It’s a hard knox life for a Duke woman who likes sex: an open letter to Belle Knox from the old guard

Dear Belle,

You are now squarely in the belly of the beast: popular culture infotainment has sensationalized and dispossessed you of the right to straddle sex work with one leg and a Duke education with the other (pun intended).  Academics, journalists and self-proclaimed intellectuals are gratuitously co-opting your story, decoding and deciphering and dissecting — which is to say, objectifying — you, your family, your decisions, and your ‘perverse’ sexual desires as a way to affirm their own authority as social scientists and public intellectuals.

While your financial considerations for sex work (i.e. a hefty $60,000/year tuition bill) have been met with curiosity and even praise of neoliberal ingenuity, the audacity of a young woman who might like sex work or feel empowered by pornography has been met with vitriol.  And vitriol hurts, goddamnit.  Sticks and stones are not the only things that break our bones, though I suspect you’ve received physical threats in addition to rhetorical whippings.

I remain your fan, and am writing to celebrate your vulnerability as a shameless woman of sexual excess–because, to be clear, there is no shame in sex work, for profit or pleasure (or both); nor is there any shame in ‘rough’ or ‘humiliating’ sex, which I understand you participate in (to great scorn) as a sex-positive porn star.  Leo Bersani and other radical-leaning queer theorists argue that these power dynamics are precisely what make sex exciting and excitable, and not just on camera, but in our real-life pursuits of sex.  To claim otherwise is to lie to ourselves in the light of day, so that by the cloak of night we can throw out these ‘theories’ and submit to our most carnal sexual desires, having reassured ourselves that we’ve already done the ‘work’ of thinking through urgent questions about sex and power, or sex as power (and power as sex).

The culture or “campus climate” — to borrow from President Richard H. Brodhead — of Duke University, as you well know, is a petri dish for exactly this kind of double-standard.  Work hard, play hard.  Think by day, drink to forget (and to make questionable decisions that you are not accountable for) by night.  Lest we forget, disassociating work from play — abandoning the critical thinking skills we learn in the classroom when we drink and fornicate — is what landed Duke in the eye of a media storm in 2006: a scandal almost eight years ago to the day (March 13, 2006) in which three white Lacrosse men were accused of raping (gang-banging, really) a black Durham stripper.  You may recall that one Lacrosse player went so far as to email his team two hours after the alleged rape to request an encore in which he “kill[s] the bitches as soon as the(y) walk in” and “cut[s] their skin off.”

The Lacrosse men who fanned the flames of race- and sex-based hatred in 2006 are by no means exceptional.  Consider, for example, the bully who outed you: that disgusting person known as Thomas Bagley righteously exposed for his questionable proclivities by porn distributor Mike Kulich, who revealed in an open letter that 18-year-old Bagley finances his subscription to the hardcore porn site using the “$200 a week [that his] parents send [him] …for living expenses”, likely “watching a new girl getting a huge cock viciously rammed down her throat” — or the typical sorority woman who can only ever experience sexual pleasure drunk and stammering, which is to say, incoherent and absent to her own body.

These Duke ‘types’ remain unproblematized while the world looks on at you through computer screens, watching videos of you in compromising sexual positions, ‘getting off’ without consequence — free from internal guilt or externally-imposed shame — leaving you with the heavy burden of justifying your choices while theirs go unchallenged.  To borrow from your own beautifully-crafted words in last week’s interview with Piers Morgan, “The same society that consumes [you] is also condemning [you].”

I want to thank you for merging feminist ‘talk’ of sexual freedom with the real-life stakes of sex work.  You don’t refuse one for the other; you don’t just do sex work, you think sex work, and you do/think the two simultaneously.  I could have used a friend like you when I was an undergraduate at Duke (2003-7); when I was dancing on bars and tables and taking great pleasure in the voyeurism my sexual excesses elicited.  I wanted to be looked at, and to be looked at that way.  For me (as I suspect is the case for you), the male gaze I witnessed in TV or in movies and even at fraternity parties or at Shooters was not totalizing; to borrow from bell hooks, an ‘oppositional gaze’ in which women can enjoy being looked at and look back is entirely possible.

As an 18-year-old Duke freshman, I wanted to own the male gaze that existed on campus as the property of privileged white men with popped collars and distinguished pedigrees; to conquer this gaze and make it my own.  To stare it in the eye without blinking.  To have some fucking power over how I was perceived as a woman (of color) on Duke’s campus.

