Thursday, August 30, 2012

Moving on up



Friends, As longtime readers have likely noticed, What Tami Said has been dormant of late. Blogging has been one of the best things to happen to me. Beginning to post here five years ago reinvigorated my love of writing; helped me find my voice on a host of issues; allowed me to support ideas and movements that I care deeply about; and introduced me to a host of wonderful, smart people. What Tami Said eventually opened the door to great opportunities that more and more make it difficult for me to post regularly on a personal blog. I am still interested in and committed to writing about race, gender, politics and pop culture. But moving forward, I hope you'll join me as I take my efforts to other places.
  • I am in the process of migrating the best of What Tami Said to a new personal website at www.TamaraWinfreyHarris.com.
  • I am a regular contributor to Clutch and Frugivore magazines.
  • I am owner and co-editor at Love Isn't Enough. Look for a relaunch of this site, dedicated to parenting and anti-racism, in the new year.
  • I am beyond excited to be joining the Racialicious editorial team!
  • I will continue my work as a freelance writer and efforts to publish a book on black women, marriage, and the sexist and racist underpinnings of the "black marriage crisis" narrative.
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Thank you so much for your support!

Tamara

Photo Credit: Jay Roeder

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No disrespect: Black women and the burden of respectability

Check out my latest article in Bitch magazine. You can catch it online, but please support the magazine by picking up a print copy, too.


In February 2012, PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer about their Oscar nominations for their roles as Aibileen and Minny, Jim Crow–era domestic workers in The Help. “I’m pulling for both of you to win on Academy Award night,” Smiley ventured. “But there’s something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid”—a reference to the actor who won for her role as Mammy in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. “I want you to win,” Smiley concluded, “but I’m ambivalent about what you’re winning for.”
Davis countered that it is hard for black actresses to find multifaceted roles in Hollywood, and that pressure from the black community to eschew portrayals that are not heroic makes it even harder: “That very mind-set that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the black artist…. If your criticism is that you just don’t want to see the maid...then I have an issue with that. Do I always have to be noble?”
For black women, particularly those in the public eye, the answer to this question is often a resounding “Yes.” They are required to be noble examples of black excellence. To be better. To be respectable. And the bounds of respectability are narrowly defined by professional and personal choices reflecting the social mores of the majority culture—patriarchal, Judeo-Christian, heteronormative, and middle class.
Spencer ended up taking home an Oscar later that month for Best Supporting Actress (Davis lost to Meryl Streep for Best Actress), but Smiley had articulated a discomfort many in the black community felt about their big-screen roles. For all its popularity and acclaim, The Help illustrates that Hollywood still filters (and distorts) the lives and histories of minorities through the eyes of the majority; celebrates white saviors; and, 72 years post-Mammy, is still more comfortable casting black women as maids than as prime ministers, action heroes, or romantic leads.
Where Smiley trod lightly, some people have been more explicit in their criticism of Davis and Spencer. In an open letter to Davis on the film-industry site Indiewire, black filmmaker Tanya Steele wrote, “Currently, the vanguard of black culture is still healing wounds from their past. Wounds that racism has created, wounds that drive you to gain acceptance in the larger culture. The acknowledgment comes in the form of a paycheck, exposure, star status, acceptance. An acceptance that is more important than our legacy. Isn’t it that simple? How else could a black woman…take the role?”
Much-needed criticisms of The Help and the characters of Aibileen and Minny have come from sources like the Association of Black Women Historians, which, in its own open letter, challenged various aspects of the book and film, including misrepresentations of elements of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism. But there is something else floating in the ether: the idea that the role of a maid is simply too ignoble for a 21st-century black actress. That idea is merely respectability politics at work.
Read more...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

If childcare and housekeeping were important, men would do them

Read my latest at Clutch magazine:

“B*tch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym” – Drake on Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe, in Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin”
American society does not value childcare and housekeeping. Oh, we say we do. Last week, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, got het up when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen questioned her ability to advise her husband on women’s issues since “[Romney] hasn’t worked a day in her life.”  Mrs. Romney countered that raising five children is indeed working–hard work, in fact. And I agree, though I note that as the privileged wife of a millionaire, Ann Romney should hardly be the voice of the average stay-at-home-mom. But I don’t believe all the Conservatives rushing to voice their support of mothers everywhere. And I believe few of the Liberals saying of course parenting is just as valuable as working outside of the home mean it either. That is just not the society we live in.
We live in a society where childcare providers–mostly women–are barely paid living wages. American parental leave pales in comparison to that of most European countries (Parents in Sweden receive a whopping 16 months to care for newborns, for example). And when a woman forgoes a career to help a man reach the pinnacle of success by tending to home and hearth, and then divorces in the face of infidelity, some folks greet the idea of equal division of family wealth with, “Bitch, you wasn’t with me shooting in the gym.” I guess child-rearing skills just aren’t as important as tossing a ball through a hoop with amazing accuracy.
You know when I will believe that our society values housekeeping and childcare? When men do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of men who are involved spouses and fathers, but few who take primary responsibility for maintaining home and family. That is why childcare providers are unfairly compensated. That is why single mothers without outside employment are not applauded for working hard raising their families. That is why America doesn’t give a damn about affordable and reliable childcare. Housekeeping and childcare are not important because men don’t do it. Because what we really believe is that these things are “women’s work.” And as long as this is true, and we all still live in a sexist society, then these things will always be undervalued. Read more...

