations of black Islam in different contexts. I am particularly interested to learn about the experience of black Muslims who were born into the religion and its way of life, as opposed to choosing it as an act of independence.

Please note that, as white atheist or not, I do NOT intend my attitude toward and individual understanding of African American Sunni Islam to be seen as advice to group of which I am not a part to convert to a religion of which I am not a part. Instead, I am working to understand how women in different communities create different routes to empowerment. Though some strains of feminism resonate more strongly with me personally, I believe that the development of a greater variety of effective feminisms will result in a greater variety of empowered women. I do not envision utopias, but I see no logical reason to disbelieve that if one half of our population is granted the same respect, support and validity as the other, much less distrust will hinder our progress and vastly more capable individuals will contribute to the greater good.

Filed under: education, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, Society, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Good Hair Comes from India!!!

Chris Rock’s trip to Chennai, India was one of the most intriguing parts of Good Hair. Apparently, the vast majority of hair used in human hair weaves comes from India. Most of it is bought from Hindu temples that perform sacrificial tonsures (head shavings). (An interviewee did speak about the black market hair trade but I found him to be a less than credible source.) The hair is then bought by weave manufacturers who sort it, wash it, comb it and assemble it into tracks of hair.

thanks to sunnyshairandwigs.blogspot.com for the great photo!

I had an unnecessarily negative reaction to this information. Because I associate most products made in India or Southeast Asia solely for American consumption with capitalism, colonialism and destruction of local environments and knowledge, I hastily assumed that evil was at play within this transnational hair trade. After thinking more though, I really can’t see any problem with this. Tonsuring has existed as a Hindu ritual for much much longer than human hair weaves have become a profitable commodityCitizens choose to be tonsured as a self-sacrifice to Lord Vishnu, so one can’t really argue that they forced into this or unfairly compensated. The temples do profit off of hair sales, but the profit defrays overhead costs and supports charitable operations. I suppose the temples are not always upfront with the shavees about the fact they sell the hair, but the hair-buying weave-making industry isn’t underground so no one is being duped. Moreover, Indian people own and operate the weave companies which ensures that the profits go back to the community. Whether or not said profit is fairly distributed, I don’t know, but either way it doesn’t seem to be a capitalist enterprise more evil than any other.

To learn more about the collection, manufacturing and distribution, go to Sunny’s Hair Blogit has a great Q&A by an American online hair vendor traveling to India to see the process first hand.

Filed under: Movies, Pop Culture, , , , , , , , , ,

Reconsidering Content of Earlier Post Re: Desmond Tutu’s Decoded Genome

It’s such a complex issue! So many questions are raised by the motivations of the research, the scientific results and the media’s reporting of it.

The one thing I am absolutely confident about, is that this research will encourage positive health outcomes for people of African descent in the future. With the addition of Archbishop Tutu and the Bushmen, the human genome project includes 5 of European descent (two of whom are James Watson and Craig Venter– both prominent geneticists), 3 of Asian descent (2 Korean, 1 Chinease) and 3 of African descent (Desmond Tutu, Bushman, Yoruban) plus another three partially decoded Bushman genomes. This distribution is not reflective of the actual percentage breakdown of the global population. VERY importantly, it is not representative of the indigenous populations of the Americas or the Pacific Islands.

Read these for background: 1.  Time– “What Secrets Lie in Archbishop Tutu’s Genome?” 2. Sydney Morning Herald– Cracking an ancient code: Scientist believes Africa can unlock the secrets of disease. (what a headline!) 3. LA Times– Scientists find great genetic differences among southern Africans 4. Newsweek Blog–Desmond Tutu’s Sequenced Genes: How Increased Diversity Helps Doctors Heal

More thoughts to come!

Filed under: Current Events, Journalism, News, Philosophy & Theory, , , , , ,

Symbolic Reconciliation Between Mother Bethel AME and St. George’s UM

After centuries of separation the congregations of Mother Bethel AME and St. George’s United Methodist will worship together once again as a symbolic gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, at Sixth and Pine, is one of the most historically pregnant places in Philly. I’ve been atheist for a long time now, but I still value the history that I learned through my experiences of the city’s religious institutions. Though we never attended AME on a regular basis (my family went to Old St. Joseph’s Jesuit Church), friends of mine did and a few times I attended with my mom. I’m pretty sure we also attended St. George’s a few times, but I don’t remember it well. My grade school and its church, St. Peter’s Episcopal, was two blocks away from all of these religious institutions and this proximity allowed for great field trips in which we learned about how religious tensions shaped Philadelphia history despite freedom of religion being the law.

Like many other nine year old girls of the early 1990’s, I was obsessed with the American Girls doll collection and their corresponding book series. I had Felicity, the Colonial/Revolutionary War red-headed doll– probably because my mom thought she was the most tastefully styled. Felicity’s books were ok, but Addy’s were captivating. Addy was the runaway slave American girl doll. Her books tell the riveting story of her escape with her mother from the plantation all the way to Philadelphia. When they finally arrived in the city, their mentors took them to AME where they received a warm welcome and were helped to find an apartment, clothes and schooling. This pre-adolescent reading experience was highly formative and is definitely a part of why I love of Philadelphia and its historically progressive institutions, one of which is AME.

