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Black Liberation in Brazil: Embracing African Ancestry

30 Dec


What is the first visual image that comes to your mind when you think about a Brazilian woman? My first images were that of exotic Brazilian super models Gisele Bundchen, and Alessandra Ambrosio.1e3ae765e3c1592b3bdcb99e959b848f It is not uncommon that the immediate association of the typical Brazilian woman bears the resemblance of whiteness. The media reinforces this misrepresentation. alessandra_ambrosio05In addition to the misconception that Brazilian woman are exotic others, bearing the looks associated with the Caucasian race, we are fooled to believe that this is the most common representation of the typical Brazilian woman. Interestingly enough, Brazil holds the largest population of African people outside of the continent of Africa, so how is it that this vast distortion has become normalized? The system of white supremacy is the answer. This post will address the lingering racism and classism, which has created a wedge between Black and white Brazilians. I should add, that when I use the term white in this post, I am referring solely to skin color, not to national origin. In addition, this post will also look at some explanations for the negative sentiment towards African’s in Brazil. Lastly, I will explore some of the ways that Afro-Brazilians are rejecting white supremacy through creative expression and the embrasure of their natural hair. This disavowal was highlighted in Brazil’s first annual Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo (the March of Curly Hair Empowerment) in 2015. This leaves us with the question of how to obtain Black liberation in Brazil, and is this even possible in the 21st century. I will conclude with some proposed solutions.rtemagicc_crespo811-jpg

Brazil has an interesting racial structure. Lighter and even whiter skin is embraced and celebrated, despite having such a large number of Africans dwelling in this country. Brazil served as a hub for newly abducted Africans, where they were trained in the art of being slaves. Most African slaves were brought to various different coastal countries in South America, mainly Brazil and the Caribbean, before being transported to the North American colonies for slave labor. This accounts for the massive population of Africans living in Brazil today. liberdade_history_of_slaveryUpon further examination, “the negative representations of blackness in Brazil can be traced back to the period of slavery. Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery and one of the largest buyers of African slave labour in the world” (Pinho 1). On the continent of Brazil, slavery was especially harsh and lasted longer than in the US. Since the harsh racial divide was embedded in Brazilian society for so long, a country-wide disdain for Black Africans living in Brazil developed and lasted for years after slavery ended. Thus a negative racial sentiment was created, leaving Afro-Brazilians on the receiving end of said animosity.

White supremacy is not a concept that is distinct to the United States. Wherever colonization occurred, white supremacy followed. Although the concept of race in society did not always exist, once established, it was used as a dividing tool to separate people based on phenotypical features. The most prominent feature being skin color. Scholarly writers Dzidzienyo and Hasenbalg, “analysed the racial order in Brazil in terms of the linkage between culture and structure, between ideology and inequality. In this sense, these writers adopted early versions of a racial formation perspective” (Winant 181). In Omi and Winant’s article, “Racial Formation,” racial formation is defined as how we came to view the term race as we understand it today. The history behind racial formation lies in the creation of slavery and the marking of anyone of African descent as being inferior to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Race defines how people are seen in society, and what they can accomplish. In the US, race is understood by scholars as having been socially constructed. However, Omi and Winant explain that Brazil, “has historically had less rigid conceptions of race, and thus a variety of ‘intermediate’ categories exist” (Omi and Winant 61). Brazilian racial categories, unlike the US binary Black or white structure, can be placed on a sliding scale, where the whiter your skin, the greater your chance of passing as white. Embodying whiteness allows Brazilians of African dissent the ability to compete with the rest of society for economic stability. slide_5Because ultimately, in Brazil, “inequality is ‘smoothly’ maintained by a combination of ideological manipulation and coercion, all with the objective of maximizing white elite (i.e. capitalist) control of the developing Brazilian economy” (Winant 181). So here I must note, that class is able to trump race, as long as your skin color allows you the opportunity to encroach on the spaces of wealth.

In Brazil, the “mulata” is celebrated. Mulata refers to someone of equally mixed African and Caucasian ancestry. Mulata’s usually have lighter skin, more Eurocentric features and straighter hair. ransom1photoBrazil also has a group of individuals who are, “somatically Caucasian, or what many Brazilians refer to as amulatada, meaning a person officially classified as white, but with a hint of African Ancestry” (Hamilton 183). These individuals do not even have any recognizable African features and it is this ability to phenotypically assimilate, that allows this group to climb the ranks in society. Although arguably, it can be debated that many individuals maintained some African bodily features that are attributed to Blackness, such as full lips, curvy figures and round backsides. Conservatively, “in both the United States and Brazil, miscegenation was seen by some as a solution and by others as a threat” (Hamilton 185). However, in stark contrast to the United States, Brazil advanced to celebrate, “miscegenation as the aforementioned process of the progressive whitening of the population” (Hamilton 185). racial-suicideThis was seen as a solution to the problem of Blackness in their country. In theory, they sought to turn everyone white, through implementing the ‘mulatto escape hatch’ as a means of disclaiming the existence of racism in their country” (Hamilton 188). By encouraging African Brazilians to procreate with whites and water down their bloodline, elites claim that this inclusion into whiteness gives future generations a way out of racial and class subordination. However, statistics have shown that there is really no difference in the socio economic class structure of Blacks and Mulatos.  Howard Winant, in the article “Rethinking Race in Brazil,” add emphasis to, “the fact that 100 years after the end of slavery blacks are still overwhelmingly concentrated in the bottom strata (which) certainly suggests that race is still a crucial determinant of economic success” (Winant 178).

As a direct result of institutional racism in Brazil, many Afro-Brazilians have turned societal hate inward and have become very self-conscious of their looks, specifically those with darker skin. The mainstream media outlets all display whiteness as beautiful and the norm. deise-d_anne-do-maranhc3a3o-raissa-santana-do-paranc3a1-e-danielle-marion-do-rio-grande-do-norte-celsoThese types of dismissive actions openly reject Blackness, and allude to a lack of desirability for people with dark skin. Again it is important to emphasize the fact that the mainstream beauty norm in Brazil is that of European origin, in spite of African people making up such a large population in the country. Upon further examination, in Brazil it has been found that, “racism operates in this context in such a perverse manner that it obliges its victims to adapt their bodies to standards of cleanliness that are humanly unfeasible, and therefore inhuman. Underneath the vigilant control of one’s smell and appearance lies a strategy to avoid the repugnance that other people may express towards one’s body” (Pinho 5). It is because of this negative attitude portraying Blacks as ugly and unclean, Afro-Brazilian people are then pitted against unrealistic standards of beauty to which they would never measure up to. This causes tension between lighter skinned and darker skinned Blacks in Brazil, resulting in colorism and self-hate for one’s culture. As researchers, we must acknowledge the fact that “the racial hierarchies and values of colonial racism have left a deep mark on our conceptions of beauty” (Erasmus 12).

Internalized oppression in some has led to a complete denouncing of one’s African-ness. For others, this provided them the drive to embrace African nationalism, Pan Africanism, and Black Power, concepts not specific to the US. 11223482_856018131172629_1112707470509206557_nAccording to scholars, “Africanness is defined on the grounds of impression, the same can be said of how Africa is imagined and recreated for the purpose of creating Africanness and the elements that compose its beauty” (Pinho 12). So, this embrasure by Afro-Brazilians created an African culture outside of Africa, where they could rock Afro’s and Dreadlocks confidently without fear of exclusion. Blacks in Brazil finally found a way to outwardly express themselves through the embracing of one’s natural hair.marca-do-emporamento-crespo3 According to Patricia Pinho, “hair is an important issue in most black cultures… the first important question at the birth of a child after ‘Is it a boy?’ remains ‘And the hair?’ Black hair is politicised by class and gender. It is also racialised. The vocabularies of hair in black discourses are rich, indicating both the importance of hair and its complex politics.” (Pinho12). So, for Black people in Brazil, it is essential to have this means of racial expression that cannot be discredited by white supremacy. Being able to embrace one’s natural hair is an actor in Brazil’s liberation of Black people because Afro Brazilians are rejecting white supremacist ideology and discriminatory standards of beauty.

