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Janelle Monáe: Not For Male Consumption

The fact that a man tweeted what is captured below to Janelle Monáe once again reveals how some men really do not listen to women.

Many men, in general, cannot conceive of women existing for a purpose that is not male consumption, and in the case of Janelle Monáe, many Black men, specifically, really have no idea who she is. No matter how many times Black women have said that Janelle does not dress how she dresses to be “respectable” for Black men (nor to be used as a tool of respectability for misogynoir against other Black women not deemed “respectable”) nor does she dress how she dresses to make them thirst for her “hidden” sexiness, some ignore that message. Worse, they seem to ignore the things that she actually says about herself.

Janelle Monáe on why she dresses the way she does (especially in reference to when she wore tuxes quite a bit):

When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses and the girls I used to clean houses with used to always beg me to sing while we cleaned. I lived in a boarding house with five other girls and I would sell my $5 CD out of my room. My mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me worked at the post office, and my father was a trash man. They all wore a uniform and that’s why I wear my uniform to honor them. I have work to do. I have people to uplift. I have people to inspire. And today I wear my uniform proudly.

Janelle Monáe, ultimately rejecting respectability politics

My goal has always been to redefine what it means to be a woman, especially a Black woman, and when I did come into the industry, I didn’t see people dressing this way and I felt as though there was going to be some some pressure to look like somebody else. And, I’m into fashion and I just think the tuxedo is cool; it also is paying homage to the working class. My mother, her last occupation, she was a janitor. And my father worked at the Post Office. So I like to pay homage to them and continue on that legacy to help the community, through music. And so it just keeps me humbled, it keeps me grounded. But my goal is never to dress up because I don’t want to show skin but it is to say I’m in control of my body. And as women I think we should be in control of our body, whether we’re naked or whatever. But let that be your decision, not, ‘these are the standards, you are a woman, you need to do this.’

And the “too damn soulful” comment in that tweet? That’s that binary reference to the idea that “soulful” Black women exist to be “respectable” and “sexy” Black women exist to be “non-respectable” and clearly binary thinkers experience conflict when these lines aren’t treaded in a way they are used to consuming. This is something that I discussed in Respectability Politics ≠ Womanism/Black Feminism since Black men are not the only ones who confuse respectability politics for radical ones; some Black women do as well. (This same binary is used against Solange [”soulful”] and Beyoncé [”sexy”], for example.) Yeah, he apologized (for which I have zero cookies or awards to give; that low bar is not of interest to me, I’ll leave that to people who award “ally” cookies; I don’t bake), but misogynoir is misogynoir. He is not the first nor will he be the last to say something like this to her and it’s something Black women–non-famous and famous alike–have to deal with. In her new song “Yoga” she sings, “you cannot police me, so get off my areola. Get off my areola.” This is deliberate. Are men ever going to listen to what she says about herself? Or is trying to police her more important? She doesn’t exist to please them, at their will. They’ll deal.

The Death Of Tanisha Anderson: State Violence, Anti-Blackness and Ableism

Cleveland.com and newsnet5 reported that a 37 year old Black woman, Tanisha Anderson (photo below is from their story) was murdered by the police (head slammed to the ground and other physical violence). Tanisha apparently had diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, and needed care, not extrajudicial execution. State violence is not something that Black women are spared from (which I explained in The Erasure Of Black Women’s Experiences As Victims Of State Violence Is Unacceptable). Further, she is not the first Black person with physical or mental health issues that has been executed in the last few months. Eric Garner (asthma, could not breathe in illegal chokehold) and Ezell Ford/KajiemePowell (mental health issues) are among those killed by the police.

When Black bodies are viewed as both disposable (Epistemic Violence, Erasure and The Value Of Black Life) and superhuman (On Blackness and Perceptions of Able-Bodied PrivilegeRacist Myths About Black People As Inherently Able-Bodied and Neurotypical), simultaneously, there’s denial of our full humanity, denial of pain we feel, denial of help we made need, and people’s unwillingness to try to figure out solutions to help and preserve our lives, versus ending them. Myths of Black “superhuman” strength and physical ability are ableist. Myths of Black “subhuman” intelligence and “inherent” violent disposition are also ableist (in addition to necessary for White supremacist lies about “superior” White intelligence to be juxtaposed to). Ableism, in this context, is significant in terms of examining anti-Blackness. This idea that we both “deserve” harm and also “cannot really” be harmed is ableism and anti-Blackness, especially so for Black people with physical and/or mental health issues. 