Filed under: Current Events, education, Personal, Philadelphia News, , , , , , ,

On appreciating Africa

From Loveisntenough:

Do [you] acknowledge that there is no such thing as one African culture–that the continent is one of many nations and peoples with unique cultures? Do you, for instance, work to teach your son about his Ethiopian heritage rather than “generic Africa?”

Do you recognize modern-day Congolese, South Africans or Kenyans as real, living, breathing and nuanced people?

Earlier I posted about my reluctance to teach pre-schoolers to appreciate Africa as part of Black History Month at my school. I don’t like making generalizations about the continent and I don’t think it’s ok to host a project which makes assumptions about each student’s unique heritage and about their families’ attitude towards that heritage. I think the questions asked in the loveisntenough post address this issue quite well.

Filed under: education, Personal, Society, , , , , , , , ,

a great conversation

Just had a really productive transAtlantic g-chat conversation today with a friend living in Paris, whom I have dubbed Paris.
It’s a good follow up of previous posts about whites exploring race in a public setting, and about different attitudes towards white guilt, black comedy and discursive reappropriation in art. This part of the conversation was prompted by my earlier post about John Mayer.
———————————————————————————————————
Paris: i just dont really get why it kind of seems like [Mayer] gets away with stuff like that likes it charming or cool
me: ya, i don’t get it either. but, i guess he’s not really getting away with it
he’s had two ridiculous interviews and tabloids have gone nuts
fortunately i think he’s beginning to realize that he needs to shut up. his apology for using the n-word is better than many publicity-focused apologies about such things
also, have you seen Chris Rock’s Kill?
if not you must.
100% pure genius.
Paris: yes! athena and i actually watched it the other night
we were crying laughing
me: ah! so fun!I think I’d enjoy watching it like once a month
Paris: i started writing something about bamboozled
so i was watching it. but then i got all tangled up and confused and had to leave it. this was like, last week, but maybe ill give it another crack this week
me: what drew you in?
— i haven’t seen it
Paris: oh gosh! you should rent it
im not sure actually how it got started. i think because athena and i were talking about dave chappelle?
me: cool- i will. i haven’t read very good reviews, but i imagine it’s interesting regardlesss
Paris: i have no idea exactly how it got to bamboozled.
me: wow– haven’t thought about him in a while!
what happened to him. i guess his show had an expiration date. oh right–he went crazy too.
Paris: he did, yes. but i guess we got from dave chapelle to bamboozled bc we were talking about what it is for white people to like, participate in black comedy and what kind of issues it does or does not bring up Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Media & Culture, On TV, Personal, Philosophy & Theory, Pop Culture, Society, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

Such a perfect re-iteration

Breeze Harper at Sistah Vegan quotes from an essay by Sarah Ahmed who characterizes many Whiteness studies as being “non-performative” in that “they do not do what they say.” Ahmed writes that many of these declarations of whiteness are ‘admissions’ of ‘bad practice’ [which] are taken up as signs of ‘good practice’.

Ahmed’s full paper here at Borderlands

Filed under: Philosophy & Theory, Society, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Age Appropriate Black History Month

I commented on loveisntenough.com earlier and thought it would be appropriate to repost here in slightly edited and expanded form. Sorry if some of the background info is redundant to readers of this blog!:

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I’ve been thinking about the huge variety of opinions regarding what should be involved in Black History Month. I’m not a mom [really only relevant to the fact that this was first written for loveisntenough.com] – I run an afterschool program at a charter school for 3yr olds to Kindergartners with a 95% black population. On Monday my employees and I started to plan activities for the week and to kick off BHM. I’m white and the three employees are black. Each of us had very divergent thoughts about what the focus of BHM is– probably thoughts you’ve all heard before. What really interested me though was the divergence of opinion on what race issues are appropriate to talk about with 3 yr olds. One person wanted to do a project in which the kids placed pictures/drawings of their families on the continent of Africa to symbolize heritage. I’m very in favor of teaching kids as much African history as we do European history, but I really didn’t like this project for three year olds. Firstly, I’m not confident that they would understand the idea. But secondly, I think it’s problematic to treat the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans came, with absolutely no knowledge which countries the families’ have actually come from. [Granted, I imagine that it is quite hard for black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa because of the discontinuity and trauma caused by slavery.]

One of the other people wanted to do a project focusing on the idea that “difference is beautiful/special.” I totally agree that acceptance and respect for one’s differences should be instilled in all children, but I wasn’t comfortable with planting the idea of black as different in the kids’ heads. They go to an all black school in which I don’t think there’s any reason why they would think of themselves as different. While I’m sure they have an awareness of different skin colors and perhaps vague awareness of cultural differences, I’m not convinced that they already associate racial issues with the tension and discomfort that I think this project idea was ultimately intended to address. I’d love to hear thoughts from parents with young kids!

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