Bossip asks if Essence Magazine is still relevant

To start: Good question.

I personally lost interest in Essence in the late-80’s when I read the article: “Is Kente Cloth Appropriate at Work?” For me (but not for many people) that was a serious turning point for a magazine that empowered Black women readers and inspired those same readers to aspire to something more than what the mainstream press was presenting to us.

I was one of those Essence babies whose mother read Essence Magazine. Their covers featured dark sisters with beautiful short ‘fros, caramel sisters with natural hair, and lighter sisters with blue eyes. Essence Magazine’s relevance was that it was an answer to the daily degradation Black women were being bombarded with all over the world. When the media was silent about Black women who were overwhelmingly victims of rape, abuse, and abduction, it was Essence Magazine that covered the issues. They were there to tell Black women about the growing risk of HIV contraction by Black women. They were also there to cover our sheroes and women who we would never have heard of if it were not for Essence.

Sadly, that focus has been shifted.

Bossip.com, a premiere Black gossip site that covers Black celebrities, rappers and athletes, recently posted an opinion piece that was sent to one of their editors. The piece was written by a man, namely Raynard Jackson from Washington, D.C.

His opinion piece was well articulated, timely and insightful. Though there are still many supporters of Essence who may disagree with his observations, he does bring up several points that beg for further discussion.

One observation states:

There were unique issues relevant to Black women that other publications were totally ignorant of. Black women could not wear the same makeup that white women could—there are differences in skin type. Black women have unique issues when it comes to styling their hair—there were no mainstream publications that dealt with these differences.

While he gives some background to the history of Essence Magazine, he’s also quite pointed in voicing some of his larger issues with the magazine, for example:

One of the speakers (at the Essence Music Festival) listed under “Empowerment” is “NeNe” Leakes. She is one of the main characters of the reality TV show, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta“…Leakes is a foul mouth, angry, nasty person on the show and from media accounts in real life also…What can they teach women about “empowerment?” Is this really the image of Black women Essence wants to promote?

In times past, Black women used to look forward to reading Essence Magazine for upliftment. That was then, this is now. Black women no longer have the Essence of their mother and grandmother… In Essence, there is no essence!

Whether you agree or disagree, the letter makes some valid arguments. Read the entire letter at Bossip.com

Psychology Today goes psycho

It’s been an ugly, ugly 48 hours, given the racist “study” conducted by Santoshi Kanazawa who concluded that Black women are “uglier” than other races –while contemplating the conundrum of why Black men are so dang handsome.

After reading bits and blurbs of his pseudo-psychological study,  I instinctively knew that this “study” was going to be on the same scientific level as the Nazi-era phrenology, that is, scientists who throw objectivity out the window and instead spend their careers trying to prove the inferiority (or superiority) of one “race” over another based on how “different” people look from white/European, blonde-haired, blue-eyed apexes of human beauty.

Screenshot of the removed article from Psychology Today

 

Chart of Phrenology

Chart of Phrenology

And, guess what? I was right.

The article outlined how evolution had basically made Black women “uglier” because they have more genetic mutations because we are the genetic “Eves” –and therefore, mothers– of the world. The article which was published on Monday received a flurry of backlash and blogger-lash, wherein, PsychologyToday.com, quickly changed the title to: “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

According to Kanazawa:

There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

Read the entire article here

Huh?

While refusing to admit wrongdoing in publishing a blatantly racist and sexist tome to the hideousness of Black female femininity, Psychology Today’s silence was interpreted as complicity. When Psychology Today couldn’t spin anymore re-titles, they decided to just shut down the article… and removed it.

An unapologetic Kanazawa has no remorse and his past articles have included such outcomes as all women are basically prostitutes.

Given that his peers have distanced themselves from him in the past –and continue to do so– it was irresponsible, unprofessional and questionable as to why his article was even posted.

As of May 18, 2011, PsychologyToday.com has posted a link to an article by Dr. Robert Kurzban titled, “Stopping Stereotyping and Prejudice“. However, the article seems more in defense of evolutionary psychologists and the field of evolutionary psychology rather than addressing the underlying racism attached to the article and the damage done to a group of people in the name of science.

Blacks, in particular, have a very sketchy history with the “scientific community” and there have been countless Black women whose bodies have been used, dissected, put on display, prodded, and probed, in the name of science.

In 19th-century France, South African Saartjie (pronounced Sart-key) Baartman was put on display at a natural history museum in France while the public probed and remarked at her naked, African shape as something “odd” and inhuman.

Ota Benga was a Congolese Mbuti “pygmy” who was paraded around at a human zoo while “scientists” marveled at whether or not he was human.

