I see a lot of “slavery is over, black people should move on” rhetoric on the internet. And mostly I roll my eyes & keep it moving. But I notice that people who say these things lack historical knowledge. They don’t know about the Red Summer in which race riots broke out in 36 cities. The government blamed unions, Bolsheviks, & even the NAACP for what happened since it was apparently impossible to blame white Americans for the lynchings, rapes, & general mayhem that triggered the riots. In fact Attorney General Palmer filed a report that faulted black people for fighting back.
“ill-governed reaction toward race rioting…In all discussions of the recent race riots there is reflected the note of pride that the Negro has found himself. that he has ‘fought back,’ that never again will he tamely submit to violence and intimidation. “the dangerous spirit of defiance and vengeance at work among the Negro leaders.”
Yesterday we learned that Mitt Romney, in addition to being a vulture capitalist and a rank political opportunist, was also a schoolyard bully. This is my unsurprised face.
John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend…
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
… “It happened very quickly, and to this day it troubles me,” said Buford, the school’s wrestling champion, who said he joined Romney in restraining Lauber. Buford subsequently apologized to Lauber, who was “terrified,” he said.
… “He was just easy pickin’s,” said Friedemann, then the student prefect, or student authority leader of Stevens Hall, expressing remorse about his failure to stop it.
… Friedemann, guilt ridden, made a point of not talking about it with his friend and waited to see what form of discipline would befall Romney at the famously strict institution. Nothing happened.
Romney claims that he doesn’t remember the incident, but we all know that he does. We know this not just because the man is a proven liar, but because when a person carries out an act of violence like that, they remember it. Probably with a lot of pride.
The only way I would accept that Mitt doesn’t remember that particular incident is if there were so many times that he bullied and assaulted classmates he didn’t like and thought were gay that he just can’t separate one from another. Either way, the picture is pretty grim.
And not all that surprising.
Consider the kind of man Romney is. He has not a bit of compassion, empathy, or regard for people other than himself and the people he holds dear1. He casually destroys people’s lives, makes their jobs disappear, then laughs and makes jokes about it. His ever-changing political stances prove that he doesn’t hold values, he pretends them, and says whatever is politically expedient no matter who it hurts.
And he knows he can get away with it, because he’s been getting away with imposing his will on others in a violent manner since school. No teacher, no principal, no student challenged or punished him for what he did to that kid. He probably went home to his family and received praise for it.
Mitt Romney is a perfect example of why the problem of bullying needs to be addressed at all times, wherever it happens. Schools need to take responsibility, parents need to take responsibility. And this is for the good of the victim of the bullying as much as the bully themselves. Because, if gone unchecked, that bully may grow up to think victimization is acceptable. Which means that more people have to suffer because of the bully’s lack of empathy or restraint.
Any time anyone wants to give me an excuse for why they won’t take steps to stop bullying, whether it be because of some myth about the victims needing to “man up” or some bullshit about not having enough resources to deal with it, I am going to point at the nearest picture of Mitt Romney and say “people like you are the reason why Mitt Romney is the man he is. If you admire him, then you’re just as bad. If you recoil from that thought, stop making excuses and address this problem.”
All of the wondrous trappings of pulp are here in this incredible work: action, adventure, evil scheming Nazis and a hero determined to foil their plot to embarrass the United States, politically, in the boxing ring – the key component here is that Damballa is a black man.
Given the classic pulp elements present in the novel, it would have been easy for Saunders to just trot out a pulp archetype and just changed the color of hero’s skin but an author of his skill and ability would not be limited to taking the easy way out. Instead Damballa has deep, African roots and an intriguing origin and supporting cast, the surface of which has only been scratched by this first adventure.
On to the review. The Gilda Stories/Bone and Ash follow two centuries in the life of Gilda, a black lesbian vampire. She escapes from the plantation whose brutal masters claimed the life of her mother, only to be nearly raped by a slave catcher. She kills him, and is eventually found by the first Gilda, the madam of a brothel in New Orleans. This brothel, Woodard’s, will define “home” for our heroine for the next two centuries. It’s here that she learns about the power of the written word, the significance of women’s friendship, and the basics of what it means to be a life-affirming vampire. When Gilda the elder turns our heroine into a vampire, and then chooses for herself the true death, Gilda the younger must navigate a human world where her opportunities are defined by her race and gender, and an immortal world where she’s inherited a loving (though sometimes distant) family.
The novel’s in an episodic format, so basically we jump through moments in Gilda’s life — like her friendship with Aurelia, a black club woman passionately working against poverty in her community — and moments in American and global history — like the gradual collapse of the nation-state in light of environmental degradation. This collection of short stories is also a meditation on time, and the inevitability of outliving people and things you love. In many ways, this last contributes a kind of elegic quality to the narrative. Gilda can’t help but hold herself apart from the current of the everyday, because the waters of time will always leave her untouched. Each story explores a moment in time where Gilda is forced to confront the fallacies in her own emotional distance, where she has to navigate ephemeral relationships with no easy lines of descent or convenient resolutions. In this way, The Gilda Stories fit into a longstanding tradition in LGBT literature of exploring “a queer time and place“, as well as family and friendships that defy conventional understandings of gender and lineage.
I selected this collection because it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Here’s a quote from the author:
Gilda being black is core and informs how she makes meaning of her world, and how she is responded to. Gilda understands the various ethnicities of the girls in the bordello. She knows that Bird is a Native American. When Gilda visits Sorrel’s salon in Yerba Buena, she understands that people look at her askance because she is black. As a female, Gilda knows she is vulnerable on the road alone so she dresses as a boy. It is from Gilda’s perspective that we learn these things. For me, people of color and women are the center of the universe; it’s natural. Assuming this centrality allowed me to address people’s racism without having the racism take over the story.
As a black woman, Gilda recognizes situations that put her in jeopardy. As a vampire she has power to overcome these situations, but she knows that other people don’t have that same privilege. She experiences life as a black woman, but she has privilege as a vampire.
Gilda’s a really quiet narrator. I think fans of Parable of the Sower will find her especially charming; she’s a really sharp narrator, not at all a kid, and navigates the ethical quandaries facing her with a surefootedness now rare in paranormal fiction. She regrets having to kill, and does so rarely, but it’s not something she hesitates over, and she never, ever spends pages and pages thinking about how she’s some sort of secret monster. Gomez also avoids defining Gilda by her vampirism; she does hunt, yeah, but she’s also a traveler, a theater person, a writer, a singer, etc. The one thing that she carries with her throughout all these careers and adventures is her understanding of herself as part of a community of vampires, and a member of a family. She’s loved, and that love (and needing to make family outside of conventional lines of descent) are what really set this vampire apart from others.
If you pick up this collection in the near future, you’ll be really super lucky; Gomez is presently working on a new set of Gilda Stories. Here’s a 2011 excerpt.
More discussion of Hunger Games (the last link is to a review that focuses on the movie from an indigenous, social justice oriented perspective)
Here’s a link to “The Inconstant Moon” by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Now, onto the review.
Neesha Meminger’s Into the Wise Dark focuses on the adventures of Pammi, a girl who lives in the in-between spaces of several worlds. She’s Indian and American; she’s had a stint or two in the mental health system before being judged “well”; she’s a high school graduate planning to start a year-long volunteer program before going off to college. She also, psychically, travels between her present and the past world of Zanum, the home of her ancestors, where she’s got a boyfriend, a grandmother-figure, and is loved. In order to get to Zanum, she travels through the Dark.
Pammi normally keeps Zanum a secret; after all, her telling others about her experiences there led her mother to put her into therapy. So, when she discovers that her summer internship involves mentoring girls who, like her, have hidden powers, and who believe her when she talks about Zanum, it seems like a dream come true… until Pammi discovers that her travelling between worlds may have put Zanum (and her new friends) into danger. What follows is a multitemporal story of friendship, featuring psychic powers, trust, and love, all told in Pammi’s wry, sometimes cynical, voice.
What I especially enjoyed about this work is the casual diversity of the characters; not only is the narrator South Asian, the other characters she knows who are South Asian reflect the reality of that diaspora. Plus, the girls at the center are ethnically diverse as well, in a refreshing break from the white monochromaticism of much supernatural YA… particularly because Meminger’s characters emerge as distinct, off-beat, charming individuals, whose quirks move the story further and really show the kind of world-building superhero YA is capable of. Meminger’s teen girls sound like teen girls, not like the lifeless caricatures you see in movies like Twilight. Plus, the teen girls at the center have been through the wringer; the adults in their lives have, in many ways, abandoned them. They’ve now turned to each other for support, and Pammi’s struggle to earn their trust (something difficult for her to do since she’s new, she’s got a cushy life, and her mom loves her) feels real. Moreover, it feels worthwhile, like the friendship of these girls can and ought to mean something. It’s this friendship that drives Pammi’s struggle to save Zanum, and gives this heroine’s quest vitality.
