Okay, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Beyoncé, okay then. Beyoncé’s new track “Bow Down \ I Been On” is awesome. For several reasons. It’s just the kind of rap that we might expect from Her Highness: simple and melodic with a message of female financial independence and empowerment.

Sure the lyrics aren’t that clever; she’s always rhyming girls with world: “I know when you were little girls\ you dreamt of being in my world \ Don’t forget, don’t forget it \ Respect that \ Bow down, bitches.” But, that’s not the point with Beyoncé. Her message is that little girls shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Ever. Every young person has Queen-of-the-Mountain material inside. Her message is a product of a particularly American class-mobile ideal of independence and the free market narrative of merit-based value. Deal with it. She not only deals with it, never misrepresenting her comfortable, middle-class upbringing and loving and doting parents (see the picture of a young Beyoncé in pageant attire surrounded by trophies and awards on a suburban fireplace mantle that she included as the cover image for this track on her website), but she embraces her success within the capitalist music system.

In the “I Been On” section of the track, her revelling in financial success (and her Southern drawl) is loud and clear: “Gold every-thang\ Gold-ass chains \ Gold-ass rangs.” At least she is spending and recirculating her money, not psychopathically hoarding it. In the footsteps of many before her, she identifies as a Southern, Black, female, “self-made” millionaire, and she’s enjoying her lifestyle and using her fame to try to inspire others. She’s a straight-forward, non-subtle, mainstream, pop star. And mostly, we are missing out if we expect anything else from her. But, she delivers something more – her own brand of womanist feminism – anyway.

The opening rap subverts the stereotypical representation of women in relationship to other humans, most commonly as wives or mothers: “I took some time to live my life \ But don’t think I’m just his little wife \ Don’t get it twisted \ This my shit \ Bow down, bitches.” Her recent status as mother and the naming of her “Mrs. Carter” tour has been read by many as a loss of her independence. Motherhood has even made her a target of strange moralistic criticism. Considering B’s recent family-centered life choices, one womanist blogger was compelled to critique “Bow Down” for its lack of “age appropriateness.” What is this, Sunday School? Let’s also remember that marriage for Black Americans has a history parallel to the story of slavery and emancipation, so the fact of her naming her most recent tour after her legal, married name is a celebration of equality for Blacks. And, considering that she – Beyoncé – will keep every single penny of her earnings no matter what name she goes by or performs under is a marker of a significant historical feminist victory. Furthermore, the prenup signed by both her and Jay Z includes a clause that he is to pay her for every child she bears with his paternity compensating her for any lost income due to pregnancy, birth, or child-rearing. Um, paid maternity leave? Can you say feminist economic utopia?

Other bloggers, including Sarah Dean from the Huffington Post, read the repetition of the word “bitches” as a put-down directed at other women. Dean even claims that B is taking a cue from Jay Z and the like, using the word “bitches” to dismiss and degrade women. But I don’t hear the rap like that at all. I hear it as reclamation of the term that has been incredibly popular in the rap genre. I read Beyonce’s use of the term “bitches” as a direct shake-off of criticism, regardless of the gender of the person constructing the criticism, aimed at diminishing Beyonce’s woman-made, confident achievements. It is hip-hop hipster irony. Ironic because she, yes SHE, is posturing and swaggering in a traditionally male industry, in a traditionally white and male mega-wealthy club. She is taking the term from the men and re-associating it, not with women, but with critics. And, come on. She’s right: that’s what critics do. We bitch – about pop culture, about music, about film. Call it analysis and evaluation if you prefer, but it’s still bitchin’.

Especially considering in the second portion of the track “I Been On” when she raps in an electronically male voice, this track is all about her having fun in a character and poking at the boys club that her husband inhabits. She has an all-female band and dance crew, she rose to stardom from an all-female group, and she attributes part of her success publicly and repeatedly to her mother: “Kiss my Mama \ Show that love.” She celebrates traditional, hetero femininity but while respecting women’s work and cooperation as non-traditional sources of power. Ultimately, the artificial deep voice that is really her own reveals gender as a mere performance just as much as rap is a performance. Her critique is of mainstream, over-masculinized, rap culture as a product of patriarchy, not at all of other women.

I’ve said it once, and I will say it again. Expecting Beyoncé to live up to a Yankee-made, college-educated standard of feminism is futile. Expecting Beyoncé to rap intellectual like Mos Def – hottie that he is – is just as futile. Nevertheless, she is a more influential feminist, and rapper, than most of us will ever be. So…

Bowing down,

Spring

Quote for Today

September 22, 2011

“Change starts with self, and relationships that we have with those around us must always be the primary site for social change.”