10703626_792551154099668_1326559359461778534_n    20161230_113331

The emergence of a natural hair movement was the first of its kind in Brazil. Zoe Sullivan and Ana Terra Athayde declare that, “in Brazil, flattening irons have fallen by the wayside as more and more women choose to embrace their curls and kinks” (Sullivan and Athayde 1). Afro Brazilians have developed their own aptitude for self-definition. This movement began with the focus on Black empowerment, and nothing else.marcha_crespa_-_foto_allyson_alapont It goals were to demand equality in jobs, wages, housing, etc., in addition the decolonization of Black hair. This movement sought to liberate Black women in Brazil so they can efficiently join the rest of society socially, economically and politically, without having to conform to whiteness. This movement encompasses, “all of these periods where you can see a freer use of one’s body, including hair, are associated with political processes of reflection, of affirmation, of agency, of recognizing women” (Sullivan and Athayde 1). The choice to wear natural hair can be identified as a direct political stance against white racism in Brazil.67ae75e94b327cbc1a98b81390fc89cd In the 2015 March of the Curly Hair Empowerment, “Black women from all over Brazil, of different backgrounds, education and socioeconomic status, came together to protest widespread inequality” (Freelon 1). This movement has made some strides, although Blackness is still not seen as comparable to whiteness. In addition to that, “statistics show that activities_racism_and_inequality_in_brazil_write-6f57db4bc42c995385dc694ee9c3f063black Brazilian women suffer some of the highest rates of violence and poverty in Brazil… and on average, they earn $364 per month, which is about 44 percent of the average pay for white men, 75 percent of the pay for black men and 60 percent of the pay for white women” (Freelon 1). So there is still some work that needs to be done here.

When looking at some interviews I conducted to explore race relations in Brazil, I was given mixed messages. On one hand, a white Brazilian woman was asked: Does racism exist in Brazil? To what extent? And by racism, we are specifically looking at any difference in the way people of color, or African people are treated in Brazil. She replied with the following response:

Interviewer 1: I don’t think Racism is still in Brazil. I think that those times have passed.

I think this is important to look at because scholars argue the idea that one’s perception of racism is dependent on one’s social and racial status in society. Because she has lighter skin, she is not receptive to racist ideology in Brazilian society. When I asked an African activist and professor, who is active in the Brazilian movement, her answer was completely opposite to the woman who, except for her accent, could pass for white. She said conclusively:

Interviewer 2: Yes, it is endemic and apart of the fabric of the society.

Another question I feel the need to address is the distinctions made in the question: Is there a distinct way that classes of people are separated in Brazil? By hair type, race, religion, age, disability, economic status, skin color, region, etc.

Interviewer 1: Yes. People who have a lot of money have nicer homes, cars, and resources. I am not sure about hair, but my daughter is mixed with African American and when she was young, I did not know how to do her hair that good.

Interviewer 2: Yes, in general colorism is a very significant problem and there are peoples’ expectation of your potential as a human being is determined by your skin color and phenotypical traits. The closer to European, the more technicolor your life tends to be.

There is a distinct difference in the way the interviewees answered the same question. The second interview from an esteemed professor, answered the question in the exact same way the scholars I have read concluded.20160910_irc514 The first interviewee was a middle class mother and housewife, who attributed the separation of people as exclusively to tangible resources that can be obtained through financial capital. It is clear that she is not conscious to the way race and class are stratified in Brazil. I have come to the conclusion that since she is of middle class, white standing, she is oblivious to the hardships imposed on African’s in Brazil.

The natural hair movement sparked a fire in Afro-Brazilians to demand a change in their society. image003It is necessary to note that, these demands merely scratched the surface to Brazils racist and classist framework. Because of the work these women put in, “Black power’s popularity is beginning to challenge the Brazilian notion that ‘straight is beautiful’” (Rabouin 2). This push back against white supremacy is powerful and speaks to the power of the Black woman. Our proposed solution to this structure is: wake up, increase awareness and visibility, perform scholarly research, develop a true passion for change, love for your brother and sister, and get involved in activist efforts to end structural racism in Brazil. Afro Latina’s in other region stress the need for them to, “overcome the invisibility (they) have been subjected to due to the structural racism and the various forms in which discrimination manifested in (their) countries” (Falcon 197).

In closing, I want to leave you with a quote from one of the natural hair sisters who participated in the movement, “‘Contrary to the rules of society and straightening crazes, relaxing and stretching, many black women are discovering the beauty, the charm and femininity of black power, with or without accessory, with or without comb cream,’ she (said). ‘The texture and volume of curly hair is conquering those who are tired of chemical alteration’” (Rabouin 2). By incorporating awareness and activism, Black liberation in Brazil is something that can be obtainable in the near future. Once the system of white supremacy has been challenged and eventually dismantled, Black liberation in Brazil can be achieved.bf877178ee0cea05bd0f2e15253a892114111711_1268901619801461_1396986870_n






Athayde , Ana Terra and Zoe Sullivan. “‘Black beauty has a place here’: Brazilian women embrace hair’s curls and kinks.” 4 August 2016. Web. 3 December 2016.

Erasmu, Zimitri. “‘Oe! My Hare Gaan Huistoe’: Hair-Styling as Black Cultural Practice .” Empowering Women for Gender Equity , No. 32 (1997): 11-16. JSTOR.

Falcón, Sylvanna M. “The Particularism of Human Rights for Latin American Women of African Descent.” Feminist Formations, Vol 28.1 (2016): 190-204. Project Muse.

Freelon, Kiratiana. “Fighting Poverty, Plagued by Violence: Why 10,000 Black Women in Brazil Marched for Their Rights.” 15 November 2015. Web. 3 December 2016.

Hamilton, Russell G. “Gabriela Meets Olodum: Paradoxes of Hybridity, Racial Identity, and Black Consciousness in Contemporary Brazil.” Research in African Literatures , Vol. 38.1 (2007): 181-193. JSTOR.

Omi , Michael and Howard Winant. “Racial Formations.” Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s. New York and London: Routledge Press, 1994. 57-69. Print.

Pinho, Patricia. “Afro-Aesthetics in Brazil.” Nuttall, ed. Sarah. Beautiful Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006. 266-291. Print.

Rabouin, Dion. “Black Power in Brazil Means Natural Hair.” 26 June 2014. Web. 3 December 2016.

Winant, Howard. “Rethinking Race in Brazil.” Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 24.1 (1992): 176-192. JSTOR.





