Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You ma brown skin, girl (literally): On Chris Brown's Ink

I still don't have words for Chris Brown's tattoo. I was furious, saddened, and a little scared when I first saw it and realized it was real. The most I could muster up yesterday was "fuck you Chris Brown and the misogynist culture that perpetuates and enables this shit" (um, that's what I posted on my Facebook page). And that's still pretty much how I feel right now. And I do mean misogyny, i.e. the hatred of women.  

Side Note: Look what happens when you google misogyny:

That's right. You type in misogyny and "Misogyny in hip hop culture" is one of the first things you see. Like we invented the shit. And this is how it is interpreted. It's how I responded to it. Like Chris Brown somehow acts alone. That we don't live in a culture that judges, ridicules, dismisses and yes, hates women. We've seen this played out in the rise of the Republican party, particularly in the last year--Sandra Fluke, representative Lisa Brown in Michigan, and the introduction of transvaginal ultrasounds in Virgina. And then the focus of both parties on motherhood and the importance of that job at both political conventions. In other words, as Jenny Allen fabulously points out, if you are not a mother, are not on your way to being a mother, are not interested in being a mother then what the fuck are you? Bitch.

How do we separate Chris Brown out from that? From those actions. From that sentiment? Granted, if I give Chris Brown much thought--and sometimes I do, really focus on the anger that Chris Brown often, if not always, performs, and I become angry. I don't like his music. I'm appalled that he has had any hit records (not surprised) after he beat Rihanna three years ago. That we are bombarded with photos of the two of them kissing at the VMAs a few days ago, making music together over the summer and on and on. No, I don't like Chris Brown. I don't understand him, his actions, the celebrity culture that enables him and his behavior.

But I don't pretend that he acts alone or that his actions are solely individual ones.

Someone could and probably will argue that none of the things I've mentioned so far or will recount in the next paragraph are as terrible as domestic violence, actually mentally and physically abusing a woman. Maybe. Maybe. But, his actions, whether it's screaming at a fellow artist, tattooing his neck in homage to a Sugar Skull/Day of the Dead MAC cosmetics image which does, eerily, look like an abused woman (yes, I heard this too), or tearing up his dressing room on a morning television talk show (with my beloved Robin Roberts!)...his actions are not separate from the woman-hating culture that I walk in everyday. And I mean everyday.

And, as I've mentioned before, I am surrounded by people that I love and respect, on a regular basis.

But, whenever I step outside of that love, that circle, which is everyday--at work, at the DMV, on the street, at the gentrified grocery store (these are just the places I've been this week), I am often treated with less than respect. I'm Black, a woman, sometimes read as queer and I look like I look: light skinned, freckles, dressed like a person of my generation--which at my university sometimes means that I look much younger than other professors (even though I may not be). And I'm treated, apparently, like others think a young freckled face Black woman with a natural should be treated. Here are some highlights: first day of class and a young, African American man that I have never met shares his experience working with youth and says, "You know they are doing things that I never did when I was their, excuse my language, eat pussy." First. day. Next day: meeting with colleagues on campus to talk about my department (I am acting chair this semester, so I'm meeting a lot of new folks), all are more senior than I am and, at one point, an older, white man I haven't met before says something about another female colleague who is older and more senior than he is and he refers to her as a girl, twice. Girl. Like emphasis on the g. Another day: I'm looking into buying a new computer and, after I say exactly what I want, the male sales person winks at me and says "Sure, but maybe you should consider this computer (a different brand) it's better and you can do all the work you want to do on it." Another wink. Not the computer I asked for. Not the computer I researched for months beforehand. And I'm not mad at the individual men I've pointed to here, really. These are just daily recounts of the last two weeks. I have others.  I'll have more the next time I post. And it may not be a big deal to folks. I can work through these things, I do. And I don't mean to literally compare them to the bruises, broken bones, and memories worked onto the bodies of women who have been abused.  But living in a culture that communicates the hatred of and disregard for women in these small, sometimes subtle ways leaves me feeling bruised, traumatized, and broken.

You know, the little. daily. constant. things.

So how do we separate the images of Chris Brown's neck out from the everyday? How do we respond when this is the thing that we're supposed to respond to? To muster up the energy to dialogue about? To write about and be outraged about? No, really how? I'm asking. How do we respond to this, this one thing?

Somehow, the first thing I did after having an afternoon conversation about it was to come home and  pick up June Jordan's Some of Us Did Not Die. I had heard her voice earlier in the day on my daily radio listen (KPFA!) on my way to work. The first line I saw when I opened it, "Where is the Love," almost instantly confirmed who I am and how I want to be. In her words,  

"I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black. It means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect. It means that I must everlastingly seek to cleanse myself of the hatred and the contempt that surrounds and permeates my identity, as a woman, and as a Black human being, in this particular world of ours. It means that the achievement of self-love and self-respect will require inordinate, hourly vigilance, and that I am entering my soul into a struggle that will most certainly transform the experience of all the peoples of the earth, as no other movement can, in fact, hope to claim" (Jordan 2002: 270).

So, yeah. Some of us did not die. And will not die over this daily shit.

Oddly, the words I think I can now say about Chris Brown's tattoo (and to the media industrial complex that simultaneously celebrates and enables him as they point out his failings) are words that I say often on this blog: thank you. Thank you for forcing me to turn inward. To focus on what has always made me strong enough to walk these streets. And to pay attention again to the shit that I can so often take very personally and make it political once again. 

Until tomorrow....