Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From the Archives: Communal Survival: Holding Each Other Accountable and Healing

I wrote this at my Media Justice column in September 2009. At that time I was not cross-posting here. So, here it is. I'm really proud of this piece. This is a difficult article for me to write. I’m still struggling with this story and my thoughts around it, but think it’s important to discuss what is occurring. Roxanne Shanté, have you heard of her? There’s been a ton of conversation, emails, postings, tweets surrounding the NY Daily News article about her. That was quickly followed by another article in Slate magazine that basically said everything in the NY Daily News article was a lie and that she doesn’t have the education she said she did. As one of the few female rappers in the 1990s, I grew up listening to Roxanne Shanté and still do today. I’ve struggled with this for a week now. I’m not sure where my struggle lays, is it that I’m not ready to debunk her work? That I’m hurt she has lied? That I worry about how survivors are treated in our society? I think it’s all of this and so much more that I have yet to find the words for. The part that gets me at my core is that the media so easily seeks to bring down a Black woman from a working-class background that is serving her community. This is who I am. This is what I do. This could be you. This could be me. I’m not sure people realize how frightening it is to see a Black woman from a working-class background who is an activist be questioned, investigated, and eagerly called a liar. Since the Justice Sotomayor hearings , I have a difficult time recalling a more recent time I allowed myself to pay attention to such an attack. My last vivid memory of witnessing such questioning, interrogation, and name-calling was surrounding Anita Hill. Perhaps this void in my memory is my way of coping with the multiple abuses women of Color endure in the public eye. When I read what activist and journalist Jeff Chang and Wayne Marshall wrote about the situation I realized how important it is to be conscious of what messages are being constructed. Several of the comments responding to his article are by many people I know and read on a regular basis online. Yet, I find it very unsettling that one of the main areas Jeff points out regarding Shanté’s claim to higher education was a history of domestic violence, is used as fodder for people to say “still, where’s the proof?” Only a handful of commenters understood/stand the enormity of being a woman of Color who is a survivor of violence and what coping with such experiences may be for us. We are socialized to believe journalists are supposed to be unbiased. We know that is not true. We all have biases. But for some reason neither article discussed her race and how it intersects with all the other aspects of her identity: gender, class, citizenship status, geographic location, ability (to name a few). I find this sad that people are using race neutral analysis in their reporting. Author of the second article that debunked Shanté, Ben Sheffner, asked me on twitter “What does Shanté's race have to do w/whether the story she told the Daily News & others re Ph.D/Warner Music was accurate?” My reply to him was: “its a pretty big deal. i'm not down for race neutral approaches. we are complex & all our ids matter. look up intersectionality.” To which he responds, “The facts are the facts. No one has successfully challenged ANY facts reported in my Slate piece. Her race doesn't matter.” My response is here. And then he asks about intersectionality. You can read the rest as both our accounts are public and I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of him quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose “facts” have been debunked by the use of intersectional analysis by scholars of Color all over the world. The only time each of the two pieces mentioned her race was when discussing whom Shanté works with and were identified as “urban African-Americans.” As someone who did the traditional route of higher education and has two master’s of arts degree (you can’t write MA squared on business cards), I don’t really care about the paper. I don’t care about if she has a PhD or not. Yes, this may not be a popular position, yet that’s where I find myself at this moment in time. I understand lying about obtaining education is wrong. And I see very clearly how much this lie has affected our community. Many people and several of my friends have rightfully stated that this particular lie does more damage than good. Here’s where I struggle: I know several social workers, camp counselors, hotline counselors, doulas, and the like who have not gone through the traditional modes of higher education and are doing amazing work! What does this tell us about higher education and those who have access to it? I can speak to the fact that many programs do not always teach you how to counsel, they teach you how to critique and do research. These are very different approaches to what is considered “work.” Many of the counseling experience I gained was not only during my higher education career, but through my actual lived experiences of working with people, along with, not only, reading books, going to class, and writing papers. I’m not ready to debunk Shanté’s work because she lied about her educational background. I understand the importance for many, and I’m not saying having a degree does not make a difference it does for many. Yet, I can’t help but feel compelled to remind us all that coping, care, support in our everyday lives comes from people who may have no specific or focused training on providing such care. Think about how you use your friends and family to help you through decisions and experiences. This, for me, is an informal yet crucial part of our ability to cope, mentor, and build community. Shanté choose to call herself “Doctor” may be misleading, as we do not know the entire story (Chang and Marshall speak to this). Choosing to question if the work she has done in our community as valid is understandable. Yet, if Shanté helped one person or 100 people, she has succeeded in my opinion. As a mentor to a young woman for over 15 years, I know that mentoring is no joke! It is hard and rewarding work. If we choose to ignore her work in the field of mental health, I know we can’t ignore her work as a mentor. Many of us witnessed it when we watched Vh1s airing of EgoTrip’s Ms. Rap Supreme. If she is helping women of Color as we saw in the show in whatever capacity, mentor, counselor, advisor than there is reason to call her a success as it’s too often that women of Color are ignored and forgotten. People too easily forget that not all women are treated equally in this country . Her work matters. We can hold each other accountable and still support one another. I see the importance of respecting her wishes to not speak on her surviving violence (can people please realize the importance and power in the term SURVIVOR over “victim”) and how this may connect to some of the lies that have been presented. There are ways of healing, coping and finding support and community that are far more complex. I really want to hear what others think about this topic and also how we as communities of survivors can support one another without hurting each other. I know Roxanne Shanté is a survivor and she too will survive this, after all she does identify as the “untouchable Queen Pin, the most relentless in the business. Makin’ money without men, Sittin’, stackin’ her riches.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Media Justice Last Post