I took the feminist claim to the personal as political at its word, not realizing at the time that my greatest opponents would be women.  I wrote about my sexual exploits for the school newspaper, revealing in my inaugural column (which I wrote and published as a Duke freshman) that “I own a little black book. I’m a regular at Shooters. And I like my men”.  I went further to describe myself as

a “black lace bra kind of woman…, a tease and a twirl.”  [As Sandra Cisneros writes,] I’ll “ruin your clothes” and “get you home way after hours.”  I worship Victoria Secret instead of Ralph Lauren.  And, like I said, I like my men.  But if these men can be classy and be pimps and gigolos, then a pimpstress or gigolette can also be classy.  In the spirit of promiscuity, I propose another, more modern definition for the term “hooking up.”  In the very little time that I have spent at Duke, it has become painfully clear that there is something disturbingly and undeniably wrong with a culture that pushes a woman towards promiscuity and then chastises her for it.

My column went through several iterations and reinventions over the span of four years, but my questions remained the same:  why is Duke’s campus so anxious to contain its women?  Why aren’t Duke men obligated to contain themselves in any way?  And how is race mapped onto sexual excess and/or containment on campus?  The irreverent way in which I chose to ask these questions earned me hate mail and threat letters — one threatening rape, sent to my mother in an unmarked envelope — from the university community.  I was also physically attacked on a number of occasions by Duke women for daring to defy and/or question their ideological infrastructures.  Luckily, I fight back, and I fight hard.

I now teach critical race and gender theory as a doctoral candidate.  My peers?  They’re having kids, settling for the mediocre achievement of once-lofty life goals, and making the kinds of decisions that will lead to a loaded mid-life crisis in a decade or two.  (In the meantime, and to borrow from a fictional Barney Stinson, “I’m just getting more awesome.”)  There is life after (or past) respectability politics; more of a life, in fact, than the one awaiting the chaste, pearl-laden Dukie sitting next to you in class or on the campus bus.

You are being judged by a nation of hungry onlookers not because you have done something ‘wrong’, even in an Internet age in which your sexual exploits are a public commodity forever available in an online archive.  This is not about you; you have been offered as a sacrificial lamb because of how these judgments position those people standing on high wagging a nagging finger at you–many of whom are women of considerable age and experience and education who should be standing with you in solidarity.  Because isn’t that what feminism is all about?  Women supporting women?  Choice supporting choice?  Not at Duke, and not in white feminist circles.

You may have seen by now Robin Kirk’s March 11th editorial in Dame Magazine (the magazine’s tagline is — cue patriarhy — “for women who know better“) in which Kirk, a Duke professor of ‘human rights’, calls you an ‘opportunist’ for using the banner of feminism to understand your participation in pornographic sex work as an empowering labor.  Kirk’s editorial — which claims ‘insider knowledge’ because, as a member of the university community, she is a witness to the kinds of pressures Duke women experience — polices the boundaries of who can legitimately claim feminism and who cannot, and follows in the long line of slut shaming that white feminists are beholden to when they sign their name on the dotted line of respectability politics.

If [Belle had] only stayed at Duke a little longer—and I, for one, hope she returns [from her leave of absence]—she would have learned from a number of my fellow faculty members that there is a canyon between sexuality and pornography, an ocean between feminism and “facial abuse.” Pornography is fine if it’s what you want, but Knox’s argument that she’s producing something “feminist” doesn’t get my passing grade.

…In fact, Belle is feeding precisely the monster that makes college life for women such a contemporary bear. The culture wants young women to be pornified. It pornifies them even before they hop the L.A.-bound flight Belle flies to film. It pornifies them as teens. It pornifies them as little girls who plaster on unneeded makeup and false eyelashes and butt-enhancing heels.

…I just can’t see the feminist argument here. What Belle has done is simply take the culture at its word. If it’s porn you want, she’s serving it up, in exactly the format and style that the culture relishes. I imagine she’s not the first college student to work in porn. Indeed, the Duke label has boosted her videos into true star status, a triple-play for fans: young, brainy, and spread-eagled. But it’s the same old same old, in pretty stockings and a stained bow.

Kirk’s op-ed does an infuriating disservice to your autonomy as a sexual being, and I want you to know that there are people out there (myself included) who see this gratuitous ploy for what it is: an op-ed that says more about Kirk than it does about you.  A credit to your genius, you preempt Kirk’s criticism when in an interview with The ChronicleDuke’s daily student newspaper — you reflect that feminism (not your feminism, but surely Kirk’s) differs little from patriarchy:

“I think the thing lacking in feminism is that women are making decisions for other women.  If the patriarchy is about men making decisions for women and taking away their agency, why do some feminists want to control other women’s decisions?”

Kirk not only patronizes you — I wonder, did she attempt to reach out to you privately before blasting you online? — but in fact grossly abuses her power as an educator to punitive ends.  To borrow from a fellow Duke alumnus, “Since when is it okay for professors to publicly comment on and criticize students, especially when the critique has nothing to do with academia?”

(If I had the time or the energy — or even remotely cared about initiating a conversation with Kirk — I would write a second open letter; this time to Kirk, to remind her that one of the first rules of the academy is: thou shalt not trample students on your way to the top.  You are supposed to be their advocate.  Hell, you’re supposed to be their friend.)

Not too long ago I was a Duke undergraduate making similar choices, and feeling terribly disappointed when those people who were supposed to be my allies and champions were using my experiences, scandalous as they might have been, to empower only themselves.  I even ‘made it’ into a self-help book-cum-expose authored by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist; convinced she was my friend, I let the author, Laura Sessions Stepp — a white feminist in her 60s who was ill-prepared to understand the nuances of sex as power, and power as sex — reduce me to a caricature.  Had I your courage to call my own shots and had I not been so desperate for the kind of validation I thought only an older (white) feminist could give me, I would not have allowed Stepp to commodify my story.  I would have found other ways to validate myself, like sex work, which would have paid the dividends I never received (but was surely entitled to) as a subject in Stepp’s book.

My decisions in college about when, where and how to have sex and, likewise, my decision to write openly and honestly about my sexual dalliances empowered me as a woman, as a feminist, as a Duke student, and — I would later come to find out — as a scholar-activist.  But it’s a hard knox life out there for people like us; few of my Duke peers actively voiced their support of my sex-positive feminism.  Many looked on as spectators, mouths agape, whispering to each other, but few wanted to know me or call me a friend.

You scare these peers with little to offer in the way of complexity, because you’re sexy and you’re sassy and you’re educated and you know it.  You’re even uppity: you want it all, and you’re not willing to apologizing for wanting it all.  From one retired Duke sex kitten to the new guard of this mantle (if I might be so bold as to call you that), I want to remind you that yours is not Gloria Steinem’s feminism, or Robin Kirk’s; and though that makes your sexual performance unintelligible to the modern ‘feminist’, there are those of us out there who get you, girl, and who stand firmly in your corner.

This analysis is written by the blog’s author, M. Shadee Malaklou, who is a PhD candidate in Culture and Theory at the University of California at Irvine.  She can be reached at with inquiries.

JFCB gets a (mini) makeover

While the hours of procrastinating on my dissertation research and writing by collecting news stories about the gratuitous inequalities that shape our world has been (um…) fun — if ‘fun’ translates loosely to a neurotic PhD student sitting at home with her cats and her books, yelling profanities at a computer screen — my more ‘official’ commitment to the university that writes my paycheck necessitates that I take a (small) step back from this ‘extracurricular’ experiment in radical thinking.  While I will continue to contribute ‘original works’ to the blog (like those listed on the ‘About’ page) that critically reflect on the discursive and material phenomena that captures (fixates, really) our national or global attention in the form of ‘news’ stories and trends, I will no longer serve as an aggregate or comprehensive feed for news about Black and queer erasure.

For your daily dose of coverage on stories about police officers who stop and frisk and violate — and even sexually assault — Black teens; or if you’re looking to read about judges who abuse their executive authority to fill the coffers of the prison-industrial complex; or if you otherwise want to be ‘in the know’ about the what of news (as opposed to the how or the why of news), consider these sources, which I encourage you to consult in lieu of my elaborate ‘copy-and-paste’ efforts to make news clips more succinct for readers.

