All Articles Tagged "charing ball"
“Who owns the breast: child or husband?”
This is the tongue-in- cheek yet provocative question raised recently in Street Talk Naija, a Man on The Street sort of Nigerian web series, which you can watch on YouTube. Speaking with both women and men, the responses were pretty evenly split: half of the folks saying that since the primary purpose of the breast was for feeding, it therefore belongs to the children, while the other half argue that since the woman belongs to her husband, he “owns” everything about her, including her breasts.
Of course, while watching this, I had already summarized this to be a trick question. I mean, we all know that the woman owns the breast. After all, it is attached to her body so – husband or not – it is hard to claim ownership of something that is not in your physical possession. Likewise, just because breasts are also mammary glands doesn’t mean that women are not using the breast right if it’s for purposes outside of being a food source for a baby. Some women do get sexual pleasure from their breasts, and in fact, recent studies have found that ni**le stimulation activates the same brain areas as vaginal and clitoral stimulation. How and in what way her breasts are being used is solely up to her. The funny thing is that as obvious of a point as this was to me, not too many people in the video actually echoed a similar sentiment.
Yet before we attribute this to the backwards thinking of some indigenous Africans (because I know how some folks think), we in Western societies too find ways to enforce, albeit subtly, this belief that the use of a woman’s body is not of her own fruition. And it is a major reason why some folks responded with flat out ridicule when Angelina Jolie announced that she had both breasts removed in hopes of preemptively striking against a hereditary and aggressively deadly form of breast cancer. Nevermind her very real health concerns, keeping a pair of perky breasts was deemed by some as much more important. The negative reaction to her announcement should serve as a reminder that the female form, particularly the breasts, are still very much treated as public domain, created for the sole purpose of sexual arousal – regardless if she sees it that way or not.
Such as the case of Holly Van Voast, a Bronx photographer and performance artist, who filed a federal lawsuit against the city of New York for being repeatedly detained, arrested, and on one occasion, institutionalized, for daring to bare her breasts in public. The easy answer is to say, “Well of course what she did was lewd.” However, the same city, which saw Van Voast topless as obscene and sometimes mentally ill, had a completely different standard for men of all body shapes (including breast-size), who are free to walk around topless without repercussions, including the N*ked Cowboy, a pasty-skinned guy who walks around Time Square, strumming his guitar in just a pair of tighty-whities and cowboy boots.
It is also this double standard when it comes to displays of the female breasts, which has inspired Go Topless Day. According to Policy Mic, such a day looks to bring awareness to the need for gender equality in public decency laws, by protesting across the country in – you guessed it – no tops at all. And according to the New York Times, the Van Voast lawsuit, which was filed on the grounds that the public decency laws are bias, might have been the inspiration behind a recent shift in policy in the NYPD, which is now instructing its 34,000 police officers to stop arresting topless women for indecent exposure.
Despite the shift in NYC laws, women who opt to bare their chests still face an uphill battle in having their bare breasts not viewed as criminal or as a spectacle as demonstrated by video of last year’s Go Topless Day in New York City. In it, men followed around a bunch of topless protesting woman, drooling, ogling and taking pictures. Even as these women hope to convey a much bigger message of ending the need to make natural body functions and form dirty or illegal, the reality is that you can’t change the mindset of some, who still insist on putting their own definition on it – at least not right away. Up until the mid-1900s, men could be arrested for going out in public topless. Today, we have Rick Ross and nobody blinks an eye. Perhaps if more women are willing to bare it all in protest of these ridiculous laws, and more importantly, this mindset, it might change how we as a society view breasts. Basically, as a source of many things, from the giver of life and nourishment, to a part of our sexuality, to being the source of nothing at all.
“Well look at it this way. At least you have more time in the day for yourself,” my brother said, glancing into the backseat where I sat staring out the window. Now I was staring at him. “Is that really your bright side?” I asked. He gave me a weak half-smile; I gave him a side eye.
He shrugged. “Well that’s what I think about whenever I don’t have to wake up and walk the dog.” My brother, in his most earnest and well-meaning of intents, was trying to make me feel better. Two years ago, he too had to surrender his terminally ill Rottweiler, whose body was riddled with cancer. He was the one to convince me that it was time to do the same to Coltrane, my own dog. And now here he was, driving me back from the animal control spot on Hunting Park, trying to reassure me that I had done the right thing.
But I wasn’t so convinced.
About a year ago, I had to surrender my 16-year-old cat Biggie to animal control. Biggie, an overweight tuxedo named after the slain rapper, was in horrible pain from his kidneys failing. His age made him too old to treat outside of steroid medicine, which no longer worked. And my once vibrant 13-pound cat was now only a few pounds wet, but also too frail to stand and cried out eerily in pain. I watched as the animal control staffer, a tall burly black guy in a green shirt, scooped him up and nonchalantly carried him through some double doors with the sign, “Only Employees Past this Point” hanging over the entrance. And that’s it. No attempts at faking sympathy or condolences. Not even a half-hearted, “we’ll take good care of him.” Just sign here, don’t forget to take their pet collars or whatever little personal paraphernalia attached to them with you and a “Can I help the next in line, please!”