Welfare Mamas: Dissolving the Black Face

15 Dec


There is an infinite number of misconceptions about women on welfare, black women in particular. Any black woman receiving government aid, be it “welfare… AFDC… food stamps… Medicaid… or WIC,” will find themselves facing debilitating stereotypes, attacking their character and their competence as a parent (Currie 33). These false beliefs are damaging to the way we perceive black women and mothers. Viewing them in a defamatory manner allows for people to undercut what it means to be a mother, resulting in a lack of appreciation and respect for our black mothers. Our welfare system promotes the disenfranchisement of black women by perpetuating negative stereotypes attached to the stigma of being a welfare recipient, and also minimizing the available resources to help these women get on their feet. This paper will provide the historical truths combatting common stereotypes regarding black women and the welfare system; including why it was created, who it was created to help, who is really receiving the aid, and what do these women supposedly look like. Additionally, it will explore what happens to children whose mothers raised them on welfare, and answer the question: Will this cycle of poverty continue through these children, because of their mother’s acceptance of government aid?

the_color_of_welfare1According to society, the myth is that African Americans are the majority of people on AFDC (Aid for Dependent Children) (Abdullah 328). That is exactly what it is, a myth, which is defined as a popular belief or story associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal ( Critics claim that welfare is a societal issue, and should be confronted with reality, as opposed to the racist hatred embedded within the institution in which we are put up against (Cooper 1). Welfare programs of all types were created as government funded relief programs, to help people who have lost their income for whatever reason, including disability or age. Unfortunately, whenever the word welfare is used, many people stereotypically associate a Black face with it, not even considering anyone who is white, old, or disabled (1).

Contrary to popular belief, research proves that the largest “welfare program” is Society Security and not AFDC (1). As a way to remove themselves from the negativity surrounding government assistance programs, white people have cleverly masqueraded their participation by calling their program a “retirement plan” (1). Now what is interesting about this, is that both blacks and whites pay into this system, which inevitably ends up going to mostly whites, when they retire and receive their Social Security benefits. The 2000 Census Bureau reports provide compelling results addressing who is actually receiving these welfare benefits. The results invalidate popular belief in reporting a staggering, 61 percent of welfare recipients to be white, leaving blacks at a much lower 33 percent (2). In correctly interpreting these results, it is imperative to understand that whites have a tremendously higher percentage, due to the longevity of their lives. Blacks typically die at a much earlier age, due to a lack of heath care, an underuse of the health care system when available, also because of our overall ailing health due to numerous illnesses that are predisposed to African Americans. Many whites on the other hand, typically have the resources to take better care of themselves, and are therefore prolonging their lives as much as 20 years longer than their black cohorts (3).

Longitudinal studies have been carried out on welfare recipients from 1967 to 1997. This thirty year study focused on poverty among African American women (Hee-Soon 1). In this study of these women’s’ lives, the influence of social roles, socio-economic resources, and social integration were all considered to be at the core of their social adaptation (2). This study concluded that individuals live their lives in important social contexts, regardless of their socio economic status. For example, these women took great pride in their involvement with school, families of orientation, marriage, families of procreation, work situations, and communities (3). As opposed to operating within the assumed stereotypes of poor black women, such as having substance abuse problems, poor participation within the workforce or poor health (16).

As the years have passed there have been several critiques of the welfare system. The major critique was, and still is, that there is still an overabundance of people that are poor and underprivileged, despite the enormity of our countries wealth. During the 1960s, the Lyndon administration enacted several programs that were supposed fix the numerous problems within the welfare system (O’Connor 19). So Medicare and Medicaid were created to provide medical coverage to those who could not afford it themselves; and food stamps were more widely used and available to more people (Michelmore). Through the use of these programs, people were graciously receiving aid from the government and living well off of it too. Several politicians, like Richard Nixon, had negative things to say about “those earning their livings through welfare and not through work” (O’Connor 24). Once elected into office, Nixon carried out his intentions too. Making it his business to cut aid to millions of people receiving government assistance, on top of that the requirements were made harder for people to even qualify for these benefits.

scoreoctober10Regrettably, government funded programs have mercilessly continued to decline in funding and in societal support. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton approved the Welfare Reform Act, which was a bogus attempt to transform the AFDC program into something more beneficial to poor people (185). This Act did the opposite and authorized the same budget cuts and harsh stipulations, disguising it under a new name, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). This program only provided temporary relief for poor families, hence the word temporary in its name. If you were on the program for too long, you were cut off and throw into the workforce, not considering any life circumstances that were preventing them from working in the first place (186). These factors included the lack of skills, lack of education, no transportation, or no child care, for sometimes multiple young children. Not to mention simply being a woman.

Society places such a huge blame on black women, simply for becoming parents and also for falling victim to America’s declining economic system. All the while, not opposing the government, who passed things like the 1996 Welfare Act, which promoted, “job preparation, work, and marriage,” but instituted minimal government funded childcare for working parents, instilled limitations on immigrant welfare benefits, and discouraged out of wedlock pregnancies, which should be against the law (Engrav 8). It is government programs like this that seek to continue the oppression of black women and preserve several negative stereotypes. Where the characterization of black women as, “unfit parents who view their children as nothing more than increases in welfare checks,” is frequently discussed, also the inability to provide assistance with childcare for working black women, is purposely overlooked (Adair 5).

As a result of America’s capitalist patriarchal system favoring male labor, women are paid less than men for work. Women are typically relegated to the domestic work space, which pays a lot less money than any other field of work. Due to women’s “disadvantaged” economic position in society, she finds herself at a greater risk for becoming poor, and becoming dependent on the welfare system (Lord 2). Due to this, and the increase in female welfare recipients, researchers have endorsed the theory recognizing a “feminization of poverty” (2). This theory is reflective of, “female-headed families (which) tend to be poor due to factors related to underemployment, unemployment, and welfare benefits that are below adequate subsistence levels” (2). It is the intersectionality between class, gender and race, which causes black women to maintain an inferior position in society.

Feminist scholars have been attacking the welfare system and their policies for years now. There is no denying that the U.S. welfare system is limiting and tends to shift away from the black woman. The idea that welfare is a “women’s issue” should be publically mandated because, “women’s poverty has everything to do with their socially assigned (and usually willingly assumed) responsibility for children, the lack of childcare, and enduring patterns of gender (and racial) discrimination in education and employment” (Michel 44). Because black women face race, gender and class discrimination by, and within the welfare system, this issue undoubtedly should be marked as a woman’s issue. Unfortunately, being an issue that only plagues women, men fail to acknowledge this as an issue, and fail to address its problematic treatment of underprivileged women of color (44). Any person on welfare is considered to be poor and unemployed, which makes it easy to equate this position to black women and women of color, because they are assumed to be in a lower socio-economic class group than the average white American person; this couldn’t be further than the truth.

welfare-queenThe most common stereotype designated to the black welfare mother is that she is lazy, pathologically bears children, and is economically dependent on government assistance. This caricature has been identified as the “Welfare Queen” (Hill Collins 80). This term dates back to Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. This phrase was created when a welfare recipient was accused of having created “eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve social security cards, collecting veteran’s benefits” and of course receiving food stamps and welfare benefits using all the different names (The Washington Star 1). She was said to have received “tax-free cash income (totaling) over $150,000” (1). This story was embellished by the newspaper to gain readership, but many parts of it where in fact true. This story marked the beginning of what has now became the ruinous stereotype of a black woman on welfare.

