Monday, December 23, 2013

Redneck Religion: Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty Dilemma


     A few weeks ago I was in need of a cheap black T-shirt to wear with my bop around black sweat pants on a non-teaching day.  Considering I was only fielding office hours and would be on campus no more than three or four hours, I, as I often do, wear lounging gear, but I had been slothful and had not done laundry the night before and decided to drop in to Walmart to cop a shirt.  Briefly glancing at the megastore’s selection, I decided to purchase a black t-shirt with the words Duck Commander in yellow letters.  I put the shirt on in my car and thought nothing of it.  Now, after a week filled with controversy regarding A&E's Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s statements on homosexuality and Religion and Race in the American South, I may have to rethink my purchase of this now peculiar piece of paraphernalia.  And since this is an op-ed piece, and due to my love for rhetorical composition and the adherence to the rules, both grammatical and social, Reverend Earle J. Fisher and I have decided to have no thesis whatsoever.  Pure, unadulterated stream of consciousness is what you should expect.  Now, with the aforementioned mentioned, I have decided to post a couple of excerpts from Phil Robertson’s interview in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine.


On Race:  "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once," the reality star said of growing up in pre-Civil-Rights-era Louisiana. "Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word!"Robertson continued, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

On Homosexuality:  Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he tells the magazine. Paraphrasing Corinthians, he says, "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."Phil continues, "It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."

     Any scholar or layman can unpack this rhetoric and see that stereotypes and the aesthetics, descriptions, and ideological beliefs associated with stereotypes is at the core of the Duck Dynasty Dilemma (or so the media would have you to believe).  Born and raised in the South, I know the warning signs of certain kinds of white folks.  ‘Redneck’ is to Blacks as ‘Nigger’ is to Whites.  Just as non-Blacks can assume someone’s moral compass and character merely on the color of one’s skin, so too can non-Whites do the same based on one’s skin color and aesthetic composition.  As a Southerner, most Black people assume that a long-haired, long-bearded, Christian, rural, White male with U.S. or Confederate flag paraphernalia or clothing, is no friend of Blacks and probably labors in some agrarian occupation and isn’t too fond of gays or miscegenation or anything anti-Southern (i.e. condemning the documented atrocities of the American South---you know, Black American slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings). In essence, are we really taken aback by Phil’s comments?  It should be no shock that, even though Robertson referred to himself as “white trash” and being “the same as Blacks”, that he is ignorant of his white (male) privilege.
      Stereotypes infect and affect us all, even white people—even if they are not bigots, sexists, racists, misogynists who revel in classism.  The Duck Dynasty audience, or the audience A&E targeted for the highly successful cable show, knows, or at least think they know, Robertson’s ideological beliefs and, for the most part, follows the show because they identify with him and his familial brood. 

      What we find extremely peculiar is the failure (or benign neglect) of many people to connect the commentary Robertson offers synthetically.  He put together racism and homophobia while being asked about sin.  What he communicates is, he sees God as a white heterosexual male.  In the framework of his sector of the Christian faith tradition this is by no means uncommon.  It is the same sentiment shared by Megyn Kelly as she remixes notions of Jesus’ personhood in connection with Santa Claus.  It is white racial and religious privilege turned (also referred to as #turnt) all the way up!  It is consistent with white, systematic or dare we say redneck religion and theology. 
      Tim Wise tells the story of his daughters discussing the movie “Bruce Almighty” were one of his daughters informs the others of the movies ultimate fiction because Morgan Freeman, a black man, plays God and from the daughter’s perspective, “He can’t be God because God is white.”  This telling statement is the foundation or building block of the type of theology that has been inserted in the inspirational veins of most conservative, evangelical Christians.  Robertson, like many others, draws these mythical parallels between social reality and spiritual reality.  Therefore, in Richardson’s mind, it is not only feasible but foundational to connect an indictment of homosexuality with a blinded eye towards the harsh realities of the Jim Crow south. 
     One blogger recently wrote a blog entitled, #DuckDynasty, Grace, and White Supremacist Gods #fleshYGod where it was stated,  I can understand why persons come to reject Christianity in this age, (let’s put aside sexual ethics for a second), when all of these outspoken representatives of KKKristianity continue to perpetuate the white supremacist mythology. KKKristianity in the eyes of outsiders seems less like a group of followers of Jesus who love our neighbors as ourselves as they are more in love with the idea of swimming in cultural ignorance.... White Supremacist Gods have cheap grace and oppression as their telos” (insert #BOOM #DropTheMicAndWalkOffTheSacredStage)
      It is understandable, albeit rather dangerous, to associate and develop a concept of God based on one’s experience with society, politics and sacred traditions.  But it is bigoted and biased to presume that one’s own religious convictions are universal convictions that are shared and supported by anyone who really matters.  Race matters.  Religion matters.  Time and space matter.  That is exactly why diversity matters.  None of us have God figured out, nor do we have an exhaustive or complete understanding of God. 

      Therefore, in many ways, Robertson’s comments are, indeed, a matter of the first amendment, but not so much as it relates to freedom of speech as it relates to freedom of religion.  Should he be allowed to spew his racists and homophobic theology out in public? Verbally, yes!  Should he be subject to the backlash and consequences of promoting a shallow and insensitive view of what many have come to encounter as a loving and liberating God?  You bet your bottom Bible! And since Walmart is seeing Duck Dynasty gear fly off the shelves at an alarming rate, and  Cracker Barrel  has rescinded their decision to remove Duck Dynasty paraphernalia from their restaurants, maybe I can get one of those corporate, white-owned chains to buy my T-shirt.  It's been worn a few times, but hey, nothing's wrong with a little wear and tear.  It gives the shirt character and history---like the good ole' South.  History and the ideologies associated with it has never physically hurt anyone, has it?  They're just words on a shirt, right?

                                                                          Earle J. Fisher and Gee Joyner
                                                                          (The Pastor & The Professor)






Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pushin' Past Petty: Why Niggas Shouldn't Be Consumed with the N-Word



     Words can hurt and destroy.  Yes, the aforementioned is true, and numerous people use this phrase as a catch-all as to why the term ‘nigger’ should be decimated and deleted from the American English Lexicon.  But just as words can hurt and destroy, they can also be deconstructed and reconstructed and utilized in a fluid manner where a particular word can lose and regain its connotation all within a single breath---that is the beauty of ‘language.’  Language is never static.  For the most part, it is and has always been fluid, and at some points, certain vocabulary in the lexicon becomes extinct with time and the social progression of humanity.  For instance, a trollop was once the pejorative term for a sexually promiscuous woman, yet whore has eclipsed trollop and you would be hard pressed to find a person in the 21st Century who regularly uses ‘trollop’ rather than ‘whore’ when referring to a woman with low sexual morals let alone even know what a ‘trollop’ is unless they are a fan of period piece Literature and movies from the 19th Century.  So, why is it that Black Americans seem to be distinctly divided in the usage of the term ‘nigga’ or even ‘nigger’ for that matter?  Should we not understand context when analyzing and critiquing vocabulary and diction?  That’s the conundrum, people. And considering I happen to be an English professor, writer, and resident American nigga, I think we should. 

  In no way do I want to exhaust you with detailing the expansive history of the word ‘nigger’, but I will try to create a brief summation of the initial usage of the word and the verbiage in context.  As far as American History, or current History goes, and by current, I mean the last two or three centuries, the term ‘nigger’ derived from the Spanish/Portuguese use of the word in describing people of a darker hue as being ‘Negro’ or ‘Neger’ or the French usage of ‘Noir’ (i.e. French Negre).  Mind you, I only use the Spanish/Portuguese as my starting point because, just like the tribes that sold or traded African hostages/prisoners of war to the English and the Spanish and the Portuguese into bondage, are responsible for the construction of the most grotesque and ethnospecific Holocaust in the history of the World--the North Atlantic Slave Trade.  And because of this Holocaust, the castigation of an entire race or group of people that maintained similar aesthetics has been dehumanized, and even celebrated, in many ways because of a term that subjugated, alienated, and otherized the aforementioned merely because of physical attributes, specifically the color of one’s skin. 

        I am well aware of the Negro/Afro-American/Black/African American’s relationship, both contentious and endearing, with the word ‘nigger’ and the variations thereof (i.e. ‘nigga’ ‘niggah’).  But, I don’t understand the preoccupation with how others use it. Being that it, the word, no matter the negative, and, even alleged positive connotations of the word, using both its initial defining and the progression and fluidity of the term depending upon context and who is using it in a specific context and that user’s American experience and identification with the words and the humans that reside under that labeling, is just a construct of language and lexicon to create, maintain, and perpetuate a societal hierarchy. I don’t understand Black Americans being more concerned with the use of the word ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga’ than they are about the treatment of those that are perceived, only through the visual aesthetic lens, as being an N-Word.


     Yes, I know that being a ‘nigger’ in American is connoted with being connected with the original African prisoners to America who were considered chattel and subhuman and, eventually, three-fifths human in a fledgling nation’s legal, if not, ‘biblical’, text, and permanent second-class citizen in the Jim Crow era, and the financial foothold in the 21st Century American Prison Industrial Complex System.  Plus, I comprehend the linguistic genius in deconstructing and redefining and respelling and even repronouncing the word to make it mean a term of endearment synonymous with friendship, familial connection, and comradery.  So, shouldn’t the masses?  Have we not all been taught reading comprehension and the most important nuance of reading comprehension which is ‘context’?  And to understand context, one must understand and tolerate the progression of time and subsequent generation’s reaction to history and its contents.

     But, since when did Black Americans become so mentally and socially and emotionally weak of a group of people that allowed words to rule us?  We changed ‘cool’ from a measurement of temperature to an assessment of one’s demeanor and personality.  ‘Hot’ as well.  We must realize that words can be pejorative in one instance and endearing in another.  In Rehabilitation circles, I’m almost positive only they can exclusively call one another ‘junkies’ because they have a common bond and experience that only those who have experienced being a ‘junkie’ can even remotely make light of or use the term all willy-nilly.  ‘Nigger’ or ‘Nigga’ is a similar term.  Same circumstances and exclusivity applies.  Unless of course, you’re Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, but I’ll address that in another article.

       The brilliant comedian-turned- activist Dick Gregory once said, “The N-Word instead of ‘nigger’ robs younger generations of Americans of the full history of black people in America,” and I agree with him.  I like context because context allows for history and the language of history to be fluid, which in turn makes us reanalyze and revisit history by the minute, if not second.  I feel it is folly of people to take a social stance in that they do not utter ‘nigger’ or ‘nigga’ or consider it a vulgarity or a societal offense.  And I feel this way because, in my opinion, it may be a societal offense in not using the word.  I mean, all a man has is his integrity and authenticity and without those one is not honest or ‘real’.  And to be dishonest is to compromise and revise history, and I believe that to be uncivilized and uncouth, even criminal. You know, just like they say ‘niggers’ are.

