Monday, September 28, 2015

Everybody Get Hyped: Bree Newsome Comes to Colgate TOMORROW

Tomorrow Bree Newsome, The Bree Newsome, will be coming to Colgate, and I’m so excited that I literally do not know what to do with myself and, more importantly, what to wear. If you somehow managed to live under a rock this summer, Bree Newsome is an activist from North Carolina that gained attention when she climbed up the South Carolina State Capitol flagpole and took down the Confederate flag after the mass murder of nine African-American worshippers by a white supremacist terrorist.

Bree Newsome EVENTS:
Brown Bag, "Rosa, Martin, and Bree: Civil Rights in 2015" : Sept. 29th @ 11:30am in the Center for WMST
Presentation, "Love in a Time of Revolution" : Sept. 29th @ 4:30pm in Love Auditorium

After Newsome came down from the flagpole, she and her spotter James Tyson were arrested on site.  Newsome’s brave act went viral, and every newspaper, blog, vlog, and magazine wanted a piece of Newsome.  When asked by a reporter on why she didn’t just wait for lawmakers to vote to take it down, Newsome perfectly stated, “What is there to vote on? There’s doing the right thing, and there’s doing the wrong thing. It’s time for people to have the courage. Everybody who knows what the right thing is to do, we have to step up in love and nonviolence. We have to do the right thing, or else it won’t stop. Every day that flag hangs up there is an endorsement of hate.” This then brought about dialogue of what does it mean that in this day and age something as hateful as the Confederate flag can still find a home in front of a state capitol? It also made me think about how sometimes we can become very complicit in inequality. Why did anyone  think it was necessary to wait for the government to decide to do what is morally correct, when it’s been pretty clear with the non-indictments of police officers that killed unarmed black people, that morals are not the government’s strong suit.

Bree Newsome, activist, filmmaker, songwriter
Newsome is not new to activism, but since her literal climb to fame, the activist has been very busy, she has recently spoken at Wesleyan University and Agnes Scott University. She was also on a panel, which included Melissa Harris-Perry, at Wake Forest University and in August she did an interview with Essence. It will be interesting to find out her insights about the Black Lives Matter movement and to see what she is up to now. I do not know about any of you but I am beyond excited and honor that she is going to the middle of nowhere to enlighten us.

Also, disclaimer: considering that Bree Newsome is the essence of Black Girl Magic, I might need someone to stand by and collect my edges, my life, and my composure when she takes them all away from me.

- Ashleandra Opoku '17, Multicultural and LGBTQ Affairs Intern

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When you are minding your business, and White Feminism strikes again

Last night the ever-talented, radiant, and brilliant Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, becoming the first Black woman to ever win that award. The only thing that was more beautiful that Davis’s win was her acceptance speech. Davis began her speech by quoting Harriet Tubman: “In my mind, I see a line, and over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get to it no how. I can’t seem to get to that line.” She explained that the only difference between women of color and everyone else is opportunity, saying, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Davis ended the speech by thanking all of the beautiful Black actresses that have helped Black women reach over that line that Harriet Tubman spoke about so long ago. The speech in and of itself was Black excellence; it was moving and truly encouraging.  What made the night even more magical was that two other Black actresses also won Emmys: Regina King for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie and Uzo Aduba for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Before the night ended, Apple showed a commercial that featured Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington. Last night, I went to sleep feeling like I could do anything.

Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmy Awards

Monday, I woke up refreshed and renewed, ready to start my week on the right foot. I committed to doing my homework at night instead of ten minutes before class; I went to bed at a reasonable hour and even got up early to eat breakfast. I really felt like I was getting my life together, but then Diablo came alive and slapped me in the face with some White feminism, and now I simply cannot deal.

Apparently, while I and the rest of the world were basking in Black women magic last night, soap actress Nancy Lee Grahn was at her house indulging in a bag of her saltiness with a side of White tears.  After Davis won last night, Grahn took to twitter and did what haters do best, which is… hate. Grahn wrote, “I wished I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys.” Grahn also went on to say, “I’m a fucking actress for 40 years. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunities. ALL women belittled.” After twitter dragged her to Hades and back, Nancy Lee Grahn apologized for her action by saying, “ I never meant to diminish her accomplishment. I wish I could get her roles. She is a goddess. I want equality 4 ALL women, not just actors.” 

At first I was going to leave this confused, old, salty, White feminist alone. I usually do not like to give foolishness any platform because I do not want the disease to gain influence and spread, but certain things need to be addressed sometimes.  I for one am tired of the backlash Black women and people receive whenever they speak the truth. Viola Davis last night spoke nothing but the truth; she spoke of nothing but the reality in which she lives, the reality in which we all live, where seeing Black faces on television and in media is dismal, the reality where Black bodies are not given as many opportunities as their White peers, the reality that if we were given the chance, the world would see just how capable and excellent we are.