This complicates for Black women because while viewing women as “delicate” involves sexist framing, that framing still implies humanity. This framing operates on the notion that White womanhood is true womanhood. This is denied Black women; both womanhood and humanity themselves. She was murdered in a way that Black men are; not considered someone worth protecting in a way that White women are. Thus, understanding how misogynoir impacts State violence on Black women really matters. Acknowledging the reality of State violence on Black women’s lives–and not just as a derailing tactic for the times when we speak on intraracial gender violence–really matters. 

Her brother stated that she was “more of a danger to herself than others.” This is the case with many mental health issues. However, because of the false notion that people with mental health issues are inherently violent, because of the lack of empathy (and it is socialized because of White supremacy) for Black bodies/lives (and it does not matter if token non-White officers are on police forces; again, structural violence can operate against Blackness even with individual non-White complicity; the origin/purpose of policing is enforcing anti-Blackness/protecting the State’s interests) and because of the specific way that Black women are dehumanized into objects who can’t feel pain/can’t be harmed/aren’t really women or human…her life is gone. A Black woman who needed help and was not under arrest is dead. Though individual circumstances differ when each killing like these occurs, the reality is they are not occurring in a bubble. There are no “isolated incidents” when it comes to Black bodies and the State. There never were. 

*updated after the fact; early reports spelled her name with an “e;” should be an “i.”

I Do Not Give A Fuck About Your Anti-Black Opinions...At All.

No. All “opinions” are not valuable. No “opinions” are neutral or accurate solely because they’re wrapped in clichés, benevolence, affirmations, platitudes or theism. 

Regardless of your own identity, if it is your “opinion” that racism and anti-Blackness “go both ways” then you are historically, structurally, statistically, and socially INACCURATE. Period. If it is your “opinion” that people simply need to believe that good things will happen and structural oppression will collapse, then you are historically, structurally, statistically, and socially INACCURATE. Period. If it is your “opinion” that anti-Blackness, racism and misogyny do not have a specific impact on Black women–misogynoir–and being transgender and dealing with transmisogyny as well does not specifically impact Black trans women–transmisogynoir–then you are historically, structurally, statistically, and socially INACCURATE. Period. If it is your “opinion” that Blackness does not impact specific experiences for Black LGBTQIA people and all Black people are heterosexual via compulsory application, then you are historically, structurally, statistically, and socially INACCURATE. Period. If it is your “opinion” that the dehumanization of Black bodies and execution of Black people are isolated incidents or is ok when conducted extrajudicially or via the State since Black people (like every other race) also have civilian intraracial crime, YOU ARE WRONG. FULL STOP.

That anyone White or non-Black–and even including some fellow Black people who are unfortunately either directly or indirectly affirming White supremacy–think their “debates” on Black humanity are valid is the epitome of anti-Blackness. Do you get it? Your “opinion” is not valuable when it stands juxtaposed to the survival of Black people. I do not have to “factor in” any “opinion” whatsoever if it stands in direct juxtaposition to the truth or obscures nuanced realities of Black life. I owe such “opinions” and people who have them literally nothing. I don’t have to have an “open mind” about whether or not my humanity exists as fact. It is not debatable in reality even as anti-Blackness means dehumanization as the price. I don’t have to have an “open mind” about whether or not I as a Black woman “benefit” from the “oppression” of Whites and whether anti-Blackness discourse should center non-Black people (or remove Blackness specificity for “people of colour” when at times that is inaccurate), because one doesn’t fucking exist and the other is wrong. Imaginary and wrong. 

I do not care about the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality people were raised with when anti-Black/bigoted/harmful and factually inaccurate things can be said but since anyone with the ability to speak can speak, all “opinions” are deemed “equally valuable.” They are not equally valuable. Lives are equally valuable (or should be; we see that Black life is not deemed valuable); “opinions” are not. Me respecting their “right” to an “opinion” is not the same as throwing confetti if their actual “opinion” creates false equalization between the oppressors and the oppressed, obscures history, denies the impact of structural oppression on Black people’s lives (and all of the self-esteem/“respectability” in the world will not protect us from extrajudicial or State violence), and involve theist platitudes. “Free speech” does not mean what people said is then automatically true and history and lived experiences can then be ignored. 

And rights to “opinions”…that’s very cute that people want to argue this when their “opinions” are harmful and I am concerned about the rights to Black people’s lives, the rights to grieve–which includes anger–and, the rights to humanity. Harmful “opinions” do not become less harmful just because people add a suit, a degree, some Bible verses, money, a media platform, fame, tons of online followers, pleas for respectability, or non-Blackness/Whiteness themselves. I don’t have to respect any “opinion” that obscures the truth about Black people or facilitates harm of Black people. I will not tolerate it regarding the extrajudicial execution of Michael Brown or literally any other topic involving Black lives. Simply because people choose to lie or happen to be ignorant does not make their “opinion” equal to those discussing the proven truths of Black life. 

I put “opinions” in quotes throughout this essay because for some reason, people seem to think “opinions” and facts exist on the same plane and their “opinion” can erase others’ lived experiences or noted histories. There is no “both sides” of an issue when one side is dehumanization–or facilities the dehumanization of Black people through the obscuring of history, the misapplication of structural power, the false equalization of oppressed and oppressor–and the other side is survival. 

Illustration of Pi Expanding Forever Closer to a Circle.

This is an illustration of an n-sided polygon with n=360 (or 360 right triangles that when you draw secant lines around the edge gives you an area equal to an n sided polygon with n=360). As n gets larger and approaches infinity the value approaches Pi forever because you are getting closer and closer to a circle for ever and as you fill in the edge of the circle (or it gets smoother as n gets larger). The area gets a little larger and the circumference get larger also as you add sides (as n grows larger), but the diameter stays the same. When you use secant lines (a line through two points on the edge of the ‘circle’ every one degree in this drawing) you are approaching Pi from the inside of the circle. This is the inner boundary of Pi. If you use tangent lines around the drawing (a line through only one point around the 'circle’) then as you add sides the value you get is larger than Pi but begins to get smaller and it approaches a Pi from the outside of the perimeter. This is the outer boundary of Pi. Then as the secant lines and tangent lines from the inner and outer boundary of Pi approach each other they trap Pi, or a shape forever getting smoother and smoother (a circle), forever between them.

Most interesting part is that perfect circles don’t exist. Illustration of Pi with 180 sides has big empty spaces on the edge of the circle, then when you look at this drawing with 360 sides you see that some of that empty space has been filled in so it is closer to a circle and then look at the drawing of Pi with 720 sides and you see that it fills in a little more of the space as it is even closer to a circle. So as you keep adding and adding sides and you get closer and closer to a circle forever but you never get all the way there. Just closer and closer forever. That is the beauty of Pi. 

The area of Pi with 180 sides is 3.141433159… When you have 360 sides like this drawing the area is 3.141552779… The area of the drawing of Pi with 720 sides is 3.141582685… So a reason Pi can never repeat itself is that each time you add sides to the 'circle’ you get a new and unique area and circumference. The can never find the 'end’ to Pi mathematically because you can add sides to a circle forever and get a larger and unique value as you forever approach an infinite number of sides.

They way Pi is calculated now is that they say let the number of sides to a n-sided polygon forever approach infinity and it is that diameter divided by its circumference that we will call Pi. The reason Pi can never end is because you can mathematically makes the sides to a 'circle’ smaller and smaller to infinity and the smaller the sides get the further the circumference gets. Your calculator says that x goes to infinity so no matter how many side the polygon has, Pi will always give you a value that is slightly too large. The only way you can avoid this problem with infinity is to apply the Planck length. The Planck length is the smallest observable distance. Once you have a circle where the sides are one Planck length the that may be the closest you can get to observing a perfect circle in our Universe.

“Why Aren’t People Talking About This Anymore?!” - Media Gimmicks and Hypervisibility Or Invisibility

“Why aren’t people talking about this anymore?!” = “We here working in mainstream media will pretend that we are the first to speak on an issue even though we fucking plagiarized women of colour on Tumblr and demonized women of colour on Twitter to get the content and hashtags that center around a topic that we pretend we invented discussing.”

“Why aren’t people talking about this anymore?!” = “Unless Black people, particularly Black Americans, have centered their energy, labor and livelihood on this issue about non-Black people of colour or Whites, then they’ve not done enough to earn humanity yet and we should continue to be anti-Black until they do. They owe us labor and activism and should center our whims over their own survival. However, once they are involved in such labor, we will consume, co-opt, appropriate, recenter ourselves, destroy and erase their labor. Oh and we will continue to conflate hypervisibility on Blackness due to anti-Blackness, with the actual structural power that aligns with Whiteness, cause that’s super fun and stuff.”