The above is some beauty from Patricia Hill Collins’ essay “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection.”

Love!

Happy February!

February 1, 2011

You know what the little month of February means? Black History Month! In honor of this, here is an incredible American you might not have learned about in your high school history class:

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931). Probably one of my favorite players in all of American history, Wells was born the year before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Wells became a teacher then an anti-lynching crusader who made and passed out graphic and intelligent pamphlets (sort-of intellectual/ social justice ‘zine style) depicting the violence, injustice and racism of lynching throughout the South. She was a co-founder of the NAACP, a journalist, a civil rights leader, and a women’s rights advocate. Before Rosa Parks, there was Ida B. Wells who refused to move to the Jim Crow section of a train. In 1884, she bought a first-class ticket and boarded the train, sitting in the first-class section. When the conductor tried to move her the the Black section by putting his hands on her and physically forcing her removal, she bit him! So cool! Read/ watch more about Ida B. Wells here.

“One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.”

~ Ida B. Wells

Muslim in Oklahoma

November 18, 2010

*This is a guest post by my friend. She’s beautiful, generous, smart, hard-working, brave and Muslim. She lives in Tulsa, Ok.* 

I am an American. I am a woman. I am a Muslim. And I am so much more.  With growing anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia , now more than ever, I’m realizing that my actions aren’t used just to judge who I am as a person, but suddenly my actions represent Muslims everywhere.  Lately, my non-Muslim friend’s approach me almost daily with questions like, “Saira, did you see the news about the proposed Koran burning?  Ho do you feel about the controversy over the “ground zero mosque?  What’s Sharia law?”  While I was immersed in my tight knit Muslim community growing up, I’m realizing faster than ever that most Oklahomans aren’t likely to share an intimate relationship with a single Muslim.  A recent TIME magazine poll found that only 44% of respondents have a favorable impression towards Muslims.  Of those respondents, 62% said they don’t personally know a Muslim American.  That’s more than half of Americans who view Muslims either negatively or with indifference.  Because so many Oklahomans know little about their Muslim neighbors, I agreed when my sweet co-worker Spring asked me to write a piece on being Muslim in Oklahoma for her blog.  Though Spring asked me several questions, for the sake of keeping your attention, I’m just going to try to explain the existing atmosphere surrounding a Muslim in Oklahoma.

One of my first ‘ah-ha, some people really don’t understand me‘ moments of being Muslim in Oklahoma came several years ago when my family stopped at a gas station in Small Town, Oklahoma. Coming straight from a cultural event, instead of my usual blue jeans and frilly top, I was dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing washing my hands in the restroom when a middle-aged woman approached me inquiring about my religion. When I responded by saying I was Muslim she asked, “Is it true your religion believes in killing people?” Stunned by the words just spoken to me, I tried to explain how this wasn’t remotely true, to no avail. Fast forward to present day, and the fear of Muslims remains alive and growing. 

Unless you ignore the news and didn’t visit the polls last Tuesday, you have probably heard about the deceitfully written State Question 755 on our state’s ballot.  For me, this vote represents the overwhelming fear of Muslims and immigrants that’s plaguing our state. In a nutshell, SQ 755, also known as the “Save Our State Amendment” or as talk show host Rachel Maddow put it, “Save Oklahoma from Muslims Amendment,” would ban the use of Sharia law and international law when making legal decisions. Sharia is an Islamic moral and ethical code that Muslims are to use as a guide to live their lives and practice their religion.  The full elucidation of Sharia is vague even to many Muslims.  On November 2nd, the good voters of Oklahoma, a whopping 70%, voted yes on SQ 755. This state question is particularly disturbing because Sharia law was never an actual threat in the United States, much less in Oklahoma.  It seems that 70% of voting Oklahomans have forgotten the good ole first amendment that already “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion.” It’s this amendment that established the separation of church and state in both federal and state law.  Writer, Reza Aslan, put it into perspective best when he said that “considering that no judge in the United States has cited Sharia in a legal case…this is a bit like passing a federal law banning Americans from riding unicorns.”