I don’t blame the workers for their indifference. They probably see dozens of surrendered pets every single day. Therefore, my own personal grief is not unusual or special. But that was my baby and I felt like he deserved more than that, which is why I vowed to myself that when it was Coltrane’s time to go, we would do it like one of my friends, who lives in the more affluent Philly neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. She had her beloved Scottish Terrier put to sleep in the comforts of her own apartment. I wanted that for my pets. To give them comfort in their last moment of life. It is the ultimate gesture of love as well as a personal reassurance to myself that they would pass away peacefully. But of course, I thought the next time I had to put a pet down would be a ways away – you know, when I could afford such creature comforts.
But alas, a year later and a month after losing my full-time job due to budget cuts, my dog would suffer a severe spinal cord injury, one he sustained while running down the icy front steps of my row house. I warned him in the past about his clumsiness. His feet were too big and awkward and wouldn’t be able to sustain the weight of his solid 110 pound American Bulldog frame. I broke down in tears when the vet at the pet emergency center told me that he required surgery and that it would cost around $5,000. I didn’t feel any more relief when the second opinion from Coltrane’s personal doctor said that even with the surgery, there was a possibility because of his age and the existing arthritis in his legs that he still would not be able to walk again. I tried for months hoping that the medicine would work. However, it never got him able to walk again and the physical and financial burden of taking care of a disabled pet was just too much to bear. I was poor. And my financial situation meant that the only humane option was to drop him in the hands of complete strangers in a green shirt, khaki pants, and a stoic expression.
We drove away from the facility and my head was swimming with guilty thoughts. Why hadn’t I shoveled my front steps properly? Maybe I didn’t exercise him enough? What about his diet? Maybe if you fed him more glucosamine-rich foods, his legs would have been stronger. “Aw man, you can’t beat yourself up about that stuff. I mean, you did your best and I’m sure Coltrane knows that,” said my brother. My brother offered me McDonald’s. I felt like one of his kids – actually, worse than one of his kids, as his son, my nephew, sat calmly in the front seat. I scoffed at his suggestion. Then after we got McDonald’s, I felt a little better.
I told a friend of mine of my plan to surrender my dog; she didn’t say anything. Not even a condolence. I tried to ignore how hurt I felt. People can be very dismissive at times when it comes to pets: “Oh your dog died? Well, go out and get a new one.” There is nothing really to do when someone says that to you, except smile awkwardly – although inside you are really upset. Most folks just don’t understand. After all, they are just animals: big, emotionless beings incapable of reasoning, logic, and all the other things that make us humans far superior. But most folks with pets know that this is not entirely true. Coltrane was a hero to me. He once helped me across a small stream when I got stuck on some slippery rocks and I was scared to move. And he stopped – not once but twice – a loose pit bull from attacking us while out on our walk. And he was so compassionate to Biggie in his last days, letting him curl up next to him to help keep his body warm. No, Coltrane wasn’t just a big, stupid dog; he was brave and loyal and in some ways, more humane than most people.
After surrendering Biggie, I told myself that I would never get another cat again. Eight months later, I now have Mr. Bob Dobalina, a brindle-striped cat with an amusingly rumbustious personality. That tells me that this feeling will pass one day and I too will be able to reopen my house again to another dog. But right now, I am feeling very sorrowful and I think I need to honor the fact that a creature, who I had raised and loved, is no longer here anymore. So as of right now, I’m saying I will not get another dog…
When Looks Matter: Wet Seal, Abercrombie & Fitch And The Reality Of Appearance-Based Discrimination By Retailers
According to published reports, Wet Seal Inc., the chain-retail store headquartered in Foothill Ranch, Calif., will have to pay $7.5 million dollars to settle a racial-discrimination lawsuit, which had been filed by three black women, who accused the chain clothing store of terminating them because they did not fit the brand image.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, evidence in the lawsuit included e-mails and witness testimony from former Wet Seal managers, which “allegedly showed high-level Wet Seal executives instructing managers to fire African American employees, and “diversify” by hiring and promoting white employees “who fit the Wet Seal brand image.” The case was also bolstered by a ruling by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined that Wet Seal had racially discriminated against one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. However, the Inquirer reports that Wet Seal denies the allegations in the lawsuit and calls the settlement a “no-fault resolution of the case.”
The settlement may put to bed this particular racial discrimination case, but it also sheds light on a rarely discussed practiced form of appearance-based discrimination. This idea that it is okay to exclude individuals, whose physical characteristics do not fit the standard of a business or other organization, is the basis of all forms of discrimination including racial, gender-based, and sexual orientation-based discrimination. And while Wet Seal denies culpability in racial-discrimination practices, the idea that the retail chain might have been looking to promote and hire based on its physical image is equally as troubling. And if true, unfortunately, they would not be alone in the practice.
Just last week, Business Insider reported on Abercrombie & Fitch’s refusal to make clothing in sizes XL or XXL for women (nor does it carry women’s pants sizes larger than a 10), and according to retail analyst Robin Lewis, Mike Jeffries, CEO of the retail clothing chain, only wants “thin and beautiful” people shopping in his store. The Business Insider story also referenced a 2006 piece in Salon, in which Jeffries was quoted as saying the following:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ business acumen of projecting and appealing to an “exclusive” clientele might be at the source of how the clothing chain store found itself dead smack at the center of two private class action lawsuits filed by nine former employees, who accused Abercrombie & Fitch of discrimination against Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and women. According to published reports, the plaintiffs said that they were prohibited from working the sales floor because they did not fit the “Abercrombie look,” and instead were told to work in back storage rooms. The suit was settled in 2004 for $50 million dollars and a Consent Decree, which legally enjoined Abercrombie & Fitch to develop and implement internal policies and procedures, which guarded against discriminating against applicants based upon race, color and gender.
