All Articles Tagged "african american identity"

Why Do We Love Sophia Grace and Not Other Little Black Girls?

February 15th, 2012 - By Charing Ball
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While everybody is still talking/reeling about Nicki Minaj’s “Hell raising” performance at the Grammys, we totally missed the two little British girls do their thang on the red carpet.

Sophia Grace Brownlee, 8 and her cousin Rosie McClelland, 5 are probably best known for their sickeningly cute cover of Nicki Minaj’s hit song, “Super Bass” on YouTube.  The video of them twirling around in pink tutus and princess crowns was so big that it got the attention of  Ellen DeGeneres, who brought the girls on to perform it live with their idol Minaj. Eventually, this led to them being invited back to perform Keri Hilson’s version of “Turn My Swag On,” and a request by Ellen herself to cover the American Music Awards for the show.

On Sunday, the British invasion known as Sophia and her sidekick Rosie glided around the red carpet in gold and pink princess costumes rubbing elbows with Lady Antebellum, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Fergie, and Taylor Swift among others. During the show, Rosie confessed to Ellen that “we weren’t nervous but we were hungry…” so they even paused for a sandwich and juice box break on the red carpet. I swear children can be so deliciously cute sometimes. It makes me want to have a bunch of them but then I realize that I have to take care of them and go back to playing with my dog.

Like the rest of America, I have sort of fallen in love with Sophia and her off-beat cousin.  Ever since watching them on YouTube and then again on Ellen, I marvel at how talented and sophisticated they are to be so young.  But I do wonder though if Sophia Grace and Rosie were two little black girls named Tamika and Shante, would we consider them special?  Or would they, along with their parents, be chastised for having those kids sing songs that are way too grown for them?  I mean, I can probably go outside right now and find several little Black girls singing all sorts of popular songs off the radio, so what makes them different?

Whether we like to own up to it or not, there is something both gravitating and gratifying about watching white people appropriate other people’s culture.  We love it when Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake do a melody of rap songs more than we love watching the rappers, who actually sang them. We marveled at the spectacle of the white girl with her keyboard sidekick jamming through “Look At Me Now,” even though we don’t like Lil’ Wayne and Chris Brown. And what about the video of the white teenager singing “Rack City” with his grandma? It was quite cool watching his grandma do the awkward jig in the background while her sweat jacket-hooded grandson lip synced to the uncensored version.  Those sorts of things are amusing to us.  However we better never catch Tyreek and Grandma Bertha doing that. We would be the first people online searching the yellow pages for the number to Child Protective Services.

The implication here, of course, is that the fictitious Tyreek and his Grandma Bertha are not innocent or impetuous like the hooded white teenager.  The assumption is always that they probably live in a predominately Black community and therefore are pre-disposed to criminal activity. Therefore, they need both help and condemnation. Whereas the white teenager and his grandma, well they are being delightfully mischievous.  Of course, I’m comparing a real life instance to a ghost example however study after study has revealed that there is some truth to how we internalize these ideas. For instance, CNN recently conducted their own version of the now famous black doll/white doll test and showed that even 60 years after the initial experiment, both black and white children not only prefer the lighter skinned dolls but also identified the darker skinned dolls as bad.

This sort of subconscious association makes it easier for folks – Black, White and in between – to readily accept or even make stereotypes based upon what we have been conditioned to believe. Even if the truth is as far away from the stereotype. Just ask the Chicago news reporter, who took the words of the innocent 4-year old Black boy, who just witnessed a murder, and manipulated them to make him seem like a little serial killer in training.

Now I don’t say all of this to throw shade at little Rosie and Sophia. I honestly think they are cute as buttons.  However I do wish sometimes that we have the same sort of whimsical fascination with little Black girls and boys as we do with them. In many ways, our attempt to shield our children from stereotypes placed upon us as a race has done just as much damage to their self-esteem than the actual stereotype could.  If they grow up believing that, because of their color, everything they do is inherently wrong and worthy of added scrutiny and punishment, then can we really blame them when they grow up to be ashamed and distant from identifying with being Black?

