Black People Don’t Swim

Black people don’t swim jokes are funny. Like most jokes they’re funny because they reveal some level of truth. At a cursory glance it would seem that black people don’t like pools or beaches and are somehow cultural predisposed to loathing water, but clearly that’s not actually the case. It is true that many black people do not like to swim/can’t swim, but thats largely because black communities are more likely to be located in cities where access to pools and beaches are limited. There’s also the joke that black women don’t like to swim because they don’t want to get their hair wet. But thats a different discussion entirely. (Black Hair = Can of Worms…)

I chose to write about this particular image and the black people don’t swim joke because of how it relates to the particular history of black students at Amherst College. The Black Student Union’s meeting area is named the Gerald Penny Memorial Center. Gerald Penny was a black student who attended Amherst College back in the days when part of the requirement for graduation was a swim test. He was from New Orleans and his father was a mailman. Like most inner city black youth, Gerald Penny could not swim. Despite this fact, he was forced to take the swim test anyway. Gerald Penny drowned while trying to complete the swim test, and while a host of  students and faculty watched.

In 2006,  Anthony Marx, who was then president of the college at the time, (He’s currently the president of the NYC libraries. And he was arrested for drunk driving a library car last year… very amherst of him…) gave a speech about Gerald Penny and how his “sacrifice” reminds us that we should “create a community of differences consciously, mindful of what we can do and not yet have learned”. And while his speech was very sweet and inspirational, I think that for black students the story of Gerald Penny has always carried a different meaning. It was always a reminder that the college would let you drown. The point of the story wasn’t that he should’ve refused to get in the water, but that no one reached their hand in to save him.

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A Day Back At Saint Ann’s…

As an alumnus of the Saint Ann’s School, visiting for the first time in 10 years felt more like a homecoming than an exploration. I was able to reconnect with my former 8th grade art teacher, Charles Luce, who is now the head of the art department. “Luce” took me on a tour of the school with an emphasis on introducing me to teachers who’s classes I would be observing, so they wouldn’t be surprised by my presence in the coming weeks. He gave me a copy of the art department schedule for the 6th –12th grade classes and allowed me to create my own observation schedule based on my interests. Once he made a copy of the schedule to keep for reference, he set me loose to re-discover the school.

Saint Ann’s School is a non-sectarian independent school located in Brooklyn Heights, New York. It serves grades Pre-K through Senior High School and focuses heavily on the arts as part of its academic curriculum. The school does not give grades and instead teachers write page long anecdotal reports for each of their students. Because there is a heavy emphasis on self-directed learning, students are allowed to craft their own schedules in the junior and senior high school levels.

The school owns eight buildings that it uses for various parts of its academic program. The art department is housed in a brownstone across the street from the main school building. Most art classrooms are located in that building, the Rubin Art building, with the exception of the elementary school art rooms, and the photography studio. There are also exhibitions spaces that are housed in the main building.

My visit to the school reminded me of what is possible with children. Its easy to get bogged down in curriculum development and theories of education, but when it comes down to it what matters most is having passion for your subject and passion for teaching kids. The rest manages to work itself out.

Senior in Advanced Painting

Miss Jessie’s

Miss Jessies refuses to have products in ethnic aisles of major stores

The first time I encountered Miss Jessie’s was many years ago when I cut my hair boy short for the second time. I was starting to grow my hair back out when a young woman from my church suggested I check out Miss Jessies. They have a salon in brooklyn and they will make your natural hair look fabulous! I wasn’t all that interested in looking “fabulous” but I promised to look up the salon online and check it out. It might be nice to treat myself to some kind of hair fanciness, I thought. When I got to the website I realized very quickly that the salon was really targeted at making your hair look as “not nappy” as possible.

This bothered me a bit. What’s the point of going natural, if your going out of your way still to make your hair look different from the way it grows out of your head. I felt like the salon preyed on some black women’s desire to have “good hair”, which in my experience means less super straight “european hair”, but more curly  “mixed-race hair” (Google Mixed Chicks). Miss Jessie’s has expanded to include a whole line of products that are distributed in major chain stores like Target now. They even sell what ultimately amounts to your run of the mill relaxer as a “silkener”. I believe they have even patented “silkening” as a technique.

Anyways, black hair care is such big business. And while they like to claim to take the higher road, many natural hair care companies prey on the same insecurities and desires that traditional companies do.

The Best Exotic Marigol Hotel

Cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Ridiculous.

I though after Eat Pray Love, that studios would stop making movies that so fully depict the problem of white privilege, but of course they won’t.

When I came across this it kind of saddened me that some of my favorite actors were going to be in the film. Like, really?

In other news: Ashton Kutcher does a commercial in “brown face”, imitating a fictional bollywood director and he doesn’t understand what he did wrong. sigh…

Racist Obama Bumper Stickers

 

Folks really don’t wanna let go of the N-word. Its so discouraging when someone has accomplished so much in their life and they are still treated with so little respect because of the color of their skin. It feels a little like theatre of the absurd. Race means so little, yet it has come to mean so much.

Why Black Women are Fat

This week the New York Times published the article Black Women and Fat by Alice Randall, and it caused a huge stir among bloggers who write about black women’s issues. Randall argued that black women are fat because they want to be. She cited a Lucille Clifton poem as proof of fatness being an ideal in black culture. She also wrote about black husbands admonishing their wives not to lose “the sugar down below”. She also argues that black women choose to be fat out of rebellion to some fit slave archetype, an idea that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. Nevertheless, the article seemed to come from a good place of wanting to improve the health of black women and to address the prevalence of obesity.

