Sunday, April 29, 2007

Do Interracial Couples Make Better Parents? One Study Says "Yes"


It’s beginning to look a lot like Brazil in the United States, at least on paper. 6.8 million people declared their multiracial heritage (of 2 or more races) on the 2000 Census, universities are working diligently to fortify their diversity programs, and multiculturalism found its way into politics when in 2003, 36.1% of California voters wanted to pass the "Racial Privacy Initiative," a state proposition that would ban racial classification and that many hoped would lead to a "colorblind" society. Researchers are certainly not exempt from the push to make America a "melting pot" once again. In fact, studies recently released regarding interracial relationships seem to support the idea that everyone CAN "just get along" and yield quite beneficial results. Yet some of these studies tend to ignore greater factors that influence race relations in the United States and impediments to certain groups when they try to become a part of the burgeoning multicultural/racial/ethnic society in America, rendering their findings and government advocacy for colorblindness somewhat superficial and misleading.

In the January issue of the American Journal of Sociology, professors cum social scientists Simon Cheng of the University of Connecticut and Brian Powell of Indiana University, announced their findings regarding biracial families in the United States in an article entitled "Under and Beyond Constraints: Resource Allocation to Young Children from Biracial Families." "Biracial" parents in this instance refers not to people of multiracial backgrounds as parents, but parents in which one partner is a different race from the other, whereas "monoracial" parents refer to parents who are of the same race. According to the research conducted among a little over 1100 couples, biracial parents are "more likely than their monoracial counterparts" to provide their children with expensive amenities like "home computer[s], private schooling, and educational books and cds" and to encourage them to participate in extra-curricular activities like "dance, music, or art lessons outside of school and . . . trips to the zoo, library, and other cultural venues."

This information is quite positive, and can be interpreted as an indication that interracial relationships have a positive future as marriages and that said relationships are not nearly as frightening a prospect as racist hate-mongers have suggested for centuries. It also provides encouraging data to counter the belief that bi- and multi-racial children have a definite future as confused, unhappy, and "tragic" figures in society as many films and literature would like for us to belief. In the dissemination of the research findings, however, several factors are lost, and the data itself comes as not-so-happy news to certain groups, particularly blacks.

The researchers hypothesize that interracial parents may invest more time in their child-rearing in order to counter the social challenges they face as an interracial couple, or, in other words, to disprove stereotypes regarding the instability of multiracial families. It is also suggested that the parents dedicate a significant amount of time and attention to their child in order to provide a healthy home life, and, in turn, provide a more positive environment for a child that may experience ostracism, discrimination, and exclusion as a result of their interracial background. When reading the information about the study and its pool of respondents, it’s impossible not to ponder whether or not economic and religious background, nationality, age, and even the period of time the couple had been together before having children were included in the demographic reporting for the research. Its blatant absence from articles about the study is disturbing. A good example of this is found in the study’s reference to Latinos, as Latino-white coupling made up more than half of the study pool. The term "Latino," however, is used here incorrectly as a race. Latino is technically an ethnicity, one defined primarily by way of place of origin and cultural components like language, food, and art. The Latino community includes people who could be classified as white, black, Asian, indigenous, and/or of a multiracial background (which accounts for a majority of the Latino population globally as well as in this country). So it is very possible that to the naked eye, these so-called "interracial couples" are actually monoracial couples, only divided by culture. If that is the case, many monoracial couples could be considered "interracial," for example, a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant married to an Israeli Jewish partner or a black person from the United States with a black spouse from Angola. Why are these factors not taken into account in the study?

When the study notes the one "exception" to what is referred to as the "biracial advantage" as being black father/white mother families, a red flag goes up. Families with a black father and a white mother are said to "invest fewer resources into kids than do black monoracial couples and white monoracial couples." The study simply chalks this up to the their belief that black-white couples experience more racism from their respective families and the general public, yet considering the practically annual reports that convey black men as an "endangered species," such as "The State of Black America 2007: Portrait of the Black Male" published by the National Urban League earlier this month, assertions by a Westchester school district that saving black boys was "morally imperative," and statements made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s blaming of black youths as responsible for the rise in crime in England, it is surprising that the study did not consider the issues that black men face with regard to economic and social inequality.

For example, according to the NUL study, "Black men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white men and make only 74% as much a year." It is quite possible that many black father/white mother couples are unable to provide as much for their children due in part to economic reasons that were not discussed in the research findings. However, the study saves its credibility by asserting that black/white couples often face more social prejudice, usually due to the great divide on the social continuum between blacks and whites in addition to the great degree of stereotypes that already accompany black/white interracial coupling, particularly couples comprised of black men and white women, despite their being far more common as relationships between black women and white men (blacks are the least likely to marry "outside of their race," but black men do so more than black women, with currently about 70% of black/white marriages being between black men and white women).

Despite its demographic shortcomings, the study is refreshing in that it encourages people of many different races to confront stereotypes regarding interracial couples, especially those regarding black men and white women, one that falls under frequent scrutiny - whether the criticism is regarding motivations behind the commencement of such a relationship, the competency of white mothers raising children of color, and/or the couple's economic stability. It is almost certain that some people will use the study to confirm their beliefs that black men/white women interracial couples fail with regard to the aforementioned "tests," but it is also very possible that another set of people will regard the study in a more positive light in that it provides some evidence with regard to the direction in America is moving when it comes to race. It could "help" or "hurt" the idea of a multicultural utopia for which many people hope, all depending on which side of the existing color-line one sits. But with so many Americans checking more than one box on the census, there is a possibility that discussions regarding interracial couples and their parenting methods will be a non-issue in the near future. Only time will tell.


-Wendi Muse

For more about interracial couples, check out an NPR interview with author Debra Dickerson & activist Carmen Van Kerckhove: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5075629 READ MORE

Friday, April 27, 2007

China in Africa



"We in China take great pride in our friendship with the African people," said Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, in a speech given in February at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. The forum, Enhance China-Africa Unity and Cooperation To Build a Harmonious World, was called in an attempt for China and South Africa to pledge to develop ties from a strategic perspective. Chinese and African populations combined make up one-third of the world's total population. Despite the distance between them, China and Africa have enjoyed a history of friendly exchange towards one another, including supporting one another through national liberation. In 2006 at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Chinese and African leaders unanimously agreed to establish and develop a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership featuring political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchange.