More and more, states and local municipalities are growing hip to the subtle ways in which discrimination operates, including Michigan, which became the first state to add weight and height to its anti-discrimination employment laws, and Washington D.C., which prohibits all forms of personal appearance discrimination. While wanting to project an exclusive image is not unusual in brand marketing, particularly the marketing of apparel, when a company sets its sights on appealing to such a niche market, it opens itself up to creating and perpetuating an environment where prejudice is acceptable. Nowadays, you don’t have to say blacks and Hispanics are not welcome – you can just decline employment, or even a customer base, from those with certain physical attributes, such as body shape, hairstyles, or who don’t look like the cool kids in high school – unless of course you went to a high school with black and Hispanic people in it.
The Light Skin, Curly Hair, And A Falsetto Era: Remember In The Early ’80s When Every Male Singer Looked And Sounded The Same?
I swear I watch old videos on YouTube just to humble myself. No way should we young old-heads be throwing shade at the young’ns for their taste in music and fashion without first explaining Al B. Sure.
Don’t get it twisted; throw on an old school Al B. track on and I’ll be the first one up, waving my hands, singing along off-key to, “Do you wanna, Res-cue Meeee…” But trust and belief, I won’t be the only one off-key, because in spite of how pretty he is, dude couldn’t sing. In the words of Trinidad James, don’t believe me just watch – this YouTube video of him performing live (in the 80s) on an episode of Showtime at the Apollo. Notice the false falsetto, the pithiness, and the cheeky dance moves to hide the fact that he could not sing. I mean, we do realize that there were probably a few poor saps during that same episode of Apollo, who were booed and escorted off the amateur night stage by Sandman Sims who sounded better than Al B did in this clip? I know whoever they were, they probably took that train back to Brooklyn pissed.
Word is that Al B. turned down a college scholarship to pursue a musical career and it was the great music mogul, Quincy Jones, who facilitated him getting a record deal through Warner Brothers. What I haven’t heard though, is what the heck was Jones and the Warner Brothers executives smoking, because that boy couldn’t sing. I have joked about this before on my Facebook page, but after watching this clip of his non-singing behind gyrating across the stage in tight, cut-up, stonewashed jeans, I am more convinced that the only reason why Al B. Sure ever got on was because he was light-skinned with curly hair, and girls wanted to have a baby by him. If not, please, explain to me some other rationale for how this dude got a record contract.
Oh no, she’s not starting the light-skinned talk is she? Oh yes I am, because it’s Friday and folks need to lighten up. But in all half-seriousness, Al B. Sure arrived on the scene at a time when male R&B singers were keen to what had been traditional, and stereotypical, light-skinned attributes: I’m talking silky black curly hair, soft Café au lait skin tones and delicate voices. This is the period where Lionel Richie decided to trade in The Commodores and the Afro for a Jheri Curl and a blind girl with a miraculous gift of making exact replica busts of people just from touching their faces. Or if you will note on the Michael Jackson hair evolutionary chart, this era is best known as the time between the Thriller curl years and the Dangerous wave nouveau years.
By most accounts, Prince blazed the trails for these particular pretty men to come in and take their rightful place in black music. It wasn’t that light-skinned dudes weren’t in music before, or that they were unwelcome, but Prince made looking light-skinned and feminine/androgynous hot. He also gave us Morris Day and the Time, who not only carried on the tradition, but also gave us, for the first time, some light-skinned bravado, which came complete with a perm and a pinky ring. This new view of lighter complected stars helped to usher in the DeBarge Family, which was literally an entire squad of light-skinned, curly haired men (and their sister) with soft voices. They were basically burning up the charts with such classics as “I Like” and “All This Love.” But they were also burning up the ladies (and some men), who couldn’t get enough of their Farrah Fawcett tresses.
The success of Prince, Morris Day and The Time, and the DeBarges brought about a second, more pronounced wave of Team Light-Skinned singers, including notable talents like Howard Hewett (after leaving Shalamar to take full advantage of the light-skinned tide), Georgio (“Lovers Lane”), Colonel Abrams (“Trapped”), Sherrick (“Just Call”), Lillo Thomas (“I Want to Make Love”), James Ingram, Rockwell (“Somebody’s Watching Me”), and Gregory Abbott (“Shake You Down”), just to name a few. Soon, non-light skinned singers couldn’t deny the influence of their counterparts and tried their best to emulate either their style, as demonstrated by Luther Vandross’ Jheri Curl, or their voices, as demonstrated by the group Switch, whose lead singer, on occasion, bares a striking vocal resemblance to Beyoncé.
For a while there it looked like there would be no stopping the Team Light-Skinned dominance in R&B music. However, this era of music would soon meet its tragic end, thanks in part to the rise of scowling and sneering bad boys of Hip-Hop…and Wesley Snipes, whose dark hand figuratively and literally, drove a nail through the light-skinned coffin when he stabbed Christoper Williams in New Jack City. Although they tried desperately to hang on with artists like Tony Terry and groups like Color Me Badd, their light-skinned powers could not stop the force that was Bobby Brown from taking “Every Little Step” up the charts and dominating the latter years.
Today, Team Light-Skinned finds itself trying to rebuild its empire and will occasionally shine with star players like the members of the DeBarge family trying to make a comeback, who gave us their younger, more thugg-nificent sibling Chico. And there is no denying that Miguel has managed to bring some of that curly-haired soul music back to the scene. But the squad still has yet to regain the momentum that was lost because of the Chris Brown years. And there is no telling who, if anyone, can restore them to their former glory. Perhaps the DeBarge family has another member ready to slick down his baby hair and step on the scene…
We All Know One: Charles Ramsey, Antoine Dodson, Sweet Brown And The Long Tradition Of Black Storytelling
In my role as an amateur anthropologist, I have identified three key phrases, which are dead giveaways that you are about to be in for one heck of a story:
1. “Well, it’s like this….”
2. “Girl, you will not believe what just happened….”
3. “See, what happened was…”
Of course, there are variations, but generally speaking, whenever a person begins a story like that, be sure to pop some popcorn and pull up a seat because you, my friend, are in the midst of a storyteller. And there are so many among us. Take that one uncle you have who commands attention at family gatherings with his elaborate tales of family past drama and misadventures. Or The loud lady on the bus talking to a girlfriend, who you try to ignore but amusingly find yourself swept up in her whimsical narration of her current relationship. Or your little niece, who doesn’t just tell you of her trip to the zoo, but does this little cute thing where she imitates animal sounds and gestures too. Some folks really do know how to tell a good story.
This is what I thought of when I first watched Charles Ramsey give his now famous interview with a local television news station in Cleveland. Outside of being an everyday man turned hero, his retelling of his larger-than-life deed was sharp, witty, and concise. A colorful and animated wordsmith, who managed to slip speculation over the size of a man’s testicles on television without drawing the ire of the FCC. Most eyewitness accounts feature people, looking shell-shocked and giving the same caged cliché about how they, ‘lived next to him/her for years and never thought that he/she could do that. It’s awful.” Whereas Ramsey, who while very much still in disbelief, was able to not only share with us how long he had lived near this monstrous neighbor, but the extent of their relationship, which according to him, had progressed to gatherings of ribs and salsa music.
There is no other older form of communication on this planet than the tradition of oral storytelling. This is also hold true for the black Diaspora in America, whose oral heritage can be traced back to the creation of civilization itself in Africa and through slavery here in America. And according to How the African American Storyteller Impacts the Black Family and Society by Barbara Moss:
Slave versions of history, like all slave tales, were enhanced by the manner of their delivery. The oral inventiveness of good storytellers, who appear to have been relatively uncommon in black culture, was a source of delight and stimulation to their audiences. Their narratives were interlarded with chants, mimicry, rhymes, and songs. They talked animatedly, especially in the dialogues and changed the voice to represent the different animals. Nothing was too difficult for a storyteller to represent: the chanting sermon of a black preacher and the responses of his entire congregation, the sounds of a railway engine, the cries of barnyard animals, the eerie moans of spectral beings, all formed an integral part of black tales.
Now NBA star Jason Collins, I’m really happy for you, and imma let you finish, but Antoine Dodson had one of the best closet door splintering reveals of all times! *in a Kanye voice*
Seriously, there really is no topping renouncing one’s homosexuality in favor of the Hebrew Israelites. A celebrity can admit that they made a sex tape with Beyoncé and Rihanna, the the entire offensive line of the Tennessee Titans, a banana, and a unicorn, and I would still be like, “…yeah but you didn’t become a Hebrew Israelite…” *Kanye shrug.* As far as I am concerned, that’s just like living most of your life on a full diet of fruits, vegetables and meats and then suddenly one day, deciding that you would only eat air and rays from the sun. I mean, were the growing network of reformer Christian churches not accepting new memberships? But this is what Dodson had to say about his shocking news on Huffington Post Live:
“I‘ve been sitting at home, having a lot of free time to myself, so I have been sitting, reading the good book itself, you know the Bible – stuff like that – and I notice that it has spoke that we should follow the law to the commandments and I know that being gay is one of the commandments – I don’t know where people get that: be who you are and all this that and the other. No, the bible states against it. SO I’m like, you know I am tired of all the wickedness of the world; I’m just tired of all the lies; God, the most High, get me right. And I feel like this is my way.”
When asked if he was trying to pray the gay away, Dobson said that it was not that, but rather, “If you really want to change your life and just get rid of it; you can. And that’s what I am doing.”
It’s very true. You can change your life, however, can you really change your sexuality?
I think what captures people’s attention most about the Dobson story (after all, he hasn’t been relevant to pop culture in a couple of years) is that it challenges – or in some instances reaffirms – what people think about sexuality. Challenging in the idea that sexuality is rigid and what you are attracted to sexually is what ultimately defines your sexuality. And then there is the other camp, who believe that sexuality is indeed a choice. And that people do choose whether to be gay, straight, bisexual or a damn furry.
The latter usually includes folks, who quote biblical verses of proof that homosexuality is a sin and as such, is a choice (after all, you choose to sin, right?). Even in the age, where science is finding more evidence to support the idea that our sexuality might be more biologically ingrained in us than we think, I was personally surprised at how many folks still believe in the choice aspect. True, we have seen these sort of sexual flip-floppers before, most notably, Anne Heche, who once was in a serious relationship with Ellen DeGeneres but then went on to marry a man. And you can’t forget about gospel recording artist and Pastor Donnie McClurkin, who like Dodson, credits his faith with saving him from his homosexual lifestyle. So could sexuality be a little more fluid than we thought?