This amendment has less to do with the looming threat of Islam and more to do with running a political campaign based on fear, feeding on voter’s paranoia of Islam and immigrants. It felt like another way for politicians to get voters to the polls out of fear.  Let’s take the writer of the question, former OK State House Representative Rex Duncan, who referred to the SQ as a “pre-emptive strike” and who after refusing to accept a gifted copy of the Quran for Oklahoma’s Centennial celebration is quoted as saying that, “most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology.”

To this, I say, most Muslims share the same belief. 

As for SQ 755, luckily, a federal judge suspended the amendment for now, to which many have responded with “it was the will of the people.” But just because the majority votes for a certain amendment doesn’t necessarily mean it is just. It was the same “will of the people” that once supported segregation in the 1960s and created the Jim Crow Laws.

To be fair, I do believe that a lot of sensible people who voted for the law probably didn’t understand the complete implications of it. Nevertheless, it’s a terrifying thought that suddenly my faith is being misrepresented; so much so, that by accusing our President of being Muslim, we are somehow humiliating him. As if being Muslim would make one unfit to run a country.

I wish every American knew that every time an extremist Muslim participated in any act of violence or spoke any word of hate in the name of Islam, they knew that that person does not represent me, that person does not represent my ideals, and that person surely does not represent my faith.

While Islamophobia is growing in our state, that doesn’t mean that my experience as a Muslim in Oklahoma has been an entirely negative one.  For the most part, I have been saved from being on the front lines of hate.  This, I believe, has a lot to do with being a Muslim that doesn’t wear a scarf and therefore, because my outward appearance is not apparently Muslim (which is proof that Muslims come in all shapes and forms), people tend to know me as a person, before they know immediately of my faith. I’ve seen countless people from all religions show their solidarity and support when mosques have been threatened and vandalized.  I’ll never forget the kindness I felt when as a 9th grader, after the tragic 9/11 attacks, I was called into the councilors office to make sure no students were harassing me. Or when my roommate of four years and good friend Katie, defended Islam to some of her relatives when they were skeptical of Muslims and went out of her way to point out that her Muslim roommate was “one of the kindest people she knew.” Or when as a student at OU, hundreds attended interfaith events to promote tolerance and foster understanding.  It warmed by heart when my co-workers this year fasted from sunrise to sunset to share my experience of Ramadan.

The point of all this is so that everyone knows that Muslims really aren’t that scary. We have a tendency to fear the unknown. So get to know someone who is Muslim. Give them a chance before you believe this country is not theirs and that their religion is not as peaceful as yours.  My race and religion makes me a minority in this country, but I am and feel as American as the next person. Isn’t that part of the charm of being an American? That this country was established to escape the persecution of minorities. That we don’t all fit into a narrow description. 

If you’re still unsure of Muslims, or simply just don’t know enough about them, then let’s grab coffee, share ideas, and mingle. You’ll probably just find out hat the Beatles are my all time favorite band, I have an unexplainable love for the Harry Potter series, Jersey Shore is one of my guilty pleasures, and my day feels incomplete without French fries. But mostly you’ll just find out how ordinary I am.

THE UNIVERSITY OF TULSA WOMEN’S AND GENDER STUDIES PROGRAM IS PLEASED TO PRESENT

A LECTURE BY ACCLAIMED MEDIA CRITIC JENNIFER POZNER

Project Brainwash: Why Reality TV Is Bad for Women…
(…and men, people of color, the economy, love, sex and common sense!)

TUESDAY, APRIL 13
LORTON HALL 207
7:OO P.M.

Nearly every night on every major network, “unscripted” (but carefully crafted) reality shows glorify stereotypes most people assume died forty years ago. On “The Bachelor,” twenty-five interchangeable hotties compete for the chance to marry a hunky lunkhead they don’t know from Adam. Weepy waifs line up to be objectified for a living (or simply for a moment) on “America’s Next Top Model.” Branded “ugly ducklings,” unstable women with low self-esteem risk their health to be surgically altered on “Extreme Makeover” and “Dr. 90210.” Starved women get naked for Oreos and men gloat about “dumb girl alliances” on “Survivor.” Women of color are demonized as deceitful divas and “ghetto” train wrecks on “Flavor of Love” and “I Love New York.” Reality TV isn’t simply reflecting anachronistic social biases, it’s resurrecting them. Its producers have done what the most ardent fundamentalists have never been able to achieve: they’ve created a universe in which women not only have no real choices, they don’t even want any.

