When confused, frustrated and all around deeply saddened by all the hatred, prejudice and damage to our world...hearing the spiritual cries of our Mother earth's and her children's problems, I come here to find solace, peace and understanding. Maybe through writing, I can evoke change in the world, as well as in myself....
Hi friends, family, and community! I'm incredibly excited to share with all of you my newest article published in the online magazine Black Heritage Today UK. This amazing London-based magazine captures and speaks to the experiences of people of African descent in the UK.
I hope that you all enjoy this article and look forward to your candid and insightful feedback and thoughts!
For the majority of Americans, we can easily find out our heritage either by asking living ancestors or by searching the internet. However, those of us who are primarily or partially descendants of black Americans forced to be slaves, our cultures, languages, heritages, and identities specific only to those communities were stolen from us. The UN declared 2011 the “INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF AFRICAN DESCENDANTS”, but how can the descendants truly celebrate until they know what part of Africa they stem from? For those who identify with being ethnically Black/African American and have no knowledge of where their ancestors are from, DNA testing and family records research should be provided FREE OF CHARGE. Why should Black Americans be denied free access to the knowledge of their stolen history?
REMEMBER-If we can reach 25,000 signature within the next month (by DEC 12, 2011) the government IS OBLIGATED to acknowledge it. Please share with as many people as you can even if you cannot legally vote on this, don’t personally agree with it, or you are not directly affected by this matter.
Media sites around the nation were recently on fire with video clips of The View’s, Barbara Walters’ use of the “n-word” while discussing the controversy among her peers regarding Governor Rick Perry’s hunting camp, which is reported as having the name “Niggerhead.” Famous Actress, Comedian, and one of The View’s correspondents, Whoopi Goldberg initiated the ensuing heated conversation when she said the “n-word” while talking about Republican Presidential candidate, Herman Cain’s use of the racist epithet during a recent interview. Despite Goldberg’s free use of the historically painful word, it wasn’t until Barbara Walters’ said the “n-word” word that the other co-hosts, mainly Sherri Shepherd, became outraged.
Sherri stated that she had no issue with Whoopi Goldberg’s use of the n-word, however when Walters used the word, Shepherd declared her disdain of the television veteran’s utterance saying, “I didn’t like the way you said it.” “I don’t know if it’s a semantics thing, but it’s something that goes through my body.” She furthered her “intellectual discourse” maintaining that the difference in the way Whoopi and Barbara say the “n-word” is due to the Goldberg’s use of the “-ga” (i.e. nigga,) at the end of the word, as opposed to Walters’ “-er” (i.e. nigger,) pronunciation, coupled with the fact that she is white.
We’ve all beared witness to this unending and nonsensical conversation over semantics regarding the “n-word;” it has been discussed ad nauseum among prominent African-American scholars, like Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, and Cornel West, countless Hip-Hop and Rap artists, as well as political commentators and key figures in entertainment, such as Bill Maher, Quentin Tarantino and John Singleton to name a few. Never in our history has there ever been such a laborious and incessant discussion/debate over a racial slur, which speaks volumes to the absolute backwards and mentally oppressed nature of our society. While watching the video clip of the “heated debate”, I was beyond infuriated at the inane discussion, but moreover deeply concerned with the glaring mental incarceration illustrated in the exchange of words on stage.
To begin, let me address Barbara Walters and her attempt to portray the “unaware” and confused victim in this scenario. Immediately after Walters said the “n-word,” she’s quoted as saying, “It’s very hard for me to say…it gives me chills.” Later when co-host Sherri Shepherd stated that she didn’t like hearing Barbara say the word, Walters asked one of the most CONSPICUOUS questions that goes without stating, “Is it because I’m white?” I’ve seen this situation too many times to recount; someone from the European-American/white community, [mainly the women,] simulate the naïve victim, so hurt and offended at the “intense” disposition of the topic of racism and its corresponding oppressions. When I was in graduate school, there were many U.S.-born white women that played this role immaculately, even being drawn to tears during class discussions to convince everyone of “their pain!” What I find to be so laughable and quite unfortunate about Barbara Walters and other attention-seeking white women is their inability to recognize how even in the midst of a discussion or situation regarding the racially oppressive atrocities against African-Americans and other groups of color, they somehow find a way to draw the attention towards them and “their” plight! It is only a socially-constructed privileged group that could manipulate the issue of another group’s subjugation and place themselves in the spotlight, such as men and the issue of women’s reproductive rights or heterosexuals and the legalization of marriage for those members of the LGBT community. In the future, should Barbara Walters or any other person of this ilk find themselves in a “confusing” situation about whether or not it’s “okay” for them to say the “n-word,” understand that the answer is and WILL ALWAYS BE… “NO!”
Now I’m sure that most readers assume the focus of my article will center on Barbara Walters and why it’s harmful or abusive for white people to use the racist term. While this position is absolutely true given the historical context, as well as the social and institutional establishment of this racial slur, I simply cannot address the longstanding issue of the “n-word” without highlighting the other side of this debate, one that media sites and others often seem to “overlook” when embarking on an oppressive discourse such as this.
Far too often in the African-American community, we find ourselves rationalizing and later accepting the manner in which one “uses” the “n-word.” When Sherri Shepherd expounded upon her feelings, she fervently stated that she had no issue with the way Whoopi Goldberg said the word, adding emphasis to the “-ga” at the end and personally uses the term when she’s around family and friends. Hmmmm….so let me get this straight….there is a MAJOR issue when Barbara or any other person of direct European descent, (i.e. white,) says the term, but somehow that very same anger and disgust dissolves away when African-Americans, such as Ms. Goldberg, say it!!! The moment I heard her painful and downright ignorant comment, I was immediately taken back to identical conversations I had with friends in high school and college regarding semantics and utilization of this word. This racial slur has been conversed about so frequently that it’s even permeated the halls of linguistics firms seeking to “dissect” its multiple meanings, evolution and usage. Every “explanation” from “a term of endearment” to the word being used to describe “an ignorant person,” has been mentioned at length during these, as some people call it “intellectual” discussions! I wonder if anyone else has recognized or even acknowledged the fact that NO other historically oppressed group of color has had the universal attention of racial slurs respective to their groups that African-Americans have had! You can literally travel to the furthest reaches of the world and hear and/or see the term being used among other cultures and communities due to the widespread focus, publicity and examination of this powerfully oppressive epithet!
It amazed me then and continues to send waves of distress and rage through me today that the African-American community….MY community actually has in-depth discussions about the way in which the “n-word” is “used,” but moreover, have adopted an almost lighthearted and frivolous demeanor about the word, likeWhoopi Goldberg, who even stated that she herself has no problem saying it, nor does she have an issue with Barbara Walters using it and finds it pointless to “pretend” that the “n-word” doesn’t exist. Let me be clear in saying that it is one thing to acknowledge the word’s existence, mainly by taking a more progressive and intellectual stance on identifying its racist and tyrannical origins, while simultaneously building national and global coalitions, campaigns, etc., to institutionalize the cessation of this incredibly dehumanizing term, but it is quite another to simply say the word [freely and without deep thought as Whoopi did] and then state that you have “acknowledged” or recognized its state of being. Then again one can’t honestly expect Ms. Goldberg to think beyond the surface of this oppressive word, given the fact that her former love interest, Ted Danson, once dressed up in black face at a Friar’s Club event in 1993 for Whoopi, with whom he shared a relationship for over a decade!
