By Tanya Steele | Shadow and Act May 9, 2013 at 2:16PM
Hello Shadow and Act, I've been away for a minute. I like to write one piece per month but I was caught up in development of my feature film. And, I needed a minute to observe the culture before I wrote my next piece. Cleveland Ohio has brought me to the keyboard. Honestly, I have been fuming since 'The Onion' unleashed that deplorable moniker on Quvenzhane Wallis. A nine year old? What in the hell do you say to something like that? I think I have been paralyzed since then. I couldn't understand why every Black woman celebrity that has clout wasn't railing against this. I expect too much. Or, perhaps, they were paralyzed as well. I was too overcome to get to the keyboard. But, Cleveland, you brought me back.
Look, we have no leadership. Period. I just accept it. President Obama has done some amazing things while walking the racial tightrope. Things that will, ultimately, make a difference to Black america. But, Black america has no leadership. What we do have are children running amok, chasing celebrity and not caring about anyone but their damn selves. The most glaring example is Lil Wayne and his knucklehead statement about Emmett Till. I am not even going to take the 'i'm more moralistic than you' approach. His lyric was just plain ignorant. And, it was scurrilous to all Americans not just Black americans. That one lyric let me know who he identifies with, what experience he sees as valid and powerful and what experience he deems as weak- the Black experience.
This weekend, I watched Melissa Harris-Perry's show on MSNBC. I appreciate her show because she speaks to issues that sit in my craw. And, she does it with an agility and insight that lets me know I am not alone. She speaks to gender issues, immigration issues, healthcare issues, history, issues that black women face in america, so much. And, all of it is important and on a similar continuum. She gives us the impression that we can speak to these issues without fear, without hesitation and with nuance and precision. I look forward to her show as it is a beacon in the american media wilderness. Last weekend, I waited for her to speak about Assata Shakur. Assata Shakur, the first woman to be placed on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list. Like Melissa Harris-Perry, she is a Black american woman. Unlike Melissa Harris-Perry, she lives without compromise.
I read Assata's autobiography, years ago. Most intelligent, black, law abiding citizens I know have read it, too. If you haven't, I suggest you do. It is one of the most thoughtful, insightful and poetic works that speaks to the experience of being a Black american woman who cares about black people. Assata, it seemed, cares about the same issues Melissa Harris-Perry does. So, why didn't Melissa Harris-Perry discuss the fact that this black american woman has been placed on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list? She did not so much as utter her name? Is there something to be afraid of?
It is possible to speak about Assata, and that time period, without supporting a violent overthrow of the government (if you believe that is what she is about). It is possible to have civil discourse about her, the circumstances that lead to her arrest, her beliefs, all of it, without giving consent. Assata embodies the dilemma we face as black american citizens who care about black people, who care about america, who care about all of humanity. Assata is apart of our history. Her story is our story. It is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of. It is nothing to run from or hide from. It is a story, information, a place to learn about our journey in america. We've become so ashamed of associating with anything that offends white america that we run from it. We don't want to be seen as violent, angry or upset about the condition of black america. Most of us are and we talk about it with friends and family but we keep it out of the public arena. We don't want to be alienated because "they" don't understand. How will "they" understand if we hide our truth?
In the April 2013 British Vogue, Beyonce stated that she is a "modern day feminist". At the same time that she trumpets her "Mrs. Carter World Tour". I am a Feminist who believes in equality in partnership with men or women, whoever you choose. Feminism is about embracing your status as an individual, with your OWN NAME, your own identity, being able to trumpet that as enough. I don't understand what Beyonce believes Feminism to be. I would love for her to quote a chapter, a sentence, two words from any books she's read on Feminism; any conversations she's had with real Feminists, anything that would indicate she is clear about what Feminism is and what it is not. Is "Bow Down (Bitches)", the example? Feminists do not make themselves sexual objects. There is so much confusion and under education in the culture. The celebrities have become the teachers yet they have NO knowledge whatsoever.
Look, women's bodies are not toys. Our bodies are simply what we were born with. We didn't choose them. Men have different body types. A culture has been created to make all of us believe that women's bodies are here for the sheer delight of men. Anyone who joins forces with this notion is anti-Feminist.