Chinese interests in Africa are not new. Reportedly, six hundred years ago, Zheng He, a Chinese navigator of the Ming Dynasty, headed a large convoy which sailed across the ocean and reached the east coast of Africa four times. For more than one hundred years in China's modern history, the Chinese people were subjected to colonial aggression and oppression by foreign powers and went through similar suffering and agony that the majority of African countries endured. The end of the Cold War also heightened China's interest in the continent. According to Chris Melville of opendemocracy.net, "after the PRC was founded in 1949, the new state based its relations with the developing world on a defined doctrine, the " five principles of peaceful coexistence"; it also used its own legacy of colonial aggression and experience of liberation to forge links with the African nation-states emerging from colonial rule". More than 60% of African timber exports are now destined for east Asia; 25% of China's oil supplies are now sourced in the gulf of Guinea region. Reportedly, China has subsequently been well in advance of the G8 by cancelling $10 billion of the debt it is owed by African states; at the second Sino-Africa business conference in December 2003, China offered further debt relief to thirty-one African countries, as well as opening the prospect of zero-tariff trade.

Amidst growing concerns that the world may stand on the brim of it's third world war, and that the realization of full-blown globalization may follow, the U.S. is realizing that it may have been sleeping on the possiblity of African relations and friendships, as opposed to suppression and rule. Drew Thompson of The Jamestown Foundation wrote that "China maintains friendly relations with most African nations, particularly nations that the U.S. has limited contact or diplomatic leverage over, such as Libya and Sudan. If President Bush seeks to address U.S. national security interests around the world, promoting social, political and economic development in Africa will have to become a significant priority for the administration". America and friends may benefit in estimating that their perception of a successful and convenient Africa led by democracies and the rule of law is being challenged by the growing Chinese influence in Africa.Top leaders from Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe are visiting Beijing and securing further investment and economic assis­tance. In January 2006, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's trip to six West African nations—Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, and Libya— was accompanied by the release of "China's African Policy," an official Chinese government paper aimed at promoting economic and political cooperation as well as joint energy development without interfering in each other's internal affairs.

Although the efforts at unity and the consideration of the denegrated continent at first seem smart, and even noble of the People's Republic of China, is it possible that China in Africa may result in the same colonial rule, that's remnants still have the continent lagging behind in world economies? After all, didn't the Mid-Atlantic slave trade with the west begin as just a "business" stemming from "friendly" expeditions from Western explorers? The Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes wrote in China's Influence in Africa: Implications for the United States, that in the 1960s and 1970s, Beijing's interest centered on building ideological sol­idarity with other underdeveloped nations to advance Chinese-style communism and on repelling Western "imperialism"." This reality presents an issue of possible governmental influence, that may accompany the burgeoning friendships, and may consequently end in further "Cold-War" type occassions throughout the continent. With Democracy whispering in the West ear, and Socialism in the East, the challenge is then that the countries of Africa dig deeper than the omission of debt, the gifts of arms, the shaking of hands, and the dedications of world summits in making friends. Africa's great abundance in natural and human resources are of no secret to the world. It is for this reason that the continent has suffered for so long from the results of global interests, and most specifically, colonialism. Africa then, must realize the power in her numbers and jewels, place her guard up as far as her bruised hands can reach, and realize that there are always bargains made in the game of friends.


-Wayetu Moore READ MORE

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

START SNITCHIN/ return of the mack/ whoa there amy winehouse


"I wouldn't be like the serial killer's in 4E"

60 minutes chose Cam'ron to educate the seeds on Sunday. The episode, which you've probably had forwarded to you from youtube like fifty times by now, featured a 10 minute segment on snitching, which can apparently also go (legitimately!) by "The Stop Snitchin Campaign." It wasn't until reading the wikipedia entry that I found out there was an actual DVD behind all those t shirts I started seeing on kids a couple years back. Like those inexplicably popular gangsta snowman tees, or the ones with like Tony Tiger iced up and counting cash, I thought the stop snitchin tees were a kinda silly fad, based on problematic ideas but ultimately harmless. And, in spite of the indignant protestations of half the country, I guess I still think they're not that bad.

The problem with "stop snitchin," as 60 minutes, a recent Essence article, and a growing number of jurisdictions around the country present it, is that people are so bound by this code of silence that it effectively breaks down the rule of law wherever it is the standard. Point taken. Especially after Cam told Anderson Cooper that he would just move if his neighbor were a serial killer, rather than alert the cops that a serial killer lived next door.

BUT, people seem a little too eager to elide the difference between providing information that will protect public safety, and selling out your friends. While these things are always hard to trace, I'm fairly certain that stop snitchin'/ a mostly black urban code of silence got reinforced kinda hardcore when law enforcement started enticing cooperating witnesses with lighter sentences in the war on drugs. This tactic not only makes the war on drugs a more effective tool against black folks (since it widens the net of people who'll get snatched up), it also further elevates kingpins and screws over the little guys (since it rewards folks with the most information). Under those (common) circumstances, who can really defend snitching- effectively selling out your equally guilty friends or associates to save your own skin? And, I have to admit, stop snitchin' resonates even more positively with me these days given the expanded use of grand jury testimony to persecute political dissidents under the USA PATRIOT ACT. White folks can get as huffy as they want about black folks not cooperating with the police, but this time I'm not drinking the kool-aid.

As always, I'm also kinda annoyed that it's only black appropriations of standard cultural mores that get such intense scrutiny. I mean, didn't Al Pacino win an oscar, as well as adulation and poetic justice for an eight-minute rant against snitching like fifteen years ago? And while the cops feel increasingly frustrated by witnesses who refuse to turn informant, there isn't a police department in the entire country that doesn't enforce the blue wall of silence. Not to bite Imus's defense, but rappers didn't invent the words "tattle, " "rat," "snitch," or any other pejorative for people who tell, and therefore incriminate others. Granted, crimes that are somewhat protected by "stop snitchin," like murder or drug trafficking, may be wreaking more havoc on black communities than others, but i have a hard time joining in on this public outcry. Especially when it's just the next event in a long history of pathologizing black people's behavior while leaving their white counterparts unexamined.

-dial 917

p.s. Oh, and I guess I'm back. On Wednesdays. Until Ash gets fed up.

p.p.s. Dear Amy Winehouse,
You went from patron saint of girls who like to drink and can totally handle it, whatever to patron saint of girls who have viewed a recent picture of you and are re-examining their relationship to the bottle. I'm not mocking you I'm just saying, maybe we should lay off the booze for a bit and just chill at home. READ MORE

Monday, April 23, 2007

Partial Birth Abortion Ban



In 2000, black women made up approximately 6% of the population of the United States. In the same year, however, black women accounted for more than a third of the women who underwent abortion procedures. Abortion is an issue that deserves some attention in the black community, and the urgency at which this topic should come under review was made all the more obvious last Wednesday.