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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The Paula Patton Debate: Reactions From Around The Web

October 25th, 2011 - By madamenoire
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by Selam Aster

One thing never, ever surprises me about the news – a headline and a few words can illicit fiery, misguided reactions. Many readers allow their assumptions to take precedence over reading a whole article and comprehending what the author is trying to convey or what the actual news story is about. That’s what happened with the Paula Patton piece I wrote for this site a couple of weeks ago. Readers had knee-jerk reactions, Clutch wrote a vehement editorial opposing it, and The Grio recently republished Clutch’s piece, further promoting the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of my thoughts.

A lot of you have asked Madame Noire to bar me from ever writing again and the majority of you didn’t get what I was trying to say at all. I will take the blame for not spending enough time in making my point more clear but I don’t take any blame for asking readers to truly consider how Blacks are portrayed in the media.

The main concern I was trying to communicate in my article about Patton is that Black producers themselves are trying to pander to white audiences by casting the most, dare I say it, bland characters in the lead and prop them up with a colorful cast. Of course, Patton is a Black woman but of all the Black talent out there, I do not think that she should be cast as the lead character in a Black film unless she can drop the whole bland, white girl act. “Sass” does not mean acting like Shananay, rolling your neck, snapping your fingers and talking street. Sass is a birthright. Sass, to me, is what defines Black speech, rhetoric and swagger. And yes, even if you talk “proper” you most likely still have some rhythm and sass. Why else can you always tell whose Black on the phone?  It’s a natural affliction, but not a bad thing.

Colorism is a very sensitive topic in the Black community. I made a clear point that my criticisms of Patton had nothing to do with her complexion or even the fact that she “speaks well” but nonetheless, many commenters assumed that I did without reading the full post.  I would challenge all the readers and critics to really go beyond knee-jerk reactions and be thoughtful when reading any piece of work. I’m not about attacking Black people or Black culture. If anything, I’m a true believer that we can really do better and embrace our distinct and wonderful culture while moving forward.

In any case, here are some of the most interesting, critical and illustrative reactions from around the web that I collected from the boards of Clutch, The Grio and Madame Noire.

5 Black Toy Companies That Embrace Multicultural Identity and Culture

April 20th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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In the 1940s, African-American psychologists Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife, Mamie Phillps Clark, designed a test known as the “doll test” to see how children responded to race. The test was administered to black children between the ages of three and seven. When the children were asked which of the four dolls that they were shown did they prefer, the majority selected the white doll and described it as most desirable, whereas the black dolls were described as the least desirable.

In recent years, there have been conscious attempts within the toy industry to present a more diverse selection of dolls—Mattel introduced the “black” Barbie, the cabbage patch kids now include dolls of a darker hue, and Disney released a doll of its first black princess. Despite these efforts, some African-Americans have taken it upon themselves to create and produce dolls and other kid friendly items to help instill a sense of self-pride and self-awareness in minority children. Here’s our list of those black toy companies that are helping to make the industry more reflective of today’s diverse children’s population:

HIA Toys

From the time he was a little boy, Sterling Ashby was a comic book enthusiast. His boyhood passion and a Christmas shopping experience inspired him to create his own line of collectibles. The idea came to Ashby in 2003 when he purchased a doll of a famous scientist for a friend’s son. Ashby and the young boy were both amazed by the doll. Using that experience as a guide, Ashby launched History in Action Toys, a line that consists of a series of action figures that Ashby describes as fun, positive role models whose real-life stories are designed to awaken both a child’s imagination and appeal to the kid in everyone.

Passing as Black: How Biracial Americans Choose Identity

December 17th, 2010 - By TheEditor
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(Time) — The practice of passing — identifying with and presenting oneself as one race while denying ancestry of another — reached its peak during the Jim Crow era. Needless to say, the notion of having to “pass” as white is outdated and offensive, but as sociologists Nikki Khanna and Cathryn Johnson report in a new study, passing is still alive and well today. It just happens in the other direction.  For their study, Khanna and Johnson interviewed 40 biracial American adults about their racial identity, and were surprised by what they found: most people tended to suppress or reject their white ancestry altogether and claim to be entirely African American. It wasn’t simply about calling oneself black, but also aggressively changing one’s behavior, looks and tastes to appear more “black.”

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Hair Politics: Why Some of Us Can't Afford to Be Happy to Be Nappy

September 28th, 2010 - By TheEditor
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"Charing Ball"Making the decision to lock my hair had been a fairly easy one.