What celebrities, like Sherri Shepherd, and other individuals within the African-American community that use the “n-word,” either rarely, often, or freely need to understand is this: your use of term is the direct result of the mental enslavement and inhumane abuse experienced during and after the institutionalization of slavery in the U.S., which has been transmitted between the resulting generations; the unfortunate “birthright” of the African-American community, [which is our greatest affliction,] is the incarceration of our psyches! Every single time one of us uses this disgusting word, we are not only instantly transported back to a time, not long ago, where our ancestors were verbally humiliated daily with the sheer utterance of the word, we also breathe life into this term furthering its state of existence and being! For one to a) mull over at length the “n-word”, by examining its meanings, uses, etc. and to then b) ACCEPT and RATIONALIZE the careless manner in which WE use it, even deciphering the varying suffixes of this racial slur to equate its “connotation” highlights the distorted and severely damaged nature of our collective mental state! When someone even mentions or writes an Anti-Semitic term, the Jewish community comes together and SHUTS IT DOWN! There is absolutely no lengthy discussion or in-depth analysis of fluctuating nuances and meanings of racial slurs against their community.
While the Jewish historical experience has been and continues to be exceptionally different to that of African-Americans for obvious reasons, our response to the use of the “n-word” and other racially motivated crimes from groups outside of our community, as well as from those members within our group should be the same: unite our forces as ONE community, expose the transgressor(s) of their crimes and then hold them accountable, even if it that entails bringing a monetary and/or legislative charge against the offender(s)! In order for us to achieve this, my beloved African-Americans, is re-educating ourselves with the intent of psychological emancipation! Only then can we and will we be able see the repulsive and oppressive nature of this word and realize that the answer to the longstanding question regarding whether or not one should say/”use” the “n-word” is a firm, resounding and unquestionable, “NO!!!”
(Article published on "The National Organization for African-American Women"....http://noaw.org/tabid/62/Default.aspx)
“The Victim Becomes the Oppressor”
Paolo Friere, in his timeless and dynamic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968/1970), said it best….”the oppressed becomes the oppressor” without the essential mental emancipation and conscientization necessary to avoid this cyclical or recurring form of imprisonment. So far ahead of his time, Friere’s accurate depiction of the equally subjugated dichotomy between both parties still rings true today in our assumed “modernized” and “progressive” society. Classically, we’ve witnessed the oppressor and oppressed relationship between groups, such as men and women, young and old, the rich and the poor, heterosexuals and the LGBT community, whites and people of color, and countless others. However, the inequitable symbiosis among these groups has in NO WAY been eradicated, but still remains and exists today through more obscure and covert characteristics. But what happens, [as Friere expressed,] when that group who has been on the incessant receiving end of subjugation becomes a repressive group over another historically marginalized ilk?
I see this very unfortunate phenomenon among those I consider my absolute closest and dearest friends and colleagues, as well as certain acquaintances in my life whose heritage constitutes that of the very same racial/ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic communities that have stared into the face of hate and institutional domination for hundreds of years. More and more each day, I see an upsurge of this socio-cultural trend of the “oppressed becoming the oppressor” among a particular historically oppressed group whose plight and experience has opened doors for others to be freed from socially indoctrinated bondage and extreme forms of marginalization. Given the condition of this group’s historical identity, it is quite an unnerving concept to consider, but moreover realize. This group is unfortunately that of African-Americans and those of direct African descent. Now I am sure that most readers have become enraged reading this statement thinking, “how could she say that African-Americans are oppressive?” “Why wouldn’t she discuss how ‘other’ groups also exert cruelty to members of societies that have been historically subjugated?” It is my hope that people will continue reading with an open mind and heart to fully understand the validity and depths of my message. More importantly, my main concern in this movement towards mental emancipation and unity WILL ALWAYS place priority on addressing the innumerable critical issues among people of African descent as it is this group that I share a genetic code, racial/ethnic, as well as cultural history with! Therefore, why wouldn’t I bring this imprisoning and very valid issue to the surface?!
It is true that when we examine and discuss the issue of “oppression” in its totality, it is impossible for African-Americans and people of direct African descent to subjugate other groups on a global level [as those of direct European descent have and continue to do] given the lack of economic and political power required to institutionalize hatred. With that said, there are unfortunately many other ways, mostly social and ideological in nature, in which people of African descent are able to ostracize groups that face injustices and discrimination unimaginable. One of the primary ways that African-Americans have transitioned from being the oppressed to the oppressor is enacting prejudicial behaviors, as well as perspectives and thoughts onto groups considered to be the “new underdogs.”
An example of this would be an experience I had last November while visiting one of the Smithsonian’s where I had an encounter with a middle-age African-American female security guard who exposed her oppressive character in a generalizing prejudicial manner against Mexicans and those of Latino descent. I was attending an exhibit which housed diverse types of African-American artifacts, documents, paintings, sculptures, etc., dating back since the enslavement period. In the midst of this rich, cultural atmosphere, I was completely engrossed in the collection of art, feeling a sense of pride and motivation to tell others about this compelling exhibit. I was then approached by the security guard who began talking about how wonderful the collection was and expressed her excitement about the upcoming Smithsonian for African-American History. She stated that “we [African-Americans] need to have our history in museums,” given our undeniable contribution to society. Sharing this sentiment with her, my exhilaration was soon shattered when she, out of nowhere, began stating that “the Mexicans and Latinos, they are the ones taking over!” She continued her bigoted tirade with the comment, “I’m glad that we [the United States] are closing the borders, ‘cause they are taking all of the jobs!” Now while this was not the first time I’ve heard people, including African-Americans, make these heinous and completely ignorant comments, it still completely caught me off guard given the glaringly racially offensive and Westernized nationalist ideology regarding “territory and ownership of land.” In many other conversations I’ve had with friends and co-workers over the years concerning this topic of immigration and race relations, the aforementioned thought about “Mexicans and Latinos taking over” has emerged from the mouths of countless African-Americans, which has truly been a painful experience! Even some comedians, like the deplorable Katt Williams in his recent Anti-Mexican tirade, attempt to bring laughter to their audiences by making quips about this very same issue. Nevertheless, as most of us have discovered, a “simple joke” is always motivated by some element of a socially-constructed and publicly sanctioned truth, which brings an overwhelming amount of hurt upon those whom the joke is about; let’s not forget the explosive racist rant from Comedian Michael Richards where he screamed the “N” word several times during a stand-up routine just 5 years ago!