                                                                                                         -Gee Joyner








Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Untouchables: Black America's Obsession and Idolization of the Black Exception


     First and foremost, I am a Hip Hop/Rap fan--have been since I memorized L.L. Cool J's "I'm Bad" from the "Bigger and Deffer" album.  Or maybe even before then when my cousin and I exhausted our Krush Groove VHS tape--literally memorizing every single line from every single character and every single song performed in the movie or used in the movie's soundtrack.  So, there is no way, particularly as an English Literature major, writer, and self-proclaimed rhetorician, can I deny the verbal flow and narrative skills of Jay Z/Jay Hova, the God M.C.  But, I often wonder why he, like so many other Black American exceptions, steer clear of certain sociopolitical or racial conflict and discourse that often arises in 21st Century popular culture.  Case in point--the Barney's of New York racial profiling incident that occurred a little more than a week ago. 

     Before I delve into why I believe that Shawn Carter, aka Jay Z, should take a stance in this particular incident, I must first disseminate my definition of a "Black American Exception".  As far as my thirty-something eyes can see, I believe a “Black” exception to be one who has been granted the privilege, via above-average intellect, talent, and skill, be it through the luck of the draw or particular circumstance, whether it being educated in the right schools, granted a specific scholarship, growing up in a certain neighborhood, or networking with the right Black or white people has achieved above average social, financial, educational, or occupational standing in American society, and therefore, maintains a broader scope of influence than the average ‘Black ‘bear, or Negro. 

     It has been reported by numerous national media outlets that there have been complaints of racial profiling by Barneys, and Macy’s, in New York City.  Now, hip hop lyricist, legend, royalty, and mogul Jay Z apparently has a deal with Barney’s to sell his fashion line in their stores and is even donating 25% of the proceeds to a scholarship fund to help under-privileged youth go to college---you know, have a chance at the ‘American Dream.’  Yet, after the allegations of profiling were revealed to the public, Jay Z was reticent in speaking on the incident and took several days to speak on the matter, and when he did, he only said, “I move and speak based on facts and not emotion...I haven't made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonised, denounced, and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?”  Well, sir, because you are in a fiscal partnership with this particular brand and that brand, maybe not directly, but indirectly, maintains employees that seem to deem Black, African-Americans unqualified to purchase items from the store in which they labor.  And you, being the mogul and voice of a Hip Hop generation and blackened Horatio Alger figure that you, are have a dog in this fight---and a very big dog at that.

     From his rhetorical abilities, lyrical prowess, and extreme proficiency in the construction of narrative tales of the social, economic, racial, and classist ills that have inundated the United States since its inception, and his knowledge of the aforementioned, lead me to believe that he, and other Black exceptions like himself seem to be removed from their civil responsibility to uplift and properly represent the other 90% that DuBois once said the talented tenth were, in essence, responsible for.  He and his wife, R&B megastar Beyonce, have a net worth of well over $650 Million and literally have nothing to lose in being an active voice in reconstructing the hierarchical structure of 21st century American racial and socioeconomic politics. 

                                                                                                                    -Gee Joyner



Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Murky Matrix of Contemporary Ministry: Piety, Privilege, and the Preachers of L.A.



        Earlier this week a pastor was being interviewed by a student who was intrigued by the pastor’s ministerial authenticity and perspective.  Throughout the interview the student expressed a disdain and disgust towards the traditional, dominant (mainstream) ministerial expressions/productions and was somewhat taken aback by the pastor’s affirmation of her disgust and disdain.  To add to the enchanting exchange, the student expressed a desire to visit the pastor’s house of worship, at least in part, because (although she didn’t currently attend worship regularly anywhere as a byproduct of her disgust and disdain) she wanted her “at risk” son to have an encounter and relationship with God.  “Ironic” would be a blasphemous understatement.  Strangely, this is the same relationship that she presumed was accessible through traditional methods (i.e. Sunday worship in a Christian context) but yet had not been persuaded to seek this same God out for herself through the same means (at least not in the last decade or so, to her recollection). 

The tenor of her inquiry was more so one of parental control and even pious conceit on behalf of one who took the liberty and privilege to abort the traditional access route to divine encounter but still affirmed it enough to use it as a means of advancing her own desires.  This theological transaction is consistent with what my mother would call, “trying to have your [Christological] cake and eat it too!”  And I want to suggest that this awkward and ironic moment is descriptive of the murky matrix of contemporary ministry.

In this age of post-modernity and religious reformation, we are now thrust into a system of both spiritual skepticism and religious refuge.  This inspirational irony is where a new “Theology of Convenience” has been injected in the veins of most people who would dare to still claim that there is a God somewhere that is in relationship with human beings.  Gone are the days of religious absolutism or doctrinal dogma as the dominant platforms of faith.  There has been far too many developments in theological study as well as political reality for the church to continue to do “business as usual.”  It’s sacred suicide to think that the people the Church is called to serve will forever be blind sheep and indefinitely ignore the critical questions people have about church ministry and church methodology.  The “emergent church”, as some have labeled it, or the new contemporary ministerial reality, is one of anything but..... (wait for it)..... CERTAINTY! 

I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with a faith that exists in the midst of oscillation.  In fact, I would suggest, certainty is the enemy of faith and a hermeneutic of suspicion is a theologian’s (or person of faith’s) best friend.  Nevertheless, some of our skepticism, in-deed, is a byproduct of the bed we have been making ourselves to sleep in for the past few decades. 