“Well for some people, sexuality has the ability to be fluid. But generally a person’s sexuality is made up of more than one thing; sexuality is made up of a person’s orientation, their behaviors as well as their personal identity,” says Dr. Natasha Watson-Mack, human sexuality coach, counselor and educator.
I reached out to Dr. Watson-Mack, in hopes of getting more clarity into this strange and wonderfully confusing world of human sexuality, particularly insight into the idea that one can change their sexuality. As suspected, she said it is complicated. Said Dr. Watson-Mack, it is our orientation, which tells us what we are attracted, or sexually stimulated, by; our behavior is what you act on and your identity is basically how a person sees themselves, which explains why we have folks out here, who might be orientation and behaviorally queer, but identify as straight. But while your behavior and identity can change, your orientation, who you are attracted to, pretty much remains in tact. “A woman doesn’t stop being straight because she decides to not date and be sexually active with men anymore. Her orientation didn’t change, just her behavior,” she says.
Dr. Watson-Mack claims that while a person’s sexuality can change based on internal and external environment factors, including not being settled emotionally with who they are, pressure from family and others in their social networks and of course religious influence, she cautions about championing the idea of praying the gay away, as sometimes the suppression of natural inclination can lead to oppression. And it is probably with good reason considering the recent deaths of three teenage boys who were allegedly torture at a gay-to-straight “conversion camp” in South Africa. According to published reports, the latest death involved a 15-year-old boy, who suffered brain damage, severe dehydration and malnourishment, a broken arm and bruises (including being covered in cigarette burns).
Likewise, there is no solid proof that gay conversion therapy actually works, as even its most ardent supporter, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University, now repudiated his own research, which suggests that “highly motivated” homosexuals could go from gay to straight. In his retraction, he states that the major flaw in his much-touted study, was that there was no way to truly evaluate the credibility of those who reported a change in their sexual orientation. He writes of his retraction: “I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.”
I don’t know what this all means for Dodson himself, other than reaffirming that sexuality is messy and complicated and often times subjective. But what we do know is that even though a person’s behavior and identity may change, it doesn’t mean that their orientation does. It’s possible that he will change his behavior and identity, but his orientation could be towards men. Or it could be possible that he was bisexual all along, thus his orientation, behavior and identity is more fluid. All I know is that this is why I hope that as a society, we really do get to the place where sexual identity doesn’t matter, because really and truly, it doesn’t. Like seriously Dodson, you want to roll with the dudes who stand out on street corners, harassing women? So much for hiding your wife and kids…
The case of Kiera Wilmot, the 16-year-old student at Bartow High School expelled and charged with a felony count for a bottle bomb/unauthorized science experiment, has inspired a number of petitions on Change.org from concerned citizens who are demanding that the charges be dropped and she be admitted back into school.
Despite what could have transpired around this ill-advised “science experiment” of hers, Wilmot is by most accounts, an above-average teenager, who gets good grades and is generally well-behaved in school. That’s why many folks have expressed outrage over the severity of her charges from the local district attorney. Even her principal, who because of the district’s zero tolerance policy, reported the incident to police, has come to Wilmot’s defense. And as one of the petition creators suggested, Women make up only 20% of computer science jobs, 23% of graduate students in engineering, and only 25% of the STEM workforce. We are not going to resolve the gender gap in science and math fields by punishing girls for pursuing the fields.
I will co-sign that her inquisitive mind should be encouraged – perhaps in more controlled environments – however, I wouldn’t go as far as to christen her the next Marie Curie. By most accounts, she heard about a bottle bomb (also known as a work bomb) from a friend and wanted to try it for herself. She ended up scaring the crap out of a bunch of people, which is not a smart thing to do, especially not after the school shootings and recent bombing in Boston. However, I don’t exactly go around expecting 16 year olds to always do smart things. And that is why I am so happy that there has been public push back in this case. For me, Wilmot’s story gets at the heart of the problem with zero tolerance, which is not only an attitude, but as we see, a firm policy in some towns and school districts.
Ironically, the night before I read about the Wilmot case, I started watching on Neflix Lee Hirsch’s documentary, Bully. This is the controversial documentary about the often unforeseen effects of schoolyard bullying on the lives of young people. The documentary was controversial because it initially received an “R” rating, which meant it couldn’t be shown to young audiences who might need to see it most, but after some public nudging by Harvey Weinstein, the film was re-rated to a more teen-friendly PG-13. I’ve been avoiding this documentary because I just knew that it was going to make me upset. And as suspected, I was right. One of the stories, about 14-year-old Ja’Meya Jackson from Yazoo County, Mississippi, is the one that really got to me. She was an honor role student, who was facing heavy time for brandishing a gun on a school bus. According to Ja’Meya, she decided to get the gun, which belonged to her mother, after growing tired of being picked on by a few students on the school bus. Among her tormentors was a boy, who bragged about how he was not scared to fight girls. The whole incident was caught on the bus camera, and seeing the video and hearing her account provided some context to how this could happen. And yet, with this context, the local district attorney felt that there were “no excuses” for her bringing a gun on a bus, and he felt justified in charging her with 45 felony counts, including 22 felony kidnapping charges.
