define: african-american

African-American [n/adj] – an ethnic group of Americans (citizens or residents of the United States) who are the descendants of enslaved Africans.

This will likely be the most controversial post in the define series, likely because there is no real consensus as to how the term African-American should be used. Depending on who you talk to and when you talk to them, the term is either readily used as an umbrella for Black people in the New World, which I will attempt to prove prejudicial, or that the term is a politically correct way of referring to Black people, which is also, in a way, incorrect. A search on Wiktionary will reveal that the word African-American is typically used to refer to people who are 1) American and black 2) Black 3) Black American, all of which ignore the history which slavery has played in creating our experience and solidifying our unique ethnic identity.

I was against the term African-American when I was younger because I saw something in that word to which I could not connect — Africa. To me, Africa was a mythical place, like Aztlan, from which my ancestors were pulled by the millions in order to cross the edge of the world to work on plantations in North and South Carolina. Africa, like most Americans believed, was a continent of wilderness and alleged savagery and I was pushed away from the concept, seeing my Americanness somehow as being a more reformed — perhaps even evolved — form of that which my ancestors once were. I used the word Black because of the political implications of such a word. It means ugly, hated, sickly and rotten; how apt a word to describe our condition as what seems to be the world’s most detested, mocked, and imitated people?

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album-photo d’un retour au pays ancestral

 

define: respectability

respectability [n] – the state or quality of being respectable; social standing, character and reputation deserving of respect and decent treatment.

So as I mentioned in Desire, I’ve been watching my sister’s panel show The Grapevine lately. Today they released the final part of their four-episode conversation on Bill Cosby, with this episode concerning the issue of Cosby’s infamous respectability politics. I have wanted to write a piece on this issue for a while now, but have been either too busy or too motivated by other projects to truly dedicate a couple of hours to put my thoughts down on the page. Now, after having my catalyst, I can lay my thoughts bare for the world to see.

The Pound Cake speech is but one facet of Bill Cosby’s long-lasting legacy. Renowned for his comedic genius, his prolific image and his philanthropy, Bill Cosby is without a doubt an important figure in African-American culture, regardless of his political leanings or recent sexual assault allegations. After having taught an episode of the Cosby Show to a class of sixteen-year-old high school students last summer to demonstrate how African-Americans have attempted to use media to demonstrate counter-narratives of the ways which White Americans imagine our existence, I for one must acknowledge how important Bill Cosby has been towards introducing Black faces into the white spaces of American media.

That aside, I am not obligated at all, as a Black person, as a fledgling scholar of Black studies or as someone who avidly consumes and analyzes Black media, to like or even agree with Bill Cosby’s politics or messages, and the Pound Cake speech is the reason why.

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here

A lot has happened in the past few months, and I haven’t really been talking about myself or my time abroad in this blog. Well, in my other blog. Last night I sort of hastily bought a domain and switched to WordPress. I wasn’t impressed with Tumblr, and thought that the social networking aspect of Tumblr would help to get my ideas out there, or to find other bloggers like me. I have realized that this is actually far harder than I thought. There is a certain kind of content on Tumblr which is popularized and shared and quite frankly I don’t produce that kind of content. So I moved to WordPress and hope that I do not regret the decision.

As you may know, I am in Dakar right now. I have only a month left here, and I’m quite honestly excited to be back in the United States. Being here has made me realize a lot about myself. 1) I am a fearful person 2) and that is okay. 3) We are not all the same and some of us take on life’s challenges differently than others 4) and that is okay. 5) We must listen to our bodies 6) but we must not be made into their prisoners.

I’ve been having stomach issues on and off for a year now. Conveniently, the issues began to get a lot worse just weeks before I left for Dakar.  I remember the taxi ride into Paris on my layover being especially traumatic because I was quite certain I was going to vomit in the taxi driver’s car. I luckily didn’t, but the shadow of my afflictions sort of ruined my time in Paris with my friend, and continue to affect my time here in Senegal.

These stomach issues have, however, brought me closer to God. I have always believed in a divine power, but have a hard time with the very concept of a God. I questioned how I could keep God in my life while also embracing science and reason, two things which we are raised — erroneously — to believe to be at odds with religion. I am still skeptical of organized religion, just as I am skeptical of the historical implications of the Bible, but as I have been dealing with these issues, I have discovered that having faith in God and in surrendering all of my worry, all of my fear, and all of my anguish to Him, I am able to focus more on what is essential, and that is, ultimately, his plan. I am perhaps too superstitious to rule out the existence of God, for I believe that all things are connected, and that there is someone watching over us, pulling the strings.