How has it come to pass that some members from the African-American community possess these beliefs about another historically oppressed group and do not see the larger institutional elements involved?! The answer is simple: it is only through the infectious disease of mental enslavement, due to an imposedEurocentric value system [unconsciously adopted through the enslavement and post-enslavement eras] that African-Americans could EVER think along these terrible lines! To not at all recognize the indisputable fact that the ORIGINAL inhabitants of this land were those of Native American descent [AND African descent], whose progeny are the present-day members of the very same group that we shun and have somehow rationalized as “the thieves of ‘our’ land and robbers of employment positions” is an irrefutable indication of the psychological genocide and trauma that African-Americans as a whole have experienced! Ironically, the same African-Americans that cast this ridiculous blame on other groups, like Mexicans and Latinos, whom have undoubtedly been victimized themselves, never once if ever, acknowledge the incontestable fact that the European settlers, or more appropriately termed terrorists, obtained this land through racial oppression, rape of the land, people and its resources, along with the exploitation of entire groups of people! And it is this same group’s descendants that continue to co-opt the cultural traditions and historical identity of those traditionally marginalized groups, while seizing and rationing their land, (i.e. neighborhoods) for economic and political gain! Why else do we have the pervasive issue of gentrification in EVERY major city across the United States, in addition to the rest of the world?! For our people to maintain these appalling and racially xenophobic perspectives about Mexicans and Latinos, as well as any other maltreated group, highlights the unfortunate, yet obvious truth about OUR community: we may no longer be in physical bondage, but our collective psyches are in a constant state of slavery and imprisonment, which causes us to remain enslaved!
Having discussed the way in which African-Americans have taken on the role of oppressor in the Eurocentric ideological and culturally insular contexts, let’s examine another manner in which those members from the African-American community and those of African descent have shifted into the “oppressed to the oppressor” position, most notably among their own people. A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing some of the status updates on Facebook, when I came across the status of someone who has identified himself as THE authority on all things “Black!” He is quoted exactly broadcasting the following message:
“It’s a shame we have men and women who aren’t even 25 years old and they are THROUGH! They already have a gang of kids, a ton of debts, a criminal record and problems that only OLD folks should have. They are trapped and their lives are already done. I’m 34 and I haven’t even PEAKED yet! That’s how it’s SUPPOSED to be. You life is supposed to get better and BETTER…..not be over before it started.”
[Please note that even though this “authority of blackness” has decided to place himself on a pedestal while belittling others, he has misspelled ‘your’!]In the past, I have seen many status updates from this particular person, many of which have been extremely sexist and intolerant in nature [which is quite contradictory of a TRUE revolutionary,] however it wasn’t until I saw the above message that I felt compelled to address it. While I understand this “Authority’s” crusade/campaign to speak to the multi-level crises among “Black” people, there are many oversights in the delivery of his message, not to mention the undertone of self-righteous piety! If you look at his “message” more closely, you’ll find that he merely states the problems without EVER addressing how these excessive ills came to be! His inability to link these present-day societal calamities to the atrocities of the past renders nothing but a half-baked attempt at “saving his people!” Moreover, what his slanted proclamation does is place responsibility of the circumstance, (i.e. a gang of kids,) on the victim, which creates a polarizing dissension among the African-American community fostering an “us versus them” mentality! Even the comments left on the “authority’s” page from his many followers [and I do mean that in every sense of the word] reflected the distancing of themselves from “those people,” with statements like, “I’m only 30 and don’t have any of those problems,” to labeling the very people they speak of as “the weak links of our community!” For one to gloat about their own personal “accomplishments” while oppressing others, specifically one’s own people, does absolutely NOTHING to resolve the innumerable maladies that plague our community! Regrettably, many African-Americans and other people of African descent, in their “attempt” to unite and save our people, actually cause the further marginalization of those that they intend to empower, which disempowers us all! To those self-identified “Talented Tenth” who believe that their harsh verbal declaration of these communal issues is in fact their method of “holding people accountable,” let it be known that there is a colossal difference between working with the community as an advocate to enact REAL CHANGE that is sustainable and simply spouting empty and hegemonic rhetoric against the very groups you intend to strengthen! When this incessant venomous verbal discourse takes place, the end result is a devastating polarization among the entire African-American community based on a Europeanized version of socioeconomic status, level of “education,” cultural interests and intellectual capacity in reference to those we find “objectionable.”
We’ve highlighted the manner in which African-Americans have exerted their adopted oppressive behaviors and ideologies in the form of Western nationalism and prejudice against various immigrant communities, in addition to the exclusion of certain socially-constructed groups within the African-American community. Let’s now examine another form of subjugation that some individuals within the African-American community shun and ostracize due to the societal creation of “class.” I remember a conversation I had a few months ago with an old friend about some of the contemporary issues among the African-American community. During this verbal exchange, I noticed that he continuously talked about how members of the “low-socioeconomic” class were “the ones holding us back!” Utterly confused by his baseless and classist remarks, I asked him what exactly he meant by this. His egregious point was that those of us from a “higher” educational and socioeconomic position are the individuals that can make our community better, but because of the “ghetto” mentality of the underclass, we are consistently held back from achieving greatness. Recently, while out with a close friend [who is directly from an East African county,] I observed how she constantly used the term “ghetto” to describe a certain type of guy that she didn’t want to date or be in a relationship with. She often stated that men of a “low-socioeconomic” class were “beneath” her and that she is attracted to men of a more advanced social stature! Another painful observation I’ve made surrounding this elitist mentality among some of my other friends and acquaintances is the restriction of their circle of friends solely to those individuals that meet the posh or desirable image of those they intend to socialize with; haughty comments filled with superficial prejudice regarding someone’s style of dress or speech are also paramount tools used in the decision-making process about someone’s worth! I’ve even observed this classist and exclusionary ethos among very prominent organizations within the African-American community that pride themselves on being historical fixtures created to unite our people, but instead only cater to those groups that correspond with the customs, economics, and intellectual capacities that only the polished and middle to upper-class groups can bring.
Once again, we are faced with the issue of exclusion and an unfortunate segregation of human beings with whom we share a multi-level kinship with, based on the artificial creation of societal rank. This oppressive and inhumane evaluation of people reflects the irrefutable severe psychological trauma African-Americans have suffered residing in a globally Eurocentric and Westernized society. When African-Americans and other groups of color discuss the concept of “class,” especially their aspirations to become a part of the “upper-class” sect, it is always in reference to a Europeanized version of socioeconomic success and achievement, while aspiring to possess a universally marketed lifestyle comparable to that of European-Americans.
The topic of the African-American community transitioning from being oppressed to enacting oppression onto other marginalized groups is indeed a difficult and quite uncomfortable issue to reflect upon. However, when heading towards the path of true empowerment, emancipation, and unity among our people, it is necessary to confront the more painful and distressing truths that exist among us to liberate ourselves from the innumerable ills that afflict us. African-Americans as a whole are still oppressed in many ways, most often through more hidden means, veiled under modernity and a liberalistic view of equality for all. However, whether or not we are on the receiving end of the oppression or have become the oppressor, we are ALL imprisoned due to the global departure from humanity! We MUST collectively remove the mentality of ignorance and enslavement to achieve the mental liberation which will free each of us from every other system of bondage, including the Eurocentric psyche that ordains our very existence! As the powerful Marcus Garvey stated, “ Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.”