cross posted from my Media Justice column

I didn’t want to write this post. Who wants to write a “goodbye” or “last post” piece? What I really didn’t want to do was realize this part of my life was wrapping itself up. I was afraid of what that would mean. Then, I put my trust in the universe and my community and I realize this is one way of telling me it’s time. Time for new voices, new opportunities, new growth. All the while I was avoiding writing this and I’m now experiencing a really amazing sense of accomplishment. As someone who was pushed out of a PhD program for not writing well enough almost over 5 years ago by the same folks who heavily recruited me, and finding opportunities to write that nurture my spirit and life, grounds me. Reminds me my words, thoughts, and actions are important in this world.

Three years ago when this column premiered I had lots of ideas. I still do about what is possible when writing and living media justice. Reading over the posts of the past 3 years, almost 125 of them in total, I’ve seen myself evolve, transform, and become a person, educator, sexologist, and radical femme of Color that makes me proud.

Reflecting on various topics in the media, our communities, interviewing amazing media makers, and publicly thinking about what’s next or solutions to communal healing was what I needed. What an amazing gift to be given and to be able to share and heal worldwide.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, the media, and about justice and freedom. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past 3 years:

We are all media makers. Every single one of us. We may not enjoy the media that others may create, we may challenge and critique it, we may not consider what others do “media” because of our rigid or unclear ideas about what media is defined as; but it’s still media and it’s still powerful and that is something to value right now. It’s also something to fight for, especially as people of Color, with disabilities, who are immigrants, working class, trans*, queer, and who remain oppressed.

Sometimes it hurts too much to care and it’s okay to admit this; it’s part of the healing process. There were times when my spirit, body, and commitment to taking intellectual risks were not strong and in pain. Putting my ish on paper as Gloria Anzaldúa has written really was an incredible part of my own healing. Knowing I could not “care” about a topic because it would impact me in a way I was not ready for was a reminder that I center self-care. It was also a reminder that I know myself better than I thought I did, my triggers, the space I occupy and can offer for others to occupy, and how valuable my time is. I’ve also learned that caring for me comes when I am able to fully witness and experience what is occurring.

We do a lot of important work quietly. I’ve become more introverted as I’ve aged, more selective, thoughtful and mindful in a way that is comforting because I know I’m doing hard work within myself. It’s exciting to see and interact with youth who are having the exact same experience I am but at a different time in their lives. So much about this world and our societies have shifted and changed. I’m learning so much from youth right now and absorbing those new skills and creating that new knowledge is joyous! Sometimes I just have to sit with that joy and put my hand to my heart and savor it, thankful for it’s presence in my life.

Community can be and is online and saves lives. There’s always been resistance to when folks who experience oppression and/or marginalization find ways to survive. I’ve witnessed and benefited from having this online space to dialogue and build with others. I’ve also been a part of and seen it heal and work to protect, support, and embrace our communities. Folks question the validity of online spaces and I’ve got to say that there are many examples of how these spaces are crucial for many of us.