In the 20th-century there were more famous cases such as the Tuskegee Experiment where Black men in impoverished Macon County, Alabama, were knowingly injected with placebos as a part of a study to track the outcomes of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis. In exchange for their lives –and the lives of the people they continued to infect– the men received free burial insurance, “medical care,” and meals. They were never treated for syphilis.

There’s also the story of Henrietta Lacks who’s body was reportedly used as an experiment when it was discovered that her cells never died in a laboratory environment, wherein cells previously died outside of the body within 24 hours. Henrietta Lacks’ cells are now called HeLa cells and are used in every laboratory experiment calling for human cells. She died penniless and her family never knew that they’re mother/grandmother/great-grandmother was used in a scientific experiment until scientist and journalist Rebecca Skloot researched and wrote her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

There are more examples of how some scientists and some members of the scientific community use biased studies to shield their own racists beliefs beneath the cloak of objectivity and science.

As the public becomes more familiar with these tactics, there are some scientists who are combating these studies and questioning the validity of flawed studies from the past and present.

Psychology Today should use this incident as an opportunity to more closely examine their own ethics and to re-examine how studies are conducted and their validity.

References:

When did Mammy become an attorney?

Clutch Magazine reported that BigGovernment.com has produced yet another tasteless, and borderline racist cartoon –this time targeting the United States’ First Lady Michelle Obama.

It seems like the First Couple has been a thorn in conservative sides sense President Obama’s 2002 presidential run to become our 44th President of the United States.

Bucking the images that warm many conservative hearts –that is, Welfare Queens, criminal activity, etc.– the First Couple has been a sparkling reminder of the “good side” of contemporary, mutually-respecting married couples, and not the snapdragon, gum popping, eye-rolling, argumentative representations we’ve seen in American television, film, and media.

The cartoon was so offensive that talk show host Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC’s “The Last Word”, publicly decried on his show that he considered it a “racist obscenity”.

The cartoon history of parodying political figures is a long one and there have been numerous examples of mainstream racist and offensive imagery …during Jim Crow.

In the cartoon, First Lady Michelle Obama is drawn as overweight, darker (than her actual skin color), with neon pink lips, and smacking on  an enormous amount of food (a direct conflict of her policy on obesity).

So why are these images so familiar and hurtful?

During the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow-era, African Americans and the subjects of freeing enslaved people and formerly enslaved (and free) people-of-color being elected to public office, getting an education, marrying, and owning land, sparked violent reactions in whites who wanted to continue their idea of white supremacy. By removing obstacles that prevented African Americans from being subjugated, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the propaganda racist whites had been spreading was quickly being upended. The system of racially segregating recently freed African Americans  was called Jim Crow and operated between 1876 and 1965.

In order to justify the system, the media used negative, stereotyping imagery to undermine what little gains had been won after the Civil War. Also, up until the end of the end of the Civil War (1865), African Americans were still considered three-fifths of a human being:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Common images began to emerge including that of  the “sassy” fat mammy (who was the unflinching defender of white families and children).

Mammy was always presented as obese, dark, wearing a kerchief, and grinning through exaggerated pink or red lips. She was given a back-hand respect because of her role as a wet nurse, cook, and alternate “mother”; however, she was never given freedom or a purpose outside of white service.

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, “Mammy is the most well known and enduring racial caricature of African American women” (http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/).

Some conservative web-sites have picked up the mantle of Jim Crow imagery, not only disrespecting the Office of the Presidency, but de-humanizing the Obama family to the point where this pattern is no longer something to be ignored.

In 2009 an altered image of Michelle Obama appeared in Google search results, prompting Google to (finally) make the following statement:

Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google…The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results. Individual citizens and public interest groups do periodically urge us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Although Google reserves the right to address such requests individually, Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.

However, if the photo were not First Lady Obama would Google have gone to such lengths. I’ve personally contact Google when they were becoming the premiere search engine for the Internet and commented on the fact that search results for “Black women” or “African American women” included a majority of adult images and sites. Their response? Basically, that’s too bad, nobody’s complained. (I wish I had saved that response because it said so much about at least one person working there!)

Negative imagery of African Americans is unacceptable –no matter how much the images are wrapped in the guise of parody. Minstrels were parodies, too.

