Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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Hurricane Katrina

It was a rude awakening for me upon watching the documentary we did in class. I had little to no idea all of the complex factors that went into how people were affected by the storm and how organizations responded to it. I also had no idea that people accused the city of New Orleans of dynamiting the levees in order to save the higher income real estate areas for tourism. That was incredibly disturbing to me, and it really opened my eyes to how very biased popular opinion on the subject was at the time. I was a lot younger, and obviously less understanding of social issues and how they are commonly viewed, but I do remember many people saying that the people who were hurt or killed in New Orleans at the time were to blame because they stayed whenever many left. Knowing what I do now, I am very struck by the lack of sympathy which was displayed consudering many of those affected didn’t have access to public transportation or couldn’t afford to evacuate. It’s alarming how negative public discourse on the subject was, also, due to the fact that many people were black. I remember members of my family saying offensive things about those hurt at the time, blaming them for their own injuries and deaths, that I know definitively now they would not have said had the ‘faces of those injured by Hurricane Katrina’ been white.

The documentary was very eye-opening for me, and I’m glad that we got to watch some of it. I plan on watching the rest of it later on my own time.

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Thoughts on the Sexualization of Women’s Breasts

This isn’t directly related to the book, but today it was brought to my attention that in Iceland they are currently attempting to de-sexualize women’s breasts and nipples more specifically. The #freethenipple campaign has gone viral over there.

I commented on a Mic article on the subject, saying how glad I was that the women in Iceland were doing such a thing, and was immediately berated for saying that, and more than one man and older woman called me a hedonist and said things like ‘I wouldn’t like it if it were a saggy old woman baring her boobs like that’, completely defeating the purpose of the movement’s goal, essentially.

I for one am very in favor of the de-sxeualization of women’s bodies in every way. Men’s bodies are very much de-sexualized. As an art major and unofficial art history minor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen paintings of naked men doing active things, walking, fighting, waxing philosophical. Their nudity is not even noticed at the same time it is hailed as primal or divine, while naked women are forever sitting still or relaxing seductively, with vapid gazes and parted lips. Their nudity is automatically sensual and sexualized in a way that male nudity rarely is.

I’m getting so tired of the double-standards. Art is simply how I see it happening the most obviously.

No thoughts or comments necessary. I don’t car either way for this one.


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Blogging and Facebook

I’m not sure how relevant this is, but our class session the other day echoed some things I’ve been wondering about my own life lately. The same potentials seem to apply to article-sharing and commenting on Facebook, but more challenges may apply, too. I personally do a lot of both on my profile, and am constantly trying to spread awareness to those I’m friends with, but a definite drawback is the fact that there are so many people on the site in general that any comments made on articles posted on the pages I follow tend to be responded to win ruthless trolling. It’s interesting.


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“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” a Succinct Example of Cultural Reappropriation

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel

BY SHERMAN ALEXIE

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white
that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps
at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.
If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.
Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the lives
of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust
at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.
Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.
There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.
Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian
then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed
and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.
If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.
An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,
everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.
For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.
In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.


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The Color Purple, film vs book

We finished the entirety of the film version The Color Purple in my film and queer theory and class the other day, and I’m disappointed in the ending. In Spielberg’s movie Albert basically just rides off into the sunset instead of staying and helping Celie make pants and paying back his karmic debt.

What I loved about the book ending was that Albert and Celie broke down the barrier of male and female ideas of chores and domesticity, and then the movie ending doesn’t do that. The movie ending also essentially has it so that Shug Avery changes her religious views and instead of keeping her slightly (at the time seen as) hedonistic and panentheistic belief system she adheres to Christianity near the end to appease her father. I also thought that was incredibly counterproductive in regards to what the book achieved, the emphasis on God being in a field of purple flowers and their rejection of God as a masculine authority. I’m just disappointed in the film. Really disappointed.

Thoughts?


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A shift from revisionism to realism?

Push spoilers follow.

I was thinking about happy endings (or lack thereof) upon finishing Silver Sparrow.

On the ending, also, here first is a statement describing my feelings before I continue:

This sucks I’m ugly-crying in the bathtub don’t touch me don’t breathe on me don’t talk to me my poor roommate probably thinks i’m single now or something dear god my heart this is awful why

I got to thinking about the ending in particular and how much it contrasted with the idealistic ending to The Color Purple, which was in my view unrealistic, though cathartic and therapeutic. Silver Sparrow does not end in such a way, it ends realistically and heart-shattering-ly (I don’t care if that is not a descriptive word it is now). It ends with what the reader was afraid of all along, wrapping up the story in a blanket of suffocating inevitability with little to no hope for closure (though Dana has had a daughter she fears she will be a desperate mother as Gwen was, and the last lines literally explain that oftentimes what doesn’t kill you doesn’t kill you, but that that’s it). Silver Sparrow was incredibly sad, but frank. The aforementioned ending brings to mind a lot of the negative aspects of Push by Sapphire (a book I have not read but looked into after hearing about in class), in which the protagonist ends up being HIV positive as well as having been the mother to two incestuously-conceived children the entire book. Precious’s future, though much improved by her improved literacy and new friendships and connections, still looks pretty bleak, a fact which the book doesn’t deny. In this way I connected Push and Silver Sparrow; both depict shitty realities without trying to dress them up to achieve the same cathartic affect that The Color Purple ends with.

Is this a trend? Being limited in the genre of black literature in general, and necessarily by that token more work by black women writers, I don’t know if it is. But it was interesting to me that it was mentioned in class Alice Walker (writer of TCP) was invested in revising history in so much as telling stories that should have been told to right wrongs, and her ending may have been a direct result of that investment. If that is the case, Push and Silver Sparrow contrast sharply with this in that they are realistic versus revised. They end as grittily as they began, and TCP ends on a far higher note. Is this a larger trend in books written by black women writers (or black writers more generally)? Are these anomalous parallels? If it is a trend, is it inspired by the growing static nature of discussions of race in this country (which seem to be backsliding more and more under the guise of ‘colorblindness’ in my view)?

Thoughts?


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Knowledge and Power in Silver Sparrow

Something I found interesting in Jones’s Silver Sparrow was how knowledge (which not everyone has, in particular) seemed to be equated with power in the Yarboro family, or at least to Gwendolyn, it seems like.

Early-on in the book Gwendolyn takes a young Dana out to spy, or as she puts it ‘surveil’ James’s legally accepted family in an effort to make her feel better. Dana feels insecure about her teeth and her appearance and has decided that that is why she is ‘the secret’ while Chaurisse gets to be James’s daughter out in the open. Gwendolyn tells Dana that because they know about both families (the Witherspoon’s and the Yarboro’s and James’s dual life) that they are better off or more in control of the situation. To me this was a little disturbing, and while I’m not sure if this was an intentional parallel I thought of how historically knowledge (or lack thereof) has been used to control people. We could talk about Catholicism and the Latin bible, slavery and the written English word and formal education, and even today in regards to government officials and the statistical information they undoubtedly have access to that the common populace does not, and a myriad of situations in which those with knowledge kept it from those whom they sought to control and were successful.

I’m not sure how far to go on this, so I will leave it here.