I’m not sure what else to share, but you can still find me online writing and posting at my blog LatinoSexuality.blogspot.com where I’ll continue to do this work and writing at RH Reality Check on topics specific to communities of Color, sexuality, and reproductive justice.

As I tell my students each semester: You each deserve to be anywhere and everywhere you want to be! You have power and don’t ever forget that even when some may try to take it from you, scare you from using it, your power is your own. Thanks for witnessing and being a part of this journey.

Give yourself a gift and go see Beasts Of The Southern Wild and ask yourself “what does it mean to be free?” And then go get free!

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Queer Rappers: A Post Inspired by Frank Ocean

originally published at my Media Justice column

This isn’t about coming out stories or labeling Frank Ocean a term he does not identify with (as many folks are doing, he never said he was gay, bisexual, pansexual, heterosexual, he just said he loved another man). Instead I want to create a post that highlights the out queer identified rappers. 

My reason for creating this post is because I think folks are asking the wrong questions when it comes to Frank Ocean’s post about his experiences with love. Folks are often asking why the homophobia and heterosexism in the Hip-Hop genre is present, how it impacts queer rappers, and why queer rappers may not come out. My concern with these queries is that they may isolate and ignore the already out and queer rappers currently. Why don’t folks know of the out queer rappers in the Hip-Hop genre, community, and culture? This is a very different question from “why more rappers won’t/can’t ‘come out’.” 

This is not to say that because queer rappers are queer they must speak about queer issues or be that queer artist. It is an aspect of our identities that impacts our perspectives, however, they are artist in a genre that folks claim is extremely toxic to queer artists without recognizing the queer artist that are surviving and moving the genre forward. So my hope is that this list will evolve, you’ll post your favorites not mentioned here, and we’ll collectively support and purchase their music!

I tapped into my community and asked them who are their favorite out queer rappers. Of course folks may remember this Colorlines article highlighting 8 queer identified people in the Hip-Hop genre.  That list, like this one, is not exhaustive yet these are continuations! Below are some of the folks and artists people in my community and networks have mentioned. When I can I’ll post their videos just be mindful some of the lyrics may not be “safe” to listen to depending on your location.

Let’s start with one degree of separation from Frank Ocean. He is part of the Odd Future crew, which has out queer artist Syd the Kyd. This year Syd the Kyd was featured in LA Weekly and spoke directly about her sexual orientation and thoughts about folks inquiring about it in an interview. If you haven’t seen her video for the track “Cocaine” check it out below where her “love interest” is another woman. Also keep an eye out for the forms of violence that are represented here. 


 is a Hip-Hop duo whose most recent track QueenS lit the internets on fiyah! When you check out the video you’ll see why! Everywhere I looked online for a good 3 weeks this video and song was everywhere and none of us minded at all! Thanks to Malik for being the first person to suggest them for this piece! 


 also suggested Angel Haze whose upcoming album will be released July 17, 2012. Fader magazine highlighted Angel Haze last year in their piece on up and coming artists, be warned the piece reads extremely sexist and condescending! However, her song “New York” does not and check it out below. 


When I asked folks online for suggestions Iyssyboobears said their favorite rapper was Kelow.  The first song and video I heard from Kelow was “Haters”  and right now I’m really loving this song “Uptwnz Finest.” Kelow has a tumblr page that has most up to date videos and fotos. 


Lady Sovereign
  was introduced to me in the early 2000s by my homeboy Jerome, who I have created an imaginary Hip-Hop crew with similar to Wu-Tang where we are the core 2 and have a fluctuating 30+ members. From the UK Lady Sovereign has discussed her queerness openly for years. 


Azealia Banks
  discussed her bisexuality earlier this year and how she’s living life on her own terms and not wanting to be the “lesbian rapper.” It’s really her songs and lyrical content that are grabbing the well deserved attention of many. Her latest song “Liquorice” calls out so much of the fetishization of the Black bodies of women and the men of Color who buy into white supremacy. Check out her video for the song below. 