We have longed for a religious reality TV faith that superstar like spiritual leaders have provided through books, radio and television programs.  We like microwave solutions to humanity’s crockpot problems.  These technological expressions of eternal enlightenment intrigue us to the point of consumption; even as we recognize what we are watching is a train wreck that has the black church and its constituents residing in the conductor’s caboose of the train as it is headed towards the collision. (PREACHERS OF L.A. ANYBODY?). 

I have heretofore refrained from commentating on this show because a) there are enough perspectives being offered in response to it and b) most of the responses are opportunistic and/or hypo-anti-critical so I said I would wait until the entire “buzz” died down (which sadly still has not).  Nevertheless, my fortuitous take on the show is the same as my take on the current condition of people who seek to honor and claim relationship with a loving and liberating God but yet feel that this relationship comes through a cross-less Christ and a death-less resurrection.  We have become both vicarious and voyeuristic!  Most of us have seen the presumed “progress and advancement” of the people that have acquired material prosperity through their “faith.”  It looks appealing. We want to be like and live vicariously through “them.” Even if this means to worship in a way that is inconsistent with our socio-political and religious reality (pun intended) we are willing to ignore our experience for social and spiritual affirmation.  On the other hand we are voyeuristically “getting off” on the craziness and calamity of it all.  We want to use other people’s seemingly unethical methods of personal “improvement” as justification for our disdain and distrust of the ministerial system that we support directly or indirectly. 

Therefore, 21st Century ministry is currently compiled of ecclesiastical entertainment, divine drama and dogma, traditional strongholds, the reality of human hope and despair, as well as a thirst for theological truth grounded in social justice...but very little personal responsibility!!!  In response, we are currently entertaining ourselves into irrelevance and death all the while creating and supporting conditions that make this entertainment detrimental and desirous at the same damn time! 

Part of what goes unchecked is that perspective and platform that the student interviewer lifted up while standing on in the interview.  The student presumed that she could critique the church for its lack of relevance and authoritative power to speak to her experience but also use it to forward her parental desire of childrearing, all the while not feeling compelled to change the culture and system of ministerial methodology.  This is classic apathy!  It takes a peculiar type of ministerial leader to provide a platform of oppression in the name of a liberating Lord and Savior. Yet, it also takes a particularly passive type of “person of faith” to support the religious and oppressive buffoonery in the name of “godliness.” 

We have legitimately critiqued our religious institutions.  But yet, at our core it seems we have not abandoned the faith.  As a public theologian I think that this is not only a good thing, but I also think it’s nearly impossible to abandon faith once one has had a divine encounter.   We have just created a condition that requires more ministerial and clergymatic creativity for a liberating and divine encounter to be more probable.  I have often said that creativity is the church’s defibrillator that is needed to bring ministry out of the coma of complacency, conformity and cowardice that has sacrificed our people on the offer of irrelevance for far too long. My prayer is that we can foster a climate that grounds our ministerial and theological expressions in ways that are consistent with our experience and communal needs for love and justice.  I believe a partnership between critical and analytical thinkers, artists, academics, activists and “everyday people” can redefine what it means to be “Church” today.  In doing so, we can corner the ministerial market and stop producing and promoting the things that are often times the most regressive and damning in our communities. 

But in the meantime, as we are watching what we watch, wearing what we wear and worshiping who and how we worship..... Be careful what you pray for...and who you prey on.  
                                                                                     Rev. Earle J. Fisher

Thursday, October 24, 2013

12 Years a Slave: Monkey Rope


After beating a white slave driver with his own whip in 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Upnorth, a kidnapped freeman from Saratoga, New York, is hung from a tree—not successfully though. As the slave driver and two other men attempt to get Solomon entirely off of his feet, the overseer comes and warns these men have no property right to kill this man. If the slave driver insisted on lynching Solomon, the overseer insisted on shooting the slave driver, and his friends. The slave driver and his friends retreat, leaving Solomon hanging. With his feet close enough to the ground, Solomon teeters between life and death on his tip toes. It wasn’t until later that evening, when the plantation owner had returned, that Solomon had been cut down from that tree.
            Darker than the possibility that other slaves would watch a man hang from a tree was the reality that these slaves had gone about their day as if there had not been a man hanging from a tree. The movie theater grumbled as the scene progressed with everyone asking the same question, “Oh my god, why isn’t anyone helping him?” As the grumbles stopped, people began to realize that nooses were monkey-ropes. Not only were they fastened around the necks of the men and women who hung from trees, they were anchored to the spirits of the people who had to endure what they saw. When necks broke, spirits did too. This is what asphyxiation looks like.
            We all see the asphyxia. Every time a fight breaks out we’re all gasping for “WorldStar!” That monkey-rope which connected people through suffering and beauty is severed. Now we see what monkeys do—and it’s funny, isn’t it?

                                                                                        -Yahdon Israel

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Mammy and the Mulatto: The Oddity of Oprah and Obama


     Aside from the dust up between the Dixie Chicks and George W. Bush and the former's disapproval of the U.S. war in Iraq, we have never seen a celebrity beef with the President of the United States that has been so personal as the rumored rift between media mogul, philanthropist, and part-time actress Oprah Winfrey and current Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama.  Because nearly every American resident, including beasts, has some form of access to information and the media (television, internet, newspapers, and word of mouth), I refuse to presume your ignorance by intricately detailing the alleged rift between the two public figures, but I will write an extremely brief synopsis. 

