Theater Spotlight: #lolracism

On March 15th, I had the opportunity to catch a performance of #lolracism, a play created by three students. The play comprised of different skits, monologues and audience participation to address issues of racism, white supremacy and the emotional, physical, and spiritual violence that it enacts upon our bodies. I had the chance to ask some deeper questions about the performance and the process behind making it.

Pictured (Left to Right): Kellye, Maura & Ariana

Pictured (Left to Right): Kellye, Maura & Ariana

1) How did you conceptualize this performance? What inspired putting it together initially?

The performance was a response to a Bell Hooks essay that we all did individually for one another. From there we continued to construct off our reflections and would question one another, i.e. What does it mean to find spaces for this type of conversation about privilege, healing, compassion? What are our experiences with white supremacy? How do we talk about race with one another without shame? Thankfully, Maura had a senior project for the theater school so we began crafting!

2) How was the audience reception on individual show nights & collectively?

It was totally dependent on who was in the audience. Our show the first night was really responsive and playful, but the second night it was a little bit more intense. We could see people becoming uncomfortable with the issues we were highlighting. You could definitely tell that this was the first time they were watching someone combat whiteness. The last night felt like the most balanced of reflection and understanding. It was a really amazing weekend. (I want to do it again already!)

3) How do you see the play expanding?

We discussed having a Q&A section after the show for those who wanted to process with us. We raise some really valid points about whiteness, the role that racism plays on social media, and systemic oppressive ideologies about otherness…so it is a lot to digest for those familiar with the issues or not. My hope is that we give people a chance to ask questions about our performance and how it indirectly or directly relates to white supremacy and racism.

4) What were the most difficult aspects of putting #lolracism together?

Kellye and Maura are amazing women to work with and super supportive/affirming so it made it a really amazing process. Other than that the hardest part was chugging that milk every damn time. Needless to say, I haven’t drunk milk since the last show.

5) Where did you draw inspiration for the title? Does it reference anything in particular?

We were sitting in my apartment thinking of race in our generation and totally just made it up. It embodies how we have conversation and really highlights the role race plays on social media.

6) Which scenes were the most meaningful to each of you individually and why?

This is a great question! We spent a lot of time on Twitter Gameshow together and because those tweets were real tweets, the skit was satirical but real. Maura and Kellye did tweet at the ‘troll’ one night during rehearsal. It still weirdly baffles me. Next in line would have to be my Say My Name monologue.  I spend a lot of time and energy correcting people when they address me and I usually get the most flack when I do it to people in positions of power like a teacher! The monolgue really addresses my frustrations with people appropriation their whiteness onto all this Mexican/puertorican-ness.

Advertisements

Artist Spotlight: Jill Kuanfung

JILL KUANFUNG – Climbing the Tree Exhibit

“Frida,” ink wash and pen on paper, 30″ x 22″, 2013

 

Jill Kuanfung describes this exhibit of portraits that examine the fluidity of mixed-race identity and the complexity and depth of family history as follows: 

 

I created a series of portraits situated in my mixed race history and identity with the intent of focusing on how this history and identity have shaped and continue to shape my experiences of race and racism both within and outside of my family, and furthermore, what role my mixed race identity plays in understanding myself as a participant in systems of oppression and the actions I take to bring myself closer to personal healing and transformation. 

 

I communicated my family history and identity through portraiture because my studies of mixed race identity begin and end with the body, which is born into history, marked by it, a vessel of it, and which then passes it on (through voice, sex, birth, and death). Portraiture as a means of communicating and translating the bodies that make up my family allowed me to confront my loved ones in an intimate way, to explore the silence of meditating on their experiences, their unique features, and my own memories of them or of those close to them as I worked. 

 

The act of making this work also allowed for me to focus on the visual aspect of identity—what is told and what is silenced by a visual-only telling of the story. The process of drawing these individuals provided a physical, emotional, and spiritual space for peace, memory, and accountability. In all, I completed nine ink portraits of different family members on different colored sheets of approximately 22″ x 30″ paper using black ink pens, water, liquid India ink, and a large round paintbrush.

See her work at: http://www.jill-kuanfung.squarespace.com

The Danger of a Single Story

by Jasmine Armand

My single story is told before I ever open my mouth. It is visible from a distance and can be constructed before one ever meets me. It is the single story of the black woman. And since I was young, I have never matched this single story. I do not believe that not being a stereotype has ever bought less relief than when it is my own group judging my authenticity against an invisible and undesirable checklist.