Israeli-born and Detroit raised rapper Invincible  has shared that she learned English via US Hip-Hop.  Invincible has been put in the same spaces as Lauryn Hill when describing her contributions and flow. She is an activist and openly speaks out about oppressions people all over the world are experiencing and making connections to colonization.  Here’s “Ropes”


invincible | Myspace Music Videos

My homegirl Becky suggested Cazwell. I dig this song “Rice and Beans” because of the simple fact that Eduardo in the video is a LatiNegro!  Ok I also dig that Cazwell talks about how he brought the condoms! And not just that but I also appreciate that although the hook is “take me to your mama’s for dinner” and it assumes that the mama is cooking, I don’t see this as a problem, but rather a way that mama’s of Color support and love their openly queer children and challenges those stereotypes that parents and people of Color are homophobic! 

Now, Cazwell is Polish, so his use of men of Color, Spanglish, and other such forms of cultural production by people of Color may be troubling to some, it may be for me I just haven’t spent enough time engaging with his work to make a full analysis, but I want to put it out there that I do see some things coming up for me. 


The next several artists were suggested by my online Femme’ily

Siya has been around for a minute. This is one of the many artists that I struggled with which video to post here for ya’ll to watch because I really dig all of their videos! So, I decided to start with “I’m Gone” but def check out Siya’s website for other videos as well!


 “Dark York” you may download and get the song &Gomorrah also below. I’m not completely sure if Le1f identifies as a rapper exclusively as he is creating music in ways beyond lyricism. His myspace page identifies his music as concrete jungle, but I think Hip-Hop evolves and is more inclusive than some folks may want to believe.


Sgt Sass
 are a duo from Philidelphia with K.D. and D.T. Formed in 2004 and making music seriously since 2007 and shared that in their song “Faggot Snappin” they desire to embrace and claim a term used by outsiders to harm and isolate them.  In “Faggot Snappin” they say “you know who the f*&% we are we aint scared of none of ya’ll” which I really dig. The video is below.


Benni E
 is from Philadelphia and has been described as the “blood pulsating through” the heart of Philly’s queer Hip-Hop scene.  Below is a video from 2009 in Toronto for the Blockorama Pride event. 


MC Jazz
  from Toronto is an “anti-swagger, political queer Egyptian rapper & poet, who makes you move while you groove to truth. Welcome to the Queer Hip-Hop Movement; MC Jazz's lyrics smash the social, sexual and political limitations of today's Hip-hop. She creates strong messages and promotes inclusive music that speaks for those without a voice. She attacks and tears down stereotypes of "who and what we should be" with a vengeance and brings back the real purpose of the spoken word in Hip-hop. After war, and experiencing daily prejudice based on being the "immigrant", rap and spoken word became MC Jazz's most powerful outlet and means of activism” as her Facebook page states.  In her song “Boys Like This” she addresses the use of the term “faggot” by heterosexual men. Check out the live performance below.


Mykki Blanco
 gives me life on a daily basis! In an Interview feature Mykki speaks of being a Black trans artist and rapper. Below is featured clip that includes an interview and street performance by Mykki. I adore that the young women of Color on the street are loving her and supporting her so openly and completely. 


Zebra Katz who, along with Mykki Blanco have gained the attention of many media outlets, especially the BBC who did a story on both of them and the “rise of queer rap.”  I was introduced to Zebra Katz earlier this year by his song “Ima Read” featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx which is below. For those of you not in the know, to read is something that stems from queer people of Color cultural production and engagement. Maybe you’ve heard some folks say “The library is open.” Zebra Katz and Njena Reddd Foxxx basically close the library. 


Saye Skye
 is a 23 year-old Iranian lesbian rapper and activist. Learn more about her work, life, and hear her music at this interview done September of last year.  Below is one of her songs “Executing Rights” with lyrics in English on the screen.


There were so many more suggestions that came my way by the time this had to be sent to my editor! Here are some links of the ones that made it in before publication but that I didn’t have too much time to research and get information on. I’m sure there will be more and I’ll leave them in the comments!