Friday, April 13, 2012

The problem with men being men

Read my latest at Clutch magazine...

In his bestselling book, and soon to be movie, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, Steve Harvey offers women advice on “how to be a girl,” something he believes is a lost art. Many of his suggestions, including cooking for your man and not lifting heavy items, are typical of the reductive thinking permeating incessant modern discussions about black male-female relationships. Women are to be dependent, submissive, chaste yet sexually available, and focused on “womanly things” like nurturing, child-rearing and cooking. Above all, a good woman must “let a man be a man”–that is independent, a natural leader in all things, emotionally distant, sexually voracious and prone to stray. We are told, the fate of the race and black women’s happiness depends on both men and women acting out these roles. But treating traditional gender roles as gospel is more damaging to the black community than helpful. There is no one way to be a man or a woman.  
This isn’t a treatise against men and women who like to kick it old school. Do you. But it is dangerous to hold up regressive ideas of femininity and masculinity as the way it should be. Too many of our ideas of gender roles are based on the sexist hierarchy entrenched in the majority white culture, long before black men were recognized as fully men and black women as women. Narrow views of gender do a disservice to both black men and women, curtailing their freedom to be their authentic selves and exacerbating already serious problems in the black community. Read more...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Move over, Antoine Dodson! The ironically racist Internet presents Sweet Brown



My latest post on Clutch magazine:
I believe Sweet Brown found a place on the popular Gawker site today for nearly the same reasons. It’s her bright head scarf. It’s the gold teeth that keep flashing as she speaks. It’s the way she unabashedly calls on her god. It’s the way she says Lord Jesus, it’s faahr! in a drawl that speaks of the backwoods. It’s her emotionalism. It’s her very name: Sweet Brown. 
Sweet Brown is so country. So poor. So uneducated. So (stereotypically) black. For most video watchers, so other. And that makes her not a recipient of sympathy, but ridicule. (Is it just me, or at about :13 do you hear someone in the KFOR newsroom tittering?) But knee-jerk amusement at the “other” may keep us from asking critical questions. Read more...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dawn Watch - Week 2 (Notes on Mad Men's accidental affirmative action hire)


Mild spoiler ahead.

Last week I worried that Don Draper's new secretary, Dawn, would be mere window dressing--a black face to signal the changing times. But in the April 8 episode of Mad Men we learned more about Dawn. She has a brother, who wants to enlist in the Army, and a mom, who worries about sending her boy to fight in Vietnam. She has been secretly sleeping in the Sterling Cooper Draper Price offices on late nights, because cabs won't take her "north of 96th St." into Harlem and, given the civil unrest in 1966, her mother worries about her taking the subway. She's happy as a member of the secretarial pool and has no desire be the black Peggy Olson.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Loving black women is not an affliction


Check out my latest article at Clutch magazine:

You’re as excited as I am about Mad Men’s return after a super-long hiatus, right? I’ve been jonesing for some Joan…and Don and Peggy and Roger. Five seasons haven’t diminished the fact that the show is one of the smartest things on television. And guess what ya’ll? Last night’s episode introduced a new face to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Thanks to an equal-opportunity employer advertisement, placed in The New York Times to childishly taunt rival company Young & Rubicam, SCDP was forced to integrate. Don Draper has a new secretary named Dawn. And she’s a black woman.
Now, given the track record of office hanky panky on Mad Men , I suppose I can’t blame viewers for wondering if Dawn will get any action. (Although much of the speculation seems to disregard the era’s racial and beauty hierarchy.) But it’s interesting to note who viewers think is most likely to make a play for Dawn. 
A commenter on Slate magazine’s Facebook page offeredLane is going to try and hook up with a black secretary. We know that he likes black women and he is looking for some strange. 
In comments to an episode recap at The Guardian a viewer ticked off the important points gained from the first episode of the season: There will soon be a real “negro” character. Lane Price is randy, despite his wife being happier now. Lane Price (who once introduced a black Playboy Bunny to his father as his girlfriend) will be hiring a black secretary.
Elsewhere : It’ll be interesting to see if SCDP actually hires a black secretary, especially given Lane Pryce’s fondness for black women.
Read more...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Be right back

I'm thrilled to announce that, beginning this week, I will be a regular contributor to Clutch Magazine. Don't know about Clutch? You better ask somebody! It's a great space and I'm proud to share writing duties with awesome folks like Thembi Ford and Britni Danielle.

Now, don't go thinking I'm abandoning What Tami Said. This will always be my home. But I  need a good couple of weeks to acclimate to churning out content across several platforms and spaces. So, while I adjust to a new writing routine, expect posting here to be a little slow.

In the meantime, check out my latest post on Clutch about the "girlification" of adult women:
I don’t think this is just semantics. Words mean things. It was not harmless when society made a habit of calling grown black men “boy.” It was disrespectful and infantilizing. It was a symptom of racial inequality. How can it mean anything different if adult women remain “girls” while men are men? Read more...

Watch Saturday's panel discussion on black girls and feminism

Thanks to everyone who joined me Saturday for Images in the River: Black Girls Dialogue, the live panel discussion on teaching feminism to black girls. If you missed it, watch a replay for the event below:

 

Friday, March 30, 2012

The panelists for tomorrow's live discussion are seriously freaking awesome!

You've got Images in the River: Black Girls Dialogue on your calendar right? Love Isn't Enough and a few of our crunk feminist friends are getting together at 9 am ET, TOMORROW, right here in this space, to discuss how to introduce feminism to black girls. I'm telling you, you don't want to miss this. Here are just three of the amazing women that will be a part of this panel:

Love Isn't Enough contributor Bianca I. Laureano is a first generation Puerto Rican sexologist living in NYC. Raised in the Washington, DC area in an activist environment, Bianca is the daughter of an artist and educator and a product of the public school system. In the field of sexuality for over a decade, Bianca has worked with and taught youth of Color, working class communities, speaks at national and international organizations advocating sex-positive social justice agendas. She has presented both locally and internationally on various topics concerning activism, Latino sexual health, feminisms, youth and hip-hop culture, Latinos and race, Caribbean cultural practices and sexuality, dating and relationships, curriculum development, reproductive justice and teaching.

She's a board member at the Black Girl Project, doula with The Doula Project, editor of film and music at VivirLatino.com, and co-founder of The LatiNegr@s Project. Bianca is an instructor and a freelance writer and was awarded the 2010 Mujeres Destacadas’ Award (distinguished woman) from El Diario/La Prensa for her work in sexual health. She hosts the website LatinoSexuality.com and identifies as a LatiNegra, media maker, radical woman of Color, activist, sex-positive, pro-choice femme. Find out more about Bianca by visiting her website BiancaLaureano.com.

Sheri Davis-Faulkner is a doctoral candidate in American Studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University.  Her work calls for a humanities-based intervention and response to health issues articulated within social science and popular medical discourses. Specifically she looks at the depiction of the “childhood obesity epidemic” within televisual media, attending to the treatment of black girls categorized as obese.  A Spelman College alumna, she completed her Master of Women’s Studies degree in May 2001 from The Ohio State University.  In 2010 she conducted a participatory action research project in West Atlanta called Camp Carrot Seed, an action oriented research project focused on engaged-pedagogies that explore food literacy, body literacy, and media literacy with youth through organic gardening, shopping, food preparation, arts and literary enrichment, environmental education, and community building. In addition to being a blogging member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, she is also a proud spouse and mother living in the Atlanta metropolitan area.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Saturday: Live online discussion on teaching feminism to black girls

Read more about Images in the River: Black Girls Dialogue here.

 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Sexism makes me hate Betty Draper" and other musings on Mad Men



Squee! Season five of Mad Men premieres this Sunday, March 25, at 9 pm ET. Will I be giddily watching with my Twitter account at one hand and a celebratory Brandy Alexander in the other? Why, yes, I will be. Matthew Weiner, you've made me wait far too long!

In honor of the best show on television's return, I thought I'd dig up some of my Mad Men-inspired posts from the past few years. You also may want to take AMC's "Which Mad Man Are You?" quiz to get in the mood for the weekend's festivities. Turns out, I'm Joan Holloway. Nyah, nyah. Are you envious? Yes, you most certainly are.

Mad about Mad Men (Can't Anyone Just be Racist Anymore?)

Hey, Brian McGreevy, Vampire Pam Beats Don Draper Any Day

Mad Men--The Good, The Bad and The Prejudiced

Mad Men and Society's Race Problem

Sexism Makes me Hate Betty Draper

Sex, Women's Agency and Peggy Olson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writing While Marginalized - Pt. 7

How do other folks who are members of historically marginalized groups, and who write about race and gender and sexuality, wrestle with writing for mainstream spaces? Do they? Should we? Are there topics writers will not or should not discuss outside of a "safe space"? Are there story ideas writers reserve for "of color" or GLBT spaces?

I asked some smart, writerly, social justice-minded folks to weigh in. Today, this series ends with Nadra Kareem Nittle.


NADRA KAREEM NITTLE


I write for a number of different websites and definitely feel hesitant to broach the topic of race in some instances. While race is not a taboo subject for any site I write for, I do have to address the topic differently depending on my audience.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing While Marginalized - Pt. 6

How do other folks who are members of historically marginalized groups, and who write about race and gender and sexuality, wrestle with writing for mainstream spaces? Do they? Should we? Are there topics writers will not or should not discuss outside of a "safe space"? Are there story ideas writers reserve for "of color" or GLBT spaces?

 I asked some smart, writerly, social justice-minded folks to weigh in. And I'll be sharing their thinking all this week. Today, Andrea Plaid and more from Christopher MacDonald Dennis and Sparky.

ANDREA PLAID (Racialicious)


Working at Racialicious, Latoya has already said a lot of what I think about the topic, especially since I’m earning my writing chops at the blog. However, I also tend to tackle a stickier subject: sex. Not so much gender and sexual identity--though I’ve done my share of such posts--but the practices and acts. I’ve seen those posts explode in some rather ugly ways in the comments sections because the topic is such a Mobius strip of intimacy, desire, and belonging yet is a space where some people feel the need to preen their self-righteousness that I’ve had to walk away from the thread in disgust. So, yes, even though the R is that space where we walk that line of in-house conversations and public discourse, when it comes to sex (no pun intended), it’s still a subaltern discussion. However, we still try to have them, as frustrating as they can be.

Moving my writing outside of the R, I tend to get a bit nervous about writing some topics because I do wonder if, by getting published in a less PoC-centered space, if I’m being set-up as the “tour guide” for the souls of PoCs, especially Black women or, more insidiously, if I’m being presented--okay, co-opted--as the “PoC friend” who agrees with some of the white progressive ideas, like my writing at AlterNet that I initially thought SlutWalk was a great idea when a lot of Black women and other women of color bloggers were vehemently against the event. At the same time, I do think we need to have our opinions in various spaces--both spaces that center marginalized identities and the mainstream media--because it shows that there is a difference of opinions that we do hold.

But those are opinions, usually backed with experiential/numerical/scientific facts. When it comes to “news stories” about us and by us...I agree with almost everyone on the thread: it makes me antsy when that news story comes off as cultural tourism which, in a society that doesn’t value marginalized people’s humanities, makes us feel like we’re on display like the Hottentot Venus. Some of it is where the story is placed, true. Then some of it is simply how the story is constructed--it’s the difference between Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry talking about Black women and citizenship at a college lecture captured in a YouTube clip and Soledad O’Brien’s Black/Latino In America series. Dr. Harris-Perry’s presentation reminds me of the Toni Morrison quote where she says she goes on the fictive journey and assumes that the audience is smart enough to follow. O’Brien is 101ing the hell of “The Black Experience” and “The Latino Experience” because she’s assuming her audience--namely white CNN viewers--knows nothing about Black and Brown folks...and she’s doing this to the consternation of the folks she’s trying to cover because she simplifying our complexities almost to the point of reinforcing old stereotypes, if not creating new stereotypes.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Writing While Marginalized - Pt. 5

How do other folks who are members of historically marginalized groups, and who write about race and gender and sexuality, wrestle with writing for mainstream spaces? Do they? Should we? Are there topics writers will not or should not discuss outside of a "safe space"? Are there story ideas writers reserve for "of color" or GLBT spaces?

I asked some smart, writerly, social justice-minded folks to weigh in. And I'll be sharing their thinking all this week. Today, Jennifer of Mixed Race America, and more from Christopher MacDonald Dennis.



JENNIFER (Mixed Race America)

This has been a very rich discussion to read, and I appreciate Tami giving me an opportunity to add my own thoughts to this rich mix.

Others have echoed many of the concerns and misgivings that I have in having conversations about race and my specific racial community (Asian Americans) in a larger mainstream context.

However, let me add another dimension to this.

Recently, colleagues of mine who study/research/write about Asian American communities have been trying to figure out how we can have more of a voice in MSM. There is so much invisibility of Asian Americans--and what little coverage there is often is rendered in very sterotypical terms. We have wondered how we can have more of a voice in sharing our own stories and histories to educate others, especially around social justice issues. Interestingly enough, Jeremy Lin has provided an avenue into this, as I’ve seen colleagues of mine featured on the CNN website writing about Asian Americans and trying to educate people about the history of Asians in America.

And one of the things I think about when I see their pieces in MSM isn’t just that they are making visible a whole community that has largely been invisible, but that it’s quite powerful to see your community legitimzed in MSM. For all that MSM is problematic, for all that the dominant society is problematic, it is also true that it feels empowering to have a voice.


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