WTF…? Proenza Schouler’s 4-Minute Bizarre Ode to Black Girls

Fashion designer Proenza Schouler has presented a 4-minute commercial thinly disguised as a film called “Act da Fool.” (I kid you not.) The writer is Harmony Korine who wrote the controversial film “Kids” which starred actress Rosario Dawson. That doesn’t give him “street cred,” though…

Many designers have dabbled in film as art/commerce, but this one leaves has the potential to leave a very bad taste in one’s mouth. Narrated by an obviously southern (or southern-dialect laced) African American girl, the film dabbles in the murkiness of urban America. Listening to the film, I got the feeling that it was more of a southern, urban area. (Yes, I’m a dialect junkie, and the dialect sounds like southeast America.)

In a post-“Precious” world there’s a delicate balance between exploitation and stereotyping, and rawness and honesty. This film borders closer to the previous, not the latter. With such awe inspiring lines like: “Sometimes we act like animals,” I can’t help but to cringe because African Americans –especially women– were treated like chattel and bred, treated, and presented as animals and animal-like. Sadly, the first 3:30 minutes of the film are bizarre displays of how someone “thinks” young, African American girls act –and the thinly veiled reference to pedophilia is also disturbing. (When the sexual exploitation of young African American girls is discussed, the larger society [and to a certain extent, our own community] turns a blind eye –now we have a “fashion designer” exploiting it?) Just when you can’t take the film any further, yes, the last twenty seconds are beautiful and dreamlike.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Director Harmony Korine arrives at the AFI FEST screening of 'Trash Humpers' at the Chinese Theater on November 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

I still do not understand why film, television and media feel so comfortable presenting Black women and girls as “animals,” especially in regards to how –and who– controls the Black woman’s body and soul.

There are some who consider this film art. Sorry, but I don’t. (Then again, I couldn’t stand the film “Kids” or “Gummo” –both written by Harmony.) Nsenga Burton at The Root, wrote an insightful commentary about this same film, writes:

“It is exploitation masquerading as high art; its creators, in order to make themselves cool, misuse the very people — young people of color, girls in this instance — who inform and inspire the fashion industry.” (The Root, Act Da Fool’ Is Exploitation, 21st-Century Style)

Those who don’t critically-think about film or fashion will think this film is like a documentary –i.e., that’s really how “we” really think and act. (Let’s not even start with what other countries already think of African American girls.)

There’s a huge disconnect between historical context and daily life… that’s when things fall apart…

Below is the entire film. Take the poll and tell me what you think!

Minstrels are back… and they’re women!

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Is everyone in on the same joke? Apparently blackface –that degrading and demoralizing leftover of 19th century entertainment in America– is back.

FrVogue

If is wasn’t the recent Jackson 5 blackface “skit” by some of Australia’s medical elite on the hit show “Hey Hey It’s

Saturday,” it was fashion designer Carlos Diez’s ode to the minstrel on the catwalk. Well, apparently French Vogue

didn’t want to be left out of the fashion trend, and immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Online magazine Clutch (www.clutch.com) –and 2009 Tressie Award winner for Best Online Magazine– broke the fashion world wide-open by exposing French Vogue’s dirty little secret.

As most African Americans will tell you, there’s nothing cute, post-racially ironic, or nostalgic about blackface.

Maybe French Vogue thought it would spark a new trend to help whittle down the cosmetics industry’s over-stock of bronzer –who knows? Regardless, the increasing re-emergence of old racial stereotypes in the media is gaining steam, and the targeting of Black women is getting ridiculous. The sting of the fashion industry’s and French Vogue’s history dearth of Black models on the runway and in print is all too fresh.

In 2008, the passing of iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent brought a brief recollection of his commitment to featuring Black models in his shows and in print. Apparently, the French couldn’t wait until he passed. (Can you imagine the conference room at French Vogue, “He’s gone? Good! Bring on the blackface!!” …in French, of course.)

Interestingly enough, both Glamour and French Vogue are publications of Conde Nast. (Remember Glamour Magazine’s 2007 debacle that “Afro”-textured hair and braids are a “Don’t”? http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3710971&page=1&page=1)

So what’s the best way to address this issue? I have no problems in not buying French Vogue because I never bought them, anyway. (Sorry, I’m far from a Size 0.)

Check out the facts, first. The best way to start is to email or write to the magazine expressing your issue with their little layout. Chances are you’ll get a pat response from customer service. What works are letters in numbers. Recruit your family, friends and email lists, and have a standard –or suggested– letter prepared for them. (Most people hate writing. Do them and your cause a favor and write it for them.)

Also, check around to see if there’s a larger protest from an advocacy group, or anti-discrimination group. Join their letter writing campaign if they have one prepared.

Either way, most companies could care less about your opinion unless it means they’ll lose money or their reputation will be at risk. As Black people, are history, culture and person are not for sale… so stop letting people buy it.