I spent the first nine years of my life in a southern suburb of Chicago. With the exception of the last one, I often count those as the best years of my life. My family was together, we lived in a nice neighborhood and everything was just really good. Those years were also formative and between the way my family raised me, my location and my education, my speech was formed. This would become my biggest source of grievance. When we moved downtown and I transferred to another school, things began to shift. My suburban school was so diverse that we did not really care about white, black, Hispanic, Asian. Plus, we were in elementary school. We just wanted friends. At my new school, it was predominantly minorities according occasional students from the neighboring DCFS facility. But it was more of the same; it was alright.

It wasn’t until high school that my blackness was really challenged. I am naturally quiet and I speak differently. I apparently “talk white.” I was also called an Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside. Because of my lack of certain hip-hop history, I was also less black than the person making the accusation. I would occasionally have my “black card” revoked all because of single stories that my group would tell about each other.
In addition to that, I am also Haitian. Maybe if I was just American black, I would have attended those churches and known all about the gospel songs and shouting and stomping and praise breaks. My Haitian church has that too. But in Creole. But American blacks don’t care about that. So one day in my freshman algebra class one black friend, for a reason I don’t care to remember, tells another black friend concerning myself “she’s not a nigga.” Oh.

In a senior year physics class, a friend who I adore calls me “white girl” and I get quiet, leave the room and go down to my locker and cry and write. I write that it’s not so much the words that are being spoken but the repetition of this moment. I am tired of being called white when I am so much more, when I am actually black but in a way that the single story does not allow people to understand. I return to class and my friend says that I’m the blackest black girl she knows. Don’t patronize me.

Freshman year of college, I move onto the freshman floor and with the exception of one of my RAs, who I will love for as long as I live, I am the only black girl. My roommate is Mexican but that’s about it. The single story now plays out in a different way. This is a time when girls now have a chance to redefine it, sometimes stepping on toes or not saying too much out of fear of sounding racist. In some instances, this was a girl’s first time having prolonged contact with a black person. One time while laying my head on a friend’s lap, she was playing in my hair and whispered something to our other friend. I asked her what was going on and she said this was her first time touching this kind of hair. I laughed at her and it was completely fine; they were intrigued and I didn’t feel like a spectacle.

At the end of the year, while playing a card game, a girl who is now a good friend of mine said to me “I feel like we’re comfortable enough for me to tell you that you’re the whitest black girl I know.”
Ugh.

That statement bought up so many frustrations because not only had I had nearly a lifetime of black people disowning me at the drop of a hat but now white people felt the courage and authority to let me know that I am not one of my own. That I’m weird because I’m kind of like them but I’m not them; I’m safe. Would she have the courage to say the same thing if she thought I was the ghettoest black girl she ever met? Probably not. Because I am viewed as white, it takes away some of the danger associated with black people; I appear tamed, refined, safe.

The single story about black woman says that we are “strong”, resilient, pained, ignorant, loud, promiscuous, a sex object, to be objectified but never truly desired. And I’m supposed to have a big butt. I am none of those things. As a black woman, I am supposed to have a certain inflection in my voice and speak a certain way. Because of my skin color, I am supposed to indicate circumstances that have never really been my own. It wasn’t until two years ago that I realized “Wait, I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants who lived in the suburbs. I’m supposed to be like this!” Of course there are people who come from Haiti and can fit the checklist but that is not me. I am who I am supposed to be. This always shows a huge flaw in the narrative of the black woman and black people in general. Why does everything good have to be associated with being white?

Dating can at times fall victim to the single story. Though the idea irks me, it is possible that a white guy, or any other race, would be intimidated by me because of the way that he thinks black women are. Additionally, I am very confident and that could possibly be misconstrued as that black sass. The idea that someone would be too intimidated to approach me is so irritating. I suppose it’s also a weed out too; I don’t need a close-minded coward.

The single story affects me on a regular basis because whenever I am in a new environment, I feel like I have to combat what people are probably thinking about me due to incomplete thoughts that stem from not even knowing me. I am often the only black girl/person in my classes and I am a senior in college. This whole time I have felt that I need to compensate for the flawed single story, that I need to show you what black women can actually be. I wish that the weight of representing an entire race didn’t fall on me but as I get higher in my education and look around and see no one else like me, it automatically becomes me against the single story of a people. And that is not a fair war to fight.

