Monday, November 21, 2011

Discussing Justin Bieber (But Really Talking About How We Treat Young Mothers)

cross posted from my rh reality check blog

I wrote an article last week about Justin Bieber for a youth focused website, something I didn’t think I’d ever do. However, the piece was more about how we support and discuss young mothers in the US and how that is connected to what is going on regarding Justin Bieber and Mariah Yeater, whose attorney had asked Bieber to take a paternity test.

Many media outlets reported that the paternity test was withdrawn and one of the respondents on my last article asked if I would write a follow-up regarding the paternity test results. Here’s my response to this entire situation with Justin Bieber: I hope he takes notes from Raymond "Boots" Riley of The Coupon how to respond to a young woman who claims you were a part of creating a child with her, regardless of the situation.

The Coup are a hip-hop group from Oakland, California and Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress, one of the few women DJs, are the main members. In their album Party Music (2001), the song Nowalaters was included. This song is Boots Riley’s open letter to a young woman who had stated he was the person who impregnated her when he was a teenager. I’ve included the song and lyrics below. I’ve bolded parts of the song lyrics that I think are extremely useful and telling when it comes to discussing teen motherhood and pregnancy and how we treat young mothers in the US.

I hope this quick post will be useful for those of you seeking to use this story in the media in your classrooms or groups with youth to discuss abstinence, pregnancy, consent, and assault. Please note there is some profanity in these lyrics, so listening at work may not be appropriate for all readers.


Well if you thrust, eventually you gonna gush

And I'm implyin' I ain't had no business cryin'

Cause we used the rubber twice

And we knew that shit was dyin' to bust

Well we was only seventeen

But you was older in between

And in my fresh Adidas fits

I used to come more clean than Jeru jerkin' off in a can of chlorine

Sophisticated with the game I was spittin' in

A nymphomaniac was with it, that's just a clip, more experience

V on my chest when I was put to the test

You said "Goddamn nigga, that ain't how ya get it in"

Dashboards for the leverage, tall cans for beverage

The weed can make you courageous, make a Honda Civic seem so

spacious Make

five minutes seem like ages, anyway


You smelled like Care-Free Curl and nowalaters baby

Said you liked high-top fades

And Jesse Johnson’s "Crazy"

Seventeen, all on you like chicken and some gravy

Learned a lot, thank you much today I’m still campaignin'

[Repeat 1]


The lake don't smell so bad now, do it

Don't trip off ya hair baby just re-glue it

The windows is fogged up, can't nobody view it

Put down the O-E and turn up the Howard Hewett

And some more, we had things to discuss

Like how we do it, we got amniotic fluid

And a baby floatin' though it

Hey, imagine if it look like us, it was me up in the vaginary

And I'ma love my kids whether real or imaginary

Quit school, work well depends at the mall next to Fashion Berry

Operation cash and carry

Manual labor from six to noon

Makin' six doubloons, got a baby that's fixin' to bloom

And he need 'fits to groom plus grips the spoon

So let me twist the ploom

And inhale and emit the fumes



I was composed, I didn't even crack a frown

I was supposed to let my pants fall down

And show my ass when I found

That the baby was four months early and around ten pounds

I heard a lot of bad things about teenage mothers

From those who don't really give a fuck about life

They say "It ain't so much that they startin' out younger"

"It's just they supposed to be more like a wife"

Meanin' you ain't shit without a man to guide you

If ya mama tried to feed you that she lied too

Make ya grab any motherfucker that ride through

If jobs are applied to knots can get tied too

Plus I know that you must have been scared

It made it easy when the feelings were shared

Flashback to 20/20

I know you waitin' for the dollars cause you knew I had funny money

Yellin' all loud like I'ma tear the whole hood up

Don't tempt me cause the real daddy stood up

He said I was a mark for believin' in you

Now it's more that I'm seein' is true

There's a few things I'd like to say in this letter

Like I wish I would've seen him grow

And ask my wife I learned to fuck much better

And thank you for lettin' me go

Yeah, thank you for lettin' me go

For real, thank you for lettin' me go

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What if Justin Bieber Has A Baby?

cross posted from my Media Justice column

If you are into popular culture in any way, or watch the news, you probably know who Justin Bieber is and that a young woman alleges 17 year old singer is the the progenitor* of her child. Reports claim that Bieber will take a paternity test, that 20 year old Mariah Yeater requests financial assistance for her child, and that young girls all over the world are pissed off at the young woman and are bullying her and making rationalizations to act out violently! Yeater claims she had sex with Bieber after a show he gave in Los Angeles, CA in a bathroom and that he stated specifically he did not want to use a condom because it was his first time and he wanted to “feel everything.”