A cold, dark alley; a woman followed by a large shadowy figure; the figure approaches closer and closer to her and the coronary muscles within her chest begin to quicken as she turns around to see a man whose eyes convey malevolent intent; unable to get away, she is grabbed, pushed, slapped and punched as her clothing is ripped to shreds; the streets are soon filled with blood and the piercing cries of physical violation and emotional vandalism, though thunderous, are never heard by a rescuing soul.
These intensely disturbing images, while haunting, are all too familiar for many women [and some men] within our society. Even for those women that have never experienced the most brutal forms of sexual violence, encounters of verbal chauvinism, in addition to unwarranted physical exchanges from men occur within the lives of virtually every woman and young girl around the world. At some point within our own lives, each of us is presented with this long-standing issue of sexual violence against women, either from personal experience and/or from the experiences of friends and others close to us. While I am always on a mission to bring light to the multidimensional issue of sexism and how it grossly affects us all, I recently began to think much deeper about just how pervasive this epidemic is, but more importantly, the unforgivable social and institutional factors that persistently breathe life into this unending cycle of oppression.
A few weeks ago, I was out at a nightclub/lounge with my youngest sister, her friend from high school, and one of my closest friends. The night was perfect: great food, tons of laughs, electrifying music, dancing, making new friends…just an absolutely amazing time! Well that euphoria that I had was ended abruptly when I felt someone grab my behind as my friends and I were attempting to relocate from one floor to the next. Completely shocked, I immediately turned around and knew instantly who it was, as he was walking terribly close to me and above all, wore the expression of guilt all over his repugnant face. In this moment, I didn’t think at all, I simply reacted in my normal fashion when I’m presented with vile disrespect; I screamed and yelled at this guy with my finger in his face telling him to NEVER put his hands on me. At this point, he tried to deny the action, which REALLY sent me over the edge because not only was he bold enough to actually touch me, but now he has decided to make me think that I’m crazy and imagining things! What’s even more infuriating is the fact that while I was going off on him, my friend told me that he did the exact same thing to her just moments before!!!! Though she pleaded with me to simply “let it go and walk away,” her requests fell on deaf ears as I simply DO NOT allow those that verbally or physically violate me to get away with it! I continued to make my unrelenting point to this guy by grabbing the collar of his shirt [my little sister had to remind me of this act as I didn’t remember doing this] and explained to him that he was “one step away from being a rapist” and that he was incredibly disrespectful and sexist to me, my friends, and my little sister through his heinous and unforgivable actions! After defending myself, [pleased with the fearful look I left upon his face,] I walked away from the matter with tons of thoughts and emotions surging within me and knew that I couldn’t just let this issue disappear into the boundless space of anger coursing inside me.
As I shared this story of sexual violation with friends and colleagues, there were some very disheartening perspectives and “words of advice” given to me to “deal” with the situation. I heard things like, “you should have just walked away,” “you have to be careful out here because people are crazy,” “I can’t believe you grabbed his shirt,” and worst of all, “you should just let it go!” I honestly could not believe my ears! How is it that so many people, both men and women, could share these views of passivity when the issue of physical vandalism is at hand?! What’s even more alarming is that one person [a man] told me that “I shouldn’t have put my hands on the guy” and that making my point “verbally” was sufficient enough! REALLY?! Just so I’m clear: it was perfectly okay for someone to touch me completely inappropriately, but when I am defending myself, I’ve gone too far?! These disturbing comments of passivity simply prove the sexist universal stance that women are innately submissive beings and should therefore be silent, even in the midst of oppression, assault, and victimization! I suppose this is why 9 out of 10 rapes and sexual assaults are never reported, according to RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network.) This disturbingly sexist ideological framework, highly archaic in nature, has become so commonplace within our society that people are no longer shocked when a woman is groped in a manner which is unprovoked or verbally assaulted in language dripping with bigotry! If a man were out in a social setting and was intentionally touched by another man in any manner other than accidental, society would expect [almost demand] him to physically defend himself right?! We see this countless times in movies, TV shows, etc. Why then should a woman not be expected to do the same? Is it that she should wait for her “Knight in shining armor” to come & protect her & defend her honor? It's HER honor and she should be able to defend it HERSELF, however she chooses!
How has it come to pass that our global society is so desensitized to the ills that continuously plague our society, which have broken down the very fabric of our humanity? Well in the case of sexism, long standing personal attitudes develop into cultural philosophy, which then becomes popularized through its infusion into the deepest fibers of our institutional core, which all but blatantly gives men the RIGHT to abuse women through the mechanical or instinctive reinforcement of patriarchy supported by our legislative, law enforcement, and social service sectors.
Case in Point: I recently saw Rihanna’s newest music video, “Man Down,” where she boldly depicts a scene where she is constantly harassed by a guy at a dance club [despite her numerous rejections] and is then later followed leaving the club, where she is beaten and raped by the same man. Feeling a whirlwind of emotions, [most leading rage, confusion, and violation I’m sure,] she shoots and kills him. While viewing this, I thought to myself, “wow, this is very powerful video with an unfortunately realistic message!” Moreover, in the most candid sphere of my mind, I felt that seeing a woman break free from the shadows of socially induced silence was long overdue! My personal feelings of rejoice were interrupted when one of my sisters told me about the video coming under attack from so called “activists” groups who are all but spearheading a modern-day witch hunt against her and the cessation of the video itself. The Parents Council, Industry Ears, and the Enough is Enough Campaign have joined forces to build a vehement crusade against Rihanna and what they’ve called an “inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song” demanding that both the global communications company Viacom and BET permanently remove the video due to its extremely violent nature! Melissa Henson, Director of Communications and Public Education with the Parents Television Council went so far to say that Rihanna’s video supports retaliation “in the form of premeditated murder” and should have instead depicted a story where a woman seeks “help,” particularly due to her own personal encounter with domestic violence.
So let me see here: a woman who’s JUST been sadistically attacked, soon after kills her attacker and she is to blame for violence?! AMAZING!!! How is it that someone who is defending themself [delayed reaction or not] somehow becomes the principal reason behind messages of bloodshed being distributed to the impressionable minds of children and youth within our society? REALLY?! This “blame the victim” ethos, which has been around for far too long, forces countless victims of sexual and domestic violence to become imprisoned within themselves never uttering a word of their attack(s). Moreover, the manner in which these groups have attacked both Rihanna and her video are absolutely unconscionable! It’s quite interesting that these “activists” groups blame, Rihanna, THE VICTIM, for the messaging within this video, but then try to reinforce their weak point by stating that if “Chris Brown shot a girl in his new video,” it would essentially be the end of all existence. Question: How is this AT ALL A STRONG CASE? Would Chris Brown portray himself being sexually assaulted by a woman and then shooting her to subsequently seek revenge? NO!
Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, stated that in his “30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in primetime.” Let’s just take stock here a moment shall we: Video music stations, like BET, MTV and VH1, have all notoriously been responsible for the circulation of videos, like the alternative rock video Born Free by MIA, containing the most depraved acts of misogyny, mob worship, hedonism and extreme violence and objectification towards women and suddenly when the issue of justified retribution and defense are on the table, everyone gasps in horror! If the parents and members of these groups want to “protect children against images of violence, sex,” etc., why don’t they begin to wage a war against really destructive shows, like the upcoming Playboy show on NBC, which is overflowing with sexism and the portrayal of women as sexual commodities?! Furthermore, Industry Ears and other groups against Rihanna’s video, could have taken a more progressive and empowering step in their mission by using her video as an educational tool to enlighten their children about the victimization of women all over the world and how NOT to be sexist and a depraved violator of someone’s body, mind, and spirit.
The inflated responses from these institutionalized groups are quite contradictory to the nationalist ideology within this country which supports an individual or nation being able to defend and protect themselves in the midst of peril and isn’t that evident of our questionable and militarized law enforcement system, which legalizes, but then poorly regulates the use of fire arms?! Let me make it clear that I am in NO WAY a supporter of violence at all! It is an unending cyclone of oppression that sweeps all of us into its path and destroys that very thing that makes us all human. However, I AM a complete advocate for the liberation of those who have been forced into silence and when the threat of sexual depravity, physical violation, and verbal harassment become reality, their voices and actions have a RIGHT to break that silence, hold those offenders accountable and let the world hear of their stories!
I leave you with this: There is a disease within our society… an insidious socio-emotional sickness or malady among many within the male species due to a patriarchal framework that gives authorization to the atrocious behaviors of men: that sickness is called ENTITLEMENT! The male in the video sexually assaulted Rihanna, just as the guy sexually violated me because of their inherent sense of privilege to simply do as they please without consequence, because in our society there is no consequence given the undeniable fact that15 out of 16 rapists walk free and will never spend time in jail, not to mention that there is a 58% chance of a conviction if a prosecution is made; add to that the fact that “an accused rapist is more likely to be acquitted than a person charged with any other violent crime” (http://www.womens-self-defense-instruction-online.com/statistics.html.) Our judicial practices [along with religion and indoctrinated social customs] support and reinforce the disease of entitlement among men committing sexist acts. Moreover, they feel entitled or unrestricted given the manner in which women [as we have been deemed for ages and ages] are viewed as mere objects; things devoid of emotions, voice or individual perspective for sexually entertaining pleasure at the hands of men! What will it take for this epidemic to be destroyed and for women [and men] to no longer be victimized?!
Recently I was talking with a guy I just met and the issue of marriage was brought up. He expressed that he knows strongly that he wants to be married, however, “he doesn’t want to end up broke trying to get there!” Having some inclination of the nature of his concern, I couldn’t help but ask probing questions to hear more. His understandable concern was essentially the price tag comparable to a mortgage that’s placed on present-day engagement and wedding rings, in addition to the wedding ceremony and reception. I found myself talking about this exact same issue again last Friday while at happy hour with two of my friends; they asked me how I felt about having a wedding should I ever get married and what my stance was on “the ring.” Having expressed my sentiments the week before with someone I’d just met, I was completely open to sharing with them! While my views regarding this subject are very strong [as in the case with most things,] I want to take you through the journey I myself experienced which gave birth to the sentiments I possess today.
During my undergraduate days, [highlighted by an intense critical reflection on everything around me yielding deep self-discovery,] I found myself in many conversations, mostly with young women, about wedding and engagement rings. Considering the fact that I was in a space of higher learning, I so desperately wanted to discuss more relevant topics, like the hyper-polarization of the distribution of wealth or the vandalized identity of the collective African American community. In spite of my quiet and sometimes overlooked plea, I still found that I was being asked by my peers to share my thoughts on engagement and wedding rings. While my mind couldn’t have been further from that topic, my innate inquisitive nature forced me to really reflect and ask myself, “what & how do I feel about wedding rings?!” After listening [with a little shock and horror] to the way in which these young women spoke about this subject, I knew I didn’t share the same perspectives. They would go on and on and on about the exact cut, carat size, “value” of the ring and whether they would have a gold, silver, or platinum band! I remember thinking to myself, “God….are they serious and is this really happening to me?!” These young women of tomorrow spoke so emphatically about pieces of jewelry, yet never spoke once about the quality or type of marriage they wanted or the qualities they desired in their potential life partner, husband or soul mate, which truly disturbed me! While in the midst of this outbreak of the Victorian Era, I wondered how they came to hold the strong convictions they possessed. Asking the question, “what do wedding/engagement rings mean to you?,” I heard many responses, such as a “symbols of eternal love and devotion, a declaration to the world of one’s unwavering commitment to another soul, a tangible representation of spiritual unity between two people” among other explanations. One can’t help but be moved into acquiescence by the intoxicating terminology used to express the underlying significance of these rings. Nevertheless, I still felt compelled to go a step further and ask how the ring itself came into existence to actually have the profound connotations attached to it. “What were its origins and furthermore, how and why have they become so widespread and for lack of a better term fashionable?” Surprisingly, none of my peers knew the historical context about engagement and wedding rings, despite their fervent intentions on having one. Also, if wedding rings are symbols of eternal love and devotion, how is it that we are able to place a monetary value [and a high one at that] on something that represents the most immeasurable facet of life?......love!
Feeling very strongly about knowing the history of present-day phenomena, this is what I’ve found about the history of wedding rings: The birthplace of the wedding ring, dating back to Ancient Kemet (also known as Egypt,) originally consisted of braided pieces of shrubs and weeds that grew along the Nile River, which were placed on either the fingers or wrists and worn to adorn the body. With the circle as a sign of eternity, a force without beginning and end and the center as a gateway to both things known and hidden, the original Egyptians gave reverence to this ring as the symbolic representation of the endless joining of two souls. With the delicate state of weeds and shrubs, ivory, bone and leather were soon introduced as a more permanent material for these marital ornaments. Since that time, after the destruction of Ancient Egypt at the hands of Alexander the Great Destroyer, this tradition of the exchange of rings swept across Europe where Romans altered the representation of wedding rings; Roman men gave rings to women they selected as a sign of ownership, instead of an indication of endless love. It was during this time, that metallurgy was presented where iron [and later gold] was used to create Roman wedding rings with engravings. Over time, wedding rings became institutionalized as the emblem of one’s undeniable marital status. This naturalization of an exchange of rings during the wedding ceremony gained increased popularity through religious influence from the Christian and later Catholic Church in 860 AD and over time, it has permeated holy spaces across the globe.
Even with the historical and religious impact on the wedding ring phenomenon, there is another, more influential entity regarding the widespread popularity of wedding rings; so much so, that there is an entire industry surrounding the production, distribution, and marketing of these highly coveted jewels. World renowned diamond companies, such as DeBeers, exploded into the market during the late 1880s, which, interestingly enough, were established right after The Berlin Conference, a moment in history better known as the “Scramble for Africa.” [During my second year of college, I was introduced to this historical event by my mentor and it profoundly inspired my perspectives about the diamond industry.] It was at this assembly that political leaders from France, Britain, Italy, German, Belgium, and Portugal came together to literally divide the African continent, its people and the resources, which forever changed the course of history. DeBeers, a Belgian corporation founded in 1888 in Johannesburg, South Africa by Cecil Rhodes [one of histories most notorious terrorists] is one of the World’s largest diamond companies, grossing over 6.5 billion dollars! The Williamson Diamond Mine, an English company is another famous diamond business, located in Tanzania. Other European diamond companies, like Cullinan, the Premier Diamond Company, and countless others have built billion dollar companies through two key features: a) the surge of an unrelenting capitalist ideology and b) the implementation of oppressive, dehumanizing and imperialist mechanisms towards natural-born citizens on the African terrain.