On April 18th, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban in a 5-4 decision. Though partial birth abortion, or intact dilation and extraction (D&E) abortion procedure, as it is known by medical professionals, is rarely performed (more than 85% of abortions are performed during the first trimester), it has garnered an intense amount of attention as of late, amassed primarily by its pro-life opponents. The procedure has been debated for some time now, and its national significance was catalyzed by the election of a predominately Republican Congress correlating with George W. Bush’s entry into presidential office. Relying primarily on what could be considered the more gruesome aspects of the procedure in order to produce a dramatic public response, opponents of intact D&E succeeded in influencing members of Congress and, subsequently, five Justices of the Supreme Court to ban the procedure in the United States, even in the instance that it might be the more favorable option for the mother’s health.

Both pro-life and pro-choice activists view the Court’s decision as having a profound effect on their work—on the one hand signifying a victory and compelling action towards prohibiting abortion altogether, and on the other, ushering in a sense of loss and a fear with regard to the status of women’s reproductive rights. What’s missing from the activism and debate, however, is a face to represent the population that makes up a significant amount of those who choose to have abortions: black women. Pro-life activism is dominated by Christian groups and more conservative politicians, both of whom tend to have white males at the helm, and pro-choice advocates, at least in more mainstream sources, tend to be white women and liberal politicians, who, on a national level, tend to be white males. As women of color have often complained of being poorly represented by feminists, stating class and race as deciding factors in the limited consideration of their issues, (as people of color in general often feel misrepresented, if represented at all by politicians), the abortion debate seems to be one from which black women would be inevitably excluded, despite the high numbers of those who decide to undergo the procedure.

Hopefully the first federal ban on a form of abortion will encourage black activists on either side of the fence to speak up with regard to the pending future of black women’s bodies. Some activists have been mobilizing for years and add quite an interesting twist to the debate. Pro-life leaders like New Jersey Pastor Clenard H. Childress, Jr., who is the director of the Life Education and Research Network (L.E.A.R.N.), has introduced the issue of race into the abortion discussion, citing abortion statistics as a source of the black community’s demise. On L.E.A.R.N.’s website blackgenocide.org, he notes that abortion is one of the leading killers of young black Americans, and he hopes to encourage black women to consider other options besides abortion as a means of literally boosting the black population. Though his site and many of his teachings border on the extreme (i.e. the photo exhibition of aborted fetuses on the website), some of his points regarding racism within the feminist and reproductive rights movements and his advocacy of counseling for women to have healthier pregnancies are important factors for black women to consider. Other organizations also directly involve race, ethnicity, and class as influencing factors for debate with regard to abortion and reproductive rights as a whole. Pro-choice groups like the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, whose mission is to “protect the rights and human dignity of all women, particularly pregnant and parenting women and those who are most vulnerable including low income women, women of color, and drug-using women,” seek to provide guidance for pregnant women of multiple backgrounds, despite their choice with regard to whether or not they decide to give birth. They too provide counseling, public education, and engage in legal advocacy in order to advance their support of women in communities of color. Though the scale of the work done by the aforementioned groups is different considering their size and funding, they each encourage the public to remember that people of color are very much a part of the abortion debate, and signify far more than simple statistics.

It is my hope that the ban will encourage women of color to examine what their womanhood means to the people meant to represent them on Capitol Hill. In both the decision by Justice Kennedy and the dissenting opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the role that women serve to society was central. With the Court arguing that abortion, particularly the specific procedure entailed in the ruling, has a potentially profound and emotionally taxing effect on the women who undergo it, and the dissenting opinion discussing the physical effects of various abortion options on the health of women, in addition to both opinions discussing the role of medical professionals who practice abortions, it is undeniable that the black female community must play a role in future decisions of this sort. Black women’s physical and mental health, role in society, and position as mothers to the future of our community are often called into question, and with so many black women opting for abortions each year, we can no longer ignore the fact that debates about reproductive rights pertain to us too.

But our focus cannot stop there. We should encourage legislators to think about more than just abortion. What about other aspects of reproduction? HIV/AIDS is so prevalent in the black community, specifically among black women, that we should make sex education in communities of color one of the legislators’ new focal points. While we’re at it, we should also add foster care and adoption agency reform, as the system is overrun with black children. We should advocate additional funding for counseling young mothers who don’t have familial or spousal support. We should also add better prenatal care for lower-income women and encourage increased accessibility to childcare centers for women who must work to provide a home for their families. We should make a list for reform that could fill the pages of more court decisions and laws in the future. The legislators seem to think that their decisions regarding women should simply begin and end with our bodies, but it clearly goes much further. It’s up to us to remind them of just that.

You can find the fulltext of the Supreme Court Decision for Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzalez v. Carhart here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-380.ZS.html


-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Friday, April 20, 2007

April 16th, 2007


Clouds canvassed the northeastern United States on April 16th as the news spread of the murders in Blacksburg, Virginia. Almost at once, the spirit of sympathy raced to the graves of the deceased, as heads hung down in sullen anxiousness, and trembling eyes all asked the question that seemed to loom above everyone’s heads: “Was he one of us?”

On August 1, 1966, Sniper Charles Whitman killed 14 people and injured dozens at the University of Texas. In April of 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government office complex, was bombed in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds. In April of 1999, two teenagers at Columbine High School, Colorado, killed 13 students before killing themselves. In October of 2002, ten people were killed and three others were critically injured after being shot in the Washington D.C. area by the Beltway snipers. Until the sniper shootings of 2002, popular national terrors were widely known to be executed by Caucasian males that had histories of mental illnesses and clinical depressions. When the identities of the snipers were revealed, African-Americans stood shocked and gravely embarrassed at the given reality, and fearful at the possibilities of what may have resulted in the incident, including further exclusion from the majority. The fear of being in the same racial category as a national terrorist is a sentiment shared by all races, in consequence of nationalist tendencies to place good guys against bad guys, white against black, and wrongs against rights, where all of the bad guys look the same, and there are no middle grounds.

Cho Seung-Hui was a South Korean immigrant who came to the U.S. at about age 8 in 1992. When his race was uncovered after the Virginia Tech shootings, media explored the precedent of the fatal incident, and things that may have led to his psychological state. Most concluded, after learning that he had been sent to a psychiatric hospital and pronounced an imminent danger to himself, that his sudden revenge on the world was the cause of a history of mental illness that may or may not have been “biological”, “genetic”, and some even went as far as examining the mental range of the Korean race as a whole, furthering tensions and fears of back-lash from Korean-American communities around the country.