The welfare queen is a phrase that describes economic dependency – the lack of a job and/or income; the presence of a child or children with no father and/or husband; and, finally, a charge on the collective U.S. treasury – a human debt… The welfare queen constitutes a highly materialistic, domineering, and man-less working-class Black woman. Relying on the public dole, Black welfare queens are content to take the hard-earned money of tax paying American’s and remain married to the state. (Hill Collins 80)

This stereotype immensely plagues black women by slandering their character and their morality. Describing black women as “economically dependent” or “human debt” is dehumanizing and allows for society to look down on the black family. It is because of negative beliefs like this, which explains why society holds women as the least valued members of society. And in doing this, black women are therefore the most exploitable and oppressed. Furthermore, upholding the belief that all black women on welfare are “man-less” whores who don’t want to keep their legs closed, perpetuates the idea that black women are incapable of marriage and therefore, of being loved. All of these fallacies were created, due to societies need to justify the mistreatment of black women. And in doing this, justifying their blame of the total deterioration of the American family, on black women (80).

welfare-queenThe way society has been conditioned to view black women is a direct result of these negative stereotypes surrounding the welfare queen. When attempting to understand, why black women? Studies have been conducted to test how far this negativity has been unconsciously embedded into our brains. In the late 1990s, an experiment was conducted to determine to what degree is the welfare queen stereotyped as an African-American woman. In this study groups of people were shown video clips of an African American woman and a white woman, both having the same name, Rhonda. Each woman described the same story, of how they were on welfare and expressed their difficulties while being on it. Upon asking white participants to recall specifics from the interviews, “nearly 80 percent of them recalled the race of the African-American Rhonda. On the other hand, less than 50 percent accurately recalled seeing the white Rhonda” (Gilliam 4-5). These conclusions substantiate the negative association with black women based on the disgrace attached to the welfare queen.

The welfare mother, across all nationalities, is faced with the hardship of raising her children on a very limited monthly income, where “poverty is a frequently highlighted life circumstance” (Cameron 95). The amount of money received by welfare recipients is well below the poverty level, therefore removing any opportunity for economic advancement (Currie 50). These women must learn to budget and balance their checkbooks to the last penny, to ensure that their children have clothes on their backs, food on the table, and that all the bills are at least partially paid. Understanding that these women struggle on a monthly basis just to keep the lights on, is necessary for combatting these negative stereotypes that are assigned to welfare mothers. Being on welfare is not fun, and it is not as easy going as society tries to make us believe. With welfare numbers rising, early researchers claim that, “children are the victims of the (welfare) system, and through them (the children) the system will be perpetuated” (Macaulay 1). With researchers promoting this false belief that children growing up in welfare homes, will grow up to be on welfare, appropriates this antagonistic mindset that society has adopted. Generalized assumptions like this, do no justice in ending the negativity attached with being a welfare recipient. Recent scholars have refuted the idea that these children will do nothing with their lives, claiming that, “the evidence does not support the contention that the welfare system makes children into permanently dependent and pathology-ridden people” (27). So why is this negativity still being perpetuated today? Especially when children from working parent homes tend to have an increase in, “juvenile delinquency… injuries… accidents… emergency room visits… and truancies,” over non-working welfare mothers (Duncan 59). Additionally, “when compared with welfare families mothers in single-parent working families are just as depressed, hostile, and lacking in control of their fate. They spend no more time reading to their children, helping with their children’s homework, or facilitating youth activities” (104). So this negativism that is applied to black welfare mothers is unjustified and unnecessary.

tumblr_inline_nmcn0jkjvg1qj7024_540One resource that has been instituted as a way to wean women off of the welfare program is “work based reform,” called the welfare to work program (41). This program seeks to find jobs for welfare recipients, that pay more than their government issued monthly stipend (41). This program is also supposed to help with “child care and transportation assistance” until these women get on their feet (41). Unfortunately, this program has a strict “work-first model” and does not promote the education of these women (40). Doing this puts them at a disadvantage because the easiest way to achieve economic advancement is through education (Denby 153). Having an education is detrimental in getting more flexible jobs, as well as demanding higher wages. Additionally, when reviewing these “work requirements” for the welfare to work program, the term “work” strictly indicates paid work (Duncan 291). So the care of family members and children is not considered to be work, and is therefore discredited as a means of industry (291). This is a major feminist and womanist issue that continues to be swept under the rug.

Second wave feminists coined the term “the personal is political,” which refers to how “the power relations that affect our lives most intimately, are an expression of politics (aka male patriarchy), and must be named and contested” (Green 115). In challenging the oppressor, a change can be made within the overall system of female oppression, and should then trickle down into other government institutions, such as the welfare system. So what do we do now? How do we get black women, and all women off of welfare, as well as end the cycle for children? Despite government reluctance, these women must educate their children and themselves (Denby 153). In doing this, their children will not only have a positive role model to look up to, but children will also recognize and claim that they deserve more than poverty and government handouts. According to poverty researchers, there is no direct correlation between coming from a family on welfare, and the perpetuation of an alleged welfare cycle once that child becomes an adult. The real correlation has to do with a person’s “present economic status” (Macaulay 28). So it can be concluded, that through economic prosperity, this suppositional cycle can be broken.




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Adair, Vivyan C. “The Missing Story of Ourselves: Poor Women, Power and the Politics of Feminist Representation.” NWSA Journal 20.1 (2008): 1-25. Gender Watch. Web. 18 May 2014.

Cameron, Gary. Creating Positive Systems of Child and Family Welfare: Congruence With the Everyday Lives of Children and Parents. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2014. Print.

Cooper, Anna Julia. “Black History Month: Welfare, in Black and White.” Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of my Black Sisters 2 February 2009: 1-11. Web. 18 May 2014.

Currie, Janet. Welfare and the Well-Being of Children. Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic, 1995. Print.

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Lord, Shirley A. Social Welfare and the Feminization of Poverty. New York: Garland, 1993. Print.

Macaulay, Jacqueline. Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers: Is Welfare Bad for Children. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1975. Print.

Michel, Sonya. “Childcare and welfare (in)justice.” Feminist Studies 24.1 (1998): 44-54. Gender Watch. Web. 18 May 2014.

Michelmore, Molly C. “What Have You Done For Me Lately? The Welfare State, Tax Politics, and the Search for a New Majority, 1968–1980.” Journal Of Policy History 24.4 (2012): 709-740. America: History & Life. Web. 17 May 2014.

O’Connor, Brendon. A Political History of the American Welfare System: When Ideas Have Consequences. Lanhem, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print.

The Washington Star. “‘Welfare Queen’ Becomes Issue in Reagan Campaign; Hitting a Nerve Now 4 Aliases Items in Notebook.” The New York Times 15 Feb. 1976: 1. Web. 18 May 2014. n.d. Web. 15 May 2014.

Critical Analysis of Toddlers and Tiaras

3 Nov

Are beauty pageants too sexually suggestive for our little girls?

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The latest fad to take over popular culture is reality television. Since the start of the 21st century, reality TV has become more and more popular, leaving narrative driven shows in the dust. This new form of entertainment however, has long term damaging effects on our society. When flipping through various television networks, such as ‘E!’ or ‘MTV’, it is almost inevitable to see a girl in a too small, or too tight dress, paired with a face covered in makeup, trying to strut her stuff for the camera. It’s no secret that sex sells, so television representatives take full advantage of this to push their production, even if it’s at the expense of children. TLC’s, Toddlers and Tiaras (2009) is a prime example of this. This show features 6 year olds parading around in bikinis with spray tans and hair extensions, all for a beauty pageant whose reward is $1000 and a trophy. The idea of putting children on display at such a young age reinforces the vicious cycle of low self-esteem, self-objectification, and conformity into socially constructed beauty norms; both factors perpetuated by the over-sexualization of these young girls.