It is no secret at all how diamonds are manufactured: native citizens from South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and other countries are coerced, [due to the nation’s severely depressed economic state as a direct result of colonialism and Structural Adjustment Programs], beaten and tortured into submission to extract these precious stones from the earth which holds their ancestral memoirs. Additionally, with the inherent inequitable nature of the capitalist market, those that are laborers receive wages that are substantially disproportionate to that of the owners of these terrorist organizations. Knowing the inhumane and classist conditions of this industry, how could I wear jewelry that has the blood, sweat, tears, and degradation of those individuals whose blood also flows through my veins?! Whenever I’ve shared my views about wedding and engagement rings, people always attempt to make the argument about not purchasing conflict diamonds. My rebuttal to this is simple: all diamonds are full of conflict given the fact that they are extracted from the earth by the hands of those who, while the originators of the land, are not the recipients of the billions of dollars that these companies generate.
For me, I have firmly resolved that I don’t need a ring, as it will not determine whether or not I’m actually going to marry my eternal partner, nor does it determine the quality of the marriage that I’m going to have. An eternal promise of fidelity, love, and unity is made with a genuine heart and spirit, not a tangible representation of that. It’s unfortunate that in our society, we rarely think about why we do some of the things we do or have beliefs in certain things, as in the case of the conversations I had with the young women in college. There’s an unfortunate “knee-jerk” response that our global culture has to things, like wedding/engagement rings or getting married, going to college, etc. When will we as a society ever get to a place where we actually ask ourselves these necessary questions, instead of being confined to the socialization and encoding process we’ve all endured?! When will people begin to realize that the choices we think we make have actually already been made for us by larger institutional forces like capitalism, patriarchal ideology, and socially-constructed gender roles; in this case, little girls are programmed to believe that they get must have a big diamond ring, in addition to a wedding with all the trimmings, while little boys are indoctrinated to accept that they must give a woman a “socially acceptable” diamond ring to make her truly happy. This "that's the way it is" mentality is further reinforced through strategic marketing techniques designed to pull on the heart strings of consumers everywhere: "A Diamond is Forever" and "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" are undeniably memorable phrases employed to capture the minds, hearts, and moreover wallets of betrothed couples, as well as experienced ones hellbent on making that special someone "happy!"
The deep historical symbolism behind wedding rings is quite intoxicating and truly can make anyone fall in accordance with its meaning. But knowing the evolution that it's been through and the present-day dehumanizing feature attached to it, it really makes you ask yourself, "Do I really need a ring after all?!"
A few weeks ago, I watched this film that I ordered from Netflix called “The Killer Inside Me,” which [like most things in our world,] left me highly disturbed and all in all pissed off!!!! From the synopsis of the film, it seemed as though it would be a very psychological and edgy film with mystery about a local sheriff of a small town set in the 1950s who harbors a secret life as a serial killer. Being a lifelong film aficionada and hearing all of the hype surrounding this movie, I decided to check it out. Upon watching this film, I discovered that it was anything but impressive as the “critics” initially asserted and I was once again reminded of the stark unquestionable oppression of women, specifically through contemporary modalities.
The ENTIRE film was solely dedicated to the severe torture, sexual objectification, and humiliation of women from the hands of the town sheriff, played by Casey Affleck, as this was the only manner in which he could “express” his true nature! Every single interaction he had with the two female characters in the film, [played by Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba] consisted of chauvinist and depraved acts of violence where Casey Affleck was the purveyor of these aforementioned behaviors. Because he was the individual imparting the subjugation onto others, this film is yet another conduit or mechanism of the reinforcement and perpetuation of the tyranny of women and the uplifting of men. Moreover, the stereotypes regarding gender roles of men and women only heightened the oppressive and depraved nature of this film; Kate’s character exemplified the overly “feminine” qualities of a woman: as his girlfriend, she was completely devoted to Casey’s character, waiting on him hand and foot lingering in his shadow until he decided it was time to “walk down the proverbial isle!” His mistress, the local prostitute played by Jessica Alba [of course she received raved reviews for her “edgy” portrayal of this character with several nude scenes], allowed herself to be subjected to constant brutalized sexual encounters highlighted by strangulation, forceful pushing, slapping on the face and bottom, etc. I suppose this is an accurate portrayal of women, given that the universal ideology regarding women places them in two demeaning categories: virginal and pure young maiden or a scandalous temptress and harlot who exists solely for the pleasure of men!
Many people are under the impression that given the “modernity” of our global society and the undeniable accomplishments in the sphere of civil rights for women, that oppression and sexism among females simply does not exist. However, when films such as this and other vessels of bigotry and sexism exist, [like the recent rise and disturbing popularity of in-home stripper poles and pole dancing/stripping “exercise classes” offered at nationally recognized fitness centers, while offered to anyone, are primarily marketed towards women,] they serve their ultimate purpose in advancing the patriarchal ideologies of our world. Women are incessantly on the receiving end of sexist brutality and oppression; people have to understand that this inhumane subjugation comes in many forms…most often in very subtle and obscure ways as to tread the delicate line between artistic expression and overt sexism motivated by capitalist hedonism.
Contemporary cinema is an irrefutable instrument of the dehumanization of woman, furthering the antediluvian ideologies of gender roles to suppress women. But what happens when the perceptions of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status are added to the equation? On last Thursday, I attended an event at the Smithsonian for African Art where a film from Morocco, entitled Raja, was being presented with thoughtful discussion afterwards. The premise of the film explored the strenuous “relationship” between a local Moroccan girl and her wealthy French employer. Raja, a 19 year old former prostitute from very socioeconomically deprived means, works as a domestic assistant/maid among several other women at the lavish estate of Frederique, a 40 year old wealthy Frenchman. From the moment he sees Raja, he makes overt sexual advances towards her despite being married. What’s more insulting is how he uses money and material objects to gain her “affection;” this may have something to do with the fact that Raja’s character is undeniably portrayed as a money-hungry seductive temptress who uses sex as a commodity to acquire the things that she wants. Moreover, with the way in which Europeans have historically exoticized and sexually objectified people of color, it comes as no surprise that the remains of that xenophobic and oppressive ideology still highly influences diverse spaces of expression, as in the case of this film. These intersections of race, class, and gender underscore the universal consensus that groups of color, women, and those of very low socioeconomic means are merely objects to be utilized for servitude in all forms, in addition to being oversexed, materialistic, duplicitous beings.