“Why aren’t people talking about this anymore?!” = “Black women owe us labor, period. We do not give a single goddamn fuck if a particular topic is personally triggering to them. If they have a follow count above 5,000 on any social media space, the dehumanization we already engage in via misogynoir and anti-Blackness will now amplify and they owe us fact production and discussion 24/7. And of course we carry these demands offline because they existed before social media did anyway. Fuck their feelings. Fuck their humanity. Where is our goddamn physical, intellectual and emotional labor?”

“Why aren’t people talking about this anymore?!” = “We ignore marginalized voices. Unless Whites, men, heterosexuals, cisgender people, able-bodied people, thin people, middle class and above people, people with status etc. have centered the topic, we cannot hear any other voices on it. It has no value until the privileged decide to respond.”

Why aren’t people talking about this (as in any social/structural issue) anymore? Maybe they are. Maybe some people are not listening. Maybe they are not. Maybe they are tired and barely surviving, and some people simply do not give a shit. Maybe those people sit around counting up labor hours of the oppressed versus ever holding the oppressors accountable. Maybe they’re media gimmick lovers who enjoy the hyperbole of “….that no one is talking about” headlines. Maybe these people are assholes with unreasonable demands. Could be that. Could just be. 

Related Link: #ThisTweetCalledMyBack

Related Posts: Epistemic Violence, Erasure and The Value Of Black Life, Anti-Blackness And The Myths Of “Monoracial Privilege” & The “White/Black Binary”Hypervisibility and Marginalization: Existing Online As A Black Woman and Writer

BlackOUT Collective's Powerful Statement Honoring Black Girls and Black Women’s Bodies and Lives

BlackOUT Collective of Oakland, California shut down the financial district of San Francisco, California with both a vulnerable and powerful display of Black women’s humanity and sisterhood. @blackoutcollect told me this is “an action addressing State-sanctioned violence against Black women and girls and addressing the commodification and disposable treatment of Black women’s bodies.” They shared many photographs and tweets (and I will share some of those) for today May 21, 2015 in this national day of action via Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100 and Ferguson Action. People are at one of 17 locations today speaking in truth, power and love, and people are online using this important hashtag, #SayHerName. BlackOUT Collective spoke in truth, power and love and commanded attention and acknowledgement.

@blackoutcollect also tweeted that it “took a lot for the women in this action to do this; this is about our own liberation too; even the journey to be comfortable in our bodies” and that “this is more than baring bodies; this is reclamation of tradition; enough is enough.” And while this may startle some people–Black women having full agency of when, how and for what reason to show their bodies and not to edify anyone’s consumption but to empower our own voices and shift hypervisibility from violence to verisimilitude–the reality is that any Gaze (whether White, male and/or respectability politics) more concerned with their bodies as objects and not as representative of persons and power, of love and life, of protest and persistence, have missed the message. Our bodies are ours. Our lives matter.

Black girls and Black women, especially Black trans women, face State violence; full stop. Not “too.” Face State violence; full stop. Black girls and Black women’s lives matter; full stop. Not “too.” Our lives matter, in of themselves. And even when Black trans women are killed by civilians at an alarming rate, (in addition to by the State)–most of whom these civiilians are rarely prosecuted, if even arrested–the State, the media (via post-mortem media violence) and society at large are culpable for transmisogyny, for misgendering, for criminalization and misogynoiristic stereotypes, for justification of their deaths and for erasure of their lives.

Say her name. Mya Hall. Rekia Boyd. Aiyana Jones. Islan Nettles. Miriam Carey. Tanisha Anderson. Yvette Smith. Shelly Frey. Malissa Williams. Darnisha Harris. Alesia Thomas. London Chanel. Shereese Francis. Lamia Beard. Tarika Wilson. Kathryn Johnston. Kendra James. Penny Proud. Alberta Spruill. Tyisha Miller. Martina Brown. Ahjah Dixon. Adaisha Miller. Anita Gay. And so many more….

BlackOUT Collective made a powerful statement today on the lives of Black girls and Black women. I am uplifted and inspired by this; even in the midst of pain there is love. They decried “who taught you to love yourselves?”/”Black women!” in call and response, speaking in a way resonant in Black cultural tradition. Powerful. Black girls and Black women matter. Black lives matter.

“Black women’s bodies have always been commodified. Today 10 Black women reclaim power and victory.” - BlackOUT Collective

Related Post: The Erasure Of Black Women’s Experiences As Victims Of State Violence Is Unacceptable