Reality television is like a parasite. It has sunk its teeth into the fabric of our society and is embedded in so deep, that most viewers don’t even realize they’ve been brainwashed by the messages presented in these shows. One of the first reality TV shows to air on television was MTV’s The Real World in 1992 (Pozner 9). This fairly liberal unscripted television show paved the way for similar reality based shows to rise in popularity. In 2000, FOX network executive Mike Darnell changed reality television forever with the launch of his show Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? (9). This show consisted of beautiful women putting themselves on display for a man whom they have never seen, very similar to a Miss America pageant, as he decides which one is worthy of becoming his bride on national television. This show eventually flopped because the “great catch” turned out to be an abusive psychopath, and the dream marriage was annulled days after the honeymoon (10). Despite this shows dangerous finish, not only objectifying and sexualizing women, but this contestant had a violent past that went undetected, which could have caused a lot of harm to the trophy he married; nonetheless, the viewers loved it! The idea of a budding “fairytale romance” between two strangers captivated American viewers, thus paving the way for the colossal rise in the popularity of reality television (10).

In the first season opener of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras in 2009, (which was quite horrific to watch, I might add) young girls paraded around like little divas, looking much older than what they are, and I do mean much older, while participating in a beauty pageant. To top it all off, the mothers of these children are participating in the pageant too, competing against their daughters! However absurd this might sound, this is a National pageant in Texas that gets a lot of family and community support. One of the featured mom’s appeared to be more of a “momster,” which is a derogatory name awarded to overly pushy or mean pageant moms (Orenstein 75). This mom, Phyllis, has a competing 9 year old daughter, Meaghan, who has won practically every beauty pageant in Texas. She admits to, “taking pageants very serious” and claims to be, “a very competitive mom.” Through her persistence, she has encouraged her daughter to compete and win at all costs. Phyllis goes on to say, “You know, there’s got to be a winner, and there’s got to be a loser. I wouldn’t put her in it, if I wasn’t in it, to win it! I am definitely in it to win.” This type of mentality is not healthy to teach a child. These ideas teach Meaghan and other children like her that a person can never lose, encouraging a sore loser attitude, promoting selfishness and instilling the fear that you have to be perfect in order to succeed. This mindset can cause long term damage to a child, because if that child feels inadequate in any aspect of their impressionable childhood, this child could grow up to have low self-esteem and develop an unnecessary fear of failure. Instead of uplifting her child, no matter what, Phyllis constantly shames and antagonizes Meaghan’s every blunder. This superiority complex Meaghan is being taught to mimic, is going to negatively affect her once she gets older; and it will affect her self-esteem, especially if she feels she cannot keep up with the impossible standards imposed by her mother.

The sexually suggestive nature of the pageant itself, also has damaging effects on young girls. It’s hard enough trying to get away from sexualized images, because the media is constantly bombarding us with the messages they want to promote. So why is it considered acceptable for a child’s own parents to throw it in their faces too, as they do in these beauty pageants. It is a known fact that sex sales, but it’s the parents’ choice whether or not they want their child immersed in it. The parents on Toddlers and Tiaras see nothing wrong with allowing their 2 year old to vivaciously parade around in a swim suit for the judges. How can viewers look at this and not see something wrong? The pageant director later says in defense of the swim suit competition, “I’m a bit old school. So I like the swimsuits to be one piece. I don’t want the kids to be so sexy, especially with the little kids.” And yet these children are awarded cash and prizes for sashaying around like mini burlesque dancers, blowing kisses at the judges and audience. I suppose the meaning of the term “sexy” for a 2 year old is not a universal norm. The concept of pageantry is a big contradiction in itself, in teaching young girls to sexualize themselves for money, but since it’s potentially for their college education, it’s acceptable. Pageant moms justify this behavior by claiming that it builds up their self-esteem, gives them social skills, and teaches them interview etiquette for jobs they will be getting much later on in their lives, this has yet to be proven by experts (Orenstein 79). Psychologists claim that the participation in these sexualized pageants is linked with the later development of, “eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, (and) impaired academic performance” in former pageant participants (76). The sexualized canon instituted in these pageants does nothing but promote hyper sexuality, which has become a “must have” in reality television (Pozner 62).

Reality television aids in the development of the beauty norm for women. The sexualization of our culture has had major effects on today’s society, including the increase of pornography and prostitution, and more recently, America’s vice, reality television (Freedman 259). The commercialization of women’s sexuality has forced its way into our lives and is now seen as a form of “identity” for young people, therefore codifying the female body and promoting negative body images for young girls (274). This false idea, or beauty myth promotes the idea that life is one big beauty contest (Pozner 61-2). In order to fit into this norm and be considered beautiful, a woman must be, “young; white, western; skinny, often unhealthy so; surgically altered; and hyper-sexualized” (62). Fitting into this very strict mold is nearly impossible for most women! Young girls are growing up watching, and absorbing these false beliefs. Girls are afraid of being called, “the Scarlet F,” which is being called Fat (65). Being “fat” is just unacceptable in the world of reality TV, and therefore in life; or that’s how young girls see it. You have shows like, Americas Next Top Model, which encourage its participants to strive to be a size 00. In contrast, you have news broadcasters who are required to be young and busty in order to tell the news, thus gaining the title, “The Bodacious Babes of Broadcast” (64). All of these false ideas of beauty are ultimately ruining the developing youth culture. Young girls are watching reality television, and although they know the shows are scripted, it is still hard to remove the aspects of reality that are still shown, such as fictitious ideas about race, gender and class that are made normative.

Sexually suggestive media correspondence is now made to appeal to teenagers and young children! They are plastered all over the internet, television and even at your local K-Mart, Walmart and Target. When browsing through the toy isle of your favorite store, it is nearly impossible to see Barbie dolls that aren’t in skimpy club attire; and let’s not forget the excessive make up, waistline the size of Dita Von Teeses’ and the bust line of a playboy model. Now, most princess costumes come equipped with high heels and makeup. The list just gets longer with other toys contributing to the gender stereotypes society throws at women on a daily basis. This new norm not only adds to the high expectation that women are actually supposed to look like Barbie dolls, but the dangers of these unrealistic expectations can lead to mental diseases, including eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and self-image issues (Ata 1). This portrayal puts women in a box, giving them beauty standards they must adhere to, and if they don’t fit in, they are seen as ugly. Due to the over consumption of media outlets now, teenagers are internalizing the images they see splattered across every magazine, television show, etc. These altered images of people are leading teenagers and young adults to hate their bodies. This is dangerous because this self-hate and pressure to be perfect leads to teasing from other kids, eating disorders, depression and a number of other disorders (3). These are largely due to the pressure to live up to the beauty standard proposed by the media, including but not limited to reality television (4).

It is very clear that the effects of the media can be seen directly and indirectly in the lives of children. Shows like Toddlers and Tiaras expose children at an early age to the idea that they need to be “beautiful” in order to get recognized and praised by others. And in order to be recognized as beautiful, children are taught that they must do whatever it takes to win that title. Even if its starvation, tanning, wearing tons of makeup, or even body modification in some cases. This cannot be farther from the truth. The idea of self-objectification has become so normative that young girls are growing up thinking that it’s okay. And it is not. Children must learn to be children longer, living life in the fast lane has no benefits, and unfortunately things like reality TV promote the complete opposite.




Ata, Rheanna. “The Effects of Gender and Family, Friend, and Media Influences on Eating Behaviors and Body Image During Adolescence.” The Journal of Youth and Adolescence (2007): 1024-1037. Print.

Freedman, Estelle B. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 2002. Print.

Orenstein, Peggy. Cinderella Ate My Daughter. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Pozner, Jennifer. Reality Bites Back: the Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2010. Print.