  1. Think Progress
  2. The Raw Story
  3. Jezebel/ Gawker  (caution: there’s a lot to sift through here)
  4. Feministing
  5. Black Youth Project
  6. Ebony Magazine
  7. The Root
  8. Atlanta Black Star
  9. African Globe

For a more comprehensive or reflective analysis of the way the world works along the lines of race, gender, sex (or sexuality), class, and ability — among other identity markers — the following blogs regularly publish insightful essays:

  1. Colorlines
  2. Racialicious
  3. Black Girl Dangerous
  4. Feministing  (intentionally listed twice)
  5. The Crunk Feminist Collective
  6. The Feminist Wire

I hope to earn JFCB a spot on this second list of blogs, and will henceforth exclusively use this space to draw provocative and original connections between stories or trends in the collective, imagined public archive of ideologically-coded messages and phenomena.  I will also continue to offer up critical readings of popular culture, as I have in my coverage of Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Janelle Monáe.

I will see you back on these pages as soon as the vitriol of the world lights a fire under my ass to write (and scream) in defiance. Until then (which is to say, until soon) and in solidarity.

Understanding anti-Black racism as species-ism: Reflections on Richard Sherman’s affective excess and the Twitterverse’s response

My first impulse was to resist paying even a modicum of attention to the story following Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, namely because the goings-on of the sports industry — an industry that takes from Black bodies their bits and pieces of flesh, leaving Black athletes often permanently disabled and with little material or financial support in (a very early) ‘retirement’ — rarely surprise me or gives me pause for critical reflection.  But then I saw the tweets.  The disgusting, racist-cum-speciesist tweets.

The number of tweets that compare Sherman to a monkey or an ape are …astounding, signaling a discursive and material investment in the hearts and minds of 21st century white (and ‘passing white’) Americans to intentionally confuse Black bodies with ape bodies.  Here’s the rub: the structuring logic of anti-Blackness as speciesismas I have started to suggest elsewhere, our white supremacist society imagines Black bodies as something different from (and paradigmatically Other to) human beings, as a constellation of flesh reduced to the order of things, made alive only in the figure of an animal in likeness to apes — produces a discursive violence not unrelated to the physical or corporeal (the ‘real’) violence experienced by Blacks.

By way of example, some of the postgame tweets (righteously exposed for public shaming here and here) reference ‘lynching’ — and, more to the point, call for a public lynching of Sherman — a violence discursively legitimated through recourse to the idea that Black bodies aren’t human bodies; they are, instead, strange fruit (or animals) ripe for material and libidinal consumption.  Other tweets suggest introducing Sherman to George Zimmerman, presumably because “Richard Sherman deserves to get shot in the fucking head.” 

The breadth and variety of anti-Black Twitter responses to Sherman’s ‘outburst’ share one glaring similarity: they hold Sherman accountable for his affective response to Erin Andrews by suggesting only one way to placate the angry masses.  Sherman is made analogous to an untamed animal who must be ‘put down’ — or, more to the point, taken out back and shot — because he cannot be contained.  As poet and activist Olivia A. Cole notes on her blog, Sherman’s failure to perform a white respectability politics in his postgame interview with Andrews revokes his ‘Human Card’, reducing him to a monkey and a n****r (and — by Sherman’s own account — to a thug), which is to say, to a figure who can be shot and killed with impunity because the human right to life is — by definition of his Blackness — alien to him.

White supremacist culture dictates who and who does not get to be human. In order for people of color to receive a Human Card, they must assimilate: they must not use slang. They must be quiet. They must not wear hoodies. They must not curse. They must be gracious at all times. They must enunciate. They must not talk about racism. They must not listen to rap music. They must not sag. They must not brag. They must not laugh in public. They must not take up more than one seat on the bus. They must not ever ask for more. In short, you must be perfect. Robotic. Even if you are a professional athlete who performs for millions of Americans, playing a game in which aggression, testosterone, and energy are rewarded (demanded)… you must be quiet, gracious, calm, unassuming. Unscary. To be black and also be regarded as human, you must never make a mistake in your entire life, ever—ever—or you are a thug. Ghetto. Other. Your Human Card is denied.

I think that’s what the word “thug” really means. The n-word, arguably the most dehumanizing word in history, has been decried. It is considered inappropriate to speak it in public, and while that doesn’t stop everyone, hate will find a way. “Thug” is that way. Lately, it is a word used when we want to revoke humanity. Trayvon Martin, murdered only a few blocks from his home, was called a thug during his murderer’s trial. The jury needed to be convinced that this boy’s humanity could not possibly exist if he was “a thug.” Police [in Omaha] put a toddler’s “thuggery” on display as if to say, “This is why we police them.” …So when Richard Sherman’s “graciousness” is criticized, it’s more than his status as an athlete that’s being attacked: it’s his blackness. When the media (or the typical spineless, anonymous Twitter-user) calls him a “thug,” they are denying him his humanity.

