Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman?

         Recently, NYTimes TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote an incredibly condescending and problematic piece on producer wonder woman Shonda Rhimes, creator of nighttime dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, How to Get Away with Murder, and of course, Scandal. When I first came across Stanley’s feature, I was initially excited to learn more about Rhimes because I believe her to be a creative genius. Unfortunately, the article fell really short at capturing Rhimes as a creative and a producer. According to Stanley, Shonda Rhimes has mastered the art of portraying the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman.  With an opening line like, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman,” I was quickly disappointed. What I found upsetting about this piece, in addition to the blatant racism and perpetuation of Eurocentric ideals of beauty, was just how little research seemed to have gone into it. A cursory Wikipedia search on Rhimes shows just how complex and diverse her storylines and characters have been. To say that Rhimes has perfected the trope of the Angry Black Woman is lazy. 
          As much as has been blogged, tweeted, and said about what the character Olivia Pope does or does not do for the image of black women, it’s impossible not to recognize Rhimes’ body of work as revolutionary and admirable.  She’s changed the face of nighttime television by creating shows with characters that resonate with millions of loyal viewers. Grey’s premiered in 2005 and is now in its 11th season. It seems silly to say, but Grey’s Anatomy was an important part of my foray into adult womanhood. I saw a lot of traits in her lead characters (Cristina Yang , Meredith Grey,  Miranda Bailey), which I wanted to emulate. Despite the improbable story arcs and histrionics, it’s become an important part of our television culture.
          I think to write about Rhimes and what she has done for television without discussing the ways which she have subverted stereotypes and redefined what women can do and look like is, again, is to miss an opportunity to have a conversation not based on stereotypes. Stanley’s article has received a lot of criticism for describing Viola Davis’ character in How to Get Away with Murder as, “At 49, Annalise is sexual even sexy, in a slightly menacing way and is older, darker skinned, and less classically beautiful than Kerry Washington or Halle Berry.” I guess my question for Stanley is, how exactly is having a multidimensional black woman who is older and not of lighter complexion, a replication of the stereotypes which she talks about? Is this not exactly the opposite?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On Conversations Surrounding the Humanitarian Crisis at the Mexico/U.S Border

                  One of the biggest new stories from this summer was on the influx of more than 59,000 Central American unaccompanied crossing the U.S/Mexico border. This new story was widely reported national news sources such as NPR, NYTimes, Time, etc. According to the United Nations High Comission on Refugees, nearly 60% of refugees say that they are fleeing violence in their home countries. I recently came across a statistic from Amnesty International which states that an estimated 60% of all Central American girls crossing the U.S/Mexico border report having been assaulted en route. This is a staggering statistic because not only because of the traumatic effects which being sexually assaulted wreaks havoc on a person physically and emotionally, but because it illuminates the urgency of the circumstance which these children are fleeing. Rape and sexual assault are the realities which they are met, I think this is evidence that no child would choose to deal with such atrocities, an argument have been made by some political pundits.
It seems as if this is now a salient topic of conversation because it can no longer be ignored. For a long time, the U.S has had a fraught relationship with Latin American countries as it relates to immigration rights and citizenship. As a naturalized American citizen, the topic of immigration policy is one which is very important to me because it’s not just policy; immigration effects the lived realities of my aunts, cousins, and nieces and nephews.  Although Haitian immigration policy is a topic which warrants its own analysis, I think it’s important to not look at immigration policy as being ahistorical. Critiquing the neoliberal effects of American foreign policy, specifically U.S intervention in Latin and Central American wars in the 20th century is something that is not done enough outside of the world of academia. For example, of the many op-eds and columns which I’ve read on this topic, very view delve into this history and how it’s affected the current economic  policies of these countries. It seems backwards to aim to fix a problem of which the causes are not examined.  I don’t think there is one answer to resolving this issue but I do think whatever proposed solutions being created should be looked at with a sober understanding of how U.S foreign policy has shaped the lived realities of these Central American children in the 21st century.
On a more cynical note, I can’t help but think that the upcoming Senate elections this November and presidential election in 2016 is coloring the ways in which politicians are choosing to respond to this topic. The Latino voting bloc is a large and continues to grow. According to the Pew Research poll,    where politicians choose to situate themselves on this topic will likely have a great effect on election outcomes. I understand that immigration and human rights abuses such as rape are not ‘sexy’ topics of conversation but nonetheless, the national conversation needs to be expanded so that the experiences of these people can be better understood. I think in doing so, we can have a more sympathetic and full view of the effects of immigration on the lived experiences of people every day.  


Thursday, September 18, 2014

American Promise

On September 16, Michéle Stephenson, film maker and former rights attorney, discussed her documentary American Promise.

The documentary explores the experiences of two boys of color in their pursuit of a "good" education. Michéle Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster followed their son Idris and his best friend, Seun, for thirteen years as they navigated their way through Dalton School, one of the most prestigious, and predominantly white private schools located in New York City. American Promise complicates and engages how issues of race and meritocracy shaped the trajectory of each boy from preparatory school to graduation.

Prior to the screening I was able to sit down with Stephenson along with a few students, staff, and faculty members and students to discuss the film over lunch. Stephenson started the conversation by asking us to contextualize Colgate for her. Most of our comments were centered on Colgate's racial climate and how issues of race are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, weaved throughout our courses and social interactions. Through that conversation we were able to highlight some of the issues students of color face attending an institution like Colgate University.

After watching the film and listening to Stephenson's Q&A, I found the parallels between Dalton and Colgate apparent and applicable to addressing issues of race on campus. Dalton and Colgate are both predominantly white institutions that are filled with racial bias and micro aggressions that are pertinent to address.

While the film was great and expressed how race remains a pertinent issue, I found the lack of intersectionality throughout the film made it limiting. During the Q&A, a student asked how young girls navigated preparatory schools like Dalton. Stephenson expressed that while academically they perform well, there are other ways in which these issues effect young girls of color which I wish was explored more. I also found that class wasn't addressed throughout the film. As a family that belongs to middle class, how boys of color navigate schools such as Dalton or Colgate differ from boys of color belonging to the lower class.

- Natasha Torres

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

WMST Brown Bag: Colgate At MichFest

On Tuesday, for Brown Bag “Colgate at Michfest", Panelists Prof. Meika Loe, Prof. Mary Simonson and students Susan Miller ‘16 and Sarah Wooton ’15 spoke about their personal experiences attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this summer. 
Sarah Wooton started the Brown Bag explaining to the crowd about the big controversy in this year’s MichFest in particular: whether or not to let trans women attend the festival. While the issue caught a lot of press over the summer having been debated vigorously for years, it has yet to come to a resolution. On the one hand, some people argue that the “safe” nature of the space for women-born women can be threatened by the presence of trans women, especially ones who have not “fully transitioned.” On the other, the festival is seen as an inclusive space, trusting and accepting of all women. One of the arguments Sarah explained, made by some of the women in the latter group: giving into the huge pressure to transition that trans women receive might be considered a sign of giving into the patriarchy itself, was something I had never heard or considered before. However, it does not seem fair, to me, that a group that already deals with so much oppression, hate crimes and pain on a daily basis be subject to more punishment for not being radical enough. Especially to strip them of one of the few safe spaces that is supposedly welcome and available to all women is almost absurd.
Susan Miller, who had been to the festival twice before, talked about how she has seen it change and how she has seen herself change, especially in trying new things in the festival. Prof. Simonson then talked about her experience helping in the kitchen with its high standard for safety and hygiene protocols, even for a festival that gathers 9,000 attendees! Finally, Prof. Loe shed light on her attendance as a mom—going to the festival with her 7 year old daughter Levi. She was amazed at the “full spectrum of gender play” and its acceptance in the festival. Coming in as a Women’s Studies professor, she revelled on how it was almost an idealized space to her—this level of lack of judgment, and total liberation of expression and motion. Being there with her young daughter, who got to see such radical expressions—everything from people with beards to people in costumes and everything in between—and grew to appreciate it, and who Prof. Loe was able to just let wander and trust to a group of individuals she’d never met before to watch over, was to her, like no other. “Only in Michigan Womyn’s Festival,” she said. 

The festival, almost 40 years old and with humble roots of establishment by a 19 year old Lisa Vogel, enjoys a level of prestige and popularity that is quite astounding. While the future of the festival is still in question given declining revenues from music shows and the controversies surrounding it, it is one of the few spaces women today and in the past have had that is just for them, accepts them and indeed, celebrates them. This is especially meaningful and significant for traditionally marginalised slices within the woman demographic, including the trans population. Thus, to many regular attendees (and our panelists seem to agree!) MichFest means "home.”

-Liza Paudel