Jasmine Armand is a senior journalism major at DePaul University. She has been published in leading Haitian weekly Haiti-Observateur and the DePaulia, DePaul’s award winning student newspaper. She wants to use her natural writing ability to glorify God and to inspire social change through the stories of the voiceless.

Hegemonic Beauty & Capitalist Exploitation: Discourses behind Acceptability and Respectability Politics

Image

By B. Ogundipe

            Maxine Leeds Craig’s Ain’t I a Beauty Queen: Black Women, Beauty and the Politics of Race explores the social constructs behind hegemonic beauty standards. These hegemonic beauty standards were set in place by white heteropatriarchy, providing a framework for ordering society. Specifically beauty standards were in line with the ideology of white supremacy—dictating that whiteness is ideal and should be the standard for all. In a U.S. historical context given the long legacy of slavery and forceful sexual relationships between slave masters and enslaved women, many individuals of mixed heritage were born. In line with white supremacist thought, those who were closer to whiteness were afforded more social privileges despite existing in a society based on the exploitation of black and brown bodies.

            In line with hegemonic narratives about beauty, beauty pageants were often held and broadcasted nationally through media outlets such as newspapers, magazines and television. However, women of African descent were deliberately excluded from these pageants and therefore excluded in the media, save from racist sexual caricatures. In a larger societal construct, African descended women were not even considered “women” to begin with, explaining their deliberate exclusion from beauty contests. Despite the long history of the African presence in the United States, African Americans were still not considered as equals to their white counterparts. This began to change when African American women began entering national beauty contests backed with support from organizations such as the NAACP (Craig 68). African American women then were able to use beauty contests to enter into a public space, displaying themselves and proudly affirming their rights as American citizens.

            While white contestants could stand in these events as individuals, when African American women entered into national beauty pageants they were considered representations for the entire African American community (70). The danger in this notion is that certain hegemonic beauty ideals can infiltrate the community, creating racial hierarchies similar to those of dominant white supremacist society. In this case, African Americans with lighter skin tones and looser hair textures were seen as the preferred and acceptable image of blackness. African Americans of deeper hues with coarser hair textures were then considered less socially desirable and less human.

            Within the African American community there was also a rejection of these hierarchal beauty standards dictating that lighter was better. One of these examples is the Miss Weusi contest, which shifted the focus of beauty pageants to being accepting of more types of African American appearances, “In an era of all black consciousness, these contests frequently challenged not only white supremacy but also the supremacy of lighter skin” (73). However, there was a trend of characterizing darker skinned woman as solely physical entities which in certain ways can be considered a direct descendant of issues concerning sexual politics during the slavery era. The mass rape of enslaved black women by their white slave masters was predicated on the argument that their appearance, skin colour and physical features somehow explained their lascivious and overtly sexual behaviour. Using this argument, white slave owners were able to justify their sexual misconduct by projecting a specific image of black women tied into an immutable characteristic that they couldn’t control—their skin colour.

            By bolstering their argument in politics of desirability, it was imperative to create a narrative that characterized black women as unattractive, yet sexually available, in doing so; the blame is placed upon the bodies of black women. Furthermore, white women and “whiteness” were then conflated associated with characteristics such as purity, grace, and innocence.

             This notion of whiteness was also linked to class mobility. African Americans were able to move up the social ladder in my cases depending upon the complexion of their skin. The lighter you were increased chances of success in a racist society. Therefore for many, having the appearance of middle class respectability was seen as a way to uplift the race overall. In addition to lighter skin tones, certain hairstyles were preferred; this lead to the creation of hot combs and chemical relaxers, making it possible for African Americans to emulate beauty standards that could lead to economic gain. This was evidenced by entrepreneurs such as Madame CJ Walker whose line of hair products who made it possible for black women to achieve this status.