With humor, razor-sharp analysis and provocative multimedia clips, media critic Jennifer L. Pozner exposes how “reality” TV reinforces regressive ideas about women and men, race and class, and sex, love and marriage in America. She skewers the lack of ethnic and physical diversity in a genre where women are sold right alongside soda and cell phones, and reveals how reality TV glorifies eating disorders, derides female intelligence, demeans people of color, and reduces Prince Charming to any jerk with a firm butt and a firmer financial portfolio. You’ll never see dating, mating and makeover shows the same way again… and you’ll laugh—a lot!

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For further information, please contact Jan Doolittle Wilson, director of TU Women’s and Gender Studies, at jan-wilson@utulsa.edu.

so, with the sotomayor hearings going on, all of the ridiculousness we’ve been hearing from fearful white conservatives, i thought the comic below was especially appropriate.  i found it on feministing.com paired with an article about a rachel maddow interview with pat buchanan

i think this is a fantastic explanation of the phenomenon of the backlash against any movement, like affirmative action, that seeks to promote diversity in a workplace or group.  i’ve always thought it was funny (not funny haha, but funny as in ODDLY CONVENIENT for them) that conservative thinkers in particular like to get all up in arms about forced racial and gender equalization of the workforce.  i understand that people are afraid that the best person for the job will be overlooked in favor of a woman, a racial minority, or (GASP) a woman who is a racial minority…  but why is it so impossible that that woman, non-white man, or (GASP) non-white woman could actually BE the BEST PERSON for the job?  

huh?

furthermore, the term “reverse racism” is highly problematic itself, and i think its usage reveals the speaker’s (conscious or unconscious) personal issues.   the australian author of “Reverse Racism? Positive Discrimination, Affirmative Action, Reverse Racism–What’s in a Name?” gets to the point i’m eager to make here:

If our current definition of racism is so limited that its name has to be changed depending on the colour of the user’s skin, then surely the definition itself is a racist one. So, we need to simplify things by looking at the literal definition. “-isms” are beliefs. “Race” is an outmoded seventeenth century myth of biological difference invented to justify slavery and imperial expansion. So, racism is the belief in the existence of separate human races.

By that rationale most of Western society, whose structures and cultures are built upon the myth of racial groups determined by arbitrary physical characteristics, is a racist society.

Reversed, sideways, upside down – that’s just wrong, no matter which way you look at it.

we are a racist society (EDIT: except for stephen colbert, who does not see color!), and that is not good.  in a racist society, the only way to give a hand up to racial minorities is to do just that, openly, blatantly.  yes, giving a hand up in this way is racist.  but it has to be because we are a racist society.  until we are not–and how we get there and how long it will take, i don’t know–this is the best and most fair solution. 

i don’t know if i’m being as precise as i’d like to be; i think this entry could still use some work, but these are my thoughts as i’m processing them now. 

peace,
beamish

EDIT:

in addition, i’d like to point out henry louis gates, jr.’s, arrest for disorderly conduct at his home on july 16th, 2009.   as kim coleman states in the article, “we are not in a post-racial society.”  this incident and the public responses to it indicate the need for a deeper public awareness and practiced consciousness of race in the U.S.  the ACLU provides fact sheets to help us understand that affirmative action helps protect fairness and equality and provides a working definition of affirmative action.   the ACLU also provides a page presenting news updates concerning racial justice and affirmative action, if you’re interested in reading about current cases/issues.  the second entry listed on the site is from april of 2008 and focuses on oklahoma:

Equal Opportunity Foes Move to Pull Own Petition in Oklahoma, Calling It a Waste (4/4/2008)
Equal opportunity foes were dealt a blow last Friday when the proponents of an anti-affirmative action initiative in Oklahoma filed a motion to withdraw their own proposal, stating that the measure likely did not have enough valid signatures to make it onto the ballot. Proponents of the so-called Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative – backed by millionaire California businessman Ward Connerly and his so-called American Civil Rights Institute – were put on the defensive when local civil rights advocates, in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, began looking into the OKCRI’s fishy signature-gathering process earlier this year.

Southern Liberals!

July 15, 2009

 So, this article on Huffingtonpost.com features a video in which Bill Maher defends Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford…  but on the way to his jokes on this topic (which I think are great), he mentions Southern Liberals!  Even though Chris Matthews says some sorta dumbass things differentiating between Southern Liberals and Northern/East Coast/West Coast Liberals, I still enjoyed the props.  Tulsa itself even gets a plug.  Nice!

Peace,
Beamish