In our society, the only way that we recognize injustice is when we are hit in the face with unquestionably conspicuous images signifying oppression, like the KKK or people in bondage. However, the collective mission among our global society should be to unveil the hidden and surreptitious manner in which oppression and dehumanization flies under the radar, as it allows for more poisonous Eurocentric patriarchy to infiltrate the minds of people everywhere and disseminate into the smallest fabrics and dimensions of our world. Once this clandestine mission is exposed, the insidious oppression of women [and other groups] can be exterminated and the restoration of humanity will arise!
The glitz and the glam of private jets, personal chefs, make-up artists and stylists, homes in Aspen, shopping on Rodeo Drive, walk-in closets stocked with haute couture clothing and top-of-the-line cars to cruise your city of choice in “class!” These are just some of the elements of the lifestyle of the “housewives” that America has fallen deeply in love with. This inside peep into the “real” life of these ladies of leisure exploded onto television networks about 4 years ago and has been growing incessantly ever since. Never being a fan or avid viewer of shows such as these, I often wondered what this fascination with the Real Housewives of New York, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, etc. and Basketball Wives was all about; my question was....let's just say well-informed while home for the holidays.
In between my endless outings to restaurants, movies, lunch, parties and clubs with my family and friends, I found myself watching some programs on the tube to find out “what I’ve been missing,” since I’ve chosen against having cable in my place of residence. As I flipped through the numerous stations, I saw several marathons of the Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills, along with Basketball Wives on VH1 scheduled to be aired. Having previously heard so much hype about it, I thought, “ok….let me see what all the fuss is about.” I only watched these shows for a few minutes at a time, as that was about all I could stomach given the overly dramatized and superficial nature of each of the shows; the fights and gossiping, the limitless conversations about “Gucci this” and “Fendi that,” and the empty rhetoric about the “glamorous life.” I LITERALLY felt as though I was losing brain cells every single second I watched the highly publicized shows.
What is it about these [and other] “reality” television shows that have caused such a sensation among viewers? Could it be the presumed “affluent” lifestyle of these specific people? Does merely watching someone else’s life, a life that society at large deems as “desirable,” make a person feel better about their own existence?! Maybe it’s the sheer mentioning of designer labels, expensive jewelry, etc., that makes people think “hey!!!.....I want MY life to be like this!!!” Or could it be the constant sensationalized verbal and physical fights, (i.e. throwing water in a women’s faces, excessive use of the word bitc*, hair pulling, etc.) bickering, and exaggerated storylines that keep viewers glued to the tube? In my deep, albeit short-lived study of this pop culture spectacle, I’ve come to the realization that all of these aspects, [and I’m sure many more,] fuel the beast better known as the Housewives. The question in my mind is….. “is anyone else disturbed by the multi-layered subjugation and obtrusive stereotypes within these highly popular voyeuristic shows?”
For me, one of the most troubling features of these particular shows, [apart from the EXTREMELY superficial, self-indulgent, and artificial nature of the shows,] are the stark gender-based stereotypes heavily present among the Housewives’ programs. We’ve all heard it before right?..........…”women are catty,” “women are gossip-fiends,” “women are materialistic and gold diggers,” “women are full of drama,” and the list goes on and on and on! We all know [or at least I hope that people know that these conjectures MUST be taken on a case-by-case basis, as generalizing one group of people is highly dangerous, ignorant, and harmful; blanketed oversimplifications of an entire group of people fails to acknowledge the vast diversity within that group as no two people are the same. With that said, these hyped-up Housewives shows only perpetuate and reinforce those very same gender-based labels that link ALL women together in a pool of undying bondage. These and other shows, like Desperate Housewives for example, portray women in such a destructive and antediluvian manner, placing women back into an 18th-century Victorian era where women were equated with property and mere objects of male-oriented socially constructed projections of femininity. The term “housewife” in itself is quite offensive due to the numerous implications of domestic servitude and isolation among women due to some “innate” or “biological” inclinations. Do men not also possess genetic codes, but more so basic human characteristics to nurture and care for the ones they love and adore or are they too bound to the oppressive determinants of our society? Short answer…NO! That stated, the very obvious element to the term housewife is ACTUALLY being a wife and interestingly enough, most of the women on these shows ARE NOT MARRIED! So I guess I too can create a show called “World’s Wealthiest Unknown Woman” or “World’s Best Surgeon” and cast myself as the star! For those women, [while the minority,] that are married, they typically lead incredibly lonely lives as their husbands are habitually away from home
fulfilling their masculine destinies of being the “bread winners.” Is this aspect of the “lifestyle” that viewers so voraciously crave alluring at all?! I would think that utter happiness, (i.e. constant laughter and joy stimulated by substantive moments with deeply loved ones and the ability to make pure and authentic memories from beautiful life experiences) would be the lifestyle sought after because as we’ve seen from these “ladies of leisure,” even with the diamonds, luxury cars, designer clothing, and large bank accounts [or maybe just extensive lines of credit,] you can be more desolate and alone than the person with even the most economically depressed circumstances; TRUE happiness is not attached to, nor determined by material possessions!
I know that most people would say that the Real Housewives and Basketball Wives tv shows are just that…shows. Innocuous, guilty-pleasure programs that people only view, but never take seriously. The truth is, these shows are highly influential, persuasive, and harmful just like many films, books and other vehicles of propaganda due to the infusion of capitalist, Western, and gender-based stereotypical ideologies that exist at the core of these entities. Sure...people have freewill to watch, consume, and subscribe to any and every facet of life that they desire. The danger exists, however when a) there is no alternative to the mainstream phenomenon that holds those viewers so firmly in its clutches, b) people begin to actually desire and identify with this way of life and c) when we exist within a global society that thrives and sustains on the race of androids it purposefully produces; an entire group of people trained and programmed to adopt mandated belief systems, economic philosophies, “leading” racial/ethnic cultural traits and habits, and “socially acceptable” ways of life without question. If one never questions the hidden meaning of…well everything, then manifestations of our “modern-day” culture will always be seen as just a show or just a movie, etc. Nothing is ever just… like humans, there is always so much more than what’s on the surface!
Happy New Year everyone! So sorry I’ve been away for a while; I’ve been away for a little vacation time and have been doing some reflecting and examination on a lot of issues that affect our society in so many ways. Taking that time to reflect has been fantastic and will allow me to bring some hopefully very interesting topics to you, beginning with Part 2 of Holidays!
As we end the winter holiday season, we begin to enter a series of holidays also fueled by Western capitalist political ideology. The first holiday on the list: Valentine’s Day!
Ahhhh yes…..a dozen red roses, boxes full of decadent chocolates, fluffy teddy bears holding hearts that say “I Love You” and “Be Mine,” pictures of chubby cherubs (often blonde haired and blue-eyed to further advance the Eurocentric ideologies of religion and God as “White,”) and incessant commercials from jewelry companies, like DeBeers and Jared, flashing enticing images of an array of sparkling jewels to really let your significant other know just how much you love them, are all “classic” elements of the “season of love!” Let me say that the thought of a celebration of love [in all its forms] is a great concept indeed; honoring a day to spread love to the one(s) you care about is a truly humanistic frame of mind. What is not humanistic is the capitalist, superficial and obligatory manner in which most people show their ”love” or “admiration” for their significant other, often without even being aware of it! Moreover, the question is, do most people even know the true origin of Valentine’s Day?