I turned the film off at that point so I can’t tell you her fate. I was just too angry to even finish watching after listening to the district attorney justify why this level of prosecution was needed against this child. Did she act recklessly? No doubt. Could she have seriously hurt someone and herself? Yes. Are there consequences to be had for her actions? Yuppers. But who says that those consequences have to be jail? And what value does it serve society in throwing an otherwise straight-arrowed child in prison for years? I can’t think of any.
There is a discussion to be had here about how this heavy-handedness towards our children contributes to the school to prison pipeline. Neither Kiera or Ja’Meya fit the stereotype of youth, who most folks would associate with felony crimes. As far as we know, they are not vicious and cruel. They don’t have a bunch of tattoos or baby daddies. They were not beating girls up and then uploading videos of it to WorldStar. They were, for all intents and purposes, what most people would describe as good kids, who deviated off from a pretty good path. Rehabilitation and the proper guidance to show them the error of their ways could probably have more results than a lengthy prison sentence. But that’s if producing well-rounded citizens is the motivation…
I think what is most unnerving about these stories is that I can recall about several incidences from my youth, which could have landed me in the same position as Kiera or Ja’Meya. I would name them but they were pretty boneheaded and by today’s zero tolerance standards, likely criminal. And it wasn’t like I was a bad kid; I just did stupid things at times. I didn’t always think about how my actions would effect other people. And that is at the core of what’s wrong with zero tolerance as a practice. It doesn’t recognize what is an essential part in growing up human; and that is making mistakes – even intentional ones. It provides no room for differences and nuances; that since you have the same outcome as someone else, how you both got there is the same. And that’s not true in any respects in life, and it is certainly not true for teenagers.
From Jackie Robinson To Jason Collins: What’s Really The Big Deal About Being The First To Do Something?
There are lots of different discussions to be had around this Jason Collins story, particularly what does it mean to be the first of something?
According to the website True Blue LA, when asked to share his thoughts on Collins’ coming out, Don Mattingly, the current Dodgers manager, said, “It seems a little bit like a Jackie Robinson type thing to me. He’s kind of crossing some barriers,” Mattingly said. “It will be interesting to follow to see what happens.”
I’ve seen this comparison all throughout the media and the reaction to it has been pretty polarizing. As many people have noted, Collins is not the first openly gay athlete in sports. Last week, WNBA forward Brittney Griner came out rather casually and to little fanfare and/or criticism, and many other female athletes have done the same. Yet some have noted, the spectacle of his coming out might have something do with him being male and in a sport, which some would like to believe could come off more homophobic than the rest of society. Even still, it is hard to deny that there is a certain Robinson-esque quality to Collins’ story. And like the “first” before him, he will likely go down in history as an important trailblazer in the world of sports and sports politics. But outside of the historical significance, what is really the big deal about being the first?
Yvette Carnell, writer with Your Black World, noted recently that despite Robinson’s personal achievements, his inductions as a “first,” didn’t really serve the black community, outside of opening the doors for a few other black athletes to buy-in into a politically racist and socially unequal system (by way of professional baseball), which worked against the interests of black people. As pointed out by Carnell, while a big part of Robinson’s legacy hinges on him being the first, many folks are unaware of Robinson’s more patriotic and conservative leaning, which often was opposed to the general consensus of black folks at the time, including his support of Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy for president; his testimony before the House Un-American Committee in hearings against black activist and artist Paul Robeson; and his support for the Vietnam War and inquiry into the patriotism of Dr. Martin Luther King when he announced his opposition to the war. She writes, “For some, celebrating Jackie Robinson’s integration into baseball boils down to the idea that blacks needed to be liked by even the most racist whites in order to have any real shot at the American dream. So to them, it was acceptable for Robinson to do whatever it took, even if it meant going so far as to unleash the Congressional hounds on Robeson, as long as it ensured that the doors to white baseball were opened to Robinson.”
There is no doubt that Collins out-coming will inspire more gay athletes, who have been hiding in the closet out of fear of reprisal, to not feel ashamed to live their lives publicly as well. And I imagine that it will also go a long way in changing mindsets – or at least creating the appearance of tolerance – and creating a more gay-friendly environment around that particular league. I can certainly see even the most hardened homophobic basketball fans willing to adjust their beliefs about gay men or gay rights–anything if it meant getting his/her team a championship. Heck, I know of a few of those such fans, who were very protective over Dennis Rodman – and he was a straight guy in a dress. However, outside of being able to identify with Collins, what exactly will his contributions be to advancing gay rights and equality outside of symbolism? In his essay in Sports Illustrated, Collins writes:
“The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”
As many people (including many folks in my timeline) would say, timing of his announcement matters. Collins is currently a free agent from the Washington Wizards. His stats put him, at best, as average in a league covered with top tier ballers. And as many have speculated, Collins’ out-coming could be of benefit to his fledgling career. But that’s all assuming that upper management, and its players, would be accepting of a gay teammate. And it is also assuming that even if they did manage to put aside prejudices and accept Collins with open arms, that he would be allowed to be as vocal politically on gay rights issues. What are the odds that the league would use him other than as a poster child for how far the National Basketball Association has progressed?
Historically speaking, a major part of Robinson’s appeal was his carefulness not to participate publicly on many issues and incidences related to blacks and civil rights while playing baseball in the mainstream professional league. Instead, he focused on home runs and helping his team win. It was that dedication to the game and overall carefulness, which served as the base for his squeaky-clean public image. Collins also acknowledges that his image too has a sort of contrary appeal to it and writes in his essay the following:
“I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don’t show up in box scores, and frankly I don’t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player.”
