11.09.2013

Black Female Voices Unite: Melissa Harris-Perry Chats with bell hooks

Friday at The New School in New York City, as part of their Black Female Voices series, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry sat down with famed feminist and writer bell hooks, and hosted one of the most crucial and brilliant public dialogues about the well-being of black women and the myriad of other pertinent topics.

Candid and with a few welcome straight no chaser moments, Dr. Harris-Perry deviated a bit from her MSNBC persona, and offered up some worthwhile fodder of her own, for folks to chew on.

There were so many profound sound bites and ‘Yaass!’ moments, I’ll just highlight those that stood out the most to me and I've noted…

bell hooks on the 'Angry Black Woman' stigma black women are saddled with (even when we aren't), and the lack of power black women have over our own representations: "I'm one of these black women that, if I'm angry, you're gonna know that I'm angry and I'm gonna own my anger. (...) I don't think that I'm difficult; I think that I'm exacting and precise."

hooks on the need for people to recognize the humanity of black children and people and to not laugh at black trauma and pain in films like 'Beasts of the Southern Wild': "I just can't take the image of another abused, black child being represented as entertainment. ... I'm hurting because we can't get past the construction of black children as little mini adults, whose innocence we don't have to protect; who we can consider 'cute' if they're being slapped around by an alcoholic father."

hooks also shared film critic, Armond White's disdain for Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which she considers to be 'sentimental claptrap': "I felt that it actually negated the black female voice; that [Patsey]was given a voice only insomuch as she gave expression to black male emotional feeling. ... I'm tired of the naked, raped, beaten black woman's body. I want to see an image of 'black femaleness' that alters our universe in some way."

bell hooks and Perry dismantling and making some really essential points about patriarchy. hooks added: "We are still in the construction of a world where people don't want to accept that it is patriarchy that is killing black men. That it is an imperialistic patriarchy that threatens the life of black men of all ages." [emphasis mine]

hooks vocalizing her displeasure with Sheryl Sandberg's brand of neoliberal feminism: "I am not interested in 'Lean In'. OK?"

hooks affirming the need for black women to protect their personhood and emotional well-being: “What does it mean to have optimal, emotional well-being? Because when you have optimal, emotional well-being, you can be whole; you can be the diversities of who ‘yourself’ is.”

Most poignant: food justice activist Tanya Fields bravely standing up during the Q & A  portion of the forum and talking about the mental impact and pain of being shamed by other black people. Melissa Harris-Perry was moved to leave her seat on-stage and, in a genuine show of solidarity, embraced Fields before discussing how intra-racial respectability politics and shaming (of poor, black single mothers especially) impedes community building and organizing: “The thing you're supposed to be ashamed of is being poor. That shaming is a defense mechanism to keep people from having to do the hard work of organizing. And it is the most dangerous thing in marginalized communities."

Former Hartford, CT and now NYC-based middle-school teacher Ebony Murphy-Root, asking about the exclusion of black female voices in education reform and the habit of black teachers being scapegoated for a culture of behavior they didn't create. To which MH-Perry suggested that the black female voice is the 'thing' the system is "seeking to destroy", which is why they're excluded from the table.

hooks challenging overuse of the word ‘ally’: I've actually been questioning this use of the word 'ally', because I think that if someone is standing on their own beliefs, and their own beliefs are anti-patriarchal, anti-sexist, they are not required to be anybody's ally. They are on their front-line in the same way that I'm on my front-line."

Indeed, the folks who got to see the conversation unfold in-person were lucky to experience it. However, and thankfully, it was live-streamed; so d
o yourselves a favor and watch the discussion in full, from beginning to end.
 

10 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post Tiff and the breakdown, watching the video now.

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    1. No prob. There were so many quotable gems from that dialogue.

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  2. Replies
    1. A few "amens" while we're at it.

      I'm tired of the naked, raped, beaten black woman's body. I want to see an image of 'black femaleness' that alters our universe in some way

      AMEN. Remember the wholly unnecessary beating and raping of Gina Ravera in friggin' Showgirls????

      I've actually been questioning this use of the word 'ally', because I think that if someone is standing on their own beliefs, and their own beliefs are anti-patriarchal, anti-sexist, they are not required to be anybody's ally. They are on their front-line in the same way that I'm on my front-line.

      For real. An ally is a fucking cheerleader. I dunno 'bout y'all, but I don't need no damn cheerleader.

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    2. And yes, regarding this whole 'ally' concept.

      I think 'ally' is another word for 'cookies'... as in, "Can I get a cookie for not being a detestable, racist, sexist jackhole'. And um, I refuse to constantly commend someone for acknowledging my damn humanity. Human personhood is a basic right, not a privilege I should have to beg for or stroke someone over the head for recognizing. I've a right to mine.

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  3. I think I watched this LiveStream at *least* 3 times. And that was just yesterday. *So* many 'praise dance' moments. When bell started talking about how it's imperialist patriarchy killing black men, (because you know how a segment of black people, men and women, will defend patriarchy til they're blue in the face, and claim how feminism is tearing the black community apart), I *lived*.

    Also, the stuff about intra-racial shaming and 'allyship', a concept I've grown to loathe... SO many 'yass' moments. This was one of the best public dialogues I've seen in a while.

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    1. (because you know how a segment of black people, men and women, will defend patriarchy til they're blue in the face, and claim how feminism is tearing the black community apart)

      *retches* 'Cause patriarchy has done soooooooooo much for black people thus far.

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    2. Exactly! Every time I hear about black boys and men going to prison, being killed or killing each other, so many people say its because of this racist society, although racism plays a huge part, an even bigger part is buying into the white man's version of masculinity and patriarchy. The whole men must dominate, men must control, women are inferior to men, that causes riff between black men and black women, at the expense of both.

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    3. And not just men dominating, but white men dominating.

      So again...you have to wonder whom the people think this patriarchy is benefiting. It ain't us!

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  4. "I felt that it actually negated the black female voice; that [Patsey]was given a voice only insomuch as she gave expression to black male emotional feeling...

    This.

    I cannot stand that. I see it far to often in movies and tv, especially those created by blacks, more specifically black males, and in real life. No matter how physically, emotionally, and or psychologically diminished a black women is, she is to ignore her own pain and hurt and deny her needs not just as a woman but as a human to tend to those of the black man. It's sickening to me. It's like our sole existence here is to assist everyone else in their struggle and never to achieve anything for ourselves. I think that's where "the anger","the attitude" "the aggression" comes from. The frustration of never having of our pain and hurt or our needs as humans being legitimized or even acknowledged just mocked or ignored.

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