Over the winter holiday season while visiting my family and friends in my hometown Atlanta, I was out running some errands with my mom at Wal-Mart just 2 days after Christmas and saw several rows drenched in and adorned with Valentine’s Day décor ripe for the picking! “Are you serious?!” was the immediate thought that came to my mind and soon after, out of my mouth. Christmas was literally just days ago and already [frantic and consumeristic] shoppers are being bombarded with subtle, yet glaringly obvious messages to “BUY NOW FOR THE APPROACHING SEASON OF LOVE!!!” Not even completely out of one commercialized holiday, conduits of capitalism (i.e. multi-service stores like Wal-Mart, etc.) fulfill their duties and loyalties to the capitalist regime by displaying an excess of those previously mentioned quintessential items in visually striking colors of red and pink, sure to catch not only the eyes, but the pockets of unsuspecting consumers! This premature and overzealous marketing tactic used to lure the disposable income of “helpless romantics” [or possibly those that simply want to purchase their gifts early], is unquestionably seen during other holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, as mentioned in Part 1 of the Holidays series. The sole motivation of stores, such as Wal-Mart and other similar stores, is to merely divest the consumer of their funds, while acting under the guise of the “holiday spirit!”
In addition to the capitalist and over commercialization of Valentine’s Day, the celebration of this day, like Thanksgiving and others, is done in such a superficial and almost obligatory manner, which yields the question, “Is it really love or a social requisite?” Every year as the moments creep closer and closer to V-Day, millions of people across the nation [and the world] flood department stores, jewelry stores, florist shops, and online businesses for the perfect “gift(s)” to express their feelings to that special someone in their life. These “gifts,” almost always tangible in nature, run the gamut of heart-shaped pendants and diamond bracelets, to long stemmed roses and other floral arrangements, cards from Hallmark written in flowery tones expressing the admiration and love felt for the another, to boxes of sweet chocolates for an intended love. Advertisements from businesses that sell these very items, promote the acquisition of these products with messages like, “show her you care with this diamond solitaire,” or “tell her you love her with this ornate floral arrangement.” [notice how the commercials are almost always targeted towards men to purchase items for women on this holiday!....a truly gender-based economic tactic.] So, by showing someone that you really and truly love them, you give them things…right?! Tangible objects solidify the bond between two people correct?! If all we had to do to show someone that we cared for or loved them was to merely give them gifts, I’m sure more relationships would stand the test of time, as no genuine or substantive emotions [which most people find to be an utterly arduous task] are required! The fact is, simply buying gifts which in no way possess any originality or depth of thought to show someone you care does absolutely nothing to create an authentic bond or connection to another; a relationship [of any kind] based on material worth and the giving/receiving of things is the epitome of a one-dimensional and failed union. Furthermore, what I find to also be shallow and banal about this public holiday is how we “celebrate” a day of love ONE DAY out of an entire year. Just like Thanksgiving where people “show their thanks” one day a year, people are somehow only able to “show their love” on February 14th. I wonder if the same people that so eagerly participate in V-Day are just as enthusiastic to the one(s) they love 364 days out of the year?!
Apart from the mechanical, superficial and capitalist participation of millions of people on Valentine’s Day, it’s quite interesting to know that most don’t know the history (or what is told as history) behind this holiday. While there is no one succinct story, many historical references state that the origins of Valentine’s Day derive from an ancient Roman and Christian fertility celebration formerly honored on February 15th. It wasn’t until the rise of Christianity throughout Europe that this and other holidays became named after designated Christian martyrs, hence the name Valentine after St. Valentine, andthe date became changed to the 14th; [many holidays were altered to more religiously appropriate ones due to their “pagan” foundations.] St. Valentine was selected as the person to honor for this celebration due to his status as a bishop who performed secret marriages during a time when lawful unions were banned by Roman ruler Claudius II; he believed that marriage was a distraction to men needed for their armed forces. The story continues that, being of a kind-hearted and Christian nature, St. Valentine continued to marry “young lovers” in secret until his resultant arrest. Because of his humanity and refusal to renounce his Christian faith, St. Valentine was executed on February 14th 270 AD, making him a martyr for agape/Christian love, not romantic or passionate love. Like so many other holidays, Valentine’s day was later transformed into a day to celebrate Eros (passionate love) in the Middle Ages and in the 18th-century, card giving became incredibly popular which led to the mass production of greeting cards in the 1840s.
While I’m sure the history behind Valentine’s Day is much more extensive and detailed, my central point is simple: knowing the origin [as accurate or close as you can possibly find] of holidays allows you to not only understand the meaning of specific celebrations, but moreover, your own personal reasons as to why YOU participate and how. Merely involving oneself in a task without any historical context or knowledge of origin is comparable to someone attending church or any other religious sect and not truly understanding the foundation of that dogmatic order or living a lifestyle which opposes that religion...a mere robot programmed to execute certain assignments on command.
Other widely celebrated holidays are recognized with just as much capitalist and superficial intent as V-Day. Take St. Patrick’s Day for example: Quick historical reference: This religious holiday, initiated in Ireland, recognized to honor St. Patrick who, through his “manifest destiny,” converted innumerable Gaelic Irish into Christians, as they possessed a “pagan” belief system of polytheism. [It’s quite interesting to note that St. Patrick or Patricius was not actually Irish himself, but Roman-British.] As the centuries passed, this formerly religious holiday became more secular in Ireland as it extended to other areas of the world, such as the U.S. So, just how do people “honor” St. Patrick today?....millions upon millions of people, many of whom couldn’t be further from having any Irish heritage, swarm bars and pubs adorning green attire, while intentionally drinking massive amounts of alcohol (i.e. Irish Car Bombs) to enjoy the “spirit” of the day! Oh yes…..intentional drunkenness andresultant alcohol poisoning are truly cornerstone facets of a formerly religious holiday!
What about Mother’s and Father’s Day: Again, only one day a year do we widely pay homage to those that have given life to and/or raised the carriers of their lineage, and how do we show it….with trite and overly commercialized gifts that only further fuel the voracious economic beast known as capitalism. Interestingly enough, [from my personal conversations with people through my life,] the millions of individuals that rush out to get the “perfect” for their parent on that specified day, hardly ever spend true quality time with them throughout the rest of the year. With holidays such as Mother’s and Father’s Day, it seems as though socially mandated material gifts have replaced the essential bond or spiritual connection needed in any relationship, especially that between a parent and child!
From Halloween to “Independence Day,” there are common trends among these holidays that offer deeper insight into the true nature of these holidays, but more importantly, how our society has become imprisoned to a value and ideological system that places material worth over the fundamental elements of what constitute truly being of the human/spiritual form. Commemorating profound historical figures and events are definitely an integral part to the dissemination of one’s roots, culture and identity, while paying reverence to those that have preceded us. And being able to share those traditions with the world at large brings all of us that much closer together. The line between authentic celebratory veneration and hedonistic capitalist ignorance becomes blurred when there is a complete absence of knowledge on the true history of holidays and how our society grossly capitalizes from it. Central message: self-education to free your mind!