Thursday, 23 June 2016

#GYMTW: On Black Women And The Capitalist System

Fuck You Pay Me

Critiques of black women and capitalism without first properly locating their position with the capitalist system are incomplete, disingenuous and pointless. Discussions about capitalism and who benefits from the existing social structure cannot be flat. They must be intersectional and take into account the varied ways in which capitalism affects people at different levels of society. Everyone is against capitalism when black women demand payment of the money that they worked for, but is happy to support from the ground up, policies and legislation that would funnel wealth back into the hands of the most wealthy.

The backlash to both Beyoncé's Formation and Rihanna's Bitch Better Have My Money indicate a racial bent in the opposition to the fair valuation of labour. In the video for BBHMM, Rihanna and her women of colour #goonsquad kidnap and torture the wealthy white female wife of a white man who is later revealed to be an accountant who stole Rihanna's money. At the end of the video, it is heavily implied that Rihanna dismembers and kills "The Bitch," as he is styled. Opposition to the imagery largely centered on violence enacted on the white woman as a means to harm the "true" culprit, the white man. What these critiques did not acknowledge was their implicit assumption that the white female character was not also complicit in the theft of Rihanna's wealth. But as Lauren Chief Elk points out in her work with Yeoshin Lourdes and Bardot Smith surrounding GYMTW:
"White women are the biggest beneficiaries of white men's historical wealth. When we begin to really dissect what pay inequality means we have to look at it intersectionally. When thinking about wealth redistribution it's important for white women to look at their position to women of color, and examine how for generations they have also exploited us and gained huge advantages off us."
Many people took issue with the line "I just might be the next Bill Gates in the making" in Beyoncé's Formation, citing it as a reflection of Beyoncé's desire to simply replicate systems of oppression through capitalism pioneered by white men. But a black woman possessing the kind of capital that Bill Gates does is so far and away from what the capitalist system imagined for itself as to be a mini-revolution in its own right. As far as I am concerned, wealth transfer to black women in a capitalist system is reparations.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Meditation, Anointing and Anger in Beyoncé's #Lemonade


There's very little that I can add to the conversation about Beyoncé's latest visual masterpiece, Lemonade. The pros, cons, dos and don'ts have already been talked to death, and all the best things have been said. But truthfully I'm more interested in how Lemonade makes me feel. I want to interrogate the reactions I had to what I consider to be one of the most profound pieces of work ever created by a black woman, both artistically and economically.

I watched Lemonade, end to end, on my own. I turned my phone off, silenced my notifications, and paid attention to the journey that Beyoncé had decided to take me on. I watched in awe as black women congregated and communed with each other as Beyoncé lay bear her own feelings and tapped into universal truths about existing both black and female. I cried as a Mardi Gras Indian blessed a dinner table full of empty chairs; places set for people who could never join the offering.

Much has been made of Becky with the good hair; an attempt by white women to find something recognizable to latch onto in a sea of womanhood both public and commercial, that for the first time, deliberately excludes them. But Becky is beside the point. Because the point is that Beyoncé sees us. Beyoncé sees and acknowledges black women and our struggles, and she centered her art around affirming our hurt, our pain, our suspicion and our betrayal. Beyoncé made an (another) album about being a black woman, and the pain and joy that it can entail.


Guiding us through the stages of grief, Beyoncé weaves a story of pain, heartbreak and most of all anger, that is all too familiar to black women. Routinely, we are labelled as crazy or unpredictable without acknowledgement of the abuse that warranted that reaction. We are betrayed and told his infidelity is our sin to bear, we're mocked for our attempts to become the women the world holds in high esteem. Lemonade explores the blatant lies and half-truths that black women are forced to swallow and the pathology we are cursed to bear. But most importantly it justifies the delicious destruction born of righteous and justified anger. It allows our anger, ever stymied, always dismissed, to bubble over, froth and foment, and acknowledges it as a valid reaction to repeated abuse. As Ijeoma Oluo writes in the Guardian:

This expectation of black women to suffer in silence is passed from generation to generation. Beyoncé explores this inheritance unflinchingly: "You remind me of my father - a magician, able to exist in two places at once/In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me."

And it is this inheritance that Beyoncé rejects throughout Lemonade. She refuses to suffer in silence, and instead delves deep into the hurt and betrayal that has rended her life and her love apart, and encourages us all to do the same. She rips our generational burden to shreds and sets herself and us, on a path to redemption through shared communion. The hurt she explores here is real and familiar; an old prophecy passed from mother to daughter and back again, repeated ad infinitum until it fulfills itself. It is a battle we prepare for from the moment we are old enough to distinguish our blackness.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Navigating The Fog: Self-Care Tips For Depressive Souls


Generally speaking, I try not to publish anything too personal here. Partly for security reasons, but mostly because twitter is where I go when I want to whine online and I try to leave this space for my criticism. But the last couple weeks have been tough for me and I'm finally on the other side of a mild depressive episode. I don't think I've ever just said it in public before, but I suffer from depression and anxiety and have on and off since I was about 14. It's not something I like talking about because mental-health stigma is real, and people can be less than compassionate about what they see as an unreasonable perpetual sadness.

For me, it's like a fog. I often don't realize it's happening until I'm in the thick of it, by which time it's too late, because I've already become useless to myself. Episodes last anywhere between a couple days to a couples weeks, but really bad ones have spanned months. I didn't graduate college on time because I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed or leave my room for much of senior year, and I flunked a class for non-attendance. This shit has consequences.

I'm not on medication because I'm afraid to ask for it, and I'm not in therapy because I can't afford it. It's something I largely deal with on my own because I have to; I have opened up to people in the past and it hasn't always gone well for me. That said, over time I've figure out a variety of coping mechanisms that help me manage. Essentially, the key is to do as much as humanly possible when you're feeling well to cut down on the daily decision making process. This way, when the fog hits, you can safely reach your hands out blindly and trust that whatever you grasp will help you keep going. The following habits haven't fixed me, but they have helped me feel less overwhelmed.