Black Female Representations, Fandom, Greetings From The Edge, Motherhood, Movies, Pregnancy, Race & Pop Culture

Feeling Prissy

mammy
The Mammy in my bedroom

The one thing I am constantly astonished by is my approaching-Oedipus-level-blindness. Case in point: at the same time I was working on an essay slated to be published next week about how what my grandmother calls “Sambo-black” collided with colorism —  of all places — on my baby shower cake, I was hanging a picture of Hattie McDaniel as Mammy from Gone With The Wind in my bedroom.

Let me explain.

With my baby due practically any week now, nesting, thankfully, has finally started to take flight in my household. Last weekend, when we managed to clear all of our belongings out of the nursery I sorted through a box from my old workspace that was a mix of art supplies and papers. That’s where I recovered the picture of Mammy and without thinking put it up in our bedroom.

For longer than I can remember I have been a Gone With The Wind fan. Though my feelings about the story have evolved considerably since I first fell under the movie’s spell watching it on TNT in all of its technicolor glory in the late 1980s, to reading the novel in 7th grade bedridden for almost two months with pneumonia, it remains one of my favorite movies and besides The Wizard of Oz (another film treasure of 1939) the most instructive narrative for storytellers I have ever encountered. Since I always understood GWTW to be about some of American history’s worst villains — Confederates — and the fact that some of the smartest people I have known who have also happened to be African American women shared in this love of GWTW with me, I have understood my attraction to the narrative and its iconography as stemming from my interest in history, race, storytelling and pop culture. Not to mention I also understand the idea of Mammy, the loving, fat, selfless caretaker of white children to be a white supremacist invention.

Still, it took me going to see the amazing Nick Cave show Made By Whites For Whites at the Jack Shainman Gallery just before it closed this weekend for me to be able to see the forest as well as the trees in my very own consciousness.

Nick Cave, The Jack Shainman Gallery
Nick Cave, The Jack Shainman Gallery

In his artist statement for the show, Cave says that when he began collecting racist memorabilia he noted that all of the objects, from jockeys to spittoons, implied “some sort of service.” Acknowledging that these objects through their mass-distribution were meant to support and naturalize black people as less than human, Cave aimed for his work “to rehabilitate the problematic, loaded object and find a place of relevance and empowerment through reuse.” Undoubtedly, his show is beautiful. And beauty can certainly be empowering. But so is the acknowledgement of a black genius wherever we find them, in whatever guise.

The reason I put a picture of Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy up in my bedroom is because in the perverse world of Confederate hardship that GWTW memorializes, Mammy speaks truth to power, telling Scarlett that she’s like a spider; she also tells Scarlett that her and Rhett are mules in horses’ harnesses. In other words, the white people are the insects, the animals, not Mammy. Of course Mammy’s foil is Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy who famously didn’t know “nothin’ ‘bout birthin no babies.” Nonetheless, Mammy is not the ideal servant. More subversively, in McDaniel’s portrayal, she is the ideal mother because her love is unconditional despite her open acknowledgment of Scarlet’s enormous faults.

Irrespective of how much I’ve read or how many classes I’ve been to or how many labor videos I’ve seen the closer my own due date comes, the more like Prissy I feel.

That’s just the truth.

Though Nick Cave and Mammy are nowhere to be found in the essay that I drafted this week, the idea that I wasn’t immediately hip to the confluence of race, images, history and mothering as floating in the ether of my home and my mind serves as another reminder that very soon the mental fog of pregnancy will be replaced with the sleep deprivation of motherhood.

Black Female Representations, Coupledom, Entertainment, Fandom, Marriage, Review

On The Run Review: I Almost Ran Away

A card-carrying member of the Beyhive, I didn’t have to be baited by divorce rumors and then pregnancy rumors to turn on HBO last night to watch Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On The Run tour. Though when Jay was on stage alone I could have used a pair of defibrulator paddles to make sure I didn’t float away into unconsciousness, I managed to survive the television event that more than anything else bored me. Not to mention it also annoyed me with its use of “This is not real life” and “This is real life” tags to accompany some of the video footage. That the couple felt they needed disclaimers to distinguish their fictitious selves most consistently characterized by their gun toting alter egos “Bonnie and Clyde” from who they really are – unimaginably wealthy people who like hanging out on yachts – speaks to how the persistence of the Illuminati narrative may have gotten under their skin.