Like Robinson, being a team player is as of much importance as the relevance of his sexuality. In some respects, that is very admirable and at the very core of an equal society. It means that a person is truly being judged by his character and abilities, rather than some other arbitrary characteristic. However, as a culture, we are nowhere close to being equatable. And while Collins might be more in line with the dignified resilience of Robinson, what is probably needed to really push society forward is the righteous arrogance of a Muhammad Ali. It is also important to note the emphasis that Collins puts on being black in addition to being gay in the NBA in his Sports Illustrated essay. It means that despite the inroads made by Jackie Robinson, race – even when discussing sexuality in sports – remains largely a factor. We are reminded of this whenever we think about the dismal percentage of black coaches, owners and management in the NBA and college basketball compared to the percentage of players on the court. We’re also reminded of this when we read news reports about the deplorable conditions in which young ballplayers from Africa are forced to live in for the benefit of professional teams in the United States. Surprisingly, it was Bryant Gumbel, who during the last NBA lockout, compared league commissioner David Stern to a “modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys …” That might be a first for Gumbel. But if he can be bold enough to speak that candidly, what is stopping others from doing the same?
Recently, Shadow and Act writer Sergio Mims pondered on the whereabouts of the manly man in film:
“It started with a conversation I had once with one of my friends, and she brought to my attention an article by the African American film critic Wesley Morris, while he was writing for The Boston Globe (and who is now writing reviews for the website Grantland) about the lack of real, genuine, masculine men in movies nowadays, that are both American and under 40.
Think about it. Practically all male movie stars that are both American and under 40 are really just over-sized boys who maybe haven’t really grown any pubic hair yet. They seem to lack a solid presence and, what I like to call, that “masculine weight”. So my friend and I started to think about what well-known established Black American actors could fill that bill, and I’m afraid, we couldn’t.”
My favorite black action star is Michael Jai White. He is not just my favorite because his body is straight-ridiculous and makes me think scandalous thoughts. He is also my favorite because he is a kick-a** professional martial artist in real life and does all of his stunts in his movies. If you have Netflix or access to YouTube, you can catch some of his handy work in the film, Blood and Bones. The film itself is kind of campy and the dialog is at times laughable, but White’s fight scenes are pure magic. However, despite how awesome White’s kick-a** persona is, his type of flare is no longer wanted in Hollywood. Oh sure, action films are still big, however, the action stars themselves are much smaller, younger, and not really “into” the whole violence thing.
The new visual era of masculinity marks the rise of the anti-hero. Gone are the days of the hyper-masculine, thick-necked Neanderthal drop-kicking a villain through the wall. Instead, we are in a new, more gentle era of manhood, particularly heroism, where ingenuity and creativity outweighs brawn. If anything, the new image of a “manly man” is kind of reflective of what is happening in society today. Today’s modern men are all becoming more vain than ever. In addition to personal grooming habits like manicures, haircuts and pedicures, men today have become more concerned about their personal emotional growth and well-being. You know, the guys that are all about their feelings and can have something to talk about and other interests outside of meat-headed topics like sports and farts? We are talking about men that are less about thug-loving à la Bobby Brown, and more about sitting around in silk pajamas discussing our days, in the vein of Ralph Tresvant.
As such, this new masculinity is reflected back to us in our sub-cultures, including music and television. No longer do He-Man like figures get the girls in the movies; today’s heartthrobs are scrawny and awkward nerds, who use their brain to ward off danger rather than their muscles. Hollywood is no longer about Wesley Snipes in Blade, but instead, our vampires are more akin to the soft-skinned boys in films like Twilight. This new age of the beta man is the reason why actors like Seth Rogen, Jesse Eisenberg and Zac Efron even have careers right now. And we see this more emotionally nuanced man in other areas of popular culture, including in hip hop. Big Daddy Kane, with his chiseled build, street savvy grit and bedroom eyes used to be the epitome of bad playboy swag. Nowadays, that image belongs to rappers like Drake, who while not physically intoxicating, are emotionally expressive enough to talk you right out of your panties.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this new version of the “manly man.” I also like seeing more nuanced versions of manhood on television too. As much as I would like to see more Michael Jai White, bare-chested, karate kicking dudes all across the screen, I kind of like him in the roles where he has his shirt on too. I just hope that pop culture, and society in general, doesn’t decide to move past the beta male and embrace the omega male. That’s when we should begin to worry.
Paradise Lost: Must See New Film Explores The Reality Of White Women And Sex Tourism With Black Men in Kenya
In the Paradise trilogy, Australian director Ulrich Seidl divides contemporary European womanhood into three parts: Love, Faith and Hope.
As delightful of a premise as it sounds, this series of films is no Eat, Pray, Love. In fact, most startling, and controversial of the narrative is “Paradise: Love,” a film which follows the sexual misadventures of Teresa, a 50-year-old white Austrian single mother, who explores Kenya through – and on the bodies of – young African men. Unsurprisingly, the film has hit a nerve for some as it highlights another side to the real life sex tourism industry, in which young men in mostly the Caribbean and parts of Africa earn their livings from the fetishes of older and wealthier folks, and in this case, white women. While it is unknown for sure how pervasive this side of the sex trade has become, this article in Reuters suggests that as many as one in five single women visiting Kenya from rich countries are in search of sex: “Emerging alongside this black market trade — and obvious in the bars and on the sand once the sun goes down — are thousands of elderly white women hoping for romantic, and legal, encounters with much younger Kenyan men. They go dining at fine restaurants, then dancing, and back to expensive hotel rooms overlooking the coast.”
The old adage is that money can’t buy happiness, however, in Paradise: Love, we are shown how the subversive nature of capitalism can turn entire countries and its inhabitants into mere commodities for someone else’s attempt at happiness. Teresa, along with three of her other middle aged girlfriends, arrives in Kenya and are welcomed aboard a chartered bus, which will take them from the airport to their beach resort. It is in route to the hotel that the women are taught by an enthusiastic, smiling older Kenyan guide a few key Kiswahili words, which will make their stay in the tropical “paradise” more pleasant: “Djambo,” which means “hello” and “Hakuna Matata,” which we all recall from The Lion King, loosely translates into “no worries.” A few hours after their arrival (as well as some drinks at the bar with her girlfriends and a quick wardrobe change into a swimsuit), Teresa finds herself alone on the beach, surrounded by barefoot hustlers carrying cowrie shelled necklaces, hand-woven bracelets and pocketbooks. The young men rush her, shoving their goods in her face, while vocally clamoring over each other with sell pitches peppered with the familiar salutations of “Djambo” and “Hakuna Matata.” The situation is very well-known to anyone who has traveled outside of the Western World, particularly to places which are economically marginalized. The hard sell. It is chaotic, unnerving and very bothersome. Yet at the same time, being surrounded by extreme poverty – even in places deemed as paradise – can bring a certain level of empathy and understanding. In a country like Kenya, where 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and is classified as low-income by the World Bank, everything is a hustle and everything is for sale.
Yet Teresa is not as empathetic or unfazed by the dire circumstances of the hustlers, and actually follows a couple of them back to their homes for paid sex and romance. The romance part is purely subjective. While the Kenyan men guide her around town, teaching her how to do the local dances, treating her to local edibles and whispering expressions of undying love in her ear, the reality is that the men she encounters don’t know how (or want) to be romantic. In one awkward scene, Teresa tries to instruct her partner for the night the proper way to caress her breasts. “You have to first see through me to my heart,” she tells him. But the Kenyan man looks on confused about what exactly she means. Teresa is annoyed but plays into it; mainly for the adventure, which is illustrated by the scene in which she takes a picture of the young man’s private parts as he sleeps. After their late night romp, Teresa falls asleep undressed under a mosquito net. Her young Kenyan lover stands around, smoking a cigarette, watching and waiting for her to rise.
The waiting game is probably the most striking element of the film. In one of the most haunting scenes in the film, Teresa and her girlfriends join a line of middle age white Europeans bathing in the sun on the beach. They lay mostly still and silent out on chaise lounges, half unclothed with their pinkish, pale skin glistening in the sun from a combination of sweat and whatever oily application they applied to get a more even tan. They are massive and look like beached whales. Their size is most marked when compared to the throng of young Kenyan men who stand at attention waiting to serve them. The men stand on the other side of a diving rope, which is guarded by an older Kenyan man in an oversized military uniform. They stand silent and undisturbed, waiting. Like servants dutiful to their masters, they wait. Or like patient hunters stalking their prey. It is really hard to tell at this point who is being exploited here: the people looking for cash or those looking to purchase fulfillment? But we do know that only when the white Europeans rise from their sun-basking do the men come alive again.
This same scenario is repeated several times in the film, including in one scene, which transports the once sun-bathing white Europeans into the resort’s lounge. Now fully dressed, they sit around small nightclub tables, smiling eerily as they listen to a Kenyan band play them some traditional local music. The band, whose members are dressed in matching Zebra stripes, in turn clash horribly with the Zebra striped stage curtains. The music is both beautiful yet performed with little emotion. It is that scene, which reminds me of a childhood birthday party I once had at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I stood around continuously feeding a bunch of quarters into a machine, which when fully compensated, would make the Animatronic robot mouse band come alive and play a birthday song for me. I remember being a kid feeling amused and then eventually disenchanted as once the time on my money ran out, the stage lights went dim, the music stopped, and the once smiling and chipper robotic mouse band slumped over into motionless inanimate objects again. In Paradise: Love, Kenya is Chuck E. Cheese’s and its inhabitants will sing, dance and cater to your every whim – just as long as your quarters don’t run out.
In the ’90s, French filmmaker Laurent Cantet released Heading South, a film about wealthy white women and their hired Haitian suitors (for those interested in watching, this film is currently streaming on Netflix). One of the most compelling characters in Cantet’s film is Albert, the head waiter at the resort. He is from a long line of Haitian patriots who fought probably against the American occupiers, for whom he called animals. In one part of the film, Albert is discussing the shame his long deceased grandfather would feel if he found out that he was serving whites. However, as he poignantly states of his dire situation, “This time the invaders aren’t armed; but they have much more damaging weapons than cannons: dollars!”
The ending of Paradise: Love is not as jaded as Albert in Heading South. I won’t spoil it for you (because I do think it is well worth the watch), but it’s clear that there are some things that money and privilege can not afford. Moreover, even through oppression, the oppressed do have their limits and will exercise their right to resist.
For those in the NYC area, the Paradise trilogy is now screening at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam). Tickets can be purchased at both the box office and online at www.FilmLinc.com.