I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery. …
I insist that the irrelevance of black life has been drilled into this country since its infancy, and shall not be extricated through the latest innovations in Negro Finishing School. I insist that racism is our heritage, that Thomas Jefferson’s genius is no more important than his plundering of the body of Sally Hemmings, that George Washington’s abdication is no more significant than his wild pursuit of Oney Judge. I insist that the G.I Bill’s accolades are inseparable from its racist heritage. I will not respect the lie. I insist that racism must be properly understood as an Intelligence, as a sentience, as a default setting to which, likely until the end of our days, we unerringly return.
In fairness to Florida, it’s not as if this—white fear as an adjudicating factor for black life—is a new thing. It’s the force behind the lynching epidemic of the early 20th century, the racial terrorism of the 1920s, and the economic assaults—riots and redlining—of the post-war period. And for all of the real problems of the current moment, there was a belief that we had put that behind us. Which is one reason why this case is so jarring. No, “Stand Your Ground” isn’t as egregious as the worst of Jim Crow, but there’s no denying that it harkens to a time when you could shoot first and never ask questions, as long as the victim was a black person.
I think I speak for many black people when I say that’s terrifying.
Somehow, amazingly, I got the chance to sit with them in a studio at the day-job to talk about all of this. You can hear the segment that aired on Morning Edition here. And you can hear the longer version of my conversation with TNC and Jam-rock below. (Some choice stuff — Jamelle talking about Tony Judt and postwar Europe’s response to their racial atrocities, and a long aside about the practicality of reparations — got excised. ) This isn’t a PB podcast — one’s coming soon! — although I wish it were.
“And just who are we related to?” the dog-walking stranger said, her eyes on the blond, blue-eyed 5-year-old in the pair, but her query very much meant for the brown woman – that is, me. I returned her cutesy tone, explaining that my playmate was my fiancé’s niece, and weren’t we having fun outside?
My mind wandered to this encounter often in the weeks leading up to my wedding date: Who knew how “white” or “black” our kids would look, and did I really want to add to the potential questions by keeping my surname, as I’d planned? Married and divorced by age 24, I knew the name-changing hassles well – and this was before I’d had any career to speak of, bought property, or written under a byline. Now, verging on 30, I was suddenly unsure. There were plenty of mixed-race couples among my friends, and their horror stories – from routine “are you the nanny?” incidents to confusion at hospitals and schools – made me think perhaps eliminating at least some drama was worth the reams of paperwork.
Of course, women have been agonizing over this choice since the trailblazing decision of abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone to keep her name in 1855. In a not-so-happy twist, she found herself disenfranchised by her choice when voting officials rejected her enrollment under her “maiden” name instead of her husband’s, even though he fully supported her decision. We 21st century women have it much easier, to say the least, but the trend stories have many different things to say about the end result.
A small sampling: After steady increases, the percentage of women keeping their names after marriage peaked in the 1990s at about 1 in 5 women, researchers proclaimed in 2009, and has since been declining. No, wait: More women are keeping their names, after all, according to a Facebook study from last year that was widely reported but far from scientific. And in the stating-the-obvious category, a 2010 report found that older brides were more likely to keep their names – what with those long résumés and kids from past marriages – and that more religious women were more likely to take their husbands’ names.
For me, a decision that had been so certain became a serious quandary. Once the mixed-baby question reopened the case, the subtle, self-induced pressures of feminism and my own (competing) romantic notions tipped me into a near-constant feedback loop right up to our wedding day. All the while, to his credit, my husband-to-be remained his easygoing, progressive self: Your call, babe – I just want to marry you.
Reader, I took his name. And two years later, when I gave birth to a pink, blue-eyed baby, I was glad to have it. Lucky for me, the kid’s eyes were brown by the time we left the hospital, and age has given him a nice “perma-tan.” More than two years in, I can’t easily recall the last time some stranger found a not-so-subtle way to ask if he was my child.
Still, it’s nice to hand over health insurance cards with matching last names, to go through airport security without an awkward examination of our passports. I have plenty of occasions to remind myself just how nice it is, in fact, when I’m haggling with a utility that still has my maiden name on file, or a doctor’s office, or a credit agency, or a drugstore …
Have you ever gotten a Brazilian wax before? Tracy hadn’t either — until last month. She and Nichole compared notes on the proper etiquette/pros and cons of having the hair violently ripped from one’s precious genitals.
In a recent Jacobin article (reworked at Slate), Miya Tokumitsu argues that we should stop saying “do what you love,” (DWYL) because it “devalues actual work” and dehumanizes workers. Tokumitsu writes,
By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.