THERE IS NO SINGLE REPRESENTATIVE OF ANY RACE. Connecting Hui’s mental state to his family or his place of origin are bigoted implications that usher hate crimes against innocent and unaffiliated parties. All wrongs do not look the same, the good guys do not all wear white, and the middle ground is a vast plain where the bulk of humanity rest their heads.

The challenge then, cannot be suspected as flaws in U.S. immigration laws or foreign policy, as some would persuade you to believe for hopes of, dare I say, increased pro-war dispositions. For starters, Virginia laws allow any state resident 18 years of age or older to buy a firearm, including assault weapons, if they pass a criminal background check run through state and federal databases. People can also buy weapons at second-hand gun shows without any waiting periods or background checks. Although Virginia has a lot less gun crimes per capita than most states, it is among the most lenient in gun-control laws in the country. “Congress did not enact any significant new gun laws in reaction to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, although that event derailed efforts to move legislation in the 106th Congress that would have shielded gun manufacturers and dealers from being sued when third parties misuse their products. A similar bill returned in the 107th Congress, only to be shelved in 2002 — the same year as the D.C. sniper case,” said Seth Stern of the Congressional Quarterly. Even Democratic leaders reportedly show little enthusiasm for executing tighter gun control legislation that would likely attract scant support from Democratic lawmakers in rural and Republican-leaning districts.

Also, the availability of counseling in colleges is scarce, and the qualities of most of those services vary, mostly according to the prestige and amount of money that the school has. According to a 2007 survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 13 percent of students use campus mental health services. Although these services are not always the help that is needed of the depressed and often suicidal students, they are a progressive step towards the easing of collegiate stresses. Hui was referred to the school counseling service by a former teacher, but it was unclear whether or not he went. "I think more schools are mandating students for assessment when they are worried. But you really can't force someone to be in treatment," says Richard Kadison, chief of mental health services at Harvard. The allotment of most collegiate budgets are sources of debate, and sometimes even scandal and inter-administrative division. Across the board, however, a majority of these budgets are spent on salaries and facilities, as opposed to scholarships and student services. Free and professional, quality campus counseling may have gone a long way in this case, (where the suspect had been diagnosed as a harm to even himself, but was still allowed to stay in the classroom with other students without proof of counseling and mental calm), and in other cases of students that suffer from depression, and resort to attempts and successes at suicide. Overall funding and the allocation of funds are also a problem in the nation’s public schools, where facilities are decrepit, classrooms overflow, and staffs are mostly post-graduate individuals in transition, who at most times do not want to be there, and sometimes inflict the whims of their indifferences on their young audiences.

Finally, Hui, in his rants and tirades seemed to be an individual of poignant loneliness, and persistent pain. Although most people at some point in their lives are teased, Hui showed an individual that was almost irreparably ostracized. Though he chose to deal with his isolation in a brutal and somewhat barbaric way, his story seems to be the same song of the two teenagers at Columbine, the UT sniper, and other schoolhouse terrorists. This reality calls for a change in the way words are chosen and actions are determined. Pain seems to know no color, no birthplace, and no age. It is but a small fire, that when catalyzed, removes all ration and logic. With words, men are convinced to inhumanely slaughter entire races of people. With words, blood fights blood, stones are dropped, and movements are begun. With words, soldiers are coaxed, and the strong are persuaded. With words, heroes are inspired, but villains are also compelled. And with words, pain is forced into action, proving to be the greatest and most dangerous weapon of all time.


-Wayetu Moore READ MORE

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Searching for an Angle: "Keep it Fresh"

I've been searching for an angle from which to write about the shooting at Virginia Tech and I've come up with a number of things. There's so much to say but it's all being said and will be said and as much as I love debate and analysis I am, at heart, a humanist. So, throwing my opinion on what happened just seems, well for lack of a better word, wrong. And based on the masses of coverage something like this receives anyway, anything I could say would probably be redundant.

But I will say this: In our attempts to make sense of, organize, politicize, polarize or whatever else let's just not forget to feel it.



-Ashleigh Rae READ MORE

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Privilege: A Second Look at the Duke Scandal



“If only DNA testing and high-quality attorneys had been available 100 years ago, maybe a few black mens’ lives could have been saved” was the first thought that came to mind on Wednesday night upon hearing the news of the exoneration of three Duke University lacrosse team players once accused of raping and assaulting a black woman in March of 2006. The case picked the scab of what some considered to be a healing wound of racial division in the quiet college down of Durham, North Carolina, and exposed deeply rooted feelings about some of the nation’s touchiest subjects including, but not limited to, interracial sex, rape, class, gender, and privilege. Now, in the aftermath of the case, as America is left to wonder what really happened the night of March 13, 2006, it is crucial for the public to ask new questions, though not about innocence or guilt, as those options have been exhausted. We should now wonder to what end the media and the legal system serve our interests, and how both institutions have altered what the color of our skin and the money in our bank accounts mean in a larger context of American society.

Race, class, and gender are, without a doubt, huge factors in what media decided to portray, what Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong attempted to prosecute, and what the general public chose to believe with regard to the Duke scandal. However, the way they unfolded as dynamics of what could have arguably become the case of the century, replacing the O.J. Simpson trial as a televised legal spectacle, was not quite what anyone had expected. The scandal served so many agendas that each person involved practically provided a post-civil rights era personification of the 2-dimensional characters of a 15th century morality play. The three Duke lacrosse players, David Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty, represented upper-class, white, male Privilege; Crystal Gail Mangum, the accuser, represented lower-income, black, female Victimization, and Mike Nifong, the white Durham District Attorney, as he prepared evidence for the prosecution, represented the Voice for what was right, and what some seemed to feel would avenge the black community, women, and even the poor for the wrongs that had been committed against them for so long by the hand of Privilege. The press and community activists stood poised as the Chorus and the public waited anxiously for the curtain to rise.

After a year-long performance, the roles gradually reversed, leaving Privilege as Victim, Victim as Privilege, the Chorus virtually absent, the Voice completely silent, and an audience that frankly felt unsatisfied. I admit that I, like many others, was persuaded by the press, Mr. Nifong, and even Ms. Mangum to go along with what I now realize was a racist, classist, and sexist performance. I thought this instance was another assault on the underprivileged, when in actually, those victimized by the system in this case were those whom we so often consider to be behind its very shield: white, wealthy, privileged males.