Big Freedia 






Sissy Nobby


Deep Dickollective 


Yo! Majesty 


Miz Korona




Big Momma


Cakes da Killa


Abstract Random


The Lost Bois


Rainbow Noise 


Mz Jonz  


Abortion, Reality TV, and Women of Color

cross posted from my RH Reality Check column

I’m still surprised I’ve grown up with cable (now I can’t afford it so I watch some shows online) and thatVh1 is one of the main sources where communities of Color, especially women of Color are represented. Vh1 has really changed their image; back in my youth, the channel represented the almost exclusively racially white “soft rock” genre and limited R&B songs by the people to whom I listened. Today, Vh1 represents me, which is a huge shift from what I remember. Not only do they represent me as a woman of Color, but as a LatiNegra. They have more LatiNegras on their shows than any other channel I can think of (i.e. La La’s Full Court Life,  Basketball Wives).
This post isn’t about how problematic or limiting these shows are today. That’s been written about by some of my favorite LatiNegra writers and media makers. Although I must share that I really appreciated when Tami and Evelyn went to get mammograms together at their doctor and wished I wrote about that and the importance of this scene at the time. Instead, I want to focus on a new theme I’m seeing emerge on the new show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. This series is the first time the show has been aired outside of New York. The last several seasons have focused on women of Color who are in the Hip Hop community in some form and residing in NYC.
This new series is in Atlanta. There’s been a lot going on and in just the second episode there is an unplanned pregnancy. One of the women, an up and coming performer named Joseline, who is Latina (not sure if she identifies as a LatiNegra), takes a pregnancy test and it is positive. At the end of episode two she shares that she is pregnant with the baby of her manager/producer/lover who also is in a relationship with another woman and has a child who Joseline knows about and still chose to be “the other woman.”
Their relationship is complicated and messy (to put it nicely). Joseline’s producer/manager/lover asks her why she’s bringing this to him, who the “father” is, and that she “needs to take care of it.” The next episode coming up shows a series of conversations and arguments Joseline is in with friends asking her what she’s going “to do about the baby.” 
I find this to be an interesting storyline and one that I think I’ll follow even though I’m not really that interested in this series. The last time a woman of Color experienced and openly discussed/considered an abortion on reality tv that I can remember was when Tami of Basketball Wives was on The Real World: Los Angeles (1993) and she was filmed during her process of choosing to have an abortion, discussing her decision with her housemates, their beliefs and values, her mother taking her to the clinic, and her recovery after the procedure. 
Below are the two parts of Tami’s abortion story. The first video is Tami sharing her decision to terminate the pregnancy and the commentary by three men and then a few other women she’s living with. It was a really revolutionary representation with folks of various perspectives sharing their opinions in a respectful and honest way, something we don’t always or often see or have today. One of her housemates who has strong religious convictions shares his disappointment with her decision, yet chooses to support her as a friend who is having a difficult experience and realizes “this is between her and God.”
Another element of this first clip is that at the time Tami was working at a reproductive health clinic working with folks who are HIV-positive or getting tested to know their HIV status. She talks about how she had access and was one of the main people who “should know” about contraceptives and condom availability. Her mother shares that she is upset because Tami is surrounded by condoms. This is something that I think is important for providers and educators to sit and reflect on because this is real! I know many of my past posts and even today the conversations I have with folks come back to us as educators and providers “knowing better” yet how does that knowledge affect our daily lives and decisions in real time? How do we forget that when we are doing our education and counseling of others? How may these reminders help center us and the work we are doing?
The second video shares some background of Tami’s life and her experience of homelessness and of her mother as a member of the working poor growing up. She talks about not wanting to fill out paperwork, just wanting the procedure to be over even with the support of her mother on the day of her procedure. Her mother asks if she can go to the procedure room with her and is told "no" to respect the confidentiality of other patients (and this is how doulas may be helpful for support). Her mother also shares her process of coming to support her daughter’s decision when she originally offered to help her with parenting responsibilities.  Tami also discusses her feelings about her decision and we see her mother be present for her during her healing. These videos are not what we see today on The Real World and I think there are many reasons for that which may be another post.
I share this because these are topics that are coming up currently in popular culture. Although Vh1 still targets an older viewership, I know many younger folks using social media are watching this show and using hashtags to follow others opinions. These are useful and important opportunities to discuss abortion, pregnancy options, testing, contraceptives, relationship expectations, use of language, and safety issues among youth and communities of Color. Regardless of what your position is on any of these topics, I think it’s important to know they are being discussed, especially among people of Color, and this is a good use of popular culture to deconstruct and discuss.