Unlike the men and women who agonize over the decision for months, if not years, I came to my hairstyle change rather easy.  It was after a trip to Brazil, in which a curling iron and flat iron were unavailable to me and the only other option, for the duration of the trip, was a neatly done two-strand twist.

There was no spiritual or political reasoning in my decision, just a desire to reduce the cost of hair salon visits and beauty supply expenditures as well as cutting down the many hours a month I gave away getting my hair “fixed.”

Yet despite the growing popularity of the hairstyle and its social acceptance in the black community, the decision to go natural or to lock one’s hair comes with deep ramifications both personally and professionally in mainstream culture. About three years later, my hairstyle choice has drawn a lot of attention, mostly from curious brothers and sisters, who tell me that they have considered it but are weary that there hair might be perceived as “too nappy.”

Take for instance the story of young Mr. Patrick Richardson, the 16-year-old Vicksburg, Mississippi high school student, who was recently kicked off of homecoming court because of his dreadlocks. Although there was no written policy about the hairstyle, Richardson, along with another student, were told by the principal that homecoming is of “a higher standard” and dreads are not acceptable.

This hair issue is not a new one. In 2006, the Baltimore Police Department issued a new dress policy, which prohibited “extreme,” or “fad,” hairstyles including cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists.  And who could forget that in 2007, Glamour magazine beauty editor made controversial remarks at a luncheon for women of Wall Street, that Black female attorneys should avoid wearing “political” hairstyles like dreadlocks or Afros, because these hairstyles are seen as unattractive and unprofessional.

With this kind of unwarranted mainstream fear of the kinks, it is no wonder that the vast amount blacks, particularly women, opted for the weaves, wigs and chemically and heat-induced straight hair.  While straight hair is not necessarily an indicator of one’s own desire to assimilate into the dominant beauty standard, we can’t totally ignore that the decision to go natural can dictate between being employed or unemployed.

In the mainstream, kinky or nappy hair has gotten a bad reputation in our community as being as wild, dirty and shameful.  The obvious root of our peculiar relationship to our hair can be traced back to slavery, when the half-white and longer, straighter hair offsprings were treated better – but not by much – than the darker black slaves.

And even in today’s Europeanized beauty-obsessed culture, many of our people still harbor deep in their sub-conscious the belief that straighter hair will be taken more seriously than kinky hair, which is why we spend hundreds of our dollars every year at Korean-owned hair supply stores in hopes that we can buy that professional look.

In a perfect world, Negro physicality including kinky hair, brown skin, full lips and broad noses, would be as normal and acceptable as our white counterpart. But in the real world, some of us cannot always afford to dismiss the societal prejudice that motivates black people, in particular black women, to straighten their hair.

Even after the black is beautiful movement in the 60s as well as affirmative action, sensitivity training programs of the 70s through the present, black folks and their hair is still subjected to the discrimination practices and policies of many corporations.

In other words, sometimes straightening your hair is not a matter of self-hate but rather of survival in hostile environments.  On the flip side, I would never consider myself a revolutionary in any shape or form. The very idea that Black hair, in its natural state, is considered “revolutionary” is a point not missed on me. When you have [dread] locks, people treat you different.  Prior to locking, I was “Hey Shawty” and “Miss.” After the locks, I am “Sista,”-with and without the “h” at the end.

And while I appreciate the new level of respect I get from members of my own community, it is an honor, which I had not earned. Nothing has changed about me except the hairstyle and yet because of hairstyle, people do make assumptions of me – both right and wrong.

Tyrone B. Hayes is Hard As Hell: Scientist's Emails Bring Controversial Herbicide to Light

September 6th, 2010 - By TheEditor
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by R. Asmerom

Dr. Tyrone Hayes tells The Atlanta Post his side of the story.

tyrone b hayes is hard as hell
battle anybody, i don’t care who you tell
you object! you will fail!
mercy for the weak is not for sale

The above ll cool j-inspired lyrics were part of one of the many emails that biology professor Dr. Tyrone Hayes wrote to Syngenta, a company that makes herbicides to protect corn crops from weeds. When these rap lyric laced emails from Hayes hit the news recently, a decade long feud between Hayes and the conglomerate had been reduced to a portrayal of a mad scientist going on attack. Since the initial publicity, however, it has become clear that there’s much more to Syngenta and there’s much more to this renowned African-American professor choosing to express himself through rap lyrics.