Don't get me wrong; I am not writing to serve as an apologist for anyone involved with the scandal. Besides the rape allegations, other allegations regarding racial slurs, threats of violence, and failure to pay Mangum and her friend for their services that night in March will no longer be pursued now that the major charges have been dropped. But I feel that no matter what happened the night of the alleged incident, we must bear in mind that there are multiple sides to the story. We, as the viewing public, however, were presented with only one—that of the accuser. Unfortunately, her story was inconsistent from the beginning, and according to more recent evidence, created on the principle to receive monetary retribution from whom Mangum referred to simply as “the white boys.” Those who judged the case from the outside were so caught up in the media frenzy that they forgot to look for the facts. They also failed to see the similarities between this case and the rape scandals of the earlier part of the 20th century, many of which ended in hate crimes. Have we become so conditioned to what the media tells us is wrong that we can no longer judge for ourselves? Must we simply opt for a lynch mob mentality about possible wrongs committed to someone within our communities just because they may have been committed by someone different from us? Sometimes, people jump to action when an act or a statement is considered racist, sexist, and/or classist without taking a moment to consider whether or not they are entering into the throes of passionate protest with blind eyes and deaf ears. Isn’t pre-judging the three men accused in the Duke scandal an act of sexism, classism, and racism? Were those three men not judged by the accuser, the prosecutor, and the general public (including faculty members at Duke) based on their being white, upper middle class, and male?

Many activists argued that the outcome would have been totally different had the accused been black males and the accuser a white woman, and while I feel that such speculation is highly problematic, I couldn't help but wonder to myself, "exactly how different would it be?" If anything, the idea of black men as sexual predators toward white women is such a common, though fictional, part of our national narrative that I feel that few members of the press would bat an eye (unless the black men happened to be celebrities, as in the case of the Kobe Bryant rape scandal). The press needed a story that turned the typical narrative on its head, and the Duke scandal provided them with just that. It told a story more commonplace in our past (and present) than most Americans would like to acknowledge (read: women of color being sexually taken advantage of by white men), and that remains a secret absent from public dialogue and history books.

The Duke scandal demonstrates that despite our expectations of the law, not only blacks and the lower-income fall out of its favor, disrupting our general sentiments about police and the judicial system. The very man set to represent the prosecution, Mike Nifong, who referred to the players accused as a “bunch of hooligans” with “daddies who could buy them expensive lawyers," relied on witness statements taken by a police department that utilized intimidation and objectionable interrogation techniques, failed to speak directly with Ms. Mangum prior to making public accusations of the lacrosse players, and withheld substantial DNA evidence from the court. So much for a fair legal system. Though the formal charges of kidnapping, rape, and assault were dropped, the three men on trial now must work to rebuild their lives and their credibility. The two men who were expelled temporarily upon the initial indictment (one had graduated before the indictment was issued) will not return to Duke and are looking to continue their education elsewhere, not only to have a fresh start, but also because they feel as though they were antagonized by many of the Duke faculty members (88 of whom posted a newspaper ad in support of the accuser and used the case as a catalyst to promote their ideas regarding race and class issues on Duke’s campus), the Duke administration, and by many members of the Durham community (who put up a poster urging other lacrosse players to come forward with information).

Another important element to keep in mind in the aftermath of the Duke scandal is what continues to be its affect on the black community, particularly black women. Though the incident brought to light the ability for black women to organize, it also shed light on the fact that we are also still pawns in a game very much dictated by the media and by people seeking to fulfill their own agendas. Many have accused the press for manipulating the race, class, and gender related aspects of the case for the sake of higher ratings and an increased readership. Many also accuse Mr. Nifong, who gave over 50 interviews regarding the case to the press, of abusing his position as the District Attorney and seeking more attention for the story in order to receive support from blacks for an upcoming election. Both the press and a leader in the legal system used the perceived message that a "victory" against the privileged in this case would send to black women as a way to catapult their own careers. It just goes to show that we must be more critical of whom we allow to serve as our voice. I also worry that, in the future, women, and in particular, women of color, who experience sexual assault, especially if the assailant(s) is considered privileged, may be afraid to report the crime or even get help out of fear of not only public backlash, but also out of fear that the case would become a media circus.

Now that the scandal has come to a dead end, Nifong has extended an apology, but now faces disbarment on ethics violations, and the press and the bloggers that once demonized the accused have promptly placed foot-in-mouth by being virtually silent, as opposed to writing about the larger issues that unraveled with this case. Even if the case had officially come to fruition, would a conviction of the accused have really done anything positive for race relations in Durham or in this country? Not quite. Socio-economic, racial, and gender inequalities would still exist, and the case would serve only as a temporary fix to quell the emotions that are often manipulated by the press and public figures in national discussions of race. So what can be learned? Lynch mob mentality is not exclusive to whites. If anything, the aftermath of the Duke scandal should serve as an example of why enabling history to repeat itself, even if the actors have changed in appearance, is very much a dangerous game, and that we must avoid serving as players in it if we plan to accomplish real gains as we seek equality.

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Friday, April 13, 2007

Looks to Die For


Most Korean-American women gather envy from women of other races for their natural beauty. Their unique and exotic features would make most men rush at the opportunity to fulfill their wildest fantasies. Recently however, these women are stepping away from their biological and natural aesthetic and seeking ways to appease the craving for the latest Korean fad: plastic surgery.

Nancy Choi is a 20 year old student at Georgetown University. An intelligent young woman, physically attractive, and mysteriously witty, Choi sat down with me to share what is to her a painful reality. The 5.3, 97 pound Choi, whose waist could rock any runway from New York to Tokyo, is among the growing amount of Asian women that consider her natural appearance an unfortunate and uncomely circumstance. “I was born and raised in America, and most of my friends were American. Most of my American friends had big eyes, tall noses, long legs, etc. and I wanted them too,” Choi shared, “I was always different in the class. I was the Asian girl with small “chinky” eyes. If I could’ve had plastic surgery then to make me fit in I would’ve.”

Media portray western beauty so commonly that European appearances are becoming the new standard....for EVERY race. In the black community it is relayed through the bleaching of skin, the thinning of noses, and the new trend of anorexia in black middle-class demographics. In the latino community, it is the intense straightening of hair that is "too black", and drastic forms of discrimination by colorism in South American and Carribean countries.

“I don’t think Asians have ‘pretty’ features,” added Choi, who has already had a double eye-lid surgery and is saving up for possible liposuction. "I think that I would look better with a taller nose and even bigger eyes". Since it is biologically impossible as a Korean to have those features, most women are now turning to artificial aesthetics. According to BBC News, 50% of Korean women in their 20s have had some form of cosmetic surgery. Chiso Ko, a Time Magazine columnist, reported that some parents make their children get surgery with as much conviction as they make them study. Physical appearances are important factors in job placement, as well as finding suitable mates. Because Koreans have reputations of being brilliant economists, the investments in plastic surgery are seen as smart and practical moves as opposed to dangerous ones.