Noble aims indeed, but Randalls logic seemed to escape many. Also her use of the image of Josephine Baker struck many as strange because Ms. Baker is far from fat

The ideal of the curvy woman is not the same as that of a fat woman. In fact, it should come as no surprise that black women are part of a culture that denigrates and pathologizes overweight people. To say that black women are fat because it is their desire to be fat is incredibly misleading and I have a hard time believing that Ms. Randall was not aware of that when she posted this article. She even writes:

“I live in Nashville. There is an ongoing rivalry between Nashville and Memphis. In black Nashville, we like to think of ourselves as the squeaky-clean brown town best known for our colleges and churches. In contrast, black Memphis is known for its music and bars and churches. We often tease the city up the road by saying that in Nashville we have a church on every corner and in Memphis they have a church and a liquor store on every corner. Only now the saying goes, there’s a church, a liquor store and a dialysis center on every corner in black Memphis.”

Yet at no point does she manage to draw any connections between the environments people live in and their health. She manages to avoid talking about class, and access to healthcare, and places the blame squarely on black women’s shoulders. Nevermind the multitude of experience black women have, and the complex relationship that all women seem to have with their bodies, never mind that obesity is prevalent in the general culture. Black women are pathological and think that getting fat is a good thing and are slowly killing themselves. This may be part of Alice Randall’s truth and speaks to her personal experience, but she needn’t try to speak for all black women because in that regard she gets it all wrong.

“Your life will be better after this.. “

The Swedish Prime Minister of Culture cut into the clitoris of a black faced half human, half cake and said to human part “Your life will be better after this”, while a crowd of Swedish people took pictures and laughed. The whole scene came across as very disturbing as this photograph made its rounds on the internet. When I first saw this photograph I didn’t have any context for it. I had no idea who the actors were or where this was happening. And I didn’t realize right away that the head of the cake was a real person. But that anyone thought it was okay to cut into a cake fashioned into a black woman and then feed a piece of it to itself is disturbing even without the rest of the context.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on in this picture, and it took a few days for all the details to come to light. The black Swedish artist Makode Linde devised this “performance art” piece. And long before I heard any of the other details related to this photo, I was informed that the artist was black. I’m still not sure how in 2012, something can be deemed not racist or not offensive simply because there is one black person who approves of it. Its ironic that when black people actively participate in racism that somehow justifies its existence as right and normal, and when black people fight for social justice they’re accused of reverse racism. Sometimes I question whether people are truly ignorant or if they’re just evil.

Who cuts into the body of a screaming cake and feels nothing? Who thinks its funny? Its probably also appropriate to bring up how social dynamics played into how people reacted in the room. The extent to which peer pressure affected individuals actions. Still the whole scene reminds me of the tweet by some young american teenager who said that a characters death in the hunger games wasn’t sad because the character was black. The level of indifference to the suffering and the death of “brown people” demonstrated in this photograph and in the related video, I think rightly, freaks me out.  At some point, the I didn’t know excuse, just isn’t enough. And the “but a black person said it was okay” excuse, is even worse…

A Concise History of Black-White Relations In The USA

This is another picture I came across on Facebook. It stirred a lot of interest and had tons of likes and comments. I couldn’t read through all the comments but their was a clear debate about how accurate this cartoon is at representing the history of race/racism in this country. Based on what I did read I found that part of what is at stake with buying into this version of American history is the sense of self accomplishment that many people carry. By saying that a person has what they have because of the exploitation of another group makes them feel like they didn’t actually work for it. It comes into conflict with their experience, especially in the case of poor white people, because they toil in poorly paid positions with little progress, similarly to many minority groups. How can you ask someone to identify with the role of oppressor when they themselves are oppressed?

Also this cartoon is clearly an oversimplification but I think it brings to the surface perceptions that are a big part of the racial debate and tensions in this country.

The Booty Warrior

So I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be able to participate in my class’s Show and Tell presentations. I was super excited about showing parts of the following videos and to talk a little bit about the prison industrial complex. Especially in light of all the controversy surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I thought it might give my classmates a different perspective on the events that are being recounted constantly now in news media and give them a few laughs at the same time.

The Boondocks is a show that I have enjoyed since its first season. It often takes its cues from actual events or people in order to make some sort of comical social commentary. The show uses lots of offensive language including the N-word, which I’m usually strongly opposed to, and employs japanese cartoon aesthetics (i.e. Animé)

In this episode “A Date with the Booty Warrior”, Aaron Mcgrudder, the shows creator, manages to address the problem of the mass incarceration of black men and at the same time address the general discomfort of mainstream African-American communities with homosexuality and the construction of black masculinity. Enjoy.

Rihanna: De Niggabitch

RIhanna Article in Dutch Magazine

And just when I thought the Dutch couldn’t get anymore out of hand, I came across this. Hiyo! Yes that is the N-word, followed by the B-Word, and yes that is pop icon Rihanna. I’m no fan of hers but I refuse to believe that the writer and editors of this magazine had no idea that these words separately and conjoined are not an acceptable way to describe…. anyone! As usual there was tons of backlash and an apology was issued but seriously? I’m getting a little tired of people pretending to be ignorant. If you’re gonna be an asshole. Just own it.