Senegal is a country of green, beige and blue. Dakar overlooks the ocean, and one can peer out over the water in the direction of the United States and the New World from the Old World’s westernmost point. Dakar is a modernizing city, and has all of the issues which modern Western cities must face. As I walk down the street to the University, past the busy avenues where thirty-year old taxis buzz to and fro, the smog which these cars produces makes my face itch and my nostrils burn. When a particularly old truck passes by a crowded bus stop, expelling a toxic cloud of fumes from its exhaust, the Senegalese pinch their noses and continue with their conversations.

I have been exploring the city more this past week, mostly because I have been in better health. I find that I need to take advantage of these bouts of wellness while I still can, before I get another spell of chronic nausea and intestinal unease, keeping me sequestered away and unwilling to go out and live my life. Every day last week I went somewhere new, and most of the times I went alone. I am often so fearful of being by myself in new environments, but find comfort in comfortable isolation. My friend’s words ring in my head every day I am here: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

March was good to me. Besides the abdominal cramping and doctor’s visits — which I had to pay out of pocket for — I received fellowship after fellowship, securing my spot at the University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill for the summer, as well as the prestigious Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. I had applied last year and was rejected, and felt completely defeated for several weeks. I for a second questions whether or not I wanted to continue on this path to academia, but after contemplation, I realized that the academy could benefit from my presence and my research, and that I have much to offer the world. With some refocusing and re-calibration — and much needed assistance from my now-fellow Mellons — I was able to get the fellowship and feel redeemed again.

I am ready to start my senior year of college and be back at Swarthmore, but I am also looking forward to meeting new people at UNC. I am trying to remain present in Dakar and to take advantage of what’s left of my time here, but between my independent research project, my thesis proposal and the preparations for my summer program, I have had a hard time remaining here. I am finding myself frequently distracted and turning inward and I’m not really sure why that is.

My French skills have improved, but not in the ways that I would have liked. It was foolish of me to expect that I would be fluent by the time I left Senegal, and while I am closer to fluency than I had been prior to arriving, I still feel as though my French skills have a long way to go before they reach a satisfactory level of “mastery.” Before I had a hard time hearing and understanding French, and this issue is long gone, although I still have moments where I confuse phrases and have my fair share of misunderstandings. I am perhaps less confident in my French speaking skills, but at the same time, I probably speak more fluidly and coherently than I did before.

The next few weeks will likely fly by, as did this one. Before I know it, I will be setting off for the airport, to say goodbye to this country for what may be a long time. I know that I will return one day, but I am just not sure when. When I do, I hope that I am in a better state — both physically and mentally — to take advantage of all Dakar has to offer, and then some.

desire

What you see is not always what you get. This is news to no one, so why is still such a problem?

The past few days I’ve been watching my sister’s show The Grapevine. It’s a one-of-a-kind program, offering a round-table discussion by Black millennials on popular issues in our society today. The topics vary from episode, and the panelists are as varied in their opinions as you can get. I do recommend that people watch the show, not only as a shameless plug for my sister and her production team, but also because shows like this, produced by and directed by Black people – especially Black women (!) – are important for future generations to see. Shows like this demonstrate that Black people are capable and quite willing to comment on popular culture, that it is okay to harbor opinions on the world around you, even if these opinions are unpopular, so long as you are willing to engage in a dialogue. There is only good which can come from unlike-minded people meeting together to discuss issues, coming to the table, hopefully, with the understanding that no opinion is completely right or completely wrong.

What I am going to talk about today will likely be the first of a long string of threads, spread out over time as I get my thoughts together on the messy topic of gender expression in general and masculinity / masculine culture in particular. This thread has as its impetus an episode of the Grapevine on Caitlin Jenner and the issue of transgender dating. The cast was somewhat split on the issue of when a transwoman should “reveal” their transness. One of the cast members – a cisgender man – found the idea of someone “masquerading” as someone else to be inherently offensive, especially someone whom the man found initially attractive.

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