Right now, we live in a 'rape culture'. A culture that has the abuse, kidnapping and rape of girls and women at its core. Yes, it was reprehensible that Lil Wayne said what he did about Emmett Till (our collective child). But, at the center of his lyric, he was speaking about doing violence to a woman; a violence where the end result is death. Oh, he was being metaphorical. No, Emmett Till was beaten to death. So, in essence, he is saying that he would like to copulate with a woman so hard that it kills her. I can analyze this away as some sort of romantic 'i would die with you' notion. But, that's not what it is. It is the desire to pound away at someone with a force and a violence that explodes all of his rage and aggression into another human being until it kills her.
And, while we're at it, getting on your knees and shaking your hair into a superbowl crowd does not serve Feminism in the least. How is this empowering for women? Someone, explain to me how gyrating around on a world stage, in lingerie, is Feminism. I don't get it. And, I don't understand why people who are versed in Feminist theory believe that Beyonce represents a new wave of Feminism. What the hell are they looking at? Being powerful in the bedroom does not make you a Feminist. Asserting your right to pleasure is good but this does not equal the playing field. This does not put 'equal pay for equal work' as an agenda item. This does not place the safety of girls and women at the center. Pleasure is a selfish pursuit. And, important only in that sexuality should include an agreement between two parties to bring pleasure to one another. This is one item that has to be on a continuum of items that calls for the end of the subjugation of girls and women.
The goal of Feminism is not to help all women find their pleasure center; it is to help women take ownership of our power center. The conversation should be about equality inside and outside of the bedroom. Respect, empowerment and a self-love that is about loving yourself, completely, not parts of your body. Not loving yourself because you look good in lingerie or because your weave falls down your back. And, mind you, I delight in exchanging passion and beauty and sensual pleasure with my guy but I know that equality in our relationship involves a give and take in every arena of our lives. Living for the lower regions of your body is the end result of trauma.
And, this trauma has impacted Black and impoverished communities to the point of devastation. How, in Cleveland Ohio, can so many girls and women go missing for years without notice? And, remain in the same town? Remember the Cleveland Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell just two years ago? He lured women to his home, killed them and kept the body parts in his house. He barbecued with neighbors, they sat on his porch and they complained of a horrible smell coming from his home. Nothing was done. How is it that so many girls and women can go missing in this town and people aren't alarmed? Aren't mothers and fathers combing the streets looking for their daughters?
My mouth dropped when CNN reporter Ashleigh Banfield, reporting on the recent Cleveland Ohio kidnappings, said that people were coming up to her truck asking them to help find their missing daughters. They said the police weren't helping. What the hell?! The Feds need to shine a spotlight on this town until they get to the root of this issue. This is reprehensible. It is not just about marginalization and poverty; this is about a pure disregard and disrespect for girls and women. Women are not valuable in the eyes of Cleveland law enforcement. Hell, if you aren't protecting little girls in the culture, what purpose are you serving in law enforcement?
If you are vigilant about your desire to end racism, are you as vigilant to end sexism? Why not? Sexism is real. The objectification of women is real and has severe consequences. People are shocked by the horrors of Cleveland Ohio but, this is what sexism and misogyny enacted looks like. The end result of the objectification of women is violence against women. Yes, it is that simple. It is the belief that women are no more valuable than how we look and how we jiggle.
Women's bodies are not playthings. We are not property. We are not here for men to have a place to release and be serviced so that they can be productive citizens. No, women are people. We are not here to be gawked at, put in chains, locked in basements, paraded around in lingerie. We think, we hurt, we work, we raise children, we care and some of us carry trauma in our fierce handbags; our bodies are simply vessels that contain our dreams. Our bodies ARE NOT playthings. Audre Lorde spoke to this. June Jordan spoke to this. bell hooks speaks to this. Barbara Smith speaks to this. The list is goes on. If you want to do something to end misogyny- start reading works by Feminist authors. If Cleveland Ohio can produce Barbara Smith, it can be rescued. But, that's up to us. Be on our side as women or become our enemy.