I’m not on Team Bieber nor am I on Team Mariah Yeater. I’m not on any team besides Team Media Justice (yes that’s code for Team Bi). I created my team and I encourage readers to do the same. Figure out what all of the information is, and then think about how this information impacts our communities and work. That is what this post is about. What is going on regarding this child, the conversations around children of young parents, how are they supported, targeted, ignored, threatened, and what will we do to change that (if anything!?). An element of this hysteria among young people and Bieber is not that he’s no longer “available” (as he’s been openly dating Selena Gomez for the past several months). Rather, what do we lose if he is the progenitor of this child?

One of the things I do appreciate about Justin Bieber is that he not only demonstrates with his life how media can change one’s entire reality as he was “found” on YouTube (for the most part), but also that he’s been open about practicing abstinence and speaks on it freely and openly. I think it’s important for youth, especially young girls who identify right now as heterosexual, to have a image of a young person who is standing by the choice to be abstinent at this time. I think it’s useful to have this dialogue go on in popular culture that many pre-teens do consume especially at a time when comprehensive sexuality education is not offered for all youth in the U.S.

Something we do lose, I believe, is a huge pop culture icon that speaks and practices abstinence; a useful point of interest to begin discussions on the topic. Ignoring this is a huge problem for many of us working with and mentoring youth. Are we ready to discuss abstinence and how it may and may not work? I think it is safe to say he won’t lose too many fans or be shamed as Yeater and other young parents have been by our society, if the paternity test he takes demonstrates he did play a role in creating this child.

I’ve written about abstinence and talk about it often as I work because it is an option. This is one option many of us choose to practice at different times in our lives.

There are also some very clear messages going on about condoms here. Whether we want to admit it or not, youth hear things about condoms not feeling “good” or “real, even if they have never used them before. This is one reason why i’m in favor of youth having access to condoms, opening them, putting them on things (either themselves or even playfully/educationally on other things) to practice how to properly use condoms. I think it is important for youth to also see how easy it is to put a condom on incorrectly and how important lubrication is to their proper usage. These are all parts of being prepared. This is something not only young people can learn from, but all people. Let’s keep in mind that properly putting on a condom is not only for the person with the penis! Plus, there are also condoms that go into the vagina as well. Both of these require practice and a level of comfort to use them properly.

Yeater claims she asked Bieber to put a condom on for protection and he said no. This to me sounds like a sexual assault, yet folks are targeting her as the abuser for statutory rape as Bieber was 16 at the time and she 19. Don’t get it twisted, she asked to have a consensual sexual act occur with a barrier method to avoid pregnancy and potential STI and HIV transmission (not all STIs require one to have sex, see HPV, and not all people who are living positive with HIV had sex, there are many young people who are living positive and were born positive). Bieber’s alleged “no” in response to using a condom, his fame and power all may have played a role in the fear and discomfort Yeater may have experienced in telling him she no longer wanted to continue to have sex. Being afraid to say “no” during sex is a form of coercion. Please understand and recognize this. These allegations of Yeater being tried for statutory rape could result in up to one year in jail if chargers are pressed and Yeater found guilty. (And that’s just what we need, a young mother in jail away from her child).

The bullying, harassment, and namecalling Yeater is experiencing isn’t just from young fans. The media is also playing along and calling her “crazy”and diagnosing her mental health, judging her as a liar and shaming her as a young parent. This public harassment is ridiculous, and I hope those folks who are engaging in this behavior realize that there are responsibilities that come with using technology and the internet! Ya’ll know that any tweets you send are kept by the Library of Congress right?

“Experts” are even jumping onto this story and encouraging the isolation and harassment of Yeater. Family law specialist Debra Opri tells ABC News that she would not encourage her client to have a paternity test (she’s not Bieber’s attorney just a “expert” they looked to for comment) and states: “I wouldn’t make it easy for her whatsoever,” she said. “I would make her life miserable.” Riiiight. Because that’s EXACTLY what young mothers need: their life to be even more difficult. Good job Opri and all others who think the way she does. I hope that if you ever find yourself in a space similar to Yeater you are supported more than what is offered to her at this time.