“I don’t see a big problem with it,” said Sojung Sim. “If I thought my daughter would have a better life by changing something on her face, or losing weight, I would encourage her to get surgery as well”. Sim, who has never had plastic surgery, reports periods of intensive exercise and dieting methods to obtain a size 0 frame.

In Korea, an estimated 1 in 10 people have had some form of surgical upgrade. The most popular is the eye-lid surgery, which also reportedly has the most risk. South Korea has just 1,200 certified plastic surgeons. Many thousands of others are operating without proper qualifications. In America, Koreans resort to the practices of Asian doctors, in order to get better prices on their surgeries. A nose job that would regularly cost a couple of thousand dollars would only run about $800 if performed by Vietnamese doctors. The results, however, can sometimes often be catastrophic. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that while surgery benefits some patients, most people that undergo aesthetic alterations remain discontented and are likely to do it again.

The trend therefore, like the bleaching of skin in the black community, is something that is the result of a psychological circumstance, and can actually end up harming the vibrant, beautiful, and successful Korean mass. This reality places more of a responsibility on minority populations to find resources that allow them the opportunity to insert and instill themselves into media in a way that it is able to deconstruct dangerous white supremacist mindsets. Is that possible?

“I don’t feel pressured to change the way I look,” says 22 year old Victoria Cho. “My mother never pressured me to be too thin or to get plastic surgery”. A student and intern at Ernst & Young, Cho cites horror stories of friends that have been unable to close their eyes after double eye lid procedures. 25 year old Siskae Kim agrees. “It’s unfortunate that the majority of the culture is so obsessed with physical appearance, but everyone does not think that way”. Kim is a mother to a five year old girl who she urges to take pride in her heritage and the way she looks. “I want to teach her to love herself first,” she shares, “there are so many stories that I hear from bad plastic surgeries, that it frightens me to think that one day my daughter may think the same way of herself and resort to the same thing. I don't think it's worth it. I want to encourage her to dig deeper, and to find things outside of looks that she's proud of. Pride comes first, then confidence, and the looks to die for will follow”.

-Wayetu Moore READ MORE

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oh Imus

The media is powerful. The power it wields is interesting because it's an industry run by few. At times it seems to be very much an in-crowd, out-crowd situation. Those who represent and often dictate what's hot, funny, in or out. Right now, Don Imus is very much part of the out-crowd. Statements made by Imus and his cohorts have earned them a slow shake of the head from audience and peers. After his referral to the Rutgers female basketball team as a bunch of "nappy-headed hos" there have been plenty of articles about the evils of Imus. And, let's be clear, this post isn't an attempt to defend him but a request that we all please take a moment and try to recount the number of times you've heard comments like this come out the mouths of others; comedians, broadcasters, your best friend...you.



I'm not excusing him, far from it, he and his cohorts should be held accountable. If not, for being completely misogynistic and slightly racist (or for just being oblivious...Do the Right Thing and School Daze, same director/writer, both iconic but not the same) then simply for not remembering the one cardinal rule of being a representative of cool; what matters most is what you say on the air. That's why everyone is upset right? If not, then that's how it feels. Repression of the speaker doesn’t change the fact that statements like Imus' are common. Instead let's examine why ideas like this are ever considered OK.

It doesn’t seem to matter that what he said represents prevailing views of female athletes and let's not forget women of color in general and the generations-long assault on our femininity and our inability to fit into the beauty ideal. It is constantly being made clear that this world is not for us, as if we are some kind of exception, an accepted anomaly. And if we ever hope to make passing old hat then we’re going to have to face the real issues sitting on top of Imus’ statements rather than pretend his blatancy is the problem.

If we continue to harp on the superficial nature of his comments, on the fact that he had the nerve to say them on the air we may as well keep the criticisms simple. We could leave it to demanding a simple apology, saying he should have known better and kept those jokes for times out drinking with his buddies instead of saying them when he knew others could hear. Imus is many things and above all ignorant but I will give credit where credit is due. His statements have caused all of us to, once again, face the fact that there exist some underlying issues in the way we view women breaking out of their "traditional" roles. They have also laid bare the often buried (though in very shallow graves) ideas regarding the desire for black women to "compensate" or their inherent flaws, nappy hair and all.

- Ashleigh Rae READ MORE

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Danger of Dash Words


On February 28, 2007, the "N-Word" was banned by the New York City Council. That's right, the "N-Word," not "nigger" or "nigga," but a simple letter of the alphabet followed by a dash. The municipal officials who worked on the resolution with Councilman Leroy Comrie at the helm did not feel that it was necessary to include the word itself in the paperwork. Comrie himself, in an interview with NPR, stated that he didn't feel the need to put the word "nigger" in the resolution because "There's no one that does not understand what we're saying. And anyone that doesn't understand what we're saying, we quickly orient them to what we're trying to say."

Though a movement to ban the word "nigger," had its underground roots for some time, it received considerably more attention from both the media and politicians during the Michael Richards incident. Though countless articles, videos, blogs, and newscasts documented Mr. Richards' racial epithet-riddled breakdown at the Laugh Factory (which seems to be quite the hotbed for the word in question these days), very little was said about Richards' reference to lynching, one of the oldest American acts of terrorism, or the fact that the audience continued to laugh through the description of violence towards blacks, only to be silenced when he referred to the men as "niggers." Another glaring absence in coverage of the incident was Richards' references to white supremacy and the consequences to which blacks are subjected when challenging it. Even Jesse Jackson himself, who served as a "liaison" between Richards and the black community, failed to note some of the other aspects of Richards' tirade or that Richards had previously donned blackface for a skit in the 1980s, and focused instead on the use of the word "nigger."

Had it not been for the Michael Richards incident, I wonder if a so-called "N-Word Ban" would have even been a topic of discussion for legislators. But now that a racist white man compelled an entire group of city officials to make a resolution about a word, politicians and PC-watch dogs have something to celebrate. At the end of the day, however, the mere banning of a word, and not even the actual word itself, does absolutely nothing but distract the public from the greater problems that plague our society with regard to race.