     It is reported that Winfrey declined an invitation to the White House that was to be a gathering of celebrities to promote and support the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it has been labeled by the media pundits (mainly Fox News).  Considering her global influence and likeability played a major role in helping Obama win the 2008 election, I can see how people may believe there to be dissension amongst the ranks of America's Black exceptions.

    What is odd about this alleged rift between the two internationally recognized figures of color is that both of them maintain positions of ethnic/racial exceptionalism in the United States, and for the most part, both of them have a soothing appeal towards white audiences while maintaining a revered, and often times tepid, relationship with the Black American populace.  One would assume that the two of them would be lifelong friends and allies. The irony is that both Obama and Oprah have been whitewashed to an extent by the media so that they are more palpable to a non-Black audience and are upheld as the embodiment of the American Dream; You too can be loved and admired by white America if you do like them--don't be too Black and don't be too Black.
     Both of them are bipartisan in their approach to bridging the racial gap in American society, yet it seems that maybe Ms. Winfrey felt her contributions to his campaign, via her constant television and media presence, were to be the precursor of her being privy to White House access, and the receipient of nepotism at its best. Maybe Oprah, for all her success, wealth, and notoriety, forgot that a celebrity endorsement is much different than corporate lobbying for a political campaign.  Donations and support are given in exchange for pushing a lobbyist's agenda.

      What was Winfrey's agenda?  Just to be seen in the White House and on the arm of Barack and Michelle Obama?  Was she trying to grow or seemingly exhausted and ungrowable leviathon of celebrity?  Until now, and I was a child when Oprah hit the national scene in the mid 1980s, I, and probably every other American, has never known Ms. Winfrey's sociopolitical views barring her position on child abuse.  She was building a brand and that brand may have been damaged when after becoming a billionaire and thriving for more than two decades in the entertainment business, she decided to throw herself into America's political arena. Some say backing Obama had affected the success, or lack thereof, of her OWN television network.   Maybe she thought her position in America's hierarchical structure was higher than it really is. She is a celebrity and philanthropist.  Plain and simple.  She is not a politician or one of the invisible hands that clandestinely governs the nation's government, people, and economy.  She is a Black, female billionaire who lent her voice in support of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.  He won in 2008, was reelected in 2012, and no longer needs her stamp of approval.  And just maybe, America's favorite talk-show host is upset and thus, declined his latest invite. 

     The conundrum of being a Black "exception" is that one often believes their exceptionalism should be celebrated, if not deified, by all--even other Black exceptions.  American media posited Oprah as a rotund, congenial comforter of sorts for her viewing audience ala Mammy while the same media, and political, machine posited Obama as the congenial mullato that can literally appeal to the dichotomy of America's racial makeup--Black and white.  Each of them has achieved enormous success in their respective fields and serve as measuring sticks for their contemporaries and standards of success for their less fortunate, less wealthy, and less famous Negroidian brethren, but do not seem to realize that they have no need to be beefing if that's what it really is.  I mean, who really turns down an invite from the POTUS?  Oprah.  That's who? Oh, and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle and Hall of Famer Dan Hampton.

                                                                                                                   -Gee Joyner

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Twerk, Miley: Ownership of the Female Body


First, I am exhausted with the term ‘twerking’(which is also spelled with an ‘i’ or ‘u’ before the ‘rk’ in the English colloquial lexicon). I believe society is exhausted with twerking. But most of all, I feel “some type of way” about Three Six Mafia member Juicy J offering a $50,000 scholarship to the “best twerker” via his Twitter account. In the words of the hit Rap/Hip Hop song, “Some Type of Way” by Rich Homie Quan, Juicy’s benevolence “makes me feel some type of way.” The mere fact that Jordan Houston aka ‘Juicy J’, a native and fellow Memphian like myself, and a Grammy award winner, has taken to cyberspace to reward an educational scholarship, though he did not specify what he meant by ‘scholarship’, to the best twerker, and I am assuming he means ‘female’ twerker, has me conflicted. Like any other blue-blooded heterosexual man on planet Earth, I have no problem with being a voyeur or audience member to a female body gyrating and moving her hips and mid-section at a rapid, sometimes slow, and sensual pace, but I do find it off-putting to offer a woman money, particularly for a presumed educational opportunity, solely because of her ability to “twerk”and, subsequentially, sexually arouse a male with money—Juicy J in this case.
          To surmise the history of twerking, one will find its origins in the New Orleans bounce music scene of the early 1990s, specifically DJ Jubilee’s “Do the Jubilee All” in which he chanted, “Twerk, baby, twerk, twerk, twerk.”  The dance, which involves the fast or slow gyrating of the buttocks and hips, spread from the clubs to the strip clubs and became immensely popular in the notorious strip clubs of Atlanta and Houston. Hip Hop took twerking mainstream with the Ying Yang Twins’ 2000 hit single “Whistle While You Twurk”.  Since then, numerous popular Rap artists have mentioned the term “twerking” in their lyrics.  The term seems to be synonymous with the exhibitionist and voyeuristic, if not sexually lustful denigration of the female body.  And because of the aforementioned, rapper Juicy J has chosen to further perpetuate the notion that the worth of women is restricted to their ability to sexually satisfy men—be it through physical sex or the simulated act thereof.     