            Madame CJ Walker’s economic gain was noticed by white capitalist society; in this way white capitalists saw that they could market products to the African American population to further exploit them for material gain. From this viewpoint, the black population and black hair care were additional avenues where a white racist capitalist society could find economic success for beauty standards and practices that came about as a direct result of white supremacy, Craigs cites this as “an example of the manipulation of racial identity as a commodity” (53). The Golden Brown chemical company—a white owned chemical corporation—created a fictional character based on Madame CJ Walker to market their product to an African American audience. In creating this faux Madame CJ Walker to sell their products, they first had to co-opt the image of black womanhood, creating a counterfeit racial authenticity to sell their products to mostly African American clientele. In addition, the Golden Brown company also held a National Golden Brown Beauty contests where the physical appearance of winners upheld hegemonic beauty standards, sending out a specific image of femininity and respectability to the African American women purchasing their products, again creating a rigid physical standard for women to adhere to in order to be considered respectable yet socially desirable.

            While initially the conversation surrounding beauty might be considered to some as a shallow research inquiry, the narrative behind certain prevailing beauty standards illuminates multiple issues underlying the formation of society and not simply in a U.S. based context. The implications of hegemonic beauty standards extend all over the globe, interacting with societal preferences and influencing societies everywhere due to the globalization of the beauty market. In addition, the question of desirability, femininity and notions of bodily integrity pose major questions into the purpose of certain beauty standards.

            Overall, the links between white capitalist heteropatriarchy and beauty standards cannot be ignored. As with most complex relationships based in a U.S. historical context, the inception of slavery and the direct commodification and exploitation of black and brown bodies as human capital has affected every facet of society. Due to the United States’ refusal to properly address the psychological, physical and economic damage to the African American community that forcible enslavement of African peoples has created, conversations about the nature of white supremacy are suppressed even though the damage has left deep psychological wounds that manifest every day in our society.

            In addressing these issues, the conversation about hegemony, power and empire can reach deeper levels of analysis. By interrogating these beauty standards, a larger accurate critical framework can be developed linking the multiple entwined systems of oppression and subjugation that influence the ways in which power dynamics and human relationships are conducted. Investigating these issues leads to more developed, critically conscious lens to better analyze the intersecting nature of multiple societal systems upon our physical bodies.

Plain Yogurt

Quote

by Rita Bagala

Lowell High School

Age: 17

 

When the boy you’ve been crushing on since freshman year tells you that he won’t date you because you are black, you’ll feel lost and you’ll want to change yourself.

 

Step 1: Let go of your self-respect

 

You will see your dark skin as a flaw and try every form of make up to try and make up for all the boys that did not tell you that it was beautiful.

 

Step 2: Scrub your skin with insecurity

 

You will wake up with hate for your skin. Dream of the perfect girl with a light caramel complexion walking on his arm. And you will desperately try to be that girl. Imagine that the way he tells her that she is beautiful will someday be meant for you. When you shower you will search for her and think that if you scrub your skin hard enough she will be there as if your dark skin is nothing but a layer.

 

Step 3: Stay out of the sun

 

You will blame the sun the sun for your discoloration but end up asking yourself how the sun shone through your mother’s womb because you know pretty well you were born that way.

 

Step 4: Apply plain yogurt

 

You’ll become addicted to this need for change. Lock yourself in the bathroom and strip down to almost nothing. You will go through just enough plain yogurt to engulf your body and when you step up to the mirror you’ll find nothing but a ghost.

 

Step 5: Wear masks made of lemon and honey.

 

The acidity of the lemons will burn through what’s left of your skin and the honey will numb the pain. When you peel them off you’ll see all the smiles you used to give. The comfort you felt in your body and self respect, and you will miss them.

 

So when the boy you’ve been crushing on since freshman year tells you that he won’t date you because you are black do not change yourself.

 

Do not think that you are only beautiful if those words come out of the lips of a moronic high school boy, no matter how cute he is.

 

Do not think that your dark skin is just a peel-able flaw.

 

Do not blame your mother for birthing you the way she did.

 

Do not Google how to become light skinned.

 

Do not lose yourself.

 

Realize that your dreams of perfect complexions are actually nightmares and he just doesn’t understand that skin color is not the only thing that makes you who you are. You are not just a ghost filled with insecurity, you are the epitome of confident, and you are beautiful. If you don’t believe me, I will tell you that you are every time you look in the mirror. Replace your insecurity with the self respect you always had but could never find.

 

Hopefully you’ll wake up and see that the girl you’ve been searching for is a dark-skinned beauty who just has to learn to believe it.

 

You don’t need a boy to help you find her.

 

She was never lost.