The upshot of On The Run: Jay kept interrupting Bey’s show.

beybutt

That aside, the times I was genuinely glued to the screen were not when Bey changed the axis of the planet by shaking her ass, even in her bizarre stocking thong thingy; it was when she put on her scorned woman persona and took the audience to church. The two best examples of this were her performances of “Resentment” and the Solange-penned, “Why Don’t You Love Me?” But even swaddled in my blanket of Bey rapture, which the presence of Jay-Z considerably dampened, the church element reminded me some of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour. And frankly, how much more evocatively Madonna mixed the profane with the sacred. I doubt that was the Queen’s intention; I’m just sayin’.

Below are two clips of Bey performing the songs that were my favorites of the On The Run setlist followed up by classic Madonna.

My Parents, Personal Narrative, Stuff Published Elsewhere

My Father’s Incarceration And The War on Drugs in The Guardian

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I am over the moon about contributing to The Guardian, especially to have a headline piece in the opinion section that’s an Editor’s Pick on a Monday morning!! Here’s the link.

Academia, Bisexuality, Brave New World, Feminism, Science, Sexism in Science

Hormonal-vs-Universal: Gender Bias In Science

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A big part of how we understand or misunderstand the “nature” of our bodies comes from basic medical research. And a recent study conducted by Northwestern Medicine shed some light on where some of the misunderstandings may come from. Despite how important sex differences are in the development of diseases as well as metabolic responses to drugs, Northwestern researchers found that over half of the human race is being dismissed by basic surgical researchers. It will probably not come as a surprise that the half of humanity science is ignoring is comprised of women.

Melina R. Kibbe, M.D., the senior author of the study, has said, “Women make up half the population, but in surgical literature, 80% of the studies use only males.” Dr. Kibbe herself was once hesitant to experiment on female rats because their hormonal changes make them more unwieldy to study. However, another scientist, Dr. Teresa Woodruff also at Northwestern, suggested that Kibbe use female rats in her experiments on the vascular system. The result: Kibbe “soon discovered a critical difference between female and male rats, which may be important to human health.”

I came to understand that everything from female cells to female animals to actual women were rarely the subjects of scientific studies when I began to research the history of sex and found that scientists discounted the existence of bisexuality for most of the 20th century because their experiments never included women. When Canadian sexologist Meredith Chivers asked one of her male colleagues why there wasn’t more research on women and sexual orientation he answered that he was a man, so he studied men. The upshot: without large numbers of female scientists leading the way, research on female subjects isn’t getting done. But the solution isn’t just that we need more female scientists: the female scientists we have don’t spend the majority of their time conducting research.

In a post about female researchers and authorship, scientist and blogger Emma Pierson wrote that “studies have shown that female scientists spend more time on non-research activities, like child­-rearing and teaching, tend to work at institutions that emphasize teaching over research and are more likely to leave the workforce for family reasons.” Pierson also concluded that resulting from these factors, “the average male scientist authors 45 percent more papers than the average female scientist…” which relegates many female scientists to smaller, more isolated colleague communities. So we have a two-layered problem. A gender bias exists in science that shapes both who wears the lab coats and what specimens are being studied under the microscopes.

labcoats

Now, The National Institute of Health is in the process of writing a policy that will mandate all funded clinical research to study female animals and cells. This is critical, when according to Northwestern even in studies that focused on “female prevalent diseases, 44% did not report the sex; when reported, only 14% studied females.”

An age old  assumption abounds that women, no matter how much we talk and blog, etc., remain mysterious.  Well, as long as men are considered a stand-in for the universal and women are pegged as hormonal not only will we remain mysterious, but we may stay sick, too.