While Tokumitsu makes some great points, the article seems to miss the mark. The problem isn’t that a few smug elites (or idealistic moms) suggest doing what you love. DWYL is a saying; it doesn’t create the conditions for unpaid and low-wage labor, or any labor at all. The problem is that work has acquired a larger-than-life status, and — at least in the US — we’ve become committed to work as our life’s activity to the point that questions like why money is distributed how it is, or why the workweek is as long as it is are pretty much off the table. The problem isn’t DWYL (because we should, indeed, strive to do what we love with our time even if not as a job), but the problem is precisely that our attachment to the institution of work makes it so that people can’t do what they love, ever, even for a few hours a week, and they don’t have the time or resources to think about what they might love because their very livelihood is synonymous with something we call “work.”
Taken this way, our target of criticism is not a mostly innocuous phrase, or even the supposed ideology behind it, but rather the very institution of work that Tokumitsu seems unconcerned to interrogate. After all, it’s not as though the Steve Jobsian work ethic is the only one that’s problematic; our overall fetishization of “hard work” and the hugely popular Protestant work ethic that drives our economy, culture, and lifestyles is just as troublesome. This issue goes beyond fair compensation and leisure time and calls for reevaluating the way that we organize life around work over all else. Why is paid work our primary life activity, and why are we content to keep it that way? Even progressive views like Tokumitsu’s tend to take for granted and passively affirm compulsory wage labor as our dominant social and economic relation.
There must be a way to address employment conditions and demand that they improve now while also actively engaging the possibility and desirability of a postwork future. This is imperative not only because human experience should be about living creatively, building relationships, and, frankly, enjoying ourselves, but also because we have an empirical problem of permanent surplus labor. That is, too many people are competing for too few jobs just to get by; hence, the perpetual existence of an unemployed, or wageless, part of the US population. Combating this issue can’t simply mean fairer wages or “job creation,” but must entail a commitment to transforming society in ways that eliminate people’s dependence on the availability of wage labor and ensure that everyone has enough to do — and to discover — what they love.
The premise is easy to understand. Individual people of color—and especially women—can’t make mistakes without it saying something about their class. When Richard Sherman makes a post-game outburst, for instance, the reaction goes beyond him, and becomes an indictment of *black people*. When you apply this standard to a white person—like Justin Bieber, for instance—it sounds absurd, which is the joke. It *is* absurd, and racism (or sexism) is the only reason anyone would say something similar about a woman or a minority. The people in my immediate Twitter circle got this, and retweeted the joke. But as it spread through various timelines, it lost its context and attracted the anger of internet racists. For example:
@jbouie No Jamelle just the Girlemen Democrats and Liberals .. Bieber is Obama’s pajama boy. The Hollywood Commies own this clown.
Whether they realize it or not, these people are trying to protect the “value” of white racial identity by casting Bieber from the fold. He *can’t* reflect badly on white people because he just isn’t white, and whiteness[^1] can’t fail, *it can only be failed*.
And how does one fail “whiteness?” By associating with black people, or adopting their perceived behavior. To wit:
@jbouie Actually, he is beneath notice.A spoiled child trying to prove he’s grown up by hanging with the rappers, smoking, drinking,drugging
I got into a disagreement today with some Grown Black Folks over this anti-sagging picture. A facebook friend of mine whom I don’t know at all posted this image, and though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, I couldn’t let it slide without saying something – partially for fear that if I didn’t say something, no one in his circle would. I expressed my discomfort with the image, noting its implication that sagging is bad because sagging is gay. To which he responded, it implies that those who created the fad were convicts who wanted to signal they were sexually available. To which I asked why that information would discourage me from sagging. To which he replied that if I was okay “copying convicts who are looking for sex with other convicts” then it wouldn’t. For him, however, that’s discouragement enough.
Beyond the question of whether the historical claim is even accurate, this little piece of propaganda is wrong on so many levels. For one, it implies that something is wrong with incarcerated people. Because people in “jail” doing whatever they may do is somehow worse than people outside of “jail” doing those same things. It also implies that receiving anal penetration is something to be ashamed of. Though the ad manages to avoid using pronouns, it seems clear to me that it is directed at men and refers to men in “jail.” Hence, it’s not only that anal penetration is wrong and doubly wrong in jail but also, it’s worse to be the “bottom.” And not only is it worse to be the bottom but it’s also, perhaps separately, wrong to let others know you are available for sex. Is it just me or do none of these implications make sense? Why is letting people know you are available for sex a bad thing? Should we not want sex? Or should we only seek it in private with people we already know? Is anal penetration, like, wrong? Or only when cismen are penetrated by the biopenises of other cismen? I mean, seriously. Shouldn’t the concern be that people are making safer sex choices with those who also want to? Or am I missing something?
As for sagging itself – which this image is only mildly about – I have yet to hear a convincing argument against it. Is there even a way to think about sagging in the US outside of the context of respectability politics? What, exactly, is the matter with it besides the problematic, racially-charged stigma people attach to it? Or is the stigma itself the problem people want to avoid?