Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Word I Hate To Say: "Hiatus"

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to inform you that I will be taking a break from blogging between now and January in order to study for the GREs, apply to graduate school, and tie up a million loose ends at my Clark Kent corporate day gig.

I will miss you all for the time being, but I’ll still check back in here and there to leave comments. I will be back in January, but until then, happy reading!


- Wendi Muse
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Monday, October 29, 2007

Wear Red on October 31st

Recently, in protest of the injustice occurring in Jena, Louisiana, the Americans who knew about the 6 boys facing considerable jail time for a race-related fight (sparked by nooses being hung from a schoolyard tree) wore all black. The Jena 6, as they are commonly referred to, were commemorated on September 20th--the black outfits soliciting questions by observers. "What is this all about?" led to explanations, discussions, and exchanges. It was a way to inform those who had somehow missed the story.

A similar campaign has been launched, but now with a larger premise.

The blog "Document the Silence" has encouraged people to wear red on October 31st in order to bring attention to the violence committed against women of color.


From their website:

be bold be brave be red stop the violence

Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

  • The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia who was held by six assailants for a month.
  • Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.
  • A 13 year old native American girl was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling “white power” outside of her home.
  • Seven black lesbian girls attempted to stop an attacker and were latter charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11 year prison sentences.

In a Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, “When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color’s stories of violence. We are asking for community groups, grass-root organizations, college campus students and groups, communities of faith, online communities, and individuals to join us in speaking out against violence against women of color. If we speak, we cannot be invisible.

Join us and stand up to violence against women!
  • Be bold, be brave, be red. Wear red on October 31, 2007. Take a picture or video of yourself and friends wearing red. Send it to: beboldbered@gmail.com. We’ll post it!
  • Take Your Red to the Streets! Know of a location where violence occurred against a woman of color? Have a public location where you feel women of color are often ignored? Make violence against women of color visible by decorating the space in red. Be sure to send us pictures and or video of your display!
  • Rally! Gather your friends, family, and community to rally. Check out the Document the Silence website for the litany we’re asking participants to read together on October 31st. Be sure to send us pictures and/or video of the event! You could even gather where you created a display!

What's phenomenal about this campaign is that it hopes to draw attention to acts of violence toward women of color, many of which are not reported, not documented, given little coverage by the press, and sometimes even ignored by activists of color. I find that drawing attention to this issue is long overdue, especially considering that despite our having self-appointed spokespeople (two names come to mind), they sometimes fall behind on the job, seemingly seeking more publicity than actual justice.

With that said, let us come together on October 31st to call attention to problems that affect women around the world, many of whom look just like our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our cousins, our friends, and ourselves.

----

for more information about how you can get involved, check out:

Document the Silence

- Wendi Muse

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Colored Contacts

An attractive black woman walks across the street in a cute red dress with matching wedges, flawless skin and hair that could almost pass for her own. Her movements, her motion, her intent are all so graceful that they look slightly rehearsed. Your eyes glaze about her from top to bottom. You feel a sense of pride at her presence, then envy as your eyes scan her breasts and the rings that circle her neck. Her smile is bright yet doesn’t manage to intimidate you, her manner is confident, and just when you’re about to enter a state of bursting resentment for how well this woman carries her natural beauty, you lean forward and strain your eyes in realization that she’s wearing bright colored contacts… and it messes it ALL up.

A person’s eyes are usually the first thing that you see while speaking to them. While in high school, the two women that were close to my complexion that I thought were beautiful both wore colored contacts on a regular basis. One wore a light hazel and the other rotated blue, green, gray, and brown to match her outfits. I’d always wanted to try them out, but my mother would roll her eyes at me when I mentioned them. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” she’d ask. “If you don’t like your eyes, then you don’t like me,” she’d shrug. So I would eventually drop the subject in consideration of her feelings. I made a friend however, who worked at a beauty supply store and managed to get me a pair of gray contacts by my senior year. I was ecstatic. They were temporary and could only be worn for about a week or so, but it was perfect for me because I only really wanted them for the homecoming game, where I was up for queen. I remember standing on the field with my father, and while I waited for the winner’s name to be called, while my eyes scanned the stadium of white faces, I noticed a new confidence; a rush of excitement at the new element of my physical appearance that I thought made me stand out. But it really looked a hot mess….and I wish I knew then what I know now.

In the early 1980’s shortly after the inception of contact lenses into (affordable) optical culture, colored contact lenses were made available to the masses, spreading widely through flea markets, convenience stores, and beach shops. Along with changing an individual’s eye color, the lenses mimic the eyes of cats, wolves, snakes, and became so popular that by the late 1990’s they could be found at beauty supply stores for $20 a pair.

What began as a cool way of changing an individual’s physical dynamic, or an alternative to Mardi Gras masks at Halloween costume parties, was consumed by the black community (though somewhat subconsciously) as a way to stand one inch closer to the world’s intangible and timeless standard of beauty. Light eyes were a way (commonly seen among darker shades of people) to stand out. The challenge is that it is not always viewed as just a way to stand out in newness as seen in White culture with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Britney Spears. In our community it is usually a way to stand out despite, and that is where the hurdles line the turf. When the contact lenses stay on, when we dwell on the attention and the assumed beauty that the blue and hazel eyes grant, we are almost crippling ourselves to the ideal that what is natural to us is unattractive; that in a world of thin lines and open interpretations, we are still always on the wrong side.

In the 2004 book, Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones, the author writes:
…..the Black men who’re making millions—the doctors, the lawyers, the athletes—are going after the White woman. And I think that’s the reason why we change our appearance.” Cheryl, who wears her hair straightened with an added weave, says that Black women try to look more European, wearing colored contact lenses, for example, in order to be more appealing to Black men: “We’re hoping a Black man will say, ‘Hey she’s just as pretty as this White woman right here.’ We’re trying to get their attention.”

So are colored contacts, like blonde weaves, just subconscious emulations of what we are taught and bred to believe is truly beautiful? Perhaps. Apparently colored contacts are a huge trend in Japan and Korea, recently headlining countries for nose jobs and eye-lid surgeries that make men and women look more like the “Westerners” that they see on television.

Although there are Rx (prescription) lenses widely manufactured by Freshlook, Acuvue, and Durasoft, the majorities of colored lens users (within our community) do not have a prescription, and consume the products at flea markets and second hand shops.

In October of 2002, the FDA warned that the extended use of decorative, non-corrective lenses could result in serious eye injury. Robert Longley of usgovinfo.com wrote:

Cases of corneal ulcer associated with wear of decorative contact lenses in excess of the recommended period have been reported to the FDA. Corneal ulcer can progress rapidly and lead to internal ocular infection if left untreated. Uncontrolled infection can lead to corneal scarring and vision impairment. In extreme cases, this condition can result in blindness and eye loss, according to the FDA.

FDA also warns of other eye risks associated with use of decorative contact lenses, including:

  • conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye);
  • corneal edema (swelling);
  • allergic reaction;
  • corneal abrasion from poor lens fit; and
  • reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and other visual functions, resulting in interference with driving and other activities.

According to FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the FDA has approved the prescription-only sale of some contact lenses for cosmetic use, such as colored lenses. FDA's approval guarantees these lenses were made under sterile conditions, and requires that consumers be told how to insert and care for the lenses in a way that minimizes chances of such side effects as infections or abrasions.”

However, most health hazards that result in the extended wear of these lenses can be prevented if an optometrist is visited for proper fitting.

-Wayetu Moore

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Friday, October 26, 2007

NYC and Hip Hop Harry

As I exited the Williamsburg Bridge last night I spotted a billboard for Carnival Cruise Lines which read "The Caribbean, NYC's newest borough." I smiled to myself, savoring the irony. A quick trip through any of the boroughs would make it clear that the connection between the Caribbean and NYC is strong and long standing.


When it comes to anything about ethnicity and/or culture I suffer from a kind of hyper-sensitivity which is probably the result of being a graduate of a college steeped in the Socratic method, having Trinidadian and Black American heritage (yes, both part of the African Diaspora but a combination that results in a kind of double, triple, quadruple consciousness...more on that later), and just my nature in general. Drawing connections is just something I do, not to say that all of my connections are accurate, but it's the way I understand the things around me.

It's important to me that when I tell people about my Trinidadian heritage that I stress there's more to the cultures in the Caribbean than good music and a willingness to party. The islands of the Caribbean are home to people of both the African and Asian diaspora. In my mind--and this assumption grows as I learn more--the Caribbean is a lynchpin, connecting the cultures of the various continents that surround it. Look at it this way, on the Monopoly board of dispersed cultures, the Caribbean is often the "GO" when it comes to tracing immigration paths, and in NYC Caribbean cultures have contributed more than a fair share of what defines the city. I mean, let's be real, we all know hip hop's roots are firmly planted in Jamaican soil.

So, I'd like to take this time to thank Carnival for their subtle, though maybe unintentional, reminder of the connection between Caribbean culture and NYC.

And speaking of hip hop, two nights ago after falling asleep to a TLC documentary on obesity (which is a growing concern of time as I continue to work with children and constantly fret over their mass consumption of things like Tropical Fantasy soda) I was awoken by this mess.



Just thought I'd share. My friend says he'd like to meet the group of soccer moms who put that together. It's like programming for the "urban" ADD community. Blech.

This, on the other hand, made me giggle out loud.



-Ashleigh Rae

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Monday, October 22, 2007

A Colossal Case of Amnesia

Apologies seem to be the most frequently issued public statement as of late, especially considering that people haven’t come up with a cure for an outbreak of racism plaguing world leaders, radio personalities, and academic leaders. One might assume that science would hold the answer, some vaccine to cure important people of these absent minded utterances that end up being P.R. agency nightmares. Mais non, mes amis. Unfortunately, it looks like science is the LAST place we should consider a beacon of hope…as least in the department of social progress.

Over the past few months, we’ve been hit left and right with information that reads more like propaganda from the Third Reich than a community of people with PhDs, but James D. Watson’s assertion that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites was the last straw. It made me want to burn all my science books and never look back. James Watson of Watson & Crick, the adorably dorky British scientists gleaming with pride with their 3-dimensional DNA model at hand in my 9th grade text, was now a man I reviled. If only Watson knew I, and surely other black students across the nation, had gotten an A in biology that year…

Following in the footsteps of many other racists who had gone before him, Watson issued an apology. But in an unlikely twist, Watson faked a sudden case of amnesia. In a New York Times piece, Watson is noted to have said the following:

“I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

Interesting. . . especially considering that just Sunday, he noted that while “there are many people of color who are very talented,” he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa,” and added that “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.”

Shocking, no?

Fortunately, at the end of the day, I am able to recall a sense of amnesia with which I am sure many people of color are personally familiar. I was able to forget to take anything men like him, who have inferiority complexes to the degree that they have to put others down in order to make themselves appear to be more intelligent, more beautiful, and more worth the air time and text spacing to hear and see their complete wastes of breath, have to say with any seriousness.

It’s grown old, much like the scientific theories that people hide behind as a means of bolstering themselves due to a lack of confidence. People of color, in all their accomplishments, pose a threat to a social and systematic disease to which many others have, over time, fallen prey.

We, as women of color, must take these moments to remind ourselves that we must be strong. We must exist somewhere above the base need to assert superiority by way of degrading those we consider our “competition’—whether it be in the workforce, in our personal lives, or in the classroom. Let's have our actions speak for themselves.

-Wendi Muse
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Friday, October 19, 2007

Contraceptives


School officials in Portland, Maine have decided to allow middle-school students to obtain birth control pills at the school health centers to promote safe sexual activity among students.

This comes just as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a piece of legislation that would make the state support condom distribution in jails through The Inmate Community Public Health Act.

Both stories typically have two reactions: “good!” or a disturbed expression on the face. If the disturbed look emanates from the thought of either two 11-year-olds or two inmates having sex, then maybe the “good!” emanates from the same thought but with a placating vision of them wearing a condom or a girl on birth control.

Anne Squires is a family nurse practitioner at Eastern Senior High School, in Washington D.C., where she said at least 30 girls get pregnant every year. Over the six years that she has been at the school she has noticed that STDs and other reproductive concerns are one of the top reasons why students visit the clinic, which is only one of two in health clinics in the District located inside of a school.

"I think we have to be realistic," Squires said. "If [students] have made that choice then I feel it's my responsibility to help them make safe choices."

And according to the city of Portland, students as young as 11-years-old are making the choice to have sex. The Washington Post reported that Portland’s three middle schools had seven pregnancies in the last five years (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/18/AR2007101800358_2.html).

The government could actually prevent that, according to Richard Urban says. Urban is the co-founder and executive director of Ultra Teen Choice, (http://www.ultrateenchoice.org/Index.html) a Washington D.C. teen peer-counseling program.

He believes that abstinence should be the standard for the youth and questions why the government doesn't fund more "serious" tracks to help youth stay abstinent. He disagrees with the promotion of condoms to encourage safe sex.

Urban said that according to statistics, the majority, 52 percent, of youth in D.C. have never had sex.

“That's down 16 percent in two years and that's not because they're handing out condoms. These are kids who are saying, 'I've never had sex.'"

Students in his program, as young as 12, have pledged chastity vows and every year they hold Abstinence Awareness Week where they charge the city to promote abstinence as a way to curb HIV/AIDS, STDs and other health dangers to D.C.'s youth.

With African-American women being the most common victim in the U.S. to be infected with HIV/AIDS, the Congressional Black Caucus is pushing for legislation to supply condoms in jails as their way of quelling health dangers in the African-American community. The Stop AIDS in Prison Act is spearheaded by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca). This goes against certain laws in most jails that ban sexual activity among inmates.

According to a 2003 study released last year by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.8 percent of men and 2.6 percent of women in federal and state prisons have been diagnosed with HIV. The rate of AIDS infection in federal and state prisons is .51 percent versus .15 percent in the overall population.

-Vanessa Mizell

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Skewed Priorities or Short Attention Spans?

Just a few weeks ago, the mainstream American media caught onto the Jena 6 controversy in Louisiana. Thousands of Americans followed suit, finally paying attention to what many consider just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racial tension in the United States. Somehow, the Jena 6 situation ended up at the right place at the right time, a phrase I use here with caution as I am referring to the increase intensity of media attention and the controversy surrounding more than the personal experiences of the boys involved. They were "lucky" for a moment, the exposure yielding a formal protest for racial justice to be served by way of charge dropping or jail release.


But at the end of all the increased attention, little has changed. Mychal Bell found himself back in prison for violating parole, and, surprise!, people are still racist. It makes me wonder whether the 15 minutes of fame, just enough time to the cameras to click and move on, was really worth it? Even more so, I wonder what did we miss in the time that the Jena 6 case broke beyond the blogs and into American homes? For what other stories that led to 5 minute media darlings were we receiving little to no follow-up coverage?

Does anyone remember Stepha Henry, the black student gone missing in Florida?

What about Genarlow Wilson, the black teenager charged with rape simply for receiving oral sex from a fellow high school student?

Do they names seem remotely familiar? How much information can you recall about either story? More importantly, part of me wonders what has happened with regard to those two people since the media deserted them for another hot topic?

In a wonderful cnn.com piece about the role of race, class, and gender in the media attention given to missing persons reports, the Miami Herald police reporter set to give an interview about the Stepha Henry disappearance notes the following:


"Ovalle says his interview was canceled because of breaking news about socialite Paris Hilton.'I think the people I write about are important. I take my job seriously,' he says. 'I know people watch that stuff [celebrity news]. But you have a responsibility as a serious news-gathering organization, with all the things going on in the world, with all the tragedies there are; our priorities are a little skewed.'"


I wholeheartedly agree with Ovalle here. Our priorities are dramatically skewed. I'm sure more people can tell you what color Britney Spears' panties are today than the name of the new President of France or locate Iran on a map. I am even more sure, however, that this problem is linked not only to poor prioritization, but also a desire to be constantly entertained. For the general public, the nightly news rarely fulfills this need, unless, of course, the coverage evokes fear, incites xenophobia, or is chock full of lies. All such stories have high ratings, I'm sure. But for the most part, the news is the same every night: one group is being oppressed somewhere far away, that's tomorrow's weather, someone was elected into office who will be just like the last guy. . . and the list goes on. Thanks to the monotony of REAL news, tv networks have made the attempt to make the news more like an E! Entertainment Network show, equipped with bright colors and even brighter smiles, but with very little news, beyond the content that fills the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen every now and then.

Unfortunately, the "underground" press suffers from a similar syndrome: a reliance upon the same stories for as long as their respective audiences can be entertained and leave the aftermath empty for us to fill in the blanks. The blog coverage about the Genarlow Wilson case ceased to exist when the Jena Six issue garnered more attention. And um, whatever happened to that big community discussion blacks were supposed to engage in about rap after the Imus debacle? The hottest mainstream hip hop song on the charts right now is about performing sexual acts with a woman sans her consent. Just look up what it means to "superman" someone and you'll quickly realize that the discussion might need some refreshing. Why did we know more about Megan William's writing bad checks than we did about her kidnapping and assault? Did anyone hear about the brutal gang rape and assault that occurred in West Palm Beach, Florida's Dunbar Village community?

Of course, that is not to say that we should discuss the same topics to death, not at all. But give an update here and there. Remind your readership or viewing audience that as overwhelming as it may be to take in, there are far more things going on beyond what's reported around the clock for 3 days straight and that they can access that information at any time. Try starting now.

For more information about Genarlow Wilson, go here: The Wilson Appeal

For more information about Stepha Henry as well as other black women whose disappearances receive little media attention, go here: Black & Missing, but not forgotten.

- Wendi Muse READ MORE