Fans of Meminger’s earlier work will note that this Pammi is a secondary character in Jazz in Love.
I received the email below this afternoon, and am re-posting it with permission from Dr. McCune. In it, he emphasizes that activism surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder must not be conflated with misogyny.
On Wednesday, The Department of Women’s Studies and American Studies–along with African-American Studies and TRIOTA–hosted approximately 100 students, faculty, and staff from across campus to discuss the meaning of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and its aftermath. Together, a UMD Theatre Ensemble, Dr. Jo Paoletti, Dr. Damion Thomas, Fareed Hayat, JD (The People’s Law Firm), Dr. Sheri Parks, Gabriel Peoples, Dr. Jo Richardson, and myself gave rousing remarks that facilitated a larger discussion–which was complex, rich, emotional, powerful, and even tense at points. Students asked rich questions and gave personal and political responses which kept the event grounded in the material aspects of racial profiling, racial injustice, and the complex workings of race and gender, sexuality, and class. This was a successful event and as the organizer, I am grateful to all who supported and participated. The event was taped by the College of ARHU videographer and will be available soon for pedagogical uses and our departmental archives.
After the event, there was a Vigil held at Nyumburu Cultural Center. THIS is where the power of performance was most on display. The national “1000 Campus Vigil for Trayvon” collective was invited to campus to organize the vigil. With the vigil, also came a collective of men from various religious and political backgrounds to speak to the significance of this tragedy. Unfortunately, there was a range of bodies, but not a range of perspectives. I stood–with several colleagues and students–at this makeshift campus rally, where men from the Nation of Islam, New Black Panther Party, and other entities lamented the loss of Trayvon Martin as the loss of another black man from the household. One man suggested that such losses, left young boys to be raised by their mothers, teaching them how to be more like women than men. As if no alternative outcomes were available; or, to say that being like mommy was somehow marked more problematic than being like daddy. I looked over at one of my students almost in tears and seeing others ready to walk away. Feeling as if I was swimming in a sea of something akin to black masculine truculence, I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!!
I moved from within the crowd toward the front of the “rally,” where I saw Dr. Ron Ziegler who is the Director of the Nyumburu Cultural Center. I asked him, “what are you going to do to salvage what was just said to our young women, to these young people?” He gestured for me to speak to the guy who had spewed such rhetorical venom. Before I could say “umm,” he had gestured for him to come over. Quickly, I postured–knowing that my queer affect may be read as unworthy of his respect, attention, etc. Like clockwork, I turned on my performance of masculine bravado–learned largely while in the field talking to traditionally masculine men who practiced sexual discretion– and asked him if I could speak. “Yeah brotha, whats your name?” I reply, “Professor McCune.” And of course, he would then introduce me as “Professor McCOON.” The name I love to hate.
As I walked up to the mic I knew that I would have to call on the baptist preacher in me–as that rhetorical style would be the only one that these men were going to listen to. You know the style… the same voice that probably instilled these “nuclear” family politics and secured this framework that policing black women’s bodies was the only way to have black (male)community progress. So I began to affirm their anger and angst, echoing “It is true that Trayvon Martin is dead today because his body was being read as black and male and deemed suspicious; It is true that justice has not been served.” And from there, I departed from where they may have thought I was going to go….
The rest of this intervention was surprisingly recorded, by a student who happened to be in the audience.
Indeed, Lorde’s famous words speak precisely to this experience, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
GO DR. MCCUNE!! What a powerful intervention in an overly common script in black radical communities.
I could be Rekia Boyd. Easily. I can’t tell you how many warm nights have included me hanging out in the park with friends. Just shooting the shit you know? Have we been loud? Probably. But there’s a reason it was an off duty cop “new to the neighborhood” & not a patrol car.
People who grew up in the area wouldn’t call the cops over something as mundane as people hanging out in the park. Because they know that Chicago police can be trigger happy, and no one wants that on their conscience over some hollering. I don’t buy the idea that a large group of black bodies = crime, but I know a lot of people who trumpet on & on about the joys of gentrification do. Lawndale is definitely facing gentrification as the West Loop gets to be the newest hot spot. Garfield Park & Lawndale are right there & full of big cheap houses that could be worth millions in a few years.
So, there are new neighbors who talk about how great the properties are & how scary the long time residents are even if they never quite say why they find them so frightening. The cop mistaking a phone at someone’s ear for a gun? That’s part of the same system of scary black man myths that killed Trayvon Martin. It’s so embedded in America’s collective psyche that we’re criminals that it probably didn’t even occur to this cop that black people could be out enjoying one of the warmest March days in history & that not be a reason to suspect anything more than an impromptu block party. No weapons were recovered at the scene, a woman is dead, a man is injured & has been charged with assault for standing outside on his phone. That’s what it means to be black in America.
Had a conversation with kid #1 (12 years old), about how to handle himself if he’s been stopped by the cops, or someone like Zimmerman. Somewhere in the middle of explaining how to protect his head & neck if a cop decided to kick his ass (happened to my husband when he was 13), and how to respond if a cop calls him a nigger (happened to me at 12) I had this sudden ridiculous urge to start screaming. I didn’t.
I kept talking to him, and he mentioned racist kids at his school & how there’s one teacher who lets them get away with it, but who threatens to write him up if he says anything back. And I asked him if he wanted us to get involved & he said no because he’d already handled it. How did he handle it? He told the teacher to go ahead & write him up and then they could all talk to the principal about the things she lets kids say to him. She left him alone after that so he doesn’t want me to come wreck shit.
Which…says a lot about my kid & about our family I guess, but the reality is that it’s good that he’s learning to defend himself against the system. And shit like that is why we stay in cities & don’t live in suburbs. My parents moved me to burbs in high school, and it was a lot more than one teacher turning a blind eye to racism. I don’t have any answers for other parents of young black males. None. I’m muddling through & hoping that this can all be life lessons he never needs to use.
But, his 19 year old cousin is planning to come over & talk to him about dealing with the cops because he’s been there and done that. And I just…we’re passing down through the generations life lessons on how to handle/avoid police brutality because it’s just that necessary. And people want to claim that America is post racial, or racism isn’t widespread. How many individual acts does it take to make up a system? How many beatings, rapes, & deaths will it take for that system to be acknowledged by everyone?
I’ve been tweeting all morning about #rapeculture & #abuseculture, and someone asked me what I meant when I referred to Strong People Myths. I think some/most of us are familiar with the Strong Black Woman Trope right? Right. For those that are unfamiliar with it, it can best be summed up as the idea that black women are so strong they don’t need help, protection, care, or concern. It’s a racialized super human idea that leaves little to no room for real black women with real problems. That myth contributes to black women experiencing higher than average domestic violence rates, & an increased rate of sexual assaults. It is literally killing black women, but it persists & is often referenced as a positive thing despite it denying the basic humanity of black women.
Similar myths flourish inside rape culture & abuse culture and contribute to ideas like “Men can’t be raped”, “It’s her fault for staying with him after he hit her”, “She/he/they didn’t fight back so they must have wanted it” or (and this one is always guaranteed to make me want to throw things), “I would never be in that position” during discussions of domestic violence or rape. The idea that strong people are safe people is perpetuated relentlessly throughout our culture & it ignores not only the reality that anyone can be victimized, but also that it takes strength to survive. It feeds into external & internal victim blaming when people insist that only the weak can be prey. The One True Way To Be Strong So You Are Safe idea is comforting right up until it backfires on people who are victimized.
Meanwhile rapists & abusers have a free pass to continue their behavior since we propagate this idea that only the strong deserve to survive. They face no/limited consequences, get society to do the dirty work of A) blaming the victim for not being stronger & getting the victim to self blame, all while seeking out new victims. It’s easy to say people should have known better before you think about the fact that rapists & abusers don’t usually advertise their intent. Instead they rely on wit, charm, & social pressure to help them find, isolate, & assault (sometime repeatedly) their victims. Then when victims seek help, they know their victims will run right into the Strong People Don’t Get Hurt Myths. Instant insulation from prosecution or social repercussions with the added bonus that the victim will forever doubt themselves!
It’s a sickening set of tropes, and yet it is popular & often lauded as though eternal strength is a reasonable or logical expectation of human beings. It’s not of course, and yes, abusers & rapists are not mutually exclusive or gender specific roles. But they are things that humans do to other humans. That’s it. Every human has needs, desires, wants that they are trying to have met. And everyone is vulnerable to harm whether it be from a stranger or a partner. To pretend that people can be (or should be) omniscient, or that they can’t ever be overpowered is to deny the humanity of survivors. It’s bad enough that people will be assaulted, but to have society continue the victimization is simply ridiculous and detrimental to everyone.