Now, when it comes to supporting young mothers, I have to ask: do we really do what we can to support them? At the end of October I saw this image come across the internet with a ton of judgement, shaming, and name calling of young mothers of Color:

I don’t know who posted the image so foto credit is not given, but it is clear that these young pregnant people are proud of their experiences with their pregnancies. The person and people who have things to say about this image are in the thousands! I mean the title of the link alone and the commentary by the person who claims to have posted it states “dis a damnnnn shame.” Why is this shameful? Oh, because young women and pregnant people are taking pride in their experiences.

Perhaps I’m being extra sensitive to young pregnant people, many of which I work with and have supported in various ways. But also because my immediate family is expecting a child as well. Yes! I’m going to be a tia/auntie so there will be a post on children’s books for babies and kids of Color with same gender parents soon! I’m also aware that teen pregnancies and everything that goes with that from parenting, adoption, and termination are topics we must discuss equally. It’s also about being pro-choice. If we claim we are pro-choice then we must support decisions of parenting and pregnancy at all stages. This means supporting young mothers who choose to carry to term and parent.

What is wrong with young moms being proud and supporting one another? What is wrong with finding communities of practice based on our lived realities? What is wrong with sharing that pride? It’s too easy to prove the racism (internalized and otherwise) associated with racially Black women sharing such pride. It’s also too easy to show how our sexist society judges them as women. Would an image of several young fathers holding their infant children and posing in the mirror to take a foto of themselves in the bathroom have resulted in the same response?

As Loretta Ross of Sister Song has said “you can’t save Black babies by attacking Black women.” We also can’t save Justin Bieber (and I’m not interested in saving him or a lot of other people to be honest), but we can be mindful of how Yeater is treated and how post-paternity test she will be treated. What support are we able to offer Yeater, a young mom, and other young moms in our communities?

*I’m choosing to use this term because I don’t want to use the phrases “baby’s father,” “sperm donor,” or other phrases. This is because “father” is an identity not many may claim. I wish to avoid using it in the same way that anti-choicers claim and describe pregnant people are “moms” even if that term is not one they embrace. It is a tactic to shame and make the pregnant person assume an identity that they do not desire or embrace.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Black Beauty in Caribbean, Central & South America

As you know I'm one of the co-founders of The LatiNegr@s Project and during my search to see if anyone has published images and/or videos from the Afro-Latin@s Now! Conference I came across this media posted (not sure if also created by) a media maker named LaMorenaReina69. I really adore these videos as they represent Black people living in many countries in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and various countries in Central and South America. Check out these videos below.

Black Beauty in Bolivia

Black Beauty in Brazil

Black Beauty in Colombia

Black Beauty in Cuba

Black Beauty in Dominica Republic

Black Beauty in Ecuador

Black Beauty in Mexico

Black Beauty in Panama

Black Beauty in Peru

Black Beauty in Puerto Rico

Black Beauty in Suriname

Black Beauty in Uruguay

Black Beauty in Venezuela

Notes from the Afro-Latin@s Now@ Conference Plenary

cross posted from my post at Vivir Latino

The Afro-Latin@s Now! Conference is taking place as I write. It began on Thursday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with the Plenary and continued through Friday with “traditional” presentations throughout the day and wraps up this Saturday with events targeting youth at El Museo del Barrio.

I was asked to participate in one of the sessions on sexuality but my workload didn’t allow me to attend any of the events except for the Plenary. I’ve included some notes I took on the plenary and some other reflections from other folks who did attend Friday.

The plenary had four extremely well-known people doing work within the Afr@Latin@ community in various capacities. The panelists included Educardo Bonilla-Silva, sociologist at Duke University and author of several texts on white supremacy, Maria Rosario Jackson a researcher and professor who works in urban planning and development and , Evelyne Laurent-Perrault a biologist and historian and founder of the annual Arturo Schomburg Symposium at Taller Puertorriqueno in Philidelphia, and Silvio Torres-Saillant a professor of English and founder of the Dominican Studies Institute at City College and the author of several texts about Dominican identity. The facilitator for the evening was James Counts Early the Director of the Cultural Heritage Policy Center at the Smithsonian instituion. You may read more about each panelist and a fuller bio at the Afro-Latin@ Now! Conference site.