Toddlers and Tiaras: Universal Royalty National Pageant. Dirs. Dena Salman, Tom Rogan and Suzanne Pate. 2009. DVD.




The Intersectionality of the Oppressed

8 Oct

The negative effects of normalization:

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American society has had a longstanding complicated relationship with people who do not fit into the standard mold of what it means to be an “American.” As a society, when we think of American, we think of white. And expanding on that, our thoughts specifically move to white, heterosexual, middle class individuals. With the creation of race in the United States, the economic, political and social institutions have foundations stemming out of white supremacy (Wise). im-from-driftwoodIn developing this false belief that Americans have to look a certain way and act a certain way, anyone not fitting into this mold is then seen as different, and is therefore marginalized for their “otherness” (Hooks 167). In upholding this belief in there being an “either/or,” society falls victim to maintaining an, “entire way of thinking about race and culture, one that upholds stereotypic racial and cultural inferiority… (which then) maintains white supremacy” (Chang and Au 21). In understanding that there are numerous intersections within our lives that continue to complicate what it means to be an “American” in today’s society, we must understand that seeing Americans within a one dimensional spectrum, promotes and encourages the oppression of individuals. Additionally, due to the underrepresentation of oppressed groups throughout our society, it then becomes the norm to marginalize those who do not look like the socially constructed “American.”

intersectionalityJennifer Nash’s, Re-thinking Intersectionality, outlines the various interpretations of the term intersectionality, including its strengths and its flaws. She offers some scholarly interpretations of the term, pitting them against one another as a way to engage in a critical discussion of what intersectionality means, verses what it is truly representing. This disconnect within what intersectionality really means, explains the continued tension between issues surrounding race, gender, class, sexuality, and other areas of oppression. Feminist theorists and anti-racist theorists are at the heart of this debate. By accepting and challenging the variations within intersectionality through its theoretical, political and methodological frameworks, Nash seeks to re-educate scholars on the problems stemming from “inclusive theorizing” (Nash 4).

9468d1e5e5d1a99fd5ed8c631004ce0aThe term intersectionality was originally created by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 80s as a way to explain the various aspects of a person’s life, which attempt to maintain some kind of oppression. She focuses specifically on the intersection of race and gender, and the ways in which they interact to shape black women’s experiences. Despite intersectionality typically addressing the intersection of race and gender, later scholars have proposed the idea that oppression can be maintained through other oppressive aspects besides race and gender, like one’s sexuality. With these new inclusions present, the goals of intersectionality now look to: dismantle the perception of a race/gender binary; include sexuality as a valid means of oppression; reject the social construction of gender, including the male/female binary system; as well as speak for those whose voices have been silenced in society.

Historically, Black women have always upheld an inferior position in society. It is the intersectionality between class, gender and race, which has caused Black women to maintain this inferior position. Not only are Black women oppressed by Black men, through sexism; they are also oppressed by White women, through racism. Therefore as a result, Black women are labeled as “multiply burdened” or doubly damned individuals (7). According to Maria W. Stewart, a Black female orator from the 1830s, this oppression has staunch consequences for Black women from both the race and gender angle. She claims that “let our girls possess whatever amiable qualities of soul they may… it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants” (Hill Collins 46). Stewart is basically making claim that because of the oppressive social conditions that plague Black women in society, it is nearly impossible for them to elevate themselves economically. As a result of America’s capitalist patriarchal system, favoring male labor, women are paid less than men for work. Women are also typically relegated to the domestic work space, specifically women of color, which pays a lot less money than any other field of work. Due to women’s “disadvantaged” economic position in society, she finds herself at a greater risk for becoming poor, and becoming dependent on the welfare system (Lord 2). It is because of this that Black women are typically forced into poverty, since they have even less of an advantage than White women. Patriarchal normativity, through anti-racist theorists (composed of black men), and racial normativity, through feminist theorists (composed of white women), still exclude and marginalize Black women.


The erasure of Black women in history has been and still is a huge problem within the interdisciplinary fields, including cultural and women’s studies (Diawara 259). This is why the creation of Black feminism and womanism has been and still is, a very important component in ending oppression for all oppressed people in our society. Black feminists are committed to achieving “human solidarity,” not just equality among a certain type of individual (Hill Collins 42). Contemporary feminists Karen Bass and Charlotta Bass, are committed to obtaining “collective liberation” among all oppressed groups (Abdullah 325). Black feminism works across color lines, sexuality, and class, in an attempt to touch any type of person that has been marginalized within our society. In achieving equality and equity for the most oppressed people, equality will then be obtained by all because all identities are intersectional, and that’s what makes each and every one of us unique (Nash 6). intersectionality-2

Intersectionality recognizes that oppression is not just marked by race and gender, but in contrast, it also recognizes that all women, including Black women, potentially have some form of privilege. For example, a heterosexual Black women will receive privilege and face less oppression than homosexual Black women. Some ongoing debates based on these interpretations include the need to incorporate the various connections between privilege and oppression, while acknowledging the variations within black women’s experiences. With the institutionalization of intersectionality, it is up to scholars to challenge essentialist ways of viewing race, gender, sexuality and all “complex identities,” in order to establish a successful theoretical and political future, while at the same time, not leaving anyone voiceless or powerless, as black women have become so accustomed to (Nash 6).

noThe construction of gender has always been heavily influenced by society and its ideas during a particular era. The “two-gender paradigm” that is upheld in society, takes on the role of assigning individuals “very stringent, socially constructed rules and regulations defining precisely what it means to be a man or a woman” (McQueen 1). It hasn’t been until recently, that the concept of gender has been questioned as not being strictly male or female. Unfortunately, due to what scholars call “heterosexism,” society has developed the mindset that everyone should be, or is heterosexual. This seeks to oppress and marginalize any homosexual, transgendered, or gender non-conforming individuals. This, “ideological system (of heterosexism) denies, denigrates and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship or community,” and plays out in ways similar to that of racism and sexism (2).

Through increased education and acceptance of what we might call “others,” there has been a rise of a LGBTQ community. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, (and queer) (Moore 188). However, with an increase in this acceptance for the LGBTQ community, there has been an extreme backlash in making this acceptance mainstream. For example, in 2008 California voters voted in favor of Proposition 8, which refused same sex couples the right to become married (188). So despite our liberalism in California, there are still a lot of people who aren’t as accepting of non-traditional couples and therefore help to maintain the marginalization of LGBTQ people. Although since 2008, same sex marriage has been legalized on paper, the negative sentiment has not completely dissipated. Hate crimes against Trans and gender non-conforming individuals is still a problem that is being swept under the legal rug.

