A final, fantastic Geekqualitycross-posting written by Moxie Munroe. Thanks again to everyone over at our cherished sister blog for their thoughtful contributions and ongoing inspiration. We love you! Keep up the empowering, nourishing work. ~Mer
It’s a widely accepted idea that music, like fashion, social movements, and menstruation, runs in cycles. Sometimes this theory runs less true than others, but right now I think it’s pretty applicable. Because right now, in the year of our Lord 2012, three things are making a huge media comeback: feminism, babydoll dresses, and female [presenting] emcees. This is important on several different levels, one being that the rise of the female emcee in 2012, and the performance styles they’ve adopted, gives us the chance to have some real conversations about race, class, and presentation in the role of third wave feminism.
You might say, “But Moxie, this is a blog for geeks by geeks! What does this have to do with my geek culture?” And I might answer, “Well, you beautiful newborn baby, geek culture is fringe culture, just like this is fringe culture. Music geeks are geeks too, and music geeks encompass a wider berth than just Flaming Lips fans, so get over it – hip-hop geeks need some shine too, and the issues we’re dealing with here are the same issues we deal with when we talk about representation of women of color in media in general, including comics, so double get over it, zip your lips and listen up, sporty.” And you might say, “Moxie, that’s mean!” And I might say “I don’t care!” So let’s continue.
Third wave feminism, is Now feminism; it’s pop feminism; some people might identify it as “girl power” Spice Girls feminism. It’s important, because this particular wave allows us to focus on things like sexual progressiveness and agency as it exists within the feminist sphere. A lot of the criticisms surrounding third wave feminism (and feminism in general) focus on the perceived and actual exclusion of race, class, and gender presentation in discourse. Several of the up and coming femcees in 2012 serve to challenge many of the practical aspects of both the standard patriarchy and the perceived paradigm of the feminist ideal. I’d say a lot of this is because most femcees exist in a racial/sexual no-man’s land, where subversiveness is almost necessary to survival.
The first wave of femcees seems to have come around sometime in the 80s and early 90s with folks like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt N Pepa, and TLC; with tracks like “Ladies First” and “None Of Your Business” lending a particularly feminist voice to the hip-hop game. As hot as these songs (and artists) were, none of them became banner anthems of the feminist movement, falling behind artists like Bikini Kill and other darlings of the Riot Grrl movement. Recently though, vintage fem-penned hip-hop has been getting more play in feminist circles, due in large part to this generation’s penchant for nostalgia, and also the rise of social media’s role in social movements, allowing more voices of color to come to the forefront of the conversation. Social media has aided in the diversity of the music scene as well, allowing more underground artists to be heard by a wide range of demographics.
But let’s get back to the future. Today’s crop of female emcees seems to be as influenced by the socially conscious hip-hop of the 80s and 90s as it is the more raw sexually charged female hip-hop of the early 00s, when artists like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown ruled the school. The explicit lyrics of that form of the genre tended to turn off a lot of feminists who dismissed it as both heteronormative and degrading.
In the latter half of 1958, two events occurred that would have a profound effect on the science of astrophysics: one was the signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which authorized the creation of NASA as a civilian space agency; the other, much more humble of the two, was the birth in the West Bronx of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Born to Cyril deGrasse Tyson and Sunchita Feliciano Tyson, Neil grew up in the Skyview Apartments, a prophetically-named complex located in the relatively well-to-do neighborhood of Riverdale. His father, himself a son of immigrants from the Caribbean, was a sociologist and activist; his mother was a housewife who would later earn a Master’s degree in gerontology. That the Tyson family lived in a middle-class enclave was rather remarkable for the late 1950′s, especially since there had been protests from residents at the time to keep Black families from moving in. Though the family was fairly well off for the time, Neil was acutely aware of how fortunate he was, and how difficult things were for many other people of color in America. During Neil’s childhood, his father’s career centered on collaborating with city officials to create employment opportunities in the inner city for urban youth.
“Year after year, the forces operating against this effort were huge: poor schools, bad teachers, meager resources, abject racism, and assassinated leaders… I was watching America do all it could to marginalize who I was and what I wanted to become in life.” (1)
“[T]he vicarious thrill of the journey, so prevalent in the hearts and minds of others, was absent from my emotions. I was obviously too young to be an astronaut. But I also knew that my skin color was much too dark for you to picture me as part of this epic adventure.”
NASA personnel at Mission Control during the Apollo 11 launch.
As a matter of fact, NASA was only integrated by a direct Presidential order from Lyndon Johnson to Wernher von Braun, rocketry pioneer and first director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And, while President Johnson’s mandate instructed NASA to work with Alabama A&M and Tuskeegee University to locate qualified candidates to work with the space program, the idea of a Black astrophysicist was essentially unheard of.
Young Neil deGrasse Tyson.
It’s a good thing that no one bothered to tell young Neil, who wouldn’t be stopped from exploring the Universe even if all the astronauts were White.
As mentioned previously, for the next wee bit, we’re going to be cross-posting some choice Geekquality blog pieces that we think may be of interest to the Coilhouse readership. First up, this interview with writer/director/producer Justin Simien and producer Lena Waithe about their indie film Dear White People, conducted by Geekquality contributing editor Moxie Munroe earlier this summer. (Thanks again to everybody over there. We <3 you.) ~Mer
MOXIE: I’m completely in love with your project, having seen the trailer on Shadow And Act. What sparked the idea for the project? JUSTIN SIMIEN: The original idea for the film happened during my senior year at Chapman University. After growing up in Houston, attending the rather diverse High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, college life at a small private college in Orange County was a four year long culture shock. I wanted to comment on my experience and started collecting personal episodes like mitigating the sheer disillusionment in certain White students when I couldn’t teach them how to crypt walk, or when I decided to finally cut my substantial fro, or just in general when I acted differently then the Black people they saw on 106 and Park. LENA WAITHE: I was first introduced to [the project] in a writers group (which is how Justin and I met). He was writing it as a TV show, but all the themes and the characters were the same, and it had a huge impact on me. I loved his voice and I loved him. Of course we quickly became close friends and I finally read the feature length version of “2%” which is what it was originally called (because the black students at Manchester only made up two percent of the population). And once I read the feature, I was just sold on helping him bring this story to light.
M: As a Black woman and a creative I know I’ve had conversations with folks time and time again, especially in college, that are reminiscent of a lot of moments in the trailer. What was the moment when you all said, “We need to make a movie about this”? JS: I had been working on the material for a few years, trying it as a TV pilot or an overwritten 265 page feature, which didn’t garner much interest for some strange reason, when I realized that my professional life was mirroring my experiences in college. I was still one of VERY few black faces in most of the places I found myself professionally. Requests to teach friends how to crypt walk were replaced with requests for “Dougie lessons.” I was being confused for the one other Black guy in the office, and the requests to see me with an afro continued unabated, despite my insistence that it was a pain for me to manage and I didn’t really want one.
Also (and more importantly) in the culture there seemed to be a real need for a fresh dialogue about race. The birther movement was gaining momentum, the ugly incidents over a “Black” themed party thrown at UCSD mirrored scenes from the script, and debate over the lack of Black voices in film and tv was happening all around me. That’s when I started the twitter account @DearWhitePeople and working in earnest to get the script to a place where it could be shot as a feature.
LW: I dug [his Twitter] so much that every now and then I would pitch him jokes for it and he would throw them up there. But myself, and one of the other producers Ann Le (who’s been there from the beginning) have been passionate about the film for years. And Justin’s been working on the project for about 7 years. So it’s always been around, I think we just all came to the point where we said it’s either now or never. And thank God, because the timing could not have been better.
M: How has the use of social networking aided in the development of this project? (Big congratulations on meeting and exceeding your IndieGoGo goal, by the way.) JS: Starting the Twitter account was great because it allowed me to really work out the voice of one of the film’s leads. In the film Samantha White starts a radio show on campus called “Dear White People,” the controversy over which is a driving force for a lot of the plot. Through Twitter I was able to test out material, refine her voice, and gain some insight on the people that were so offended by what they perceived as an accusation of racism they responded to the account with genuinely racist comments.
LW: We’re a generation that lives on the internet. I actually credit Facebook the most because we can send the link to people we aren’t even friends with in a Facebook message, and the people we are friends with have no problem with us posting the link on their wall. When something is shared and posted on Facebook a million times, that’s when you know you’ve struck a nerve. And all the producers started to get all these random friend requests soon after the trailer launched. That’s when we knew folks were sharing it, emailing it, tweeting about, and blogging about it. When the producers would sit down and discuss the strategy to push the trailer we always knew that we would use Facebook and Twitter. That’s the best way to reach OUR audience.
M: There have been conversations about Blackness and the “Black Monolith” and what that means since the dawn of the Huxtable Dynasty (a name I’ve just decided to give the period of time between when The Cosby Show hit it big and Girlfriends went off the air). I know the project is called Dear White People but what do you think of the idea of a cultural Black monolith and “authentic Blackness”, and what sorts of conversations about it are you trying to raise with this project? JS: To me the film is ultimately about identity and how race identity in particular can be both a gateway to and a huge obstacle for reaching one’s potential. This is compounded by the fact that Black folks and non-Black folks all have very different opinions about what being “authentically Black” actually means.
Each of the main characters are going through an identity crisis with regards to their “blackness” whether its not feeling Black enough for the Black kids, not feeling Black enough for the white kids, or feeling too Black for anyone.
Minorities, along with systemic socio economic disadvantage, have the added pleasure of going through life being pre-defined by everyone according to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Based on how we define ourselves, some of us find solace in our “ethnic cultures” and some of us feel alienated by it.
Ultimately the role of culture (black or otherwise) as I see it is to help us find our voice and footing in the world. But there also comes a time when to really reach our true potential we have to transcend the cultural and identity cues we’ve come to be defined by. Yes I’ve been watching a lot of OWN.
M: All of your characters seem to be very original, and quite different from each other, yet all of them are also really relatable, both to people of color and universally, which is really refreshing to see. Do you think, with independently produced content on the rise and this age of the webseries, we will see more projects by minorities and see a much needed shift toward more diversity in the mainstream media? JS: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Sh*t Black Girls Say, andSh*T White Girls Say To Black Girls is proof that the internet has made it easier for minority voices to circumvent the usual obstacles of creating and distributing content and connect directly with an audience. Here’s hoping that traditional media, be it films or television, pays attention. Diverse stories in the mainstream seem to be shrinking, creating an even bigger disparity between the demographic make-up of the country and the stories dominating our culture. LW: I think folks have always wondered when there is one Black success others will follow, and I’ve come to the realization that the work just has to be brilliant. The only way a Black writer/director/actor/producer will be recognized is if the work is amazing and inspired. Not everything out there is great. Justin is extremely gifted. That’s why he has 3 producers behind him (me, Ann Le, and Angel Lopez) because his vision is so amazing. So if Black artists continue to hold themselves to a higher standard then, yes we’ll see a surge.
Tanya tells us that the idea for Geekquality emerged last year when several of the founding editors met for the first time at the first annual Geek Girl Con in Seattle, Washington. Since that time, they’ve been steadily building/ramping up their online presence. Nowadays, the Geekquality venture is a thriving example of diverse collaborative writing and online community-building.
With staff members hailing from both the West and East coasts of the United States –all geeks and vocal participants in online communities and united by a “love/hate relationship with geeky media”– Geekquality, in addition to celebrating examples of inclusivity and diversity in geek culture, addresses its writers’ mutual, ever-growing dissatisfaction with a frequent lack of intersectionality and diversity both in current geek media and in many fandom communities. This from a group statement emailed to Coilhouse by their editorial team:
“Being a nerd isn’t really so much a choice as it is a facet of your person. How you live, consume, and interpret your experience, however, most certainly is a matter of informed choice. All of us have been disappointed to find that often, analysis that challenges beloved content and creators is dismissed as unproductive and overly negative, when it’s actually critically important. The geek is indeed inheriting the earth, and it’s up to geeks to make sure our influence is not a negative and exclusive one.”
“Talking about video games, comic books, TV shows, movies, etc and pointing out flaws in writing or casting, accuracy in representation of unique perspectives, and general discussion of what could be done better sometimes are met with an arms crossed, head-shaking refusal to admit that some pop culture thing we love can also be flawed. While we are all united by our geekdom, there can still be more inclusion from lenses of feminism, sex and gender, race, ability, and various cultural perspectives.”