          My internal conflict and psychological conundrum lies in my gift and my curse in viewing almost every single nuance of not only my life, but society as a whole, from a ‘scholarly’ lens, which I believe, be it naivety or ignorance, most people do as well.  The question is whether it is a woman’s civil and human right to do whatever it is she wants to do with her body as long as it is not physically harming another.  The debate of female sexuality as a tool of empowerment has been at the forefront of our social morays since slavery, and it has been adopted as one of the main talking and selling points of the woman’s suffrage, feminist, and womanist movements and the intersectionality of the aforementioned.  Sure, no individual, particularly and specifically those of the male gender, should be the comptroller of the female body, but when, if ever, does the autonomy of the female body and the movements thereof become explicit? In addition, should women participate in the exploitation of their bodies when it is often grossly displayed on the grand stage of American media as a tool of amusement and an embodiment of female subordination, subjugation, and degradation? 

           Upon first seeing Miley’s adventures in twerking, via YouTube, I thought she was just another white artist stealing from the Black American canon of entertainment, and after her performance at the MTV  Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, New York, I was sure she was mimicking the likes of Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and Justin Timberlake, but I have reanalyzed and redirected my position on Ms. Cyrus—she’s just “doin’ her” which is what any artist or person has the God-given right to do.  Sure, she is not the best twerker in the game, and it may merely be a gimmick to destroy the shadow of Hannah Montana and offer herself up to the world as a grown-up (musical) artist.  Nevertheless, I believe Miley may be embracing the autonomy that women at the forefront of female equality have created for her.  Who knows?  Maybe somewhere in America Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker are twerking their tails off.

                                                                                                           -Gee Joyner 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Georgey Had a Gun: One Woman's Thoughts on Race and Racialized Thinking

There has been no shortage of material written about the George Zimmerman trial since the jury handed down their decision Saturday evening. Social media sites, Twitter, the blogosphere, and the internet in general was lit ablaze the second the public heard that a verdict had been reached, and the number of articles posted since then has amounted to nothing less than a deluge.

A friend told me Tuesday evening that she had been checking my Facebook page since Saturday to see what I had to say about the verdict. She indicated that she looks to me (among others) for insights on certain matters, and that she had noticed how “quiet” I’d been. I was honest with her, stating that I had stayed off of Facebook entirely, neither reading statuses nor posting anything myself. This was because I was too hurt, too discouraged, and too angered by what had happened on Saturday, and by what has and hasn’t happened since then, although I wasn’t surprised by the verdict. Instead of responding in the heat of the moment, I decided it would be best to reflect and pray until I came to a place where I could speak clearly, firmly, and lovingly.

So here is my contribution to the mix. What follows are things that I’ve been thinking about for many years. Keep in mind that my thoughts are not just about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. My remarks are, however, confined to the US (although much of what I have to say speaks to the human condition) because this is where I live, this is the place that I know the most about, and this is what I have spent my adult life studying, teaching about, and writing on. I have also limited my comments to the issue of race, although there are many other kinds of “isms” I could discuss. It is my hope that people read this thoughtfully. I pray that everyone can take something useful away from this. I hope that people can lay aside their defensive postures and be honest with themselves, and with God, in the quiet meditations of their heart, if nowhere else.

1. While it’s true that race (and ideas about race) is/are “socially constructed,” it’s equally true that race (and racialized ideas) has/have real consequences in terms of peoples’ life chances and treatment. Being racially sensitive, then, does not mean being “color blind.” It means understanding our nation’s history, and acknowledging that that history has endowed many of the persons who live here with certain privileges and protections by virtue of their birth. It has also imbued everyone who is born here, or who moves here, with ideas about other people based on race and/or ethnicity, really based on birth and appearance when you get right down to it (i.e. Indians are good at math and science, Chinese people are bad drivers, black women are promiscuous and on welfare, Muslims/Arabs are terrorists, etc.). These ideas have become so deeply engrained within the fabric of our political, economic and social systems, and our national and individual psyches, that many people no longer question them, try to understand how and why these ideas arose, and (frighteningly) are often not even aware that they hold racialized ideas. That’s what makes “culturally institutionalized racism” so dangerous: it has become invisible to many of those persons who benefit from and help to perpetuate it.

2. Racialized behavior today does not LOOK the way it did in 1863, or 1963. It is no longer about federally legalized slavery, internment camps, and attack dogs. It isn’t about openly segregated schools, laws against intermarriage, or the accepted usage of words like “Chink,” “Spic,” or “Nigger.” That doesn’t mean that negative, fearful, or condescending ideas about “the other” have ceased to exist. All of us engage in “othering” people every single day. Whether we cross the street when we see a homeless person, or choose not to live in a certain neighborhood because of “bad elements,” most of us think and behave more like the Levite from Luke 10 and less like the Samaritan on any given day. The fact is that racialized thoughts (stereotypes, if you will) still exist; they are just expressed in more subtle, and thus more insidious, ways than in years past. It’s no longer cool (in most circles) to be a bigot, so few people today admit to being racists, or acknowledge that they hold certain, unflattering beliefs about entire groups of people. This is also partly because people in 2013 compare their behaviors to those of virulent racists and segregationists from the past who openly enslaved, terrorized, and lynched Latinos/as, Blacks, and Asians. That’s why everyone I know says, “I’m not a racist.” They would never use racist slurs or promote legalized slavery, but their ideas on certain issues reveal that they have been impacted by institutionalized racism and have internalized nationally held, racialized ideas. It’s just that these ideas are now articulated with a different language. Instead of using words like “Jap,” “Wop” or “Wetback,” people currently discuss “criminals,” “welfare recipients,” “drug dealers,” “immigrants,” and “the lazy poor.” While the language has changed, the fact is that ideas about the inherently negative predilections and/or behavior of “those people” remain.

3. Having one Muslim friend, one black friend, or one Asian friend doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t hold prejudicial beliefs about a larger group, or prevent you from being a conveyer of racialized ideas. It’s very easy to make “exceptions” to the rule and include one person in your social circle. What you’re really saying (perhaps unconsciously) is that that one person is not like the rest of “THOSE people.” They’re like YOU, whether that means middle-class, white, Christian, straight, educated, American, or something else. They make you feel comfortable. They don’t challenge you, or make you feel guilty. They talk like you. They dress like you. They’re “DIFFERENT” from the rest of “THOSE people.” You can thus accept them, and even love them, while continuing to adhere to racist ideas about the larger group to which that person belongs. You can also accept one racial group while harboring negative ideas about another.

4. Only George Zimmerman knows how he truly feels about black people. We can surmise (based on his personal history of 911 calls and other facts in evidence) that he, if nothing else, mistrusts black men. This is why he followed Trayvon Martin. He thought that he was a shady individual, not because he knew anything about Martin as an individual, but because Martin was a young black man in a hoodie. Zimmerman thus engaged in what we would call racial profiling (being suspicious or fearful of someone and concluding that they are “out of place” and possibly dangerous simply on the basis of their looks). At the very least, Zimmerman thus appears to have been affected by our nation’s historical creation and transmission of racialized ideas about the fearsome, criminally inclined, black male body.

5. Only George Zimmerman knows what really happened that night last February. We will never hear both sides of the story because Trayvon Martin is dead. What we do know is that Person A followed Person B in a car down dark and rainy streets; that Person A got out and pursued Person B on foot through yards, alleys and bushes; that Person A and Person B had a verbal confrontation; that Person A and Person B eventually fought; and that Person A, who instigated the entire incident by following someone AGAINST POLICE ADVICE, shot Person B, who did not have a firearm. Person A didn’t shoot Person B in the kneecap, fire a warning shot in the air, or club Person B over the head with the gun. Person A killed Person B.

6. If I were Person B, I would fear Person A, REGARDLESS of their race, age, or gender. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t. Be honest. If you were followed by a stranger at night and then confronted by them, you would run, and you would shout, and then you would fight back to protect yourself by kicking, punching, clawing, and scratching. I know that I would defend myself as best I could, in any way that I could. Fearing for my life, I would STAND MY GROUND, just as I would if someone broke into my house. Under these circumstances, whether Person B threw the first punch is irrelevant. Person B would have never had to throw a punch if Person A hadn’t stalked them in the first place. Nobody should be allowed to instigate an altercation, kill someone when the fight doesn’t go their way, and then claim self-defense. We should all be horrified by this verdict. We should all be terrified by the vigilantism it may inspire (no matter who we are in terms of age, race, gender, religion, educational achievement, wealth, or geographic location). This verdict says that who we are as individuals is irrelevant. Instead, who we (as Person B) APPEAR to be in the mind of Person A is all that matters.

7. My words are not written in order to make persons who belong to groups of inherent birth-privilege “feel bad.” Let me be blunt: white guilt is pointless. White allies, however, are priceless. I write in hopes that persons with racial privilege who read this will acknowledge that while neither they (nor I) created the system, we are all impacted by it. I hope they will admit that white people today still benefit from this system in numerous ways, often without realizing it, even if they don’t ask for or want it. Only when each of us (particularly those persons who have inherent privilege) acknowledges that the differentials and dynamics of racialized thinking still exist will we be able to work together to start the healing process and create new ways of thinking, seeing, and behaving. Sticking our heads in the sand has only perpetuated the problem and caused it to change shapes, to morph if you will, and go underground. Racialized thinking, like any other sin, thrives in fear, darkness, and silence. As my historical heroine, Ida B. Wells, stated so long ago, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Let me conclude by speaking from my heart. I long to hear more on this issue from those persons of privilege who profess Christ, yet who have been heartbreakingly silent since Saturday (and even before). I long for the day where women won’t instinctively clutch their purses when my black male friends walk by. I long for the day when my friends and I won’t be disrespected in restaurants or followed in high-end stores by nervous sales clerks. I long for the day when nobody considers not having children because they can’t bear to see their sons and daughters subjected to racialized stereotypes. I long for the day when no parent has to have THAT conversation with their child, the conversation that explains racism to them and teaches them how to respond to racialized thoughts, words, images, and actions. I long for the day when NO CHILD has to endure what my man’s 5-year old daughter experienced last week when another 5-year old girl in her gymnastics class said to her, “I can’t touch you. I’m allergic to black people.”

Perhaps I am naive to think that such a day is possible…this side of heaven. Still, I am unwilling to abandon this world to such evil, or abdicate the responsibility I have to shine a light into dark spaces through my words and my actions. I know that I am not alone in this, and I look forward to partnering with and working alongside any person, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, language, etc. who are interested in furthering the cause of humanity and justice for all persons.