The first question that was posed to the panelist were “why is there this interest in Black Latin@s at this time?” Responses included an increased interest in Blackness, the diaspora. Torres-Saillant shared that when he was growing up Blackness was something one had to apologize for in the Dominican Republic. Rosario Jackson shared that with the browning of the US being more local yet there is still a crisis which she believes may lead to more creative opportunity. Laurent-Perrault mentioned the term “coyuntura” and how there is an increase in energy within particular communities that is leading to this attention. Bonilla-Silva shared that we are living in a “new racial order” which is how the US is moving towards a more Latin Americanist perspective on race, which he believes is NOT a good thing. He states we, in the US, are living in a “multi-racial white supremacist regime” and that there is a three point racial consciousness for Black Latin@s which includes: being racially Black, being ethnically Latino and being US citizens as well.

The next question was about being proactive. Torres-Saillant began by indicating how mestizaje is connected to the “multi-racial white supremacist regime” where the US hides racism under mestizaje in the US in the same way that Latin American’s are currently finding themselves in crisis regarding their mestizaje. Rosario Jackson shared that we must begin to claim racially Black people as a strategy to be proactive. At this point the facilitator Early shared how many Black Latin@s Anglicized their names to pass just as Blacks in the US. He gave the example of actor and producer Terry Carter and several Black Latin@ baseball players who changed their names to simply be in the Negro Leagues and be Black only. Laurent-Perrault indicates this is why she loves history because it already gives us some of the answers we need. It’s at this time that the panelists indicate that Black US folks can learn from LatiNegr@s as we have 100 years longer of Blackness in our countries compared to the US (based on documentation of when the first African slaves were brought to the areas in the 1500s). Bonilla-Silva mentions the connections to the ideas of mixing among Black Latin@s in an effort to “better” (i.e. whiten) the family and community. He also mentions this being connected to a myth of nation building where we validate whiteness by using the same categories and structures that were created by whites to identify and label/mark Latin@s worldwide.

The third question was about action, research and policy. Bonilla-Silva began by discussing how the system of racial domination is distinct to the US (and is specific because of location). He asks how do we organize and politicize within a pigmentocratic logic? Rosario Jackson states that she was thinking about this lately and things the media is one important outlet and believes we need a good comedian. Her thoughts are that we need someone who is witty, smart, and funny to make us laugh and think to move agendas forward. She also thinks media may be one way to help youth (teens specifically) who are at odds with one another when they must recognize they are a community that may work together to address similar issues they both encounter. Torres-Saillant states that we must work to fix the narrative that is created and being created about us. Laurent-Perrault looks to the same myth that all families are the same color and the problem with the ideology of the “raza cósmica.” She uses the television show Dora The Explorer as an example that everyone in her family is the same color, which is not true for a majority of Latino families.

At this time the floor was open to the 100+ participants to ask questions of the panelist or of one another. Some of the questions included:

  • What about the dis/connections between LatiNegra’s and the experiences that Black Latinas have among one another?
  • How do we push the connections we build and have with one another from ethnic and racial spaces?
  • How may dismantling the ideas of what is Latinidad help us in moving forward?

Bonilla-Silva answered the last question by stating that one cannot identify as Black and then try to identify that Blackness to being a member of a nation because this is the game that white supremacy forces us to play. We must either be “Puerto Rican” without recognizing Blackness or Black and not recognize Puerto Rican ethnicity. We must dismantle the moral hierarchy which places Blackness as Other or less than.

More questions from the audience included:

  • How do we mend and connect more to our relationships to Africa?
  • There must be the responsibility of racially white Latinos to challenge invisibility and anti-Black racism when they see/hear it as part of action.
  • If the term “Latino” does not travel outside of the US, how do these conversations become useful (or not) outside of the US with Latinos in Central and South America and the Caribbean?
  • Assuming that Black skin can unite and solve our problem does not seem to really speak to the complexity. What about bi-ethnic Black people?
  • How may we begin to get the media to recognize us?
  • What resources for educators working with youth ages K-6th grade have and where may we find them?

Unfortunately, there was not enough time for the panelist to address the questions presented and they were only given one minute to share final thoughts. The panel was followed by a cultural and musical performance by pianist Kwami Coleman.

It was a good evening and when I stood up to meet friends scattered about I was very happy to see that the auditorium had filled two-fold since I had arrived at 6pm when there was only about 50 people present. I also had a few things I too was thinking about that were not addressed (and yes all of these are a part of the work that I do and why I do such work) which includes:

  • Colonization: what about the nations that still do not have or even begun a decolonization process and is examining Blackness and challenging anti-Blackness and anti-indigenous ideologies a part of that process? If so how has that occurred? What have been the outcomes? What may we learn from those attempts? And what about those spaces that have yet to experience sovereignty (i.e. Puerto Rico)? What role do those nations and countries play in this work?
  • What about youth? Where are the young people? What are ways we are open to being mentored by youth and having them be a part of helping us solve, create, and build solutions? I felt an overwhelming exclusion of youth at this plenary. I’m not sure if that was on purpose or if it was something that was not ever considered. I think it is often something adults do to talk about youth versus including them to talk about their experiences. Perhaps their lived realties and solutions will challenge many theories and ideas and then what do we do?
  • Sexuality: clearly the Blackness that we are discussing is connected to sex and sexuality. We are not experiencing a difference in skin color and pigmentocracy by happenstance, it is because of sex, rape, power and these are topics we are NOT discussing. Why is that?

Writer and Activist Carmen Mojica shared some of her thoughts about the conference Friday on her Tumblr page. Mojica shares the following in her piece “Keeping It Real & Relevant: Reflections After Today’s Panels @ The Afro-Latin@ Conference“:

  1. I felt that the majority of the panels were composed of talented individuals who promoted themselves more than actually talking about the subject at hand. I remember walking out of the discussions unresolved, with more questions than answers. I was also annoyed because their entire bio was in the program pamphlet and it was repeated verbatim in various forms.
  2. I have always been an intellectual. I once had an intimate affair with academia. Then I realized that academia is a public ejaculation session in which academic people talk about their work and themselves until they get off and strive to walk out feeling like their research is comparable to none. That being said, academia is patriarchal in nature. It is a dry documentation of real life and quite individualistic in the pursuit to achieve this illusion of being well-educated. I appreciate my education but also believe the real teacher in this life is experience and the relationships you have with others.
  3. This need to “professionalize” the AfroLatin@ experience or any experience for that matter walks the thin line between absolutely necessary and appeasing the system. On one hand, it is important for our history to be documented in the canons of this world. On the other hand, who really benefits from the information we painstakingly research? Academics with PhDs? How does that information get to our neighborhoods effectively?
  4. Before we began talking about abstract things such as trans-nationalism, appropriation, assimilation and the like, we grew up in [insert urban community i.e The Bronx, Brooklyn, Chicago, etc]. Where is that story? Where is the very human experience of what that was like? And where is the non-academized version of that human story that will connect us on a basic level of interaction? It is my experience that the personal narrative is much more valuable when being in the real world (the one in which people are unemployed, on public assistance and hope not to be evicted tomorrow). How is our research translated to something digestible that does not alienate our real constituents? The conversation that is for the proletariat and not just the privileged individuals that were able to take the day off and discuss social constructs?
  5. Internalized oppression. I cannot say this enough. But this time in the context of, “master’s tools will never dismantle master’s house.” Meaning that we have a long way to go if we think that being academic and “professional” will somehow dismantle the racist system that has affected our communities and their self-esteem, mental, spiritual and emotional health, economic status and overall quality of life. Granted, we need the research but it is not the end all be all. We need real life solutions. We’ve done the research and have tried to apply it and the hood is still struggling. Clearly we need not sit in conferences all day and take action directly.
  6. I do however feel that we are in process. That this conference is important. But we must move out of individualism, self-promotion and strictly research and get to policy and action. Direct action. Action that reaches our families and communities in a very human way. The only panel I genuinely felt like I got something from was the one on youth and education. The panelists came with their experiences as educators and very practical ways of addressing teaching culture to our youth. They also had solutions and resources that could help anyone sitting in that room make their work effective and relevant. And real.

Finally, it was fabulous to run into folks who recognized the work we are doing withThe LatiNegr@s Project and introduced themselves. Our team is growing in ways that I didn’t ever imagine when I co-created the project last year. Today we have doubled in size and have four folks on our team, a twitter account (@BeingAfroLatino) and aFacebook page. We have over 1,000 posts (over 100 pages of content), people stillsubmitting, and almost 500 folks following the project (and that doesn’t include those who are NOT on Tumblr but may still visit the page)! It’s such a great feeling to know this project is growing and it is a useful educational tool, affirming project, and one that will be here to continue to make us visible!

For those of you who did attend the conference what were some of your thoughts? Ideas about what the plenary presented?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Make-Up As Media Making

cross posted from my Media Justice column

Yes! You read correctly. In this piece I will make an argument that using and applying make-up can be a form of media for many folks. Now, this is not to say that folks who use make-up are always choosing or aware they are making media, but I think many of them are aware they are engaging in a form of art. Now, I know there are lots of folks who may disagree with this for several reasons, and I’d like to respond to some of those. Last week was the first time in a long time that I had been complimented on my make-up. A friend and colleague had said to me in the elevator “your make-up is flawless” and I felt good!

I don’t know too many folks who don’t like to be complimented. I felt proud to know that there was someone who recognized the care, skill, and time it took to get my make-up the way I had wanted it to look. This was one of the things that sparked my desire to write this post. Before I get into the specific points I’d like to make, let me share a story with you.

When I went back to school to focus on gender I remember having many comments made towards me about my gender expression. As my bio above mentions, I identify as a “femme” and have always had a gender expression that many read as stereotypical to Western ideas of how women are to look and ideas of femininity. I did not feel welcomed in that space. I questioned if my purple backpack was “gender neutral” enough. I resorted to wearing jeans and t-shirts more often than I cared for. My creative spirit had been broken and I became depressed.

You see for me, and many of the folks I know who “beat their face,” putting on make up, nail polish, etc. is part of our gender expression. It is a part of who we are. For me, it is a creative aspect of my identity that is extremely important. When I don’t have the ability, time, or resources to be creative in ways that fulfill me on a regular basis (photography,dancing, collaging, letter writing, zine making, etc.) I still find space for that creativity to be nurtured in make-up application.

One day at the MAC make up counter (of which I am a MAC Pro, which means I have a membership as a make-up artist and performer and thus receive a large percentage off my purchases, let me know if you want in on this discount as I make purchases for others), I heard a person say “look at all these women trying to change the way they look.” I looked up and it was a racially white woman rushing past and speaking to her pre-teen daughter. It was in that instant that I knew there was something more here. I looked around at the women at the counter and we were all women of Color.

Ideas and standards of beauty for women of Color are not the same for racially white women. Instead of hashing out this history, I encourage readers to do personal research and analysis on their own about how these differences occur and manifest. I once told a psychologist I was working with that I don’t have the pleasure, luxury, or privilege to leave my home without looking “well kept”/”put together” as a woman of Color living in this society. He did not understand and disagreed with me. I expected this and disengaged with him after I shared some resources for him to look into.

There are some folks claim that if someone uses and wears make-up you/us are perpetuating stereotypical ideals of beauty. This is one of the many issues “femmes” like me experience on a regular basis. These messages we hear from folks in and outside of our communities. There are many folks who identify as feminists, radical, revolutionaries who judge us because of our choice to wear make-up. I’ve encountered several of them who claim what I am doing is not revolutionary, is a problem, perpetuates the issue they are attempting to erase. All of a sudden I’m a part of the problem, not a useful member of the community, someone to be ridiculed, reprimanded, and ignored as my voice no longer matters. It is rare when some folks consider how my gender expression challenges them in ways that make them uncomfortable and sit with that discomfort to examine it. I write that as someone who has sat with that discomfort and will continue to do so as I learn about myself and others in such experiences.

One thing I often find interesting is that folks will judge me based on my gender expression and use of make-up, yet will not consider how I paint other parts of my body. Often when folks do recognize or discuss my body art they have vary different responses to the art on my face. The same radical, revolutionaries, and feminists enjoy talking to me about my body ink when they can see it, something that is often not done regarding my make-up.

Many of us recognize how important gender is to our lives. Many of us work regularly to be inclusive of folks who challenge gender binaries, be trans inclusive, and challenge misogyny on a regular basis. For some reason though there remains a disapproval of those of us who have a certain gender expression no matter how demure or exaggerated. There seems to be a disapproval, irritation, and even disgust for what is considered feminine. I wonder what that means for all women. Is there even safety and protection from other women in our communities? Do we really “have each other’s backs”?

Affirming our identities is important for many of us, if not all of us. There are many things we do each day to connect with who we are and where we come from. I know wearing make-up affirms my identity as a radical woman of Color, as a sexual being, as an intellectual, and educator. It also challenges ideas that people have about my identities. My use of color challenges ideas of me wanting to hide who I am and not stand out. This is associated with many parts of our identities that we are socialized to attempt to not make visible whether it is being a woman (and being passive), being fat (and not bringing attention to yourself as you already take up too much room), being a person of Color (especially if you are one of a few, or the only one in a room), being someone with a different ability (see being fat and a person of Color), and being of a certain age (wear color and products that are gender appropriate).

I’ve shared often how media is created and consumed. With this I believe that there are messages that I create when I put on my make-up. Some of my messages may include: I care about my appearance, I’m not afraid of color, I will wear this neon orange lipstick (or other bright non-traditional color) year round if I want, I love my eyelashes, cheekbones, and lips; parts i’ve been told are too broad, wide, and not beautiful. Other messages I choose to convey include: I belong here. This is one thing I hope to leave with many of the youth I work with: that they belong wherever they want to be!

Often I’ve joked that red lipstick is a cultural artifact in my Puerto Rican home. My mother wore the color, my aunts, grandmothers as well. It was a color I was given at a very young age to play with while dressing up. It is a color I continue to use to this day. This color is attached to many things for me and using it has become a ritual. One of the main reasons I adore the color right now is because it is my mother’s favorite. And I miss my ma and when I put it on I remember her, hope she will take pride in me transmitting this practice and color to other generations in our family. I’m connected to my mother through this color and practice.

I’ve also created ritual around make-up application. A ritual that is not only connected to my own forms of self-care, but also to my cultural background. While applying my make-up I put on certain media (usually a song or image) to inspire me. I have a process I follow in figuring out how I’m going to apply the products, in what way, with what brush, what effect do I want to create today, what shapes and lines will I create and how many will there be, and of course: how much sparkle to include. I do the same with nail polish. This ritual, as small or materialistic as some may see it, is a form of self-care for myself. I’m spending time with myself, doing something I love that is connected to my community, roots, and my own sense of self.

Some folks have said to me that my own sense of self can come form being natural. Ideas about natural being beautiful are ones I wholeheartedly agree with. Some folks think there is nothing natural about wearing make-up and I have to disagree. This seems to be a very US-centric perspective; one that does not recognize the diversity and varied cultures that already exist in the US (even before it was considered the US). Body decor and modifications are found all over the world and are not “new” phenomenons. Thus, these ideas of not being “natural” are not only judgmental but also make assumptions of defining “natural” for all people in the same way.

Is there privilege in putting on make-up? Sure, there’s privilege in doing a lot of things. However, if we just focus on the privilege aspect we erase the rituals and traditions of generations of people who do similar practices. That is not always helpful. There are many femmes and folks who use make-up who are using their privilege to access products by supporting certain brands exclusively. Many folks only use products that have organic components, no chemicals, are not tested on animals, do not have different pricing for different shades, are fragrance-free and are run by community members. There is a way to strategically use our privilege and many make-up wearers are aware of this.

At the same time, assuming that people who wear and use make-up only use corporate brand names is erroneous. There are many ways to make your own shades, primers, and glitter. One of my broke femme tips is that I used to (and sometimes still do) fill in my eyebrows with a wooden match. I strike the match, let it burn, then blow it out and take the tip off. The remains on the wooden stick are great for creating black shading. I have many other friends who make primer out of milk of magnesia, pinch their cheeks for blush, use sugar in the raw to get rid of dry skin on the lips, and who use coconut oil as moisturizer.

If we support choice and folks having power over their body to do with it as they wish, how and why is there still this marginalization? My make-up use and application are not about you or them or that over there. It is about me. It is an expression of my creativity, personality, love for self, connections to my culture, commitment to challenging expectations, and it is my choice.

Is being femme a political identity? This is a question I deliberatly chose not to answer as it’s complicated and very layered. For some yes. For others it is just who we are. There is a lot of literature and thought about femme as an identity, a political and queer one and I encourage folks to look into that literature if you are interested. Also consider attending theFemme Conference in 2012 which will be held in Baltimore.

Many folks are familiar with this piece of media below: “To All of the Kick Ass, Beautiful Fierce Femmes Out There” by Ivan Coyote. I think it fits well into this discussion and is an important reminder to us all.

Share with me some of your ideas on media making and the connections to make-up. Do you think there are any?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Introducing The LatiNegr@s Project/Being AfroLatino Team

So excited that we are expanding! Here's a bit about our team:

Anthony Otero is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian that was born and raised in the Bronx, NY and currently a staff member at Syracuse University. He is one of the co-founders of The LatiNegr@s Project. A constant writer, he is currently working on his first book of poetry called "My Twisted Life Through Lines of Poetry"set to come out in 2012 and created the blogInside My Head.

As one of few Latino administrators at Syracuse University, he become an adviser to many Latino students and Latino student organizations. Anthony also helped create the Latino Heritage Month celebrations that still occur today. He took graduate courses in Cultural Foundations of Education and finally understood that what it means to be Afro-Latino after soul searching through research papers. This sparked the creation of all his blogs including the newly retitled Tumblr site: Black, Brown, and a little Mestizo. He also created the @beingafrolatino twitter account as a way to promote and unite Afro Latinos.

Bianca I. Laureano is a first generation Puerto Rican sexologist living in NYC. Raised in the Washington, DC area in an activist environment, Bianca is the daughter of an artist and educator and a product of the public school system. In the field of sexuality for over a decade, Bianca has worked with and taught youth of Color, working class communities, speaks at national and international organizations advocating sex-positive social justice agendas. She has presented both locally and internationally on various topics concerning activism, Latino sexual health, feminisms, youth and hip-hop culture, Latinos and race, Caribbean cultural practices and sexuality, dating and relationships, curriculum development, reproductive justice and teaching.

She's a board member at the Black Girl Project, doula with The Doula Project, co-founder of The LatiNegr@s Project, and Monster Girl. Bianca is an instructor and a freelance writer and was awarded the 2010 Mujeres Destacadas’ Award (distinguished woman) from El Diario/La Prensa for her work in sexual health. She hosts the website and identifies as a LatiNegra, media maker, radical woman of Color, activist, sex-positive, pro-choice femme. Find out more about Bianca by visiting her website

Violeta Donawa is a Detroit native, born to a Panamanian father and African American mother. As a doctoral student, she examines racial ideologies and paradigms, as well as the impact of social media on identification processes. She has two publications, entitled, “Exploring the Afro-Latino Presence: The Afro-Panamanian Experience in Michigan” in the journal, Negritud: Revista De Estudios Afro-Latinoamericanos and “Defining and Documenting Afro-Latin America" in the journal, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies.

Raising visibility of the AfroLatin@ community has always been a passion. She has found multiple ways to integrate this passion into her everyday life through academia and social media. As a freelance writer and emerging blogger, she has contributed to the Voices from Our America ™ project, volunteered with The AfroLatin@ Forum, written, and runs her blog La Republica de Detroit.

Kismet Nuñez is a black and Puerto Rican woman of color insurgent who deploys 21st century forms of art, autobiography, and performance against the discursive terrain of race, sex and personality. With the help of new media, Kismet breaks herself into pieces to become more than her parts in a revolutionary act of defiance, affirmation & self-care. Kismet is a blogger, writer, student, teacher, researcher, historian, fangirl, lover, sister, daughter and everything in between. In 2008, she founded iwannalive productions, a social media collective specializing in radical black gyrl media, political education, sex positive empowerment and complete and utter disruption of the archive, academy and hu-MAN-ity as we known and understand it. iwannalive productions manages #AntiJemimas, a social media performance project.

Begun in 2010 out of an earlier blog project exploring self love (and hate) titled Self Care: Revise, Revise, Revise, the #AntiJemimas project is about infinite literacies, multiple beings and the conundrum of trying to build a real black gyrl in a world of 21st century digital engagement. The project's goal is to circumvent the oppressive power of the iconic that traps woc bodies, sexualities and genders into roles labeled Only or Never. Today, #AntiJemimas has evolved into an online universe of blogs, Tumblrs and Twitters committed to the very hard work of building a real gyrl of color in a world of new media. You can find Kismet fomenting rebellion at Zora Walker, making gris-gris in the WOC Survival Kit, living on a distant star as the Sable Fan Gyrl, stroking her thighs as Pretty Magnolia, or twiddling her thumbs on Twitter. Kismet also blogs at Nuñez Daughter, the base blog for #AntiJemimas. Founded in May 2008, Nunez Daughter is an experiment in digital autobiography and archive. It expands on thoughts formulated in a research paper titled, “‘I’m On to You:’ Troubling Performances of Race, Gender and Class.”

We are Team Being Afro-Latino. You can follow on Twitter or on Tumblr. Buckle your seat belts, it will an exciting ride.