on the diversity of black women

On Tuesday morning, I saw a striking image of Janelle Monáe (wiki) on For Harriet‘s Facebook page, promoting a new song of hers called ‘Yoga’. I wasn’t a huge fan of the song, but I found that image of her invaded my thoughts for a good chunk of the day.

In this image, Janelle stood against a kumquat-coloured wall, with her hair tied up, and her legs crossed. She wore a short black sport top with TOMBOY against it in bold, white lettering. She had hoop earrings on as well as a look that seemed to dare anyone to challenge her and be foolhardy enough to think they could win.

Tomboy. That word to me feels as though it gets most of its traction in whispers and private messages among trusted friends, and yet it was arguably the loudest element of the image. It took the breath out of me.

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It should perhaps come as no surprise that I find Black women incredibly powerful, intelligent, creative and autonomous. There are some out there in the world that I will carry love for my entire life. These are a few observations that I have made throughout my time on this planet. Even in times where I may not be able to see someone who resembles my colour out on the street, I can turn to the internet to see what’s on their minds.

It is difficult for me to recall a time when the internet wasn’t full of ire. There is much I pay attention to, especially when it comes to Black women, what their endeavours are, and how they are perceived by others.

It doesn’t look good: there is little to no wiggle room outside of expectations (sometimes developed by stereotypes), and commonly I see many transphobic, racist comments made about them should they strive to do a little living for themselves. They’re not allowed space for anger, anguish or much in the way of assembly without being considered suspicious. The assumption I see a great deal of is that women in general are supposed to be meek, feminine, and appealing to men — even via online comments in allegedly progressive communities!

Salt-N-Pepa.

I enjoyed growing up in the 90s, for the most part. I was exposed to a fair deal of music with Black women at the front, addressing issues of responsibility, sexual independence, and a general sense of women going out and doing their own thing. The songs were catchy, and carried important messages for me as a young lady. I was expressing myself very freely then as a tomboy, which I did not realise until later was rather a lucky thing.

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Missy Elliott by far was the most influential rapper of my teens. A talented writer and producer of many popular hip-hop / R&B tracks, Missy always appeared to have a heart of gold, and so much love for her fans, and artists that she was working with. Her videos have been amusing, bright and colourful, and quite often memorable.

Girls, girls / get that cash / if it’s 9 to 5 / or shakin’ your ass / ain’t no shame, ladies / do your thang / just make sure / you’re ahead of the game would often be sung with gusto whenever ‘Work It’ entered the song rotation in my library. Again, messages of women doing for themselves — at least, that’s how I saw it, in any case.

However, the late 90s is when it started: I began to notice the buzzing of judgments. Wouldn’t Missy be nice if she lost some weight? Wore a little something girly? I wondered why these images mattered more to the people talking about them than how incredible it was to observe a lady making it to the top and controlling her image.

Skin of Skunk Anansie (wiki). Not an R&B artist, but a remarkable musician nonetheless.

Don’t believe the judgments stop at music. This form of behaviour permeates virtually every form of media there is, as well as other fields. Serena Williams, a professional tennis player with several notable victories under her belt, is an example of a Black woman exceeding unexpectedly, and a receiver of various crap comments because her figure isn’t appealing to some straight men looking for eye candy in the tennis world. World class athletes are not exempt from this sort of harm, nor are those of different professions who brave the world as their authentic selves.

In adulthood, I have noticed that there’s loads of work to be done in checking one’s assumptions about what kind of person a Black woman might be, just based on her appearance. These are things battled with on a regular basis. This is absolutely a problem for feminine Black men as well as those who are of colour and fall outside of the binary; it’s almost as though the shaming is intended to magically change a person to suit another’s preferences somehow.

That is not how it works. Some harder conversations need to be taking place about the beauty in diversity among Black people (especially women), which should extend to remembering that each person has autonomy and is deserving of expressing it as they wish without the peanut gallery passing judgment without invitation, or inciting violence.

Respecting people who may differ from you is not a plea, and should not be treated as such. It is a demand.

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actually, it’s about ethics in games

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This was a half-hour freewrite concerning the seemingly leaderless movement affecting women in games negatively today. I was outside waiting for a friend for drinks, needing to let some frustrating feelings out, and I just so happened to be reading some tweets about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air at the time. Thus, the freewrite is a different take on that theme, which you can check out here.

After some observation, I don’t believe this movement is solely about ethics in games. There’s a wealth of pain supporting the idea of this being a way to shut women up, and I cannot get behind that.

I wish people didn’t feel these harmful comments and exposures of one’s personal life necessary, if their main goal is to force journalists, developers &c to operate with a bit more integrity. Fear tactics are being employed.

As usual, respect to those who feel the need to leave the games environment for their own safety / well-being. Respect to those who stay, even in the face of abuse.

 

this is a story
developing now;
games culture went
pearshaped somehow

I’d like to take a minute
to reflect on that;
how criticism puts
you in danger in zero time flat

in southern California
with guys and dames
PlayStation is where I played
most of my games

chillin’ out, maxin’,
relaxin’ all cool,
playin’ Parappa badly;
can’t pass driving school

years later there were guys
who were up to no good
starting with misogyny
and bein’ rude

I got just one little dox
as would be my fate
for criticizing video games
and opposing GamerGate

I called on some support
and when it came near
the women, they got doxxed
creating a culture of fear

if anything I could say
it’s sad times for dames
but they say, ‘nah, forget it;
it’s about ethics in games!’

we go on months like this
and I’m gettin’ irate
at the Anita hate
I yell, ‘leave, GamerGater!’

I looked at my kingdom,
looked at Vivian James,
how quickly I forgot
it’s about ethics in games

 

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Silly SJWs, right?

the end of games

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I wrote this with the past few weeks in games culture where women are concerned in mind. I suppose thinking about the last couple of days attending [convention name omitted], the culture and events surrounding it, and 4 hours of sleep likely helped this become a thing.

Respect to those who feel the need to leave the games environment for their own safety / well-being. Respect to those who stay, even in the face of abuse.

 

women in games,
y’know they have it rough
loving their work
seems never enough

you’ve got to get up, stand up
for their right to exist
making impact with your words
as your fist

knowing full well standing up may be
risking losing some credibility

but what is worth more in this industry
bonus points, or visibility?

we’ve got talent up to our nose
and as we highlight,
our community grows

if we can’t stand
being critical here
perhaps the end
is actually near

 

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From Portlandia. (Not my favourite show, but some lines ring true.)

the power of obligation

Last month, I was contacted by three people I would rather not have engaged with, but I did so anyway. Why?

 

An obligation, I suppose you could say. All three of these people were folks I’d had a habit of chatting with quite frequently and excitedly at some point in the past. At a later date, all three made me feel not OK in major ways for reasons that I’ll refrain from getting into detail here.

Somehow, I felt that I would or could make things worse by not saying anything in response to their contact, in case they didn’t understand why I didn’t want to be contacted (even though I communicated to each of them what was amiss). Our past interactions inspired me to respond, too.

 

 

There’s a sense of finality in breaking ties with people, whether it’s speaking to them less, or going your own way, online, offline or both. It can make things uncomfortable if you have friends in common, and/or frequent similar social circles. It can cast a shadow over anyone’s day.

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Not breaking ties is tempting. It’s an ‘engage anyway’ button that a good chunk of folks tend to push perhaps without fully realising it, and it almost always comes at a cost to the one pushing it.

 

 

When folks do something wrong, there can be an assumption in play that we should just carry on as though nothing has happened, and move on. That it’s not worth the bother. I’m trying fiercely to break this habit, at least in the sense that I don’t speak up when something’s not quite right.

Part of moving on for me involves dealing with the thing, if it’s within my ability to. At the very least, I want those around me to acknowledge they’re aware of it. I would want to know if I mucked something up so I could fix it, if possible. (I am very aware not everyone shares this feeling.)

At best, the problem lies within a simple miscommunication that can be smoothed out if and when all parties involved are receptive to talking about it. At worst, one side shuts down when such news is being relayed, which usually leads to resentment, questioning safety, and other negatives.

 

 

Practice does not necessarily make perfect, but it should make better in a number of cases.

It’s rough finding ways to let people know you’re not OK, especially if you’re seen by others as a person who is relatively strong of will and/or are used to going a lot of things alone. Keep this in mind: even strong people can break when you think that they’re merely bending.

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August ’07, Indianapolis

Please consider being receptive to constructive criticism, even if it’s just to allow the person giving the criticism space, and to give you space to mull the information over awhile. Even if they’re parting words, and even if it hurts. Within that hurt is the opportunity to learn. We’re works in progress, and it’d be foolhardy to assume we’ve got it all figured out.

Please also tell yourself – maybe more than once – that it’s alright to disengage when you feel it necessary, nostalgia be damned. Holding onto memories of the good times serves little purpose if it’s being invoked during repeats of harmful behaviour, whether said behaviour is intended or not.

 

One obligation we have and often forget is the obligation to ourselves, to our hearts and to our well-being. Those obligations are simply not possible to fulfill if we keep offensive actions in our lives.

Part III in a personal blog series about interactions on the internet.

Part II: https://kungfulasers.com/2014/04/03/possession/

lolcats and ink splats

‘If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.’

Lately I’ve noticed folks taking variations of this quote and using it on their journey to go barrel rolling round the internet at 11.

I’ve had an issue with this quote (which is very likely misquoted) for a while for the above reason and much more, and haven’t felt strong enough to voice it until now.

I seem to have developed some sort of fear of expressing myself online as often as I used to due to this rise in ‘with us or against us’ culture, and also perhaps because of feeling guilty that I am slowly losing the time and energy to actively contribute to any possible stated ‘solution’, vague or not.

This leaves me confused and out of the loop, sometimes unable to get on board with things due to simply lacking the information. Am I now problematic?

 

 

On another side of things, for those who do have the time and energy to familiarize themselves, it is very true that people can be resistant to change, and even outright refuse because it means more work to do what is widely seen as right, or simply commonly accepted. This lot can certainly be encouraged, but ultimately it’s their job/choice to take the steps.

 

However, speaking in absolutes where someone else’s feelings are concerned without substantial evidence runs the risk of being eerily impertinent.

Fall ’05, Los Angeles.

 

Does one misstep count as being anti-x? How mild or severe must the mistake be to rule someone completely out as being in your corner? How do we tell what a true apology is, and what a ‘fauxpology’ is when someone is in the wrong? Can we dialogue with those undecided on positions, or is it not worth it?

 

 

In hopes of finding some of these answers, I have been quieter and more observant of exchanges online, where possible.

Sometimes I do not even actively participate in them, save to learn terms that may be foreign/otherwise inaccessible to me, what not to say or do within certain circles to maintain that I respect people and would also like to be respected in turn.

 

Education is often an ongoing lifetime process as people and times change (and hopefully grow).

I don’t always succeed, but I try to exercise empathy for the folks who are going to 11, and to exercise patience for the ones who don’t yet understand something I’ve only just learned.

 

 

In a funny sort way, this rise of ‘barrel roll to 11’ culture has been a good thing for me, as it pushes me to engage in more exchanges offline, moderate exchanges I control online, and seek out one-on-one exchanges in general to further understanding.

 

I am not of the opinion that sharing is impossible in the face of difficulty (even where there are disagreements). 

I feel confident in my determination to create space for myself and others in which to safely speak and dissect, as well as call out where necessary. That in itself takes work, so perhaps I am doing some good, though it might not be observed by all.

 

Part II in a personal blog series about interactions on the internet.

Part I: https://kungfulasers.com/2013/08/01/emotion/

Seattle, I’ll not stand idle

I’ve been in Seattle 4 years officially now. The time has been… bittersweet.

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Yes, it’s a beautiful city and region. That cannot be denied. The state of Washington and the Northwest in general offers treats for the eyes that are absolutely unparalleled. There are a number of people that are genuinely nice, motivated, and a delight to be around.

It can take time to find these people.

 

 

I can count on at least two hands the number of times I’ve been told “go back to LA!” or something similar aggressively (or maybe even passive-aggressively in places I cannot access), because I said something about Seattle that someone on the internet didn’t like. Even offline it’s prickly.

You know what, though? I’m not going back to LA. And I’m not going to stop loving this city with a critical eye.

blasted

 

That’s what you do when you care for something — you spend time, money and effort. You pay attention. You call shit out. You think of ways to make things better. You remain steadfast.

 

 

Make no mistake about me. I want to work hard and live well and vote often and pay taxes that I know are somewhat going to the betterment of my surroundings. I want to learn, and to grow.

I understand that there are many people who’ve been in this area much longer than I, especially since I am not quite 30 years old and had to fight my way up here. However, that does not entitle natives or longer-term residents to bully me into silence when I say something that isn’t popular to dislike about this region, or commonly gets ignored in favour of other points on an agenda.

If I wanted to be purely antagonistic, I could step up to the stage, say I don’t care for Nirvana, drop the mic and be done with it. But that’s silly, because there are plenty of people who like the band and the culture surrounding it, which makes sense because this is grunge city and all.

Wisdom consists in not rocking the boat when there’s nothing to be learned or gained from it, so I don’t push that button.

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You may be asking yourself what I find so contrary about this place. Well, there’s a separate post for that which may come later.

For now, I am using this space to reflect on how far I’ve come, and to acknowledge that Seattle, for all its shortcomings (as you’ll find that no place is perfect), has helped me immensely.

cheers for all the years

Today is my dad’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is, because he’ll of course murder me.

My dad and I never lived more than a couple hours’ drive away because of circumstances, but I was attached to him from a very young age.

My opinion of him is this: a seemingly fearless guy who is fun to be around, fiercely intelligent and has a firm grasp on things. I can think of few better positive influences for a young girl.

Much like my aunt, Daddio never hesitated to call me on my behaviour when I was being an unwise young person (which happens a great deal when you’re a young person). I could always count on both of them for mutual respect throughout my growing pains, tantrums and the like.

At the same time, they didn’t stifle anything about my development. I made my own decisions, and my own mistakes in the process. I learned from them, and I continue to learn with them.

whee

“You’re over 21 now, right?” I remember my dad saying once over a Sunday brunch table, and summarily ordering a pitcher of margarita for us to share.

These are how our hangouts go: walking about town, eating and drinking, and spending hours getting up to speed with one another again. They’re great.

I’d wager that my relationship with my dad is one of the truly most effortless relationships I will ever have in my life. He taught me the value of independence, of exploration of self and beyond, and of doing my part for long periods of time before enjoying the rewards that may come.

The lessons taught and the time spent wherever possible have yielded this love in which I hold for no one else, Daddio.

I love you, and thank you for all that you’ve done in helping me grow. Happy birthday.