                                                                                      - Dr. Amrita Chakrabarti-Myers

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Finger Lickin' Good: Sergio Garcia vs. Tiger Woods and America's Acceptance of Ethno-Specific Stereotypes

I grew up in the South.  Germantown, Tennessee to be exact.  And never in my life have I met anyone, who is a meat-eater, decline fried chicken.  From the days of frying it in a slave-cabin-like skillet in thick, white Crisco to using vegetable oil, the devouring and digestion of fried chicken has been a staple of American society since I can remember, particularly in the South—by Black and white Americans. About twenty years ago, my father was diagnosed with High Blood Pressure and we no longer had fried foods for dinner.  I adopted that diet and probably only eat fried foods four or five times a month.  The rest of my dietary palate is saturated with grilled foods.  I mean, seriously, I literally grill four or five times a week. But, I say this because I do not understand how eating fried chicken can be connoted with Blackness or be deemed a stereotype that maintains any validity.  As a lecturer, writer, and college professor, I have the opportunity to travel several times a year, all over the U.S.A., and whether I’m in the Northeastern, Southern, West, or Midwest regions, I always see several chicken shacks, restaurants, or diners that all serve (and often times openly promote on their windows or signs) fried chicken. 
So, when I woke up this morning and viewed ESPN’s Sportscenter and read the remarks of PGA golfer Sergio Garcia, who has had a long-standing feud with golf God, and arguably the greatest golfer of all time, Tiger Woods, quip, after being asked would he have Tiger over for dinner during a tournament next week, while at the European Tour’s gala players’ awards in London, England, “We will have him round every night.  We will serve fried chicken”, I not only found it offensive, but I found it extremely lame, unfounded, and assimilatory at best. Clearly, Sergio riffed his pathetic-at-best attempt at humor, and internalized hatred for Blacks, or at least the ones who dare play and excel at the gentleman’s game of golf, from golf legend Fuzzy Zeller’s book of racist remarks who, during the 1997 Masters, stated in reference to Woods’ winning of the tournament, “So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year.  Got it?...or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
            Stereotypes, particularly those of an ethno-specific origin, have existed for ages, and I often times laugh at them even when aimed at Black people, but this particular jibe from Sergio Garcia made me think a bit more.  Who is Sergio trying to impress?  Why would he mention fried chicken when attempting to belittle Tiger Woods?  Tiger is Black and Asian, and even a little ‘white’, correct?  Didn’t he once refer to himself as a Caublasian? (Funny how he seemed to create his own ethnic hierarchy within the name—Caucasian, Black, and ‘then’ Asian, but I digress)  What Sergio and all the non-Black people of the world need to know about the American Negro is that the frying of the chicken derived out of necessity.  For the most part, during American slavery, the only livestock the African American was ‘allowed’ to raise was the chicken.  True, there may be a pig or a hog here or there, but the chicken, as we all know, breeds in abundance and can be devoured from the rooter to the tooter.  As far as the frying of the poultry, I can only assume that it was a quick and easy way to prepare the main course of a more than likely paltry meal, and the grease, along with the flouring of the bird, made the chicken stick to one’s bones and increased the caloric intake due to the meat being fried in lard or grease,  and that was needed considering the laborious activities that the slave had to endure during those twelve to fourteen hour work days.  Oh, and it tasted great!
            But, I feel that Garcia is trying to ingratiate himself to a particular audience which is ironic seeming that he’s already been accepted by mainstream white PGA followers and advertisers.  It is reported that he has made over 43 million dollars during his time on the PGA tour, received over 16 million dollars in endorsements last year alone, mainly TaylorMade Adidas, and has been on the tour since 1999, so I am not sure if this particular distasteful ‘joke’ of his was an attempt to assimilate to the culture of American golf.  It is apparent by his name and accent that he is of the Spanish persuasion, though Spain is a European country, and his physical aesthetics would place him in the vague category of ‘white’, but his use of the fried chicken remark leads me to believe that his cultural and ethnic insecurities prompted him to further prove himself to the powers that be or that he ‘belongs’ with the powers that be—and in the world of golf, those powers are Anglican whites. 
            The tone of the media seems to be dismissing this blatant racist joke from a professional and international athlete as if we should just let it blow over or “move on from this” as was suggested by the PGA.  Why should we, as Black and non-Black people, just “move on”?  In the past month alone, Black scholars, particularly Dr. Boyce Watkins, launched campaigns against and boycotts of  Lil’ Wayne because of his insensitive, sexist, and derogatory lyrics referencing the lynching of Emmitt Till and Tyler the Creator’s alleged stereotypical portrayal of Black Americans in a commercial for Mountain Dew to which both individuals subsequently lost their endorsements from PepsiCo/Mountain Dew.  Should we give Sergio Garcia a pass?  Why, because he aesthetically resembles the ethnic group that resides atop America’s socioeconomic hierarchical structure?  Nope.  Adidas, we have a problem.  Follow suit and distance yourself from anyone who would utter such foolishness in a public forum.  Swing that golf club, win, smile on a commercial, and say the politically correct things or shut up. 
            Lastly, research your ethnic jokes before you make one.  Fried chicken actually originated in Scotland and England.  Fritters have been around for hundreds of years and the Scotts fried chicken and actually brought that practice to the U.S. South in the 18th century.  For that matter, fried chicken was a major staple in West African cuisine, and we all know that more than 80% of the African slaves were bought or kidnapped from the west coast of the African continent so I imagine he is somewhat correct in his comprehension of History and the nuances and the practices derived thereof.  Yet, like I stated above, Sergio’s joke is unwarranted.  If there is some negative connotation to one’s diet consisting of or including fried chicken, the Scottish should be more offended than the Negro, Mr. Garcia.  I suggest he stick to playing golf because History is not something he seems to be familiar with. 
                                                                                                 Gee Joyner