Last night Viola Davis got on stage and advocated not only for herself but also for every Black woman, child, and person. She advocated for young Black students attending elite colleges, who are often “black beans in a bowl of white rice,” for little Black children who are rarely represented on television in a positive light, for Black people who happen to be the only Black person in any fieldwork. She used her acceptance speech to lift up and encourage Black women, to give them credit, and to let all Black people know that they are neither alone nor forgotten in their journey. Her speech was not divisive; she did not diminish the accomplishment of any other person, and she did not ask to be given opportunities she does not deserve.

I am tired of non-Black people believing that everything a Black perosn does has to be tailored against them. When we support each other, when we love one another, when we excel, when we speak the truth, when we want more people who look like us, when we want more people to be in our field of work, we are not trying to diminish or ignore any other race. We are merely trying to uplift ourselves, because let’s be honest, if Black people do not support other Black people, who will? If Black people do not call for a normalizing of television, who will? If black women will not call for more opportunities for themselves, who will? It is heartbreaking to think we cannot celebrate one another because others are insecure about themselves. 

Despite it all, I am determined to not let Diablo win today, and I completely understand that Nancy Lee Grahn is plagued with a case of White feminism.  Viola Davis is still a queen, and all aspects of life are still magical, and I still have my edges.  

P.S. To White feminists out there, the recognition of Black women’s excellence doesn’t devalue anyone else’s excellence.  

- Ashleandra Opoku '17, Multicultural and LGBTQ Affairs Intern

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What's Good? Not My Edges: Reflections on the 2015 VMAs

Every single day I mention at least twenty times that someone or something has stolen my edges, but last week NICKI MINAJ LITERALLY stole my edges. At the 2015 Video Music Awards Nicki Minaj won the award for best Hip-Hop video, and the speech she had for the night differed from the generic acceptances speeches we have heard before. Nicki started the speech by thanking her fans and her pastor, then Nicki turned to Miley Cyrus and said, “And now... back to this bitch who had a lot to say about me in the press. Miley, what’s good?” This might be a confusing statement if you do not have background on the situation.

In July, Nicki Minaj went on a twitter spree expressing her disbelief for not having either of her videos “Anaconda” or “Feeling Myself” nominated for Video of the Year. One of Nicki’s tweet said, “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, ‘Anaconda’ would be nominated for best choreo and video of the year.” Another one of her tweets mentioned that when “other” girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get a nomination. Out of nowhere, Taylor Swift took to twitter and said, “I’ve done nothing but love and support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your spot.” This was completely unwarranted because Minaj never said that any of the artist nominated did not deserve their nomination.  Minaj was merely pointing out that her video “Anaconda” achieved record-breaking numbers, with over 76 million views within the first week of its release. The views for “Anaconda” also happened to be the biggest hauls in YouTube history until Taylor Swift broke it with her video “Bad Blood.” Therefore, Minaj’s video should have been nominated as one of the videos of the year. Also, Nicki was expressing that black artists do not gain as much recognition as their white counterparts, even if they are doing equally as well. Taylor later understood that the statement was not about her and apologized for having a typical white feminist moment. However, this story does not end with the apology.

Miley Cyrus told The New York Times that Nicki Minaj made the situation more about her than she did about race and mentioned how Minaj’s approach was not very polite and if she was more open and loving it would have been better, which is complete nonsense. The fact that Minaj has to be polite to get people to understand systematic racism within the music industry is ridiculous. It is also white feminism come to life. Miley and others are trying to focus not on what Nicki said but how she said it. That way they can disregard the fact that even in the music industry there is racism and not every artist’s work is respected or represented. 

This all may seem like senseless gossiping, which to an extent it is, but it’s important to analyze the media attention each woman is receiving. When Nicki first came out about being disappointed some media outlets like The View portrayed Minaj as entitled angry black woman, using her race as a reason for not being nominated. They did not question why a video that had over a million hits and widespread reception was not nominated. Instead, they combatted Minaj’s disappointment by pointing out there were other artists of color that had been nominated for the award, none of whom won, and stating that Nicki Minaj was nominated for other awards. The women on The View and other media outlets tried to explain that Swift’s video was more about female empowerment and Minaj’s was merely selling sex. Even though throughout the entire “Bad Blood” video, Swift and her fierce female friends are training to fight another group of women. It is ironic that certain depictions of women are empowering, provocative and feminist and others are objectifying. It is also strange how certain bodies have to be be on their best behavior to have their truths gain acceptance. It was appropriate for Minaj to be upset about not being nominated. It was also appropriate for her to call out Cyrus in her acceptance speech because Cyrus had missed Minaj’s point and belittled her statement. 

So, What’s Good? We still do not really know because Cyrus has yet to answer Minaj’s question. However, what is not good is the constant tone policing and respectability politics for women of color and pretending that systematic racism is not embedded into every aspect of our lives.