051aa0c2671404178052fdd5ed36fae4b8537e-wmWithin numerous privatized institutions, such as community coalitions or church organizations, homosexuality and/or transgenderism is not accepted. Unfortunately, our lack of acceptance for these individuals, who are no different physically than you and I, tend to live lives of secrecy and guilt. They are not only sometimes rejected by their families, but they are also rejected per say by God, because the church teaches that homosexuality is a sin and is punishable by eternal damnation (203-204). This does nothing but feed into the idea that homosexuality is wrong and probably should be punishable by whoever sees fit, hence the increase in hate crimes against non-heterosexual people. Additionally, because of the pain and guilt felt by LGBTQ people, they will also tend to stay “closeted” and not tell people about who they really are, for fear of rejection and judgment by their peers (Ross 162). Honestly speaking, this just isn’t a healthy or normal way to live life.

tongues-untiedIn contrast to those LGBTQ people who can’t be open about their sexuality, there are others who are open about who they really are and embrace their “otherness.” In doing this however, a norm has been established for what homosexuality should really look like. This idea of “homonormativity” has been established, which essentially looks at homosexuality through the lens of White patriarchy (Fergueson 53). In doing this, the intersectionality of class, race, ethnicity, and gender are all left out of the equation and are then marginalized, as they don’t fit into the standard of White male homosexuality (53). This concept of homonormativity can be dangerous because it places more emphasis and importance on the issues surrounding White homosexual males, and minimizes any other group of people seen exclusively as the “others.” Additionally, it places Black homosexual men in the position to be viewed as “spectacles and spectators” within the gay community, because they do not meet the criteria upheld by society based on White male homosexuality (Moten 1). Marlon Riggs’ film Tongues Untied did a phenomenal job at outlining what this “other” looks like in a homonormative world. He touches on not only the absence of blackness in gay life, but also the silencing of Black homosexual men. Because of these color lines, Black homosexual men cannot fully assimilate into open homosexual lifestyles. Gay Black men are usually alienated and “seen unwanted” by other White homosexual men (Riggs).

82837d7e7840a8d6aae905e876d344d0 tumblr_inline_o3wts1pn5s1qf1vs9_500In reading and researching topics such as: “The Politics of Representation,” “Constructing the other,” and “Race, Gender, Sexuality and Belonging,” I have come to understand the harm in seeing oneself as “the norm.” Seeing the world through a binary lens is very harmful and seeks to prevent further education on culture and difference. As explained by Stuart Hall in Representation and the Media, culture is the way we make sense or give meaning to things, and we give meaning to things based on how it is represented. So for example, if we only see LGBTQ people through the lens of homonormativity, over half of this population is not being represented. So how can we fully understand the struggles and pain of these groups? We can’t.

intersectionalityThere is also disconnect between intersectionality as an idea and intersectionality as a reality, which allows for: the over-categorization of oppressions (while minimizing anything falling under multiple categories) and the inability to understand the oppressions of multiply marginalized groups (despite this being the initial focal point). It is these multiple interpretations that allow intersectionality to be misunderstood or misinterpreted, leaving out the marginalized groups that it initially sought to uplift. Consequently, any time you uplift and empower a certain group, someone is left as being marginalized and oppressed. Reflecting on the numerous inequalities that Black women, as well as Trans/homosexual/gender non-conforming Black men and women face just for being different, is absolutely appalling and heart breaking. These individuals are out casted and ostracized just because they don’t look or act like everyone else’s idea of the “norm.” This poses the question: Isn’t American society known for being different? It is these differences that make each of us special and unique. The supposed American melting pot justifies why it is so important to contest and confront oppression head on. Especially by going against these designated social norms. In understanding that we are all “others” it is important to note that: difference equals difference, not difference equals wrong. We are all a part of this constantly changing and educating society. So why complicate it with labels. Just because a person looks or acts different, does not mean that they deserve to be treated as less than.




Abdullah, Melina and Regina Freer. “Bass to Bass: Relative Freedom and Womanist Leadership in Black Los Angeles.” Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. New York and London: New York UP, 2010. 323-342. Print.

Chang, Benji and Wayne Au. “You’re Asian, How Could You Fail Math? Unmasking the Myth of the Model Minority.” Rethinking Schools, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2007-2008): 15-19. Print.

Diawara, Manthia. Black American Cinema. New York and Great Britain: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Fergueson, Roderick. “Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology, and Gay Identity.” Johnson, E. Patrick and Mae G. Henderson (Eds.). Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2005. 52-67. Print.

Hall, Stuart. Representation and the Media. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 1997. Film.

Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination.” Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MS: South End Press, 1992. 165-178. Print.

Lord, Shirley A. Social Welfare and the Feminization of Poverty. New York: Garland, 1993. Print.

McQueen, Kand S. “Breaking the Gender Dichotomy: The Case for Transgender Education in School Curriculum.” Teachers College Record (2006): 1-5. Print.

Moore, Mignon R. “Black and Gay in L.A.: The Relationships Black Lesbians and Gay Men Have with their Racial and Religious Communities.” Hunt, D. Hunt and A. Ramon (Eds.). Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. New York: New York UP, 2010. 188-212. Print.

Moten, Fred. “Resistence of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream.” Moten, Fred. In the Break. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota, 2003. 1-24. Print.

Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-Thinking Intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89 (2008): 1-15. Print.

Riggs, Marlon. Tongues Untied. San Francisco, CA: Frameline, 2007. Film.

Ross, Marlon B. “Beyond the Closet as Raceless Paradigm.” Johnson, E. Patrick and Mae G. Henderson (Eds.). Black Queer Studies, A Critical Anthology. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2005. 161-189. Print.

Wise, Tim. Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Raial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity. Oakland, California: The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, 2010. Film.



Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America

6 Sep

White Power: The Colonial Situation


Stokely Carmichael started his revolutionary fight as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He quickly rose in the ranks to become field organizer with the task of getting Blacks in Alabama registered to vote. After receiving little recognition, Carmichael started his own political party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, where he adopted the Black panther as their mascot, to represent the group. He chose this symbol because of the cats intelligent, powerful and protective nature. 2010-black-history-month-final-4-728In 1966, Carmichael was elected chairman of SNCC, however due to the group’s lack of progress, he soon lost faith in the non-violent resistance movement. He then began to promote Black power as the way to change the inferior position Blacks held in society, and joined forced with the militant revolutionary group, the Black Panthers. However, his stay in the Black Panther Party was short-lived. In 1969, he left the party and moved to Guinea, where he spent the rest of his life emphasizing the importance of Black unity and Pan-Africanism. Carmichael later changed his name to Kwame Ture, in honor of Guinea’s president.


412zc2mbsql-_sy344_bo1204203200_Knowing Kwame Ture’s history, we can understand his push for Black Nationalism. In the opening chapters of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, Ture and his coauthor Charles Hamilton, discussed institutionalized racism and offer advice on how this system can be dismantled. The authors encourage readers to develop a new sense of consciousness that is based on Black people working together to put an end to systematic oppression. However, the book explicitly states that there is no rule book to tearing down this hegemonic institution which we have come to call racism. With that being said, the authors proclaim that Black people must stand up and demand he right to coexist in this society. Black people should no longer have to roll over and accept societies racist rules for us. We need to all out their privilege, because our silence reinforces their actions. The authors vividly express their disgrace for white Supremacist Patriarchal Heteronormative Capitalism.

The book describes multiple forms of racism as being the corner stone of white hegemony. f763bef3b05bbb85363df19853864012The authors also associate racism with colonialism, which has laid out the foundation for Black inferiority in society since the institution of slavery. Historically, Blacks have not had access to owning land or businesses. This framework has altered the social, political and economic status in society for Blacks, preventing them from getting a “leg up” on whites. Blacks have been placed on this hamster wheel of an economic system, where they have never been able to reduce the cost of their overall living. Blacks have been victims of gerrymandering, extreme taxation, high interest rates, forced to pay high prices for low quality goods, poor education, low paying jobs, and higher housing costs. All of these are a result of the white power structure.

Another effect of racism is what the authors call “indirect rule” (10), where white society designates a select few number of Blacks to be included into their power structure, and are given the task of reinforcing white hegemony on the Black community. This covert form of racism is especially harmful to the Black community, because these Black leadersno-assimilation are not operating with the Black community interests at heart. Their primary concern is to please their white officials. Ture and Hamilton emphasize the need to reject this structure! They do not promote the notion of, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” they want Black communities to stand alone and enforced community goals, even if it means sacrificing one’s status in the white community. Assimilation into the white community will never work.

The way this power structure can be slpblackpowerlogobigused to shift power in the Black community largely works through double consciousness. This idea is aided by empowering the Black community, obtaining true freedom, allowing us the right to define who we are as Black people and set our own agendas. Once we decolonize our minds, we will then have the capacity to educate the Black community based on reinforcing Black unity and Black power. The limitations to this structure unfortunately, is US. Enabling the white supremacist patriarchal heteronormative capitalist 101417603-white-privilege-1viewpoints through co-optation, assimilation and selling out, allows this structure to dictate our futures. Calling out white privilege and racism is a start. However, dismantling the system is necessary for a complete change. This cannot be accomplished over night, but maintain our voice and taking up space is a start.










Hamilton, Charles and Stokely Carmichael. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.





Women: Beauty Norms

4 Dec

For my last post I wanted to discuss something that is particularly dear to my heart which is how society has developed and shaped this normative standard of beauty that is virtually impossible for women to obtain and maintain. Unfortunately, like many things in our society, beauty is in fact socially constructed. And beauty changes depending on the time and place in which it exists. When looking back from a historical standpoint, in the Victorian Era, beauty was based on how wealthy you were. To be beautiful meant you were malnourished, had porcelain skin, and thin frail hands. All of these things signified what it meant to be beautiful. However, this was still only available to women who were wealthy. Poor women had to work in the hot sun every day, so they had tanned skin complexions; did manual labor so they typically had worn, calloused hands; and were not thin because in order to have the energy to work, they had to eat. So basically poor, working women during this time were not allowed to be beautiful.

During this same time sexuality was also very oppressive so women were seen as non sexual people as a whole. Women were not only denied the ability to be sexual beings, but it was also highly frowned upon to be sexual. They even went so far as to forbid the eating of certain foods (chocolate) because they supposedly promoted sexuality. Women were forced to not eat in front of men because I guess men thought women were not human or something because women were taught that it was not feminine for them to have natural bodily functions. Any smells or noises coming from “unspoken places” on women were taboo.

In this extremely oppressive era believe it or not, men were just as in control of women’s bodies then as they are now. All of these ideas about how women should eat, act, dress, and basically be, was made normative by men! And today, a hundred years later, we are still stuck in the same cycle of men controlling what women do with their own bodies. This notion that the female body is unpredictable and needs to be tamed has been sort of a precursor for the way women are represented now. In many ads, tv shows, and movies women are always shown as second to men, have to act according to male standards, and also always judged by men. This therefore leaves women figuratively speaking, not in control of their own bodies.

With men constantly controlling women’s bodies, men now have the opportunity to change and distort the way we see beauty to fit their liking. Now the female body is beyond sexualized to the n-th degree! Everywhere you go people, mainly men, feel the need to scrutinize and comment on women’s bodies as if it belonged to them (sounds like male privilege to me). And unfortunately any woman who tries to break out of those beauty norms is often called a bitch or told that she needs some dick. This is unfortunate because its setting up a horrible system for younger generations to follow. This cycle reiterates the system of patriarchy and male domination in society.

When looking at the fashion world specifically, they play a huge role in the maintenance of the reconstruction of the beauty myth. In the past women made their clothing at home so there was no tag or no size that they had to relate to. Once the fashion world was created, a number was then put on a body. This solidified the idea that women needed to be thin to be accepted. Being a smaller size was looked at as being something positive, which encourages young girls to strive to be skinny, no matter what the cost. In my women’s studies class we did a project where we made posters of what we felt the media is teaching us beauty looks like. After we put all of the posters up on the wall and compared them to what we really look like. And you know what we found, that many of us did NOT in fact look like what the media is telling us beauty really is. What is even sadder is that most of the images I found in 5 different magazines were tall, thin, athletic, young, white women with long hair, colored eyes and full lips. Virtually every woman on not only my poster, but everyone else’s poster looked the same. Talk about misrepresentation.

photo photo(4)

I want to end this semester with saying that I learned so much in my research on women and their representations in the media. What makes me sad though is that nothing has changed since the 1920s. Hopefully my generation and the ones after can pull it together so women can ultimately achieve equality among not only society, but among each other as well. Before we can expect men to respect us and see us as equals, we have to learn to respect ourselves and each other.

Women: Once A Good Girl Goes Bad… She’s Gone Forever

27 Nov

Rihanna: Now and Then

In the media there are many figures that influence today’s youth. Many of the stars today set up an image of themselves, many evolving as their career advances. Some of them may change for the better, such as Ashton Kutcher. He used to play goofy roles like as Michael Kelso in That 70’s Show and in the movies Dude, Where’s My Car? and Just Married. As he grew older, however, he began getting more serious. He’s played in more serious movies such as Knight and Day, and even works for Nikon where his character is usually well dressed and more sophisticated. As he’s aged, he’s matured and it is shown clearly in the type of roles he is casted in today. One star who, in my opinion, has changed for the worst is definitely Rihanna.

Rihanna is a star that is very popular in the pop music scene. She has changed a lot since coming out with her first album, A Girl Like Me in 2006, and a lot of her current music. When she first came out, she was about eighteen years old. Her music was very mellow and poppy, singing about dancing and being unfaithful and feeling guilty about it. Her album after that, Music Of The Sun, is very similar to the first one. Released a year later, Rihanna is still the same little pop star as she started out to be. In 2008, she released the album Good Girl Gone Bad. It contains hits such as Umbrella, Please Don’t Stop The Music, Shut Up and Drive, and Disturbia. Some of the songs contain her innocent vibe she had, but this is when she became more edgy. In her video Shut Up and Drive she is wearing more skimpy clothing in comparison for the video for Pon De Replay. That album was okay because in a way it was her breaking out of her shell, but it just gets worst.

In her later albums she sings about sex, sex, and more sex. This is fine but when you have devoted young followers who have been with her since day one, its kind of disappointing to see where her music has come to. More importantly she has so many young female followers who are growing up watching her and are striving to be like her. This can be a very dangerous thing being that now her lyrics consist of things like:

“I like the way you touch me there

I like the way you pull my hair

Babe, if I don’t feel it I ain’t faking, no, no

I like when you tell me ‘kiss you there’

I like when you tell me ‘move it there’

So giddy-up; time to get it up: you say you a rude boy: show me

what you got now

Come here right now

Take it, take it, baby, baby, take it, take it, love me, love me…”


“’Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it

Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But chains and whips excite me…”

What kind of role model is this for our children? Yes her music is catchy but she is NOT someone I would want my children looking up to. And on top of that she gets violently beaten up by her boyfriend, goes on all of these shows talking about how her life was ruined by her abuse and blah blah blah… Then 3 years later she decides to get back together with him. How disappointing to little girls that looked up to her in the past and saw her as such a strong person for being able to walk away from her abuser, only for them to see now that she is right back into the same relationship she swore off of. When you are in the public eye you can no longer do things for yourself. You have to be concerned about your image, and what that image might do to your fans. Little girls might look at her situation and think that its okay to remain in an abusive relationship because someone they look up to, like herself, managed to be in one and be happy. Now I do believe in true love, soul mates and all that crap, but my life is a lot more important than sex from someone who beats me up when he gets upset. She is a beautiful woman and I really think she should realize that millions of little girls are watching her and looking up to her. So she doesn’t have the opportunity to be reckless in her lifestyle because lots of kids are watching and will live up to the standard that she sets.