For example, there are certainly other words that are powerful symbols of hatred. Why wasn't "bitch" or "ho" banned? These words affect the black community as well, especially now that they have morphed into synonyms for "black woman" as a result of the proliferation of some of the darker sides of urban culture in music and the media. What about words like "faggot," which author Terry McMillan uses freely to refer to her ex-husband, stating that it's her "only weapon" to use against the man who ruined her marriage, and which Isaiah Washington of Grey's Anatomy used in reference to a co-star? Will "chink" and "spic" be added to the list? Aren't Asian-Americans and Latinos considered communities of color as well? How about "ghetto," a vocabulary catch-all for anything bad, poorly assembled, or tacky? With regard to the aforementioned words, the black community is frighteningly silent. "Nigger" seems to be the only thing to solicit a response, so much so that people are afraid to say it.

Personally, I wish that the movement for what I call "dash words" would disappear. By euphemizing derogatory words in the English language, we merely soften the blow of their original hateful meaning. I liken the political correction of hate speech by the uses of dashes to the transformation of racism from public to private. What is more dangerous is not so much for someone to tell me they hate me, but instead to think it deep down inside until the hatred is strong enough to lead to discrimination. At least if something is said, I can confront it. I can challenge my oppressor's thought patterns by proving that I am more than what they may think of me. But if people are so afraid to confront the hatred inside of themselves, that is exactly where it will stay—inside. Discomfort is a part of the healing process. Nothing is easy about confronting racism, so why do we allow racist words to hide behind cute monikers? People should not be made to feel uncomfortable when using a word, particularly if the mentioning of the word is to discredit its very use. Don't actions speak louder than words?

With all this focus on "nigger," we have been taught to more or less ignore social manifestations of the word. The word "nigger" has much less of an actual impact on the community when used than the modern blackface we create and allow to be broadcast on our television screens as so-called representations of "black culture." It has less of an impact than the replication of that same culture by white college students at blackface parties. It has less of an impact than the debasement of black women, the rejection of black beauty, and the trivialization of our history in schools. It has less of an impact than a high crime rate, child abuse, drug sales, and gang activity. Why haven't we requested a ban on all of this? Bill Cosby made an attempt, but was criticized for being too harsh on the black community. Will it take another white man to point out these problems for us before we work together to eradicate them for good?

The legitimacy of the use of the word "nigga" within the black community as opposed to "nigger" has long been debated, and many people find themselves in one of three larger categories of opinion: a) the word "nigger" is racist, but "nigga" is a term of endearment as well as a synonym for "man" or "friend," and should be restricted to use only within the black community, b) no one should use either word, even if one identifies as black and/or part of the black community, and c) anyone can use it. For most people who consider themselves in Category A, which seems to be a significant percentage of the U.S. population, the ban serves absolutely no purpose. The mere admonishment from the New York City Council bears little weight in that is does not call for any form of punishment, unlike the Brazoria, Texas ban that calls for a $500 fine for those who use the word. Yet even the Texas ban has its problems, one being that there is no fine if the word is used as a term of endearment.

For more about the movement to abolish the "N-Word," check out this site: http://www.abolishthenword.com/

-Wendi Muse READ MORE

Friday, April 6, 2007

How did Howard MANAGE to get Oprah??!


The talk of the town in the District of Columbia is Oprah Winfrey’s decision to speak at Howard University’s 139th Commencement Ceremonies. The billionaire talk show host/entrepreneur/philanthropist/world idol/midas extraordinaire is an ideal and coveted speaker for commencements across the nation. Winfrey, who made her way with only a high school diploma, received an honorary degree from Tennessee State University in 1987 after delivering their commencement address, and Howard plans to grant her an honorary doctorate in humanities. Most Howardites are thrilled, some hoping for car keys or even the newest addition to her book club to be found underneath their seats. The Associated Press reported that the school’s president Patrick Swygert says that they are “blessed” to have Winfrey speak.

Amidst it all, however, along with the creases of eyebrows from envious spectators, is the question that has been run with all Associated Press articles, and raised by publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune, since the announcement was raised: “How did Howard manage to get Oprah?!”

When one thinks of a commencement speaker, they aim for someone that is not only financially and personally accomplished, but a great and engaging speaker. Oprah Winfrey, what most call the queen of television, and a communications genius, is then the crème de la crème of commencement orators—the best that an audience could ask for (with the exception of Bill Cosby; High Point University 2007, and Bill Gates; Harvard University 2007). How did they manage to get her?? Meaning… how could this old black school in the middle of the ghetto with conflicts within the administration, indigent facilities, a failing medical school, and a president that’s under scrutiny and possible termination for budget handling get the best?

The only explanation given of how the school may have “landed” Oprah is that Dianne Atkinson Hudson, who is on Howard’s Board of Trustees, is also one of Oprah’s advisers.

This is where the peculiarity comes in. It is extraordinarily strange to me that apparently the American public sees NO connection between Oprah Winfrey and the little black school on the hill. “What could our Oprah possibly want to do or have to say to them that she couldn’t tell us first???” It is as if the attainment of wealth and prominence are some sort of sandpaper that wipe away our assumed imperfections, and cure our blackness and all things associated. Although Howard has a great reputation, making the Princeton Review’s top 100 schools for almost a decade, and sustaining the public view of the school with “smart black children”, it is still that; black. Therefore, what reason does she, Oprah Gail Winfrey, a genius in thought and deed, a woman who has been cleared, redeemed of any shortcoming that may have come with the color of her birth, choose to go there? How did they, the number one producer of African American Ph.D.'s in the nation, manage to get her? How did they, the educators of Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Ossie Davis, and Roberta Flack, legends whose lives gave precedent to her success, and whose stories she hails as heroic and noble, manage to get her? How did they that pioneered a movement that allowed the seating of multi-racial audiences at her shows, and the luxury of shaking her hand in public without embarrassment manage to get her? How could they that ushered the tutorages of thousands of “smart black children” in a time when they were rejected by everywhere else, mocked for their attempts at enlightenment, and covered with sandpaper bruises manage to get her?

It is with the attainment of wealth that assumed imperfections are erased. How did Howard manage to get her? Who knows?


-Wayetu Moore READ MORE

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

What's at Stake When We Argue About Women's Sexuality


For a first-time author treading ground as worn as women's alleged low sex drives, Joan Sewell sure is making a lot of noise. Her book, I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido, has generated a sheisse-storm of press in the short two and a half months since it came out. The Atlantic Monthly devoted a decent amount of space to an interview with the author in its February issue, followed up by a review a month later that hailed the book as "groundbreaking," and Ms. Sewell's voice as "authentically fresh." Syndicated sex column writer Dan Savage wrote a cheeky affirmation of Sewell's premise in his column three weeks ago, generating internet-pages of responses from readers who swore by their (or their girlfriends') raging libidos. The book has been praised by Kirkus Review, People Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, and even women's magazines that normally seem to err on the side of nymphomania, like Elle.

At this point in popular culture, jokes about "not tonight" are comedians' boilerplate, and sex is still viewed as something that men want from women, often precluding the occurrence of the reverse. While it's always hard to quantify general cultural attitudes and assumptions, just try to think of the last time you heard a man warned about women who just wanted 'one thing' from him- sex- as opposed to money.
...But then again, there is Cosmo, with its sex-obsessed covers, and Sex and the City, and Desperate Housewives, and Lil Kim and Trina, and... The list goes on with women who proclaim their love for sex, and at this moment in post-feminism, it's probably a little counter-cultural to argue that things should be, or even are already any other way. Enter Joan Sewell.

Now to be fair, I have to admit that I still have not read Ms. Sewell's book, just lots and lots of reviews and comments on it. And given the higher level of scrutiny that women in the public eye tend to be subjected to, I'm going to forego the vituperative that started brewing in my head when I first heard about I'd Rather Eat Chocolate. What's really significant, to me at least, is how big a deal this book is supposed to be. What elicits the highest praise, or scorn, is the idea that Ms. Sewell, by being brave enough to cop to her low libido, is making the world safe again for women who genuinely don't like sex that much- or at least not as much as some nice fudge. And as reviewers are saying, Ms. Sewell thinks that's most of us, including the ones who have bought into pro-sex, post-feminist cant about women liking sex just as much as men- which is unfortunately just as politically correct as it is untrue. The obvious problems with creating standards of normalcy for something as universal and personal as libido notwithstanding, the issue that seems to be hiding in these arguments about whether or not women want sex is one of consent.

The idea that women don't really, in their heart of hearts, like sex, problematizes consent because the natural conclusion is that when women do have sex, it is either forced, or there is an ulterior motive. When we choose to do it, it is to please men because we really like them, or need to get something from them. Undoubtedly this is the reasoning that has laid the foundation for some of our more troubling ideas about sex; that it's only elevated out of its base character by procreation, or the bounds of institutionalized divine approval; that penetration is tantamount to 'violation'; that patriarchy is natural because men penetrate. This is also, I believe, part of the reason why rape is supposed to be so much more of an ordeal for female victims than it is for males. Women who like sex more than chocolate, or even more than the men who they happen to be having sex with, are throwing a wrench into things. Books like Sewell's do us the pseudo-favor of taking us back to a simpler time when a lot of our underlying attitudes about sex, and by extension, domination, didn't have to be questioned. As Dan Savage's readers can attest, female sexual pleasure is not an anomaly, and its achievement has a lot to do with women being accepted as equals, on our own terms. Ms. Sewell's proclamations that her attitudes toward sex are normal add creedence to the ideas that women who like sex are sluts, or even that there is such a thing as a woman who likes sex too much. Her personal issues aside, the success of Sewell's book feels much more like a loss for all of us.

-dial 917 READ MORE

Monday, April 2, 2007

Naomi, Naomi, Naomi



Today when we turn on the television, most of the black women we see are the life-size examples of two stereotypes that are centuries old: the mammy and the jezebel. The mammy stereotype, which satiates the antebellum hope that blacks were content with their enslavement, boils down to the following characteristics: overweight, dark-skinned, cacophonic (often growling angrily more than speaking when addressing her own children), a faithful servant to the white family, a form of comic relief, and completely void of any sexuality. On the other hand, often used in order to justify the sexual subjugation of black women, was the stereotype of the jezebel. The jezebel is often portrayed as young, half-naked, light- to medium-brown in skin tone, lustful, and while not completely content with her situation as a slave, easily appeased by way of sexual activity. Jezebel was a threat to the stability of white family, but often met a tragic end to remind us of the dangers of challenging the status quo even with our own bodies. Sitcoms, films, and music videos revive these slavery-era caricatures of black women all the time, sometimes with simple allusions and other times with blatant accuracy.

Naomi Campbell, in my opinion, makes for an interesting case study in that she exists somewhat as a combination of the two stereotypes, but simultaneously defies them. On the one hand, she is viewed as the typical "angry black woman." She fights without provocation, she's demanding, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude toward even the most insignificant of daily activities. Yet why should she expect anything less? She is a supermodel, after all, and much like other celebrities, Naomi may feel she has the right to behave in the manner that she does because of her position in society. In that sense, Naomi challenges a general public that usually tries to silence the "angry black woman" by reminding them that she is fabulous.

On the other hand, Naomi is bona-fide sex symbol. Her romantic relationships cross time zones, she posed nude for Playboy and for Madonna's book Sex, and starred in several music videos as the sexy love interest. Yet in being a sex symbol at all, particularly in the fashion world, Naomi defies a lot of boundaries set up for people who look like her. She has dark skin, which is still not recognized as beautiful by a media that seems to have forgotten that black women, besides those with caramel skin tones, exist. She breaks up this public amnesia with her presence, signified by her remark in a 2003 Essence Magazine interview: "My features are completely ethnic, and I'm proud of them." It's clear that others agree, as the British-born beauty of Jamaican descent was the first black cover girl of French, British, and Japanese publications of Vogue, the first black model on the cover of Time Magazine, and the first celebrity to endorse the Milk Moustache campaign. She has continued to have a solid career, despite her being "old" for the fashion industry at 36, and in a time when you can count more ribs on models than the figures in their salaries, she retains a healthy physical appearance.

While notorious for frequent disputes with her modeling agencies, many of which are often dissatisfied with her behavior, Naomi remains a popular image of black beauty on the international stage and has no trouble finding jobs because the public can't get enough of her. As one of the great sex symbols on the nineties and through the millennium, she never allowed herself to be objectified. She was not just another beautiful girl, and she certainly makes no apologies for existing as a sexual being. However, much like Josephine Baker, another powerful black woman with an interesting international reputation, she managed to balance her sexy image with philanthropic efforts ( i.e. her participation in campaigns for Hurricane Katrina relief and aid to Sub-Saharan African countries) and unrivaled self-assurance. Naomi always seemed to be a woman in complete control of herself.

So when people ask me why I like Naomi Campbell, I am not ashamed to admit it. I think that if you scratch beneath the surface, Naomi shows us that you can be black, beautiful, and get your way at the same time, and I find that message alone to be enough of an answer for young black girls who lack confidence because they see so few images of themselves in the media. So maybe next time we should re-think wearing that "Naomi Hit Me" shirt, and give the woman the credit she is due.


For more about Naomi, check out her site: www.naomicampbell.com


-Wendi Muse READ MORE