From Hayes’ view, the protracted dispute between Syngenta and himself involves the company lashing out at Hayes’ unfavorable research and findings.  “This is about a huge multi-billion dollar corporation who ten years ago hired a new assistant professor to collect some data on their number one selling product,” said Hayes. “I did what they asked and they didn’t like the results and they tried to get me to manipulate those results and to get me to say things that weren’t true and I left the contract and for the last ten years, these guys have really harassed me.”

The Harvard-educated biologist asserts that this spectacle was drummed up to fuel a smear campaign to isolate him from the scientific community and discredit his research.  Even before publicizing these emails, Syngenta, he said, directly attempted to undermine his career.

“They’ve come to [Berkeley multiple] times and tried to persuade my University to [push me to ] work on a different area of research because my research is showing repeatedly that they are contaminating our water supplies with an awful chemical that causes hormone balances,” he said. “They’ve harassed and threatened journals that I’ve published my scientific data in.”

Syngenta is the world’s largest producer of the controversial herbicide artrazine and Hayes, a biologist who specializes in frog development, found that atrazine disrupted the sexual development of frogs ( in some cases turning male subjects into females). This finding has been linked to other problems for which Syngenta is now in the hot seat.  In March, 16 cities sued the company for contaminating their water supplies and the Environmental Protection Agency is now looking into the herbicide’s link to cancer development and birth defects as well as its capacity to disrupt the hormone and reproductive systems of humans and amphibians. Certainly, Hayes’ research plays heavily in these motions.

“What they’re worried about now is that the data is continuing to come out. Just yesterday, [research was released] showing that atrazine not only causes mammary problems and birth problems but also prostrate problems. Other studies are showing that it causes birth defects in humans, and low sperm count in men.”

There are a lot of pressures to ban atrazine from the U.S but since Syngenta, like other chemical and drug companies, generates billions of dollars annually, it’s not giving up without a fight. The company reported $1.37 billion dollars in profits in 2009. “They’re the biggest in the world and atrazine is their number one selling product,” said Hayes.

Given that the weed killer is not widely used in Europe, where the company is based, Syngenta is fighting for its economic survival as a ban here in the U.S. will certainly impact its bottom line.

When asked what would replace atrazine as a weed killer if it were to be banned, Hayes said that nothing should replace it, given that its impact on corn and the importance of corn production are both relatively insignificant.

“At best, [atrazine] increases corn by 1.2 percent. We eat less than 2 percent of the corn we grow in this country,” he said. “We’re making ethanol out of it. We’re feeding cows and pigs and making plastics. Twenty percent of the world dies of starvation and we’re growing our biggest crop and we only eat 2 percent of it? That’s what they’re fighting to keep on the market. That’s what they’re fighting me for.”

Hayes said the company’s fight to protect atrazine and its use has led to consistent harassment on the part of Syngenta. He claims that the company has threatened his life, made lewd racial comments and filed false complaints, which led to federal agents showing up in his classroom.  Most recently, in February, Hayes was in Illinois testifying on atrazine before the state legislature when he was “cornered” by one Syngenta’s representatives. “[The interaction]  ended with ‘next time you give a talk, I’m going to bring some of my good ol boys.’” Soon after, Hayes was accidentally cc’d on an email sent by one of Syngenta’s lawyers, apparently commending the aggressor’s remarks according to Hayes.

Leaving "Black" Behind

April 23rd, 2010 - By TheEditor
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(Chicago Reader) — Have black folks left “blackness” behind? Local writer (and sometime Reader contributor) Ytasha L. Womack thinks so. In her new book, Post Black: How A New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity, she makes the case that the old ways of imagining African-Americans fail to encompass the dazzling diversity that now characterizes the community.

“There has always been diversity in the African-American community,” Womack told me the other day. “But now, because of so many hard struggles, we have so much more opportunity. The number of college graduates is significantly larger than ever before, African and Caribbean immigration has increased, there’s more interracial coupling. And these are just some of the reasons for a postblack reality.”

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