Lest we forget, Sherman received a 3.9/4.0 GPA (reports on this figure vary) from Stanford University, where he plans to return for a Master’s degree.  Likewise, he is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated Magazine and otherwise speaks articulately and eloquently on screen (see the video below) with all the bougie cadence one might require of a Black man who has ‘arrived’.  And Sherman isn’t just smart or well-spoken; he’s perceptive.  As Arturo R. García writes in his thoughtful coverage in Racialicious, Sherman is keenly “[aware] of the coded language used against him” by white sports commentators; which is to say, Sherman is perfectly capable of performing (white) respectability, and he is plenty respectable.  Consider the below interview from March 2013.

It is a testament to Sherman’s genius that he is able to preempt the psychic violence manifest in these racial codes, offering a response in real time to his white host: “I’m better than you”.  We might go so far as to say that Sherman is melancholically aware, to borrow from Fanon — who reflects in Black Skin, White Masks (1952) that his subjective experiences of/in the world are “no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third person but in a triple person. …I was responsible at the same time for my body, for my race, for my ancestors. I subjected myself to an objective examination, I discovered my blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects, [and] slave-ships” (112, Farrington translation) — that he exists ‘triply’, anxious about how his Blackness is projected back onto him (for him).  As Garcia notes, One of the worst things about the worst responses to Richard Sherman’s interview Sunday night with Erin Andrews might be this: he probably saw it coming.”

Notably, Sherman does not use profanity in the postgame interview with Erin Andrews.  What he does is display an affect of aggression, which — to be clear — is exactly what he is paid to do, and exactly what sports reporters get paid to procure from athletes in the ‘heat’ of the game (or postgame moment). As Nate Scott writes in an article in For the Win,

Some of these reporters [who complained about Sherman] were the very same ones who have complained publicly, in print, that athletes never do anything but speak in clichés. They long for the good old days, when athletes had real personalities and weren’t all trained by media specialists. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t complain that athletes are too well media-trained and the days of “big personalities” are gone and then freak out when an athlete goes off script.

Likewise, NFL athletes are poked and prodded into aggression by coaches who aim to light a fire under the players that will burn bright and volatile on the field, motivating them to put ‘all they have’ into the game, a labor that (necessarily and completely) exhausts and depletes these athletes.  But — as Stuart Hall famously observes in “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’” — we never think about any of that as (white) spectators to Black athletic ability, an ability that is assumed foundational, an effect of ontology, a product of the athlete’s Blackness, which renders him supra-human because he is other than human and can be reduced to the kind of abuse one usually reserves (to borrow from Frank Wilderson) for cows that, after grazing the field for scraps, are sent to the slaughterhouse.

Of the thoughtful analysis that has emerged in the wake of this story, I have yet to come across one that critically engages Sherman’s own immediate reaction to the buzz that his postgame interview solicited.  In a January 20th post for In This Corner, Sherman writes, “My body ached. I was thrilled and proud and upset, all at once.”  I mention this reflection because a human body that aches is given respite; Black bodies reduced to chattel or monkeys or n****rs (or thugs) are not.  Black athletes, especially, are discursively and materially imagined at their most intelligible as sinew and flesh — how else could they perform such supra-human feats of sport? — and not as coherent (human) bodies.

Instead of taking a breath (or a seat) after his win — a win immediately followed by a confrontation with Sherman’s ‘rival’, Michael Crabtree; in Sherman’s own words, “I ran over to Crabtree to shake his hand but he ignored me.  I patted him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘Good game, good game.’  That’s when he shoved my face” — Sherman, the consummate NFL spokesperson, was assaulted by a series of reporters, of which Erin Andrews was just one.  Let me repeat (for good measure and emphasis), Andrews was not the only reporter Sherman spoke to in the moment immediately following his win, which begs the question: why has this particular postgame interview attracted so much attention?  Stated another way, why is Sherman’s interaction with Andrews being exceptionalized on Twitter and in sports media coverage of what is being called the “Sherman-Crabtree feud”?  Greg Howard reflects in his essay for Deadspin that

The league’s best cornerback had made the best move of his career on the biggest play of his career to win the biggest game of his career, against an opposing wide receiver and college head coach with whom he shares not a little bad blood. This was a triumphant moment, and still to a lot of people there was something viscerally ugly about Sherman standing over a pretty blonde woman, yelling into our living rooms with an emotional mixture of joy, relief, and excitement, arrogance, and anger.

The anxiety surrounding Sherman’s postgame interview is not disconnected from the epidermal and corporeal makeup of the reporter standing precariously next to him, less than an arm’s distance apart, microphone in hand: a white woman whose imagined chastity is contaminated by physical proximity to Sherman (by virtue of the fact that Sherman is Black and a man: a thug; and because, as Lauren Berlant convincingly argues, the trope of vulnerable white women as girls founds America’s understanding of nation and belonging).  The video footage of Andrews interviewing Sherman was intentionally cut short by Fox NFL producer Richie Zyontz because, according to a statement Zyontz gave to Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch, the interview “started crossing over a line that I did not want to see it go. …It started getting dangerous for us.”  We might pause to reflect on which ‘us’ Zyontz — a white male producer — hails in this statement: the league, Sherman, Andrews, FOX News, or the imaged community of its audience; which is to say, for whom was Sherman’s outburst ‘dangerous’?

We would be remiss to overlook the fact that, instead of fearing for her life at the sight of an angry Black man, Andrews was in fact enamored by the experience.  In an interview with For the WinAndrews said that she thought Sherman’s response to her question was “so awesome.  And I loved it” (a confession that verges on fetishization).  This is not a media spin of Andrews’ earlier statement that

“I don’t want this to look like I was upset with him, I was frightened, I felt threatened, we all like Richard Sherman a lot at Fox,” Andrews told For The Win. “At that moment I saw how crazy it was going to blow up, and I wanted to make sure people knew it wasn’t a situation where I’m a victim and he acted like an idiot.”

Video coverage of the postgame interview suggests that Andrews did not flinch or retreat in response to Sherman’s ‘outburst’.  Surely, she was caught off-guard by the enthusiastic quality of Sherman’s affect (she also appears to be deflecting projectile saliva or sweat), but Andrews’ body language does not signal fear; in her own words, she was no ‘victim’.  Take a look for yourself:

Curiously, what’s somewhat haunting about this exchange is just how casually Andrews responds to Sherman.  Though the cadence of her voice changes slightly when she asks, almost coy, “Who was talking about you?”, the move feels performative, as if for effect — to gain favor with American audiences who (again, following Berlant’s observation) find great pleasure in watching white women rehearse familiar tropes.  (She’s ambitious, I’ll give her that.)

The fact that Andrews’ own experience or interpretation of the event is not foregrounded in the outrage over whether or not Sherman intimidated or ‘scared’ her with his affective excess — it is important to note that Sherman actually fixes his gaze on the camera, or on a (white) gazing public, and is not addressing Andrews directly — is not inconsequential.  The exclusion reveals a truth; namely, that a hetero-patriarchal white supremacist society is willing to appropriate the concerns of (white) women to make a racist point about the Black savage, but that this same society is not interested in addressing or ameliorating feminist concerns.  (Yet another reason why white feminism’s recourse to a politics of inclusion has failed to revolutionize sex and gender relations.)

Black athletes function (still) as profit-producing chattel who are bought and sold and traded by white team owners and other titans of industry — Sherman’s team, the Seattle Seahawks, is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who is worth an estimated $13 billion – in the form of merchandise and sponsorships and a whole host of other branding efforts, in a process not entirely unlike the corporeal branding chattel slaves once experienced on the slave plantation (not least of all because these experiences evoke similar psychosomatic responses).  And when white women like Erin Andrews ‘build’ a career by leveraging their white femininity against the perceived threat of a mythical Black ‘boogeyman’, we learn why — as Audre Lorde famously warned — “the master’s tools” have not “dismantle[d] the master’s house.”  Indeed, it becomes clear that the ‘afterlife’ of Black chattel slavery and its libidinal economy — to borrow from Saidiya Hartman’s allegorical formulation — is that it ‘lives’ on by evolving its discursive and material technologies.  It adapts.  It mutates.  And with each mutation, it grows stronger and more resistant to treatment; the ideological apparatus of anti-Black racism as speciesism becomes more resilient, less clear as speciesism (or, in a self-proclaimed post-racial society, as plain ole’ racism) in the mind’s eye.

So when Howard notes that

A public personality can be black, talented, or arrogant, but he can’t be any more than two of these traits at a time.It’s why we recoil at Kanye West’s rants, like when West, one of the greatest musical minds of our generation, had the audacity to publicly declare himself a genius (was this up for debate? [Yes.]), and partly why, over the six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a noisy, obstreperous wing of the GOP has seemed perpetually on the cusp of calling him ‘uppity.’ …All this is based on the common, very American belief that black males must know their place, and more tellingly, that their place is somewhere different than that of whites. It’s been etched into our cultural fabric that to act as anything but a loud, yet harmless buffoon or an immensely powerful, yet humble servant is overstepping.

…Too many of us think that one ecstatic, triumphant black man showing honest, human emotion just seconds after making a play that very well could be written into the first appositive of his obituary, is not only offensive, but is also representative of the tens of millions of blacks in this country.

he is — perhaps unwittingly — prompting us to critically consider how and why Sherman ‘oversteps’ as a Black athlete: why Sherman is portrayed in the media and on Twitter as ‘uppity’, and what boundaries Sherman is (intentionally) traversing by not ‘knowing his place’.  I would like to submit here (for discussion) the possibility that Sherman’s ‘crime’ is that — as a Black man who can speak and think and read as well (if not better than) any white man, or as a Black man who, to use the Fanonian metaphor, convincingly wears a white mask — he betrays the insurmountable human/animal divide that also functions as an ontological divide and a libidinal economy.  (To be clear, the libidinal economy of slavery is an effect of the ontological crisis of Blackness, because reproduction, in a slave economy, produces progeny-as-property.)

Sherman mimes too well the white human subjectivity of an athlete who is also a scholar: an educated bloke who, yes, is better than you, by all measures of accomplishment.  As Howard suggests, it is Sherman’s expression of “honest, human emotion” that a white gazing public is unable to digest or make intelligible; and like a child throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t have the language with which to understand or communicate what he wants — a Black man who ‘knows his place’ in the racial hierarchy of human beings — white Americans have responded to Sherman’s complex Blackness in the only way they know how: by reducing him to the animal he never was.

This analysis is written by the blog’s author, M. Shadee Malaklou, who is a PhD candidate in Culture and Theory at the University of California at Irvine.  She can be reached at with inquiries.

Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova sits on a contorted, near-naked Black female mannequin in bondage for magazine shoot

“Today, Miroslava Duma’s new online magazine Buro 247 published an article on Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova. The illustration? A serene looking Zhukova sitting on a ‘black woman’ chair. The Editor-in-Chief of Garage magazine perches on a black ‘dummy,’ (not a real human) who is nude save panties, a garter belt, elbow length gloves, and knee high boots, her folded knees suggestively pushing her naked breasts against her body. As Dasha stares out at the camera in the light filled room, she appears the total opposite of the compromised black woman on the floor. The message: white dominance and superiority, articulated in a seemingly serene yet overtly degrading way.”

Read the story here:


All this — and more — brought to you by the promise of a post-racial society: a society that claims to see beyond race, (dangerously) disconnecting racist imagery today from its historical context. As Brittny Danielle writes for Clutch Magazine,

“The crude piece seems to be inspired by a collection by artist Allen Jones who used White mannequins styled as strippers and used as furniture in 1969. The pieces objectify women and literally renders them as nothing more than objects. However, the chair Zhukova chose to be photographed on for her interview was even more troubling considering the long history of White women partaking in the dismissal and domination of Black women and our bodies. …The creative world has a long history of objectifying women of color (and our skin) and calling it art. Whether it’s a magazine painting White models in blackface and dressing them in ‘ethnic’ clothing, or the macabre ‘Painful Cake’ that encouraged viewers to cut a slice of an African’s woman’s body while she screamed in pain, the art world is one of the last places in our society where blatantly offensive pieces are celebrated as ‘innovative’ and ‘groundbreaking.’”

According to The Guardian, Zhukova has released a statement in defense of the magazine image. In it, she writes, “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics. I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image.”

13-year-old compares chattel slavery to urban education, speaks truth to power in school essay, gets harassed by teachers and administrators

“In a bold comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Jada Williams, a 13-year old eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, asserted that in her experience, today’s education system is a modern-day version of slavery. According to the Fredrick Douglass Foundation of New York, the schools’ teachers and administrators were so offended by Williams’ essay that they began a campaign of harassment—kicking her out of class and trying to suspend her—that ultimately forced her parents to withdraw her from the school.

In her essay, which was written for a contest, Williams reflected on what Douglass heard his slave master, Mr. Auld, telling his wife after catching her teaching Douglass how to read. ‘If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him,’ Auld says. ‘It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.’ Williams wrote that overcrowded, poorly managed classrooms prevent real learning from happening and thus produces the same results as Mr. Auld’s outright ban. She wrote that her white teachers—the vast majority of Rochester students are black and Hispanic, but very few teachers are people of color—are in a ‘position of power to dictate what I can, cannot, and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mismanagement of the classroom.’

Instead of truly teaching, most teachers simply ‘pass out pamphlets and packets’ and then expect students to complete them independently, Williams wrote. But this approach fails, she concluded, because ‘most of my peers cannot read and or comprehend the material that has been provided.’ As a result, she continued, not much has changed since the time of Douglass, ‘just different people, different era’ and ‘the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.’ Williams called for her fellow students to ‘start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you’ and challenged teachers to do their jobs. ‘What merit is there,’ she asked, if teachers have knowledge and are ‘not willing to share because of the color of my skin?’ …Given that only 19 percent of School #3′s eighth graders were proficient in language arts last year (and just 13 percent in math)—well below the state average of 60 percent—it’s clear that the school and its teachers need to change their approach. Attempting to silence Williams by branding her a troublemaker and driving her off campus isn’t the answer.”

Read more:

Utah ‘ends’ homelessness by giving white people homes

“In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015. How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail says for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but the keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s. It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. …The report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical. [And] This happened in a Republican state! Republicans in Congress would probably have required the homeless to take a drug test before getting an apartment, denied apartments to homeless people with criminal records, and evicted those who failed to become self-sufficient after five years or so. But Utah’s results show that even conservative states can solve problems like homelessness with decidedly progressive solutions.”



Actually, Utah’s results signal that conservative states with a majority-white population can solve ‘problems’ like homelessness.  We would be remiss to overlook Utah’s racially-homogenous demographics: according to the U.S. Census, more than 91% of the state’s population identifies as white.  Likewise, a 2010 comprehensive ‘report’ on homelessness in Utah indicates that nearly 78% of the state’s “unsheltered chronically homeless” are white.

I’m curious how efforts to house and feed and redeem the homeless in Utah — efforts to make these bodies live (to borrow from Foucault’s formulation) — are informed by the state’s racial makeup, or who the state discursively and materially includes as part of its ‘imagined community’.  White bodies (even homeless ones) aren’t imagined as always already disposable, which (I think) is the tension at the heart of Frank Wilderson’s observation about the false promise of a class revolution: solving the problems of class will do nothing to alleviate the complete abandonment of Black lives. To be clear, Utah’s is an effort to save white bodies from a Black death; not an attempt to revive all homeless bodies from the lived conditions of Blackness, by which I mean a lived condition marked by complete abandonment by the state and the complete collapse of civil and political life.

New photos emerge showing U.S. Marines burning Iraqi bodies, posing for pictures with skeletons, and feeding human remains to dogs

“Shocking images depicting U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of what appear to be Iraqi insurgents, have emerged today. The explosive photographs, reportedly taken in Fallujah in 2004, have already sparked a Marine Corps investigation, but many of the 41 gag-inducing shots are just too grisly to publish. Two pictures show a Marine pouring what looks like gasoline on the remains of enemy soldiers and another two images appear to show the remains go up in flames. Two more capture the horrifically charred bodies.

…Other horrific pictures show a Marine squatting next to a skull to pose for the camera. His U.S. military uniform is clear, on his face he wears a wide grin and he is pointing his gun at the skeleton. Another picture shows a soldier rifling through the pockets of the scant remains of an Iraqi soldier. TMZ said it has withheld the bulk of the images – including one showing a body being eaten by a dog – because they are just too graphic. It reported seeing well over a dozen dead insurgents in total in the heinous pictures, in various states, including some covered in flies.”

Read the story and view more pictures here: