Monthly Archives: June 2012

Silly of Me: Deniece Williams, Indecent Theology, and Sexual Power


I heard a song on the radio today that I haven’t heard in a long time, so I sat myself down and listened to the whole thing – even though I thought I was in a hurry: Deniece Williams, Silly. That piercingly high song reminds me of summer when I was a kid. The song was released in 1981, so I was probably listening to it on the radio.  I was young, so I don’t know what I thought of the lyrics back then. But since I spent the whole day reading Marcella Althaus-Reid’s Indecent Theology, it certainly resonated.

Williams is lamenting her attachment to a lover who is not really hers:

Silly of me to think that I, could ever really have you for my guy.

But it’s the third verse that really reminded me of Althaus-Reid:

Silly of me to go around and brag about the love I found
And say you’re the best, well, I can’t tell the rest

In Indecent Theology, Althaus-Reid writes about the ways that  liberation theology, while exposing relationships of power and domination, is unable, inadequate, or just plain unwilling to account for relationships of sexual power and domination that shapes the lives of poor women.

I imagine those women – the Argentinian lemon vendors that Althaus-Reid writes of – singing Deniece Williams.

Silly of me to brag about the love I found, and say you’re the best: to brag about this awesome new way of thinking about, talking about, and doing religion that recognizes the parts of my life – colonialism and economic exploitation – that have gone unrecognized.

When I can’t tell the rest: but, I can’t talk about how liberation theology still relies on and reinforces a patriarchal and heterosexist sexual narrative that leaves me holding the short end of the stick. Or more plainly, leaves me in the closet or under the thumb of an abusive husband or father.

I’ve been really drawn to liberation theology for years, but now I’m kind of digging Althaus-Reid’s Indecent Theology. Speaking truth to sexual power?  Or maybe I just liked listening to Deniece Williams and being reminded of summers when I didn’t have to read and think so much.


A New Refutation of Time and Space – Cool Like Dat


It’s been about a million degrees in New York, so I’m reading Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness. Technically, I’ve been reading it since before the heatwave hit, but whatev. It’s easier to think about Black cool than Friederich Schleiemacher – which is what I should be wrapping my brain around. And that’s saying something. Because it’s actually not at all easy to think about Black cool. Black cool is vexing. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. starts off his introduction to the collection of essays with the line

There are 400 million Black people in this country, and there are 40 million ways to be Black.

For real.

But what struck me as I read the collection is how often this idea of “masks” flows through the streams.

Rachel Harper, in her essay “Crazy” writes “As Black people we wear masks, some that say, I’m okay, I’m normal, I’m nonthreatening, and others that say, I’m strong, I’m invincible, I’m cool.  We hide in plain sight.” Helena Andrews in “Reserve,” (this beautiful essay about the way black girls learn to build a wall of survival) writes of coming home from school to learn that her mother was in jail: “the first time I put on the mask…it felt good. I was cool. I had to be-to keep from falling apart.” Andrews calls it “that steely look of detachment,” “the side-eye, the B-girl stance, the nonviolent resistance of the civil rights movement, and the denial of emotion during slavery. Stoic reserve.” The problem with the mask is that, if we’re not careful, it can become a trap – a wall that we can’t pull down.

As prominent as the mask is this idea of being comfortable in one’s own skin. More than one essayist writes about the geek, the iconoclast, the eccentric – so uncool. Except, there’s something about this being comfortable in one’s own skin – what StaceyAnn Chin calls authenticity. Black style, Black hip, the break, Black blues, Black soul, Black jazz, Black punk, Black rock. Miles Marshall Lewis (named after Miles Davis and James Marshall “JImi” Hendrix) writes about evolution. Mile’s evolution through jazz – hard bop – freebop – and pre-hip hop. Of Bitches Brew Marshall writes, “It (was) plain that Miles Davis was always going to do whatever the fuck he wanted.” And “One of the coolest things about Jimi Hendrix,” he writes, “is how he reframed racial identity by pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be Black. …Black Panthers gave Hendrix heat for conking his hair, idolizing Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and supposedly straying from his musical roots on the chitlin circuit with Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, and others. None of this stopped him from mastering rock and adding to its canon. …Hendrix was Hendrix, unconcerned with staying true to anyone’s idea of Blackness but his own.”

I love this. Evolution. Authenticity. Reframing Blackness. And then my ipod shuffles on Digable Planets. One of my favorite rap groups. Definitely not ‘hard’ and decidedly ‘uncool’.  Except – they know they are cool like dat! And they have one of the best, most comfortable lines ever. In “It’s Good to Be Here,” Mecca raps:

we love it where we’re from, but we kick it where we at
it’s so good to be here

That’s the cool I’m feeling. Tethered to a legacy, but not bound by it. And comfortable enough in my own skin to just kick it where I’m at. And it is, indeed, good to be here.

Oh Florida: Voter Suppression


Forget Wisconsin – well, not really. But at least citizens there get to exercise their right to vote – however foolish that outcome might seem to us on the outside.  In Florida, 2,600 registered voters received a very special letter reading, in part:

“you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.”

And then there’s some vaguely threatening language that tells people how to fill out a form to agree with that statement or else request a hearing to prove their citizenship. “Brazen” is how Rolling Stones reporter/blogger Ari Berman describes this latest salvo. Already this year, Florida – under the direction of Republican Governor Rick Scott, has taken measures to remove 100,000 previously eligible ex-felons, curtail voter registration, and limit early voting. All measures which disproportionately affect Democrats, young people, and people of color.

And why not? It worked so well in 2000. “According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 2000 12,000 eligible voters – a number twenty-two times larger than George W. Bush’s 537 vote triumph over Al Gore – were wrongly identified as convicted felons and purged from the voting rolls in Florida. African Americans, who favored Gore over Bush by 86 points, accounted for 11 percent of the state’s electorate but 41 percent of those purged.”

Among this latest purge of 2,600 voters: 58% are Hispanic, 14% are African American, and 13% are white. By party, 40% are Democrats, 38% are Independents, and just 20% are Republicans.

Last week, federal judge Robert Hinkle issued an injunction ending the provision that would apply onerous fines and regulations to voter registration. The Department of Justice followed this by demanding that Florida stop it’s voter purge – citing violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as well as the 1993 National Voter Registration Act – and instructing the state to inform the DOJ how the state intends to comply. It’s not certain how the state intends to respond, but earlier this week Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, reiterated the state’s position that they are breaking no laws. In a statement to the Miami Herald, Cate argued,

“It’s very important we make sure ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot.” He said the state continues to identify ineligible voters, saying the state Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has agreed to update information using a federal database that the elections division couldn’t access directly.

“We won’t be sending any new names to supervisors until the information we have is updated, because we always want to make sure we are using the best information available,” Cate wrote. “I don’t have a timetable on when the next list of names will be sent to supervisors, but there will be more names.”

Game on.