- Ashleandra Opoku '17, Multicultural and LGBTQ Affairs Intern

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brown Bag: S. Bear Bergman

A business card-like post on S. Bear Bergman’s creatively designed website describes him as “author. storyteller, instigator.” During Bear’s visit to Colgate on March 20, he proved that all these labels we true. During his presentation, Bear chronicled the experiences that led him to develop his own publishing company, Flamingo Rampant, which is built on the platform of “feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ positive books for all children and families.”

Bergman’s power as a storyteller is apparent as he weaves the narrative of his activist life into a story that intrigues his audience, balanced in wit and stark reality. Bergman’s journey begins, at least in the context of this Brown Bag story, with his own identity as a “queer trans identifying guy”. In alliance with other transgender and gender nonconforming individuals Bergman became involved with Gender Odyssey’s efforts to support gender independent kids and their families. More young kids were (are) coming out and feeling free in gender independence, and Gender Odyssey enlisted Bear to write stories for the kids to read during camp because they were not represented in mainstream children’s stories. Bergman wrote two “cheekily adorable” children’s books.The books featured gender independent or trans identified kids in full stories rather than isolated episodes. Having published “grown up” books (adult books implies something else, according to Bergman) in the past, Bear was inspired to get the books published after acclaim from parents of gender independent young children. Upon reflection Bergman claims “boy was I dumb.” This is because the world of children’s publishing is largely conservative, a fact that Bear was unaware of. Bergman highlights three points to remember in children's book publishing: girls will read books about boys but not vice versa, people of color will read books about white families, but not vice versa, LGBTQ families will read books about straight families but not vice versa. Such realities become especially disconcerting when paired with the aims of capitalism to maximize sales, not identity representation. Bear was often confronted with comments such as “if you write a book about a straight family…” or “how many nine year old trans kids are out there?” These remarks show how dominant narratives remain dominant. People undermine the efforts of those hoping to engage with and bring attention to alternative narratives.

The undermining of these efforts are seen in statistics about children’s books. In 2014 seventy percent of protagonists in were male. Ninety-three percent of the males were white. Less than one percent of characters were LGBTQ identified and most stories took place in the suburban as opposed to city settings. Knowing that mainstream support was limited, Bear started a Kickstarter through which he raise $19,000 and was able to publish two books. The books sold well, and Bear thought that he had solved the issue by proving that there was a need for these books. He continued to write grown up things. It wasn't until he had a son that he saw how the picture of childhood presented in children’s books did not represent the world that many kids live in. Bear struggled with finding books with two dads and gender independent families. Ultimately, Bergman headed back to Kickstarter, this time with the idea of publishing a set of books to make it easier for parents. Bear hopes that his books will help children see that their stories and families are valid. He engages with the stories of his characters because he wants children to know that their experiences are full stories, not just special episodes.

You can check out the work of Bear’s publication company at
 Bear's personal website is

-Sharon Nicol '17

Monday, March 23, 2015

Brown Bag: Global Feminist Artivism

This week’s brown bag was in celebration of International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday, March 8, 2015. International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, was established in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in response to a march that occurred in 1908. During this march, over 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay, work hours, and voting rights. The brown bag featured Professor Cristina Serna from the Women Studies Department and Professor Ani Maitra from Film and Media Studies.
The first panelist, Professor Serna, started the brown bag with discussing artivism (artivismo), her research and experiences at Festival LesbianArte. Festival LesbianArte takes place in Mexico City and hosts a series of workshops, performances, and that functions to foster solidarity. Some of Professor Serna’s comments surrounded the spread of artivism in Latin America through social media and how the Festival LesbianArte interprets artivism. She shared a quote from the organizer’s that I thought was powerful: “art is the tool for social change and transformation, arte allows us to create spaces and faces, that are critical and emancipatory, that merge from our memories, reality and dreams. We profoundly believe that artivism opens and continues to open new paths for lesbians and feminism, in order to communicate our struggles and change our communities and societies.” Professor Serna also talked about translation within transnational activism, particularly how words and ideologies translate between languages, cultures, and location.
There have been many speakers on campus as of late, (Favianna Rodriguez, Aja Monet and Janet Mock) who have discussed the ways in which art can serve as transformations of silence and erasures, but what I started to contemplate after Professor Serna’s presentation, was how art can serve as translation. In thinking of how one can work across borders, physical and internal, art’s ability to connect to individuals across difference makes it an effective tool within social movements and social justice. In a lecture that Favianna Rodriguez gave during SORT’s Africana Women's Week, she expressed that art is crucial to equity. Culture shapes our minds, and inserting images, stories, narratives can create counternarratives that most of us our misinformed about and enact the political and systemic change that is needed.
Overall, the brown bag put a lot into perspective about what border feminism can look like, the role art and media have within transnational movements, and the ways in which we can enact change through artivism.

If you happened to miss the Brown Bag and would like to experience it for yourself, here is a link to the video: