In this episode, we’re talking about archetypes of Black women – the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Sapphire – and the ways they continue to be used against Black women, we fangirl over Hortense Spillers, and Alyssa struggles with pronunciation (#DecolonizeLanguage!). We dig into the repercussions of the Moynihan report, ungendering, and Tory Lanez’s alleged assault of Megan Thee Stallion. This episode ends with our commitment to #ProtectALLBlackWomen and uplifting the names of recently murdered Black transwomen Alejandra Monocuco, Tiffany Harris / Dior H Ova, and Queasha Hardy.
Content Warning: This episode discusses U.S. slavery, rape and rape culture, and intimate partner violence. If you would like to skip over the latter section, it’s from 1:02:00 – 1:24:35.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Two
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James
Title: Ain’t I a Woman?
Total Length: 01:26:14
Transcript by Kamry Goodwin, Content Editor
[00:00:00.0] Alyssa: So we sit down and we have this, you know, an older male professor and we’re talking about Halloween and he’s saying “Oh what are you going as for Halloween?,” and I’m like, “Oh, I think I’m going to go as Frida Kahlo or something.” [laughs] And he’s like, “Oh, what about you Brendane?” And Brendane’s like, “I’m going as Megan Thee Stallion.” And he’s like “Oh…who’s that? How, you know, how–what kind of costume…what kind of costume would that be?” [laughs] And Brendane and I make eye contact and I’m just like, how is she…
Brendane: How am I gonna get myself out of that one? Um, literally, I was like, wow, I really should have lied. [Intro Music]
[00:00:52.4] Alyssa: Hi everyone.
Alyssa: Hey. So last time we totally forgot to introduce ourselves. So, you know, we were just really excited about getting this podcast started.
Brendane: Yes. We jumped right in.
Alyssa: Yeah. So we’re going to do that today. I’m Alyssa, my pronouns are she, her, and hers and I’m a soon-to-be third year PhD student in anthropology.
Brendane: Whoop whoop, a soon-to-be. But actually, really I mean, you have like a month [left], right? So already there.
Alyssa: Pretty much.
Brendane: Um, I’m Brendane and my pronouns are also she, her, hers. And I am a fourth year—whew, child—PhD candidate. I can say that now, I’m a candidate.
Alyssa: Yay, so exciting. Welcome to our podcast, Zora’s Daughters. And just to get started we want to dedicate this episode to you. That is everyone who tuned in last week, who shared, who rated our podcast, who subscribed.
Brendane: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, thank you, thank you.
Alyssa: And we really just wanna thank everyone who donated to our GoFundMe. We kind of just started it on a whim, really. And we were fully funded in 3 days I think and we’ve now exceeded it. So we appreciate everybody who donated, and each and every person who shared it, liked our post about it, you know every action really counts. And so with your help, we’ve been able to hire two black women transcriptionists, Alissa [Rae] and Kamry. And the transcript for our last episode is out. It’s great. [laughs] You can read that, check it out. But thank you, thank you, thank you so much.
Brendane: Yes, thank you, thank you. It’s been so inspiring to see the love from our community and we are just in shock and awe, honestly.
Brendane: The outpouring of support has really just struck us. So we have a lot to get through this episode because unfortunately the world is basura en fuego.
Alyssa: [laughs] I see you working your Spanish, okay [laughs]
Brendane: You know, I have some of my Spanish to use these days. But I believe that we will win. [00:03:00.0] Just as a content warning, this episode will discuss violent acts against Black women in order to highlight Black women’s vulnerability to gendered violence. While we will not go into pornographic detail, some content may be triggering for survivors of intimate partner violence like myself. We will put the times in the show notes if you would like to skip over that part.
[00:03:20:0] Alyssa: Thanks, Brendane. So, let’s get right into it with our segment, “What’s the Word?” and that’s every episode we will discuss a word that we’ll use throughout the episode or a word that’s been trending recently and give some context and history to that. So Brendane, what’s the word?
Brendane: The word for today, and this week, always, is archetype. Archetypes are similar to stereotypes in that they refer to a common understanding or societal understanding about a group. But archetypes are present in literature and popular discourse and also are a part of some historical genealogy. So we’ll go through what we mean by that later on. But archetypes are constructed and then are used to justify oppression against certain groups. Stereotypes are often born from archetypes, popularized versions that we see in the media or that we might have conversations about, so most people are familiar with stereotypes but not necessarily familiar with the archetypes that they come from.
Alyssa: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, there are a lot of these archetypes that are used to describe, or we could even say prescribe, Black women and Black women’s actions and behaviors. And so, the more you understand them, the more you’ll start to see them everywhere. Like, I remember last year, D and I went to see The Upside, which is the remake of that film Intouchables (The Intouchables), it’s a French film, with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. And we walked out of the film and we just looked at each other and we were like, “Yep, that was some Magical Negro stuff right there.” [laughs] So that’s one of the ones that you’ll see particularly in films and TV shows. So today we’ll talk about the Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel, how they evolved, and others that have kind of emerged from them and out of them. So Brendane, last week you were talking about how people have Mammified you in the past or continue to, so can you talk a bit about what that means, what the Mammy stereotype is or archetype is?
Brendane: Yes, so the Mammy archetype is basically derived from really forcing Black women to do domestic slavery—I mean, domestic slavery, I mean it was-—but domestic labor in these white plantation homes. So you had these Black women who were not able really to take care of their own children but were forced to breastfeed, bathe, clothe, and raise these white children on these plantations. And so from that archetype, right, of this–usually she’s a plus-sized Black woman, a dark-skinned Black woman who is jovial, like she’s always laughing and joking and “Oh honey, let me help you take care of that” or “Let me cook you some’n” or “Let me, you know, rub your feet and whatever, I’ll do that for you, I’m here to take care of you.” She’s the mother figure, the mothering Black woman that is in literature and in movies and TV shows and might not even necessarily appear as the big, fat Black woman who’s always cooking, but you see it, and we’ll talk about this when we talk about Magical Negro, but these Black characters that are always there to do some type of emotional labor for white folks in particular. So, one good example is Aunt Jemima, who is not a real person, but has kind of appeared as like this archetype.
Alyssa: Although, I mean there is some talk, I mean I was listening to Still Processing, which is The New York Times’s podcast, and so they talk about reparations for Aunt Jemima. So there was a real woman who was, you know, they would take her to expos and she would talk about the syrup that, you know, that she made. And so there was a real woman behind the Aunt Jemima character. There’s also some ideas or some, you know, some narratives that it comes from a song about Aunt Jemima and, like, it was actually a minstrel song. But, you can listen to the Still Processing episode and learn more about that.
Brendane: Yeah [pause] That is so interesting. So I did not know that. I thought that it was just really, just purely made up. But yeah, so then you also have the men’s counterpart, which is the Sambo archetype, which is the happy-go-lucky, carefree character who, again, his main priority is to make sure that the white people around him are taken care of emotionally and physically. And then also our favorite, Uncle Tom.
Brendane: Our favorite.
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, the Uncle Tom is very similar, they’re very much there to make white people feel comfortable and they’re thinking about the welfare of white people, of the white people around them, especially and particularly to the detriment of Black people.
[00:08:20.3] Brendane: Yep [Sigh] So, moving on to Sapphire, who, you know, personally a personal favorite of mine [laughs].
Alyssa: Of course, of course. Yeah, I mean, so the Sapphire. She’s the dominating Black woman. She’s strong, she’s masculine, she works like a man, she’s assertive, much like the Mammy. So the Mammy is also kind of someone who is assertive but usually in defense of the family that she works for. Whereas Sapphire, she kind of lacks that empathy and maternal instinct so she isn’t trusted by white people, she doesn’t receive the same kind of affection. And so, that woman, the Sapphire, she is bitter, which, you know, is a favorite for people to say.
Brendane: Mhm, they love saying that on Twitter. Mhm.
Alyssa: They love saying Black women are bitter. Uh, you know [Sapphire] has an attitude and she frequently emasculates Black men, and so this archetype it was reinforced by Amos ‘n’ Andy, which is, you know, a 1930s radio show [pause] And so that archetype, it evolved into what we would now call the Angry Black Woman stereotype. The Angry Black Woman: she’s intemperate. She’s intolerant.
Alyssa: And she hates all y’all [pause] Black men [laughs].
Alyssa: I was gonna say another word [laughs].
Brendane: She hates all of you. Period, all. Dot dot dot. And, you know, I think also what’s important to remember about Sapphire is that she is so angry and bitter that she is actually unlovable and undeserving of love. All right, so she doesn’t just not receive affection from white people, but her “anger” isolates her so much to the point that she can’t even find this, you know, heterosexual, cisgender, patriarchal relationship that we all should be aspiring for through marriage. So we see Sapphire coming out again in the welfare queen. We see her coming out again in these depictions of single Black mothers as women who just cannot be loved and that really does play an effect on how popular portrayals for sure, which, yeah like you (pause) I’m just trying to think about some in TV that I’ve seen that would really encapsulate this for sure.
Alyssa: I mean, I was thinking about Pam who was played by Tichina Arnold in Martin.
Brendane: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Alyssa: [sings Martin theme] She was a great example of that because she was domineering and she always, you know, she came in and she was belittling the Black men that were on the show so that is key to the Sapphire stereotype, is that she belittles Black men and that is something that we’ll come back to when we talk about what we’re reading. That process of emasculating Black men is like (indistinct) [crosstalk]
Brendane: And then so how much of this emasculation is actually us just telling you the truth? But you know, I’m [sigh] Let me stop. [crosstalk] [laughs]
Alyssa: We’ll come back to this, we’ll come back to this. But I think, I mean, I wanted to build up more. You were just saying this anger, the way that that anger makes the Sapphire archetype, makes that woman unlovable, it puts us into this role, it puts us into this [pause] into a double-bind. So it punishes Black women through shame for not achieving this feminine ideal, which is like docile, passive, feminine, non-threatening, which isn’t fair because we’re in a world where our skin color always already determines us as incapable of being feminine.
Brendane: Right, right.
Alyssa: And then at the same time, it silences us because it makes us less likely to raise issues, to speak out against injustices against ourselves, in private and in like public or work situations. Just for fear of like being labeled the angry Black woman, the Sapphire.
Brendane: Yeah, I think it’s really [pause] As we think about what we’re getting to what we read today, thinking about the power in not being nice, which will come up again and again throughout this episode, especially once we get to the real world applications of this. Like, for Black women, even though we’re caught in that double-bind, usually niceness harms us, right? And like it usually harms us and it comes at the expense of our own emotional health. And so, I’ve been thinking about my own life, the ways that I’ve silenced myself or been nice and how that’s cost me really my own, in some places, my own sanity. Like certain jobs I was working on where I should’ve just been like, “Okay girl, you need to set boundaries and who gives a flying pig’s foot about what these people think about you. Like, you just gotta keep it pushing because at the end of the day, you are the most important person in your life.” And I know that’s hard to say as someone who’s an activist, as someone who’s a scholar, to be like, “Oh I’m the most important person in my life.” But if I don’t prioritize myself, no one else will. And that has been a hard lesson to learn.
Alyssa: Mhm. I mean, and just as a Black woman saying that I’m the most important person in my life is revolutionary. I mean [pause] I hope my friend doesn’t mind that I talk about this, but [Pause] her cousin pointed out to her recently that she has essentially been raised or groomed her entire life to kind of take over this role of being the [pause] the caregiver in her family so that she will eventually take on the same position that her mom and her grandmother have held before her. So for her to be like, “No, I’m prioritizing myself, I’m prioritizing my family that I am starting in the, you know, in the future,” she doesn’t have a family at this time but, you know, her talking about that, her saying that is [pause] blasphemous to her family.
Brendane: Yeah, I would say that it’s just perfect though, right? Like, as Black women, if we reclaim ourselves, you know reclaim our time, as Auntie Maxine taught us [laughs] You know, reclaim our time, it’s gonna be so much more important for us to lay those boundaries with our family, knowing that the risk is that we will be called into this archetype and [pause] I don’t know, I’ve kind of moved to the point where I’m just like, “I don’t care.” And there’s this excellent article by Bettina Judd called “Sapphire as Praxis” that I think I started reading and now it’s just like, “Oh no, I need to be in a whole different headspace to take this because I’m gonna want to implement this in my life right this second. So let me just wait till September when I can really start reading and digesting things again.” But I think that moving forward, Sapphire as praxis is gonna be something, especially as the world is moving towards, you know, whatever this climate is.
Alyssa: Yeah. This uprising.
Brendane: Yes, this uprising. And also, this right-wing movement that’s happening. We’re gonna have to start setting those boundaries and being more on top of things. [00:15:51.0] So also, I wanted to move to the Jezebel archetype because I, you know, have been called the Jezebel in a few moments in my life, and if you know me as a person, you know that that is not me at all. [Laughs] But Jezebel is basically, she’s a real person. Well, if you believe that the Bible is a historical text and describes the lives of people. She appears as a queen in the Bible and she is actually married to one of the Jewish kings but she is not Jewish. And she eventually convinces him to leave his religion through witchcraft and through, like, her sexual prowess. So that’s like, you know, the biblical Jezebel. For Black women, right, this Jezebel brings on this, you know, the overly sexual, magical kind of woman who just draws you away from this purity, right? So a Jezebel is someone who will take a white man and make him into something that God won’t recognize, quote, unquote. And lead him to his destruction and his death, basically. And you see that being used and developed during slavery as a justification or really just like a counterargument for why these white men are raping enslaved women. They’re saying, “Well, oh, she seduced me, she used her hoodoo or her voodoo [crosstalk] or her, you know, African religion to turn me on.” And then you also see this thing apply to children, to young girls as well. You know, “She learned from her mother how to do all these witchcraft things that compelled me,” quote, unquote, “to harm her or to rape her.” And so this archetype exists throughout writings about Black women and really just plays a harmful role in how we are depicted in media especially.
And for myself, like, I was [pause] I joined a church at 12 and I was 12-years-old and people were claiming that I was a Jezebel, that I had like lust demons, that I was like turning their sons away from God. And if you knew what I looked like at 12, you would be like, “No, the only thing you’re doing is turning people towards the Lord so that they can pray for you.” Like, if you knew what I looked like at 12, I was not cute. And so, it’s just like, the idea that [pause] my brilliance, whatever, you know, and whatever potential that these women at this church saw caused them to rely on this archetype of the Jezebel to ostracize me, essentially
Alyssa: I can imagine how much that must have affected you.
Alyssa: You know, particularly being a child. Twelve-years-old, you are still a child. And I think that a lot of the time it’s just about your body type. You know, not you specifically, but Black girls’ bodies, and you know, this idea that we develop earlier, we develop in ways that are different from white girls. You know, we develop hips and breasts a lot earlier and so this also contributes to the idea that we have. It contributes to this [pause] sexualization that is completely premature and I mean, we talked about on our Instagram page, we talked about adultification and the adultification bias and I think that these kinds of things, the idea that the mind follows the body produces this kind of adultification and these ideas about Black girls being more sexually mature and thus the Jezebel in the world.
Brendane: Right. And, I mean, I spent years trying to be accepted and not quite understanding why was it that no one would want their children to hang out with me. Like, why when I come to youth group, why is it that people are like writing notes about me saying like, “Oh, don’t let Brendane meet the new boy because then you know, something’s going to happen.” Like I even walked in on my pastor praying for God to release me from these demons one day. And so, it’s just like–and I’m a child right so I’m like “Oh I’m possessed, and I didn’t even know it.” And it wasn’t until I got much older that I realized that, oh a lot of this was born from, I don’t know if it was a jealousy or some type of other envy or some other emotion that really caused people to ostracize me because they saw, like, they saw how smart I was, they saw like, even though I wasn’t cute, I wasn’t like [pause] I wasn’t an ugly child right? So I had the potential to be a beautiful adult. Like you know I did have a certain body type. I was thinner but I still had like a shape, like I had all these things that their daughters didn’t.
Alyssa: It’s fear, right? It’s fear. A lot of the time that’s what it comes down to. People are worried about what you can do, what you can do to them. What you see particularly when you’re smart as a child and you’re precocious, people are very worried about what you can see in them. And I think that that is one of those things that contributes to people ostracizing you or talking negatively about you or basically just trying to push you out of groups and push you out of situations.
Brendane: Mhm. It was literally like people would not let their children spend time with me because being around me was going to lead them away from God. And the whole time, like I’m telling you, I’m not doing anything. I’m like, going to school, going home, trying to read the Bible, praying. Like my heart was really in the right place.
Alyssa: No, of course you were [crosstalk]
Brendane: Um, and it was just like, you know, whatever. And so now that I’m no longer doing that, I’m just like [pause] So many years I spent hating myself that I wish I could take back.
Alyssa: I hear you. [00:22:24.5] And so the men’s counterpart to [the Jezebel] would be the Mandingo. You know, sexually voracious and unable to civilized as a result. So, I think that–so it works on these two levels: one of purity and one of civilizing, you know the “civilizing project” of like white colonialism.
Brendane: Mhm. And that Mandingo archetype is what fuels future rape laws, right? And future lynchings. So it’s this idea that Black men are hypersexual and will rape any and every Black woman they see. And so, we’ll talk a little bit later about the protection of white womanhood and its importance in these archetypes, but it was important to lynch Black men because that was a sign of them protecting white womanhood from this Mandingo stereotype. There’s actually a movie that was made in 1970. It’s called Mandingo, about this white woman having an illicit relationship with this, one of—no, “illicit relationship,” I mean, you know, can that be possible in slavery, whatever-—but like, she was having sex with one of her enslaved men and it really highlights this kind of, this archetype, and in the end he ends up dying, right, because of his relationship with this white woman. So it really shows the way that white people imagine this archetype to be something that ultimately results in death for Black men in particular.
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, one thing to really point out is that archetypes have real world consequences. It’s not just-–these stereotypes have real world consequences, they affect people every day. It’s not just a discourse, it’s not just a narrative, it’s not just an idea or a perception. These [archetypes] harm, hurt, and kill people. So it’s very important to know what they are, to recognize them so that way we can start dismantling them and avoid perpetuating them. Some of the more contemporary ones would be the Welfare Queen, which you mentioned earlier Brendane. And then we’ll be talking about that a little bit later. The Magical Negro, which you also mentioned, and I mentioned. So that is a character who usually supports the white character in a film and they have some kind of magical power, some kind of insight that helps the white character out of crisis, you know. And usually they have no storyline of their own. They just kind of exist to support the personal growth of this white person in the film. So John Coffey in The Green Mile is a really good example. You know, he saves this little girl because he has this power to bring things back to life.
Brendane: Oh, I might need to watch that movie.
Alyssa: Oh, you haven’t seen it? [laughs]
Brendane: No, I was like [laughs] [crosstalk]
Alyssa: The other thing about the Magical Negro is that often they have some kind of inner failing. So for him, he was [crosstalk] He was developmentally delayed but I guess we can say that. And someone please correct me if I’m not using the right terminology. And so, also, an American critic, literary critic, he called Barack Obama a Magical Negro as well so. And so he wrote, “Like a comic book superhero, Obama is there to help. Out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn’t project all its fantasies of curative Black benevolence on him.” This along with the Black Best Friend stereotype that’s very, you know you see that a lot like Cher and Dionne in Clueless and like we see that throughout TV shows, movies, you see it in like in everything everywhere.
Alyssa: There’s always some Black Best Friend. You know, they’re similar to the Magical Negro except they don’t have any kind of powers. They just exist to guide the white character out of crisis.
Brendane: Yeah, their power is emotional labor. It’s like “I’ll be your therapist. That is my power: psychoanalysis.” [laughs]
Alyssa: They tend to be wise, you know, because of the life that they’ve had. Or they guide them toward some kind of higher purpose. And so what these all have in common is that they really deny Black folks inner lives and complexity and they just continue to be the caretaker to whites. [Pause] Except when through some kind of inner failing, they become their enemy, as in, you know, in the Sapphire, the Jezebel.
Brendane: Yeah [pause] I–hm, there was a show called Betty on HBO about these like young skateboarders and most of the people on the show are Black. But it really centers the story of this white queer person and how she surrounds herself with all these Black Best Friends. And she continues, like she’ll get, like, really angry and then cause a fight and then her Black Best Friends have to like pick up the pieces behind her. So I think that’s also–and like you see some of their inner lives or some of the complexity behind them, but the show really centers this [pause] And I can’t remember her name, I don’t know. I was watching this with my partner and I as just like “This show just really irks me because this white woman is starting all these fires and then her Black friends, these Black queer women, have to come behind her and, like, put ‘em all out and make sure that, you know-–I mean, they even end up going to jail over her.
Brendane: And it’s like
Alyssa: Wait, is her name Betty because that’s the name of the show? [laughs]
Brendane: No, her name’s not–I didn’t understand the Betty thing because her name is not Betty. So I was just like [pause] It’s like, it starts with a “k”. I don’t know, I don’t remember, but [pause] And then, I mean, I guess I can tell you how really remarkable I thought the show was. I really don’t even remember nobody’s name from the show, but it was just like wow, like, it really shows you how deeply engrained these archetypes are. Like, how the Mammy kinda reiterates herself and becomes, in these younger versions, right, the Black Best Friend, the Magical Negro, where it might not, like I was saying earlier, like, it might not even be this big fat Black woman who’s taking care of you, but it’s these other Black people, usually Black women, around you that are helping you be a better person. And so [pause] What’s also just interesting too is thinking about how these archetypes kind of are polarizing. So you have these archetypes that have Black women as the ideal caregiver, but you know, only for white children [crosstalk] and only for white people, right? But never, like, we could never actually be good mothers to our own children, and we’re never actually good women to Black men. [00:00:40.7] Right, so I think that is gonna be a great lead-in, actually, to our next segment, which is “What We’re Reading” for this week.
Alyssa: What are we reading? Whew, we read a doozy this week [laughs]
Brendane: We really did. We was ambitious [laughs]
Alyssa: Um, but, well actually, well we did read 2 pieces and we’re reading them in conversation, which academics love to do. So we read Sojourner Truth, her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” and we’re reading that kind of in conversation with Hortense Spillers’s “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” And we’ll link those in the show notes so y’all can have a lot of fun sifting through [laughs] Hortense Spillers [laughs]
Brendane: Her beautiful language and very dense language. You know, the Sojourner Truth piece might take you like a minute and thirty seconds to read. And then Hortense Spillers’s, if you’re like me, will take you three years. So, just, you know [laughs] I keep coming back to it over and over again. And each time I see and read something new. So we’re just gonna like highlight. I’m looking forward to this conversation, I’m just so excited, so geeked out about it.
Alyssa: [Laughs] That’s what we do. But I mean, I think we should start with the Sojourner Truth [piece] and her speech. And so I really wanted to draw attention to the part where she says, quote, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over mud puddles or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me. Look at my arm. I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could have me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man when I could get it. And bear the lash as well. And ain’t I a woman? I have born thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery. And when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?” So I think that was a really beautiful provocation for us to think about what it means to be a woman because she is speaking at a suffragette convention. So to be a woman and black. [Pause] And so she’s calling attention to the ways that slavery and Blackness have excluded her from womanhood. [Pause] And so we wanted to kind of highlight her speech as a part of a genealogy of thinking, which is something that we also love to do as academics. We’re taught to think about origins in conversations that different texts are a part of. And so I think that this one is something that really speaks to what we’ve been talking about. This kind of like, the masculinization of Black women. Also, the way that we are meant to be caregivers to white children but we are not allowed–you know she talks about having thirteen children and most of them are sold off so she is not allowed to be a mother to her own children.
Brendane: Yeah, I think she points really eloquently to literally–and like this is what Black feminist thinking does right? Like we point to the conditions of our living and we say “Yo, this is what it is?” right, and this is how your thinking about the world or the way that you have crafted the world falls apart when it comes to me. And Christina Sharpe called it, calls this kind of anagrammatical form of Blackness where Blackness kind of fractures the meaning of things. So Blackness fractures the meaning of “woman.” Blackness fractures the meaning of “child.” Because when you say “ain’t I a woman,” she’s calling attention to the fact that she doesn’t have these protections, she doesn’t have this kind of, what you would call like these white feminine protections where you are too dainty to touch the ground, you are too dainty to lift yourself up. It’s like “No, I’m Black, so that s*** don’t even apply to me.” Like, I have to do all of these things for myself and I have to do things that men do. And so, I thought that that was just like a really, I mean she probably tore that place down. She was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna tell it to y’all like it is.” And even later, when she talks about women getting their right to vote and she’s like, “Then that little man in black there. He says women can’t have as much rights as men ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him.” So she’s like “And, point blank, period. Y’all are actually also irrelevant,” right? [Laughs] Not only does she say, like call attention to the fallacies in their thinking around what it means to be a woman, but she’s also like “Y’all whole category what it means to be a man, too, also needs to be in question.” Because
Alyssa: I mean, she talks about how it was a woman that turned the world upside down. She’s talking about Eve [laughs] And I just thought that was brilliant. So if we can turn the world upside down, why can’t we turn it right side up again?
Alyssa: And why would you deny us the chance to do that?
Brendane: Well, I mean, why would you? Because you want to hold onto your power and your money, and you know, your carriages or whatever it is that they were holding onto [laughs]
Brendane: Their property [crosstalk] Their cotton. [Laughs] So it’s just like-–and then also I like that she says like “Your Christ.” Like, this kind of like [pause] pointing also to the difference in understandings around religion, around worship, and she’s just pointing to this whiteness, right? Your Christ, your white conception of Christ. And so I think that was also just beautiful.
Alyssa: Thank you for that, like the subtlety of you bringing that out. Is just [pause] Yeah, that was some great nuanced, a really great nuanced reading Brendane.
Brendane: Thanks boo [laughs]
[00:36:15.0] Alyssa: I think that is a good kinda lead-in to “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe.” [Pause] So we’ll just tell you a little bit about Hortense Spillers. She is an American literary critic, Black feminist scholar, she’s a professor at Vanderbilt University. And so this essay that we’re reading, it’s among her most well-known. It’s definitely one of the most cited in literary theory. And so what she does is she takes on this patholiza- [pause] patholzi- [pause] patholigization. [laughs] Wow. You see this is the thing: academics, we can write, but there’s–you know, we’re not always speaking these words that we write out. [Laughs] So she takes on this patholigization of the matriarchal family structure in Black communities. So this idea that Black families are always headed up by women, it seemed to be a problem in what’s called “The Moynihan Report,” and we’ll get into that in a second. But in this essay, you know, she talks about later—because she was interviewed later by Black feminists, Black feminist scholars who were kind of building off of her work—she says that she was writing at that time with a sense of hopelessness. But she was also making an effort, she was trying to create language and theory that supported studying Black women.
Brendane: These black feminists, one of whom was Saidiya Hartman, and you know I just [pause] My heart. I really, really appreciate how Spillers just kind of takes this problem, right, what she sees as a problem, which is really the patholigization of the matriarchal family structure, and she unfolds it in such a way that you’re just like “Whew! Whew! Whew! Like wait a minute, I didn’t even think about all of these different aspects.” And so, this text, even though it’s only around about twenty pages is very complex, very dense. And we are not gonna go through every single aspect. We do not have the time. And also, frankly, you know like, the money, because like, you know to be going through every single aspect of this. But we can elucidate some of the concepts that ground the present moment and I think it’s just so important for us to have this conversation. So I’m so glad we tackled this text this week. Just so happy.
Alyssa: Yes, me too.
Brendane: So at this text right here, I would call it canonical, which means like this is the standard in the discipline if you’re thinking about critical studies, thinking about psychoanalysis, which is–A lot of people, when they hear psychoanalysis, they think of Freud, they think of just kind of like these really outdated ways of thinking about how people think, basically. But what I think I find really enlightening about psychoanalysis is that it tries to think about all these unconscious ways that we go about and through the world. And so this text points to this kind of unconscious undergirding of our thinking that really influences how we move through this world. And she takes psychoanalysis, this really white discipline, and says, “You know what, I’m gonna use these tools and talk about how y’all got Black women effed up.” And she does it so well in this article. This article really emerges as a psychoanalytic intervention that questions the facts and also kind of provides a historical basis to the quote, unquote facts, again, not real, but “facts” in “The Moynihan Report.” Alyssa, have you heard of “The Moynihan Report”?
Alyssa: Well, I’ve seen it written in articles and I’ve heard people kinda mention it in documentaries so it started making me think that this was just something that [Pause] You know, was part of the common popular discourse or conversations, at least in the US [United States]. I think it was even mentioned in Thirteenth or something. I could be wrong. But, yeah so, it wasn’t until recently that I really came to learn about what its significance was for the Black community in the US and like what [pause] what it did in terms of pathologi-—wow, I still can’t even say it—pathologization of the Black family and stuff. So, you know, for others who may be in the same boat as me, could you like give us a little overview?
Brendane: Yes, I had to write a paper about this [laughs]. So if anybody knows something, it’s me. And of course you who are listening and who do know and want to chime in, you know, let me know. But basically “The Moynihan Report,” which was called The Negro Family: The Case for Action was published in 1965. And it was written by a government official, Daniel P. Moynihan, in about three months. So he took research, most of it sociological research, which again, sociologists [sucks teeth] And
Alyssa: The shade
Brendane: [laughs] You know, every episode I gotta say something. [Moynihan] pulled [the report] all together in 3 months and wrote this report that was supposed to influence future welfare legislation basically for Congress. And so in his report, he depicts the Black family as one that is in crisis. And he is talking about the Black mother and saying that she is devious and promiscuous. And he concluded that Black families were behind the progress of white families due to the prevalence of single parent households that are headed by Black women. So according to his account, and you know, who really knows how these numbers were tabulated, he found that a quarter of Black households in 1965 were headed by single parent Black women. [Pause] And he argues, right, that if men were in fact present in the home, Black mothers emasculated them. As they have done
Alyssa: Oh lovely! [crosstalk]
Brendane: You know, I mean. Sapphire appears again, right? And he makes this argument that that’s exactly what Black women were doing during slavery, right? So, during slavery, Black women were emasculating Black men because they were doing the same jobs and contributing to their households [pause] even more or greater than Black men were able to through their access to certain types, certain forms of domestic labor. And so he proposes a few social solutions to raise the progress of Black families but his main proposal was for Black women to be less promiscuous so that they could get married to Black men and finally have that two-parent household that children need in order to be productive citizens.
Alyssa: So basically he’s saying Black women need to stop being Jezebels and Sapphires and get with the program.
Brendane: Like, y’all need to stop this whole like emasculating Black men thing by earning more money than them and just sit down and be a good girl and get married.
Alyssa: I’m telling you. And you know what, that’s an idea that persists. Like, the idea that Black women emasculate Black men like just through their presence is something that is still present. I mean, I’ve heard from Black men that they prefer, not that they just happen to be with a white woman, but they prefer to date outside their race because their mothers or sisters or babysitters or nannies or something were too dominant and it didn’t make them feel safe and happy and loved. And so Black women get cast as these Sapphires and then they want someone who’s docile.
Brendane: Right, and it’s ridiculous because it’s just like, why is your feeling about being supported and loved rooted in my silence? Like why is it rooted in my erasure or like diminishing who I am? Why do I have to shrink for you to feel like you can be a person? But, again, that’s a part of-—and Spillers unpacks that—it’s a part of this kind of social order that is dependent upon the violence, especially on Black women’s bodies. So it makes sense actually, right, that in order for you to feel good about yourself, I need to be violated because that’s literally how this world works, right? That is the psychosocial order. And so, yeah. I think about all the times that people have called me intimidating.
Brendane: Look! I know, like, again, I’m five one-and-a-half [inches tall]. I…I’m not particularly strong if you, I mean, depending on who’s gauging it, right? Like, you can hear how I sound. I can be a little pointed at times in my tone if I’m really trying to get my point across. But I tend to have like a warmer affect in certain social circles. So for me to be called intimidating is really just a reach, but you’re reaching, like what you’re reaching to is this Sapphire archetype, right? What you’re reaching to is like, oh, because I choose to speak then I am thus intimidating. Like it would just be much better for me to be in a corner quiet somewhere, listening to you.
Alyssa: I mean, they’re basically just making public their own insecurities so [laughs]
Brendane: Right! And it’s like, how much of your insecurities would just be solved if you let go of this white supremacist, patriarchal belief. That in order to be a real man, you gotta dominate over people who are not cis men. Just let it go.
Alyssa: Whew! We can just end the podcast now [laughs]
Brendane: Period. [laughs]
Alyssa: We can end this here. But yeah, I mean, so Spillers, she does actually get into these archetypes. She calls them “the misnaming,” so misnaming of Black women. And it’s a part of a history of what she calls “dehumanized naming,” which demonstrates “the powers of distortion that the dominant community seizes at its unlawful prerogative.” That is a quote from her. Not from me [laughs]
Brendane: Yes, so [pause] And also, I mean I-—correct me if I’m wrong People Who Do Psychoanalysis—but I think when she points to misnaming, she’s also talking about this moment of recognition, right? Where Black women can never truly be seen for who they are because of all of these archetypes and myths that are constructed around them. So it’s like, it’s almost impossible for us to really understand Black women or see them for who they are because we’re having to go through all of these archetypes, all of these misnamings. We have to sift through them to find out who Black women really are. And so, yeah, there’s a really important piece to her article that we need to think about too. It’s thinking about this whole thing that’s emerged on Twitter now, “ungendering,” right, which comes from her article and thinking about ungendering. And it’s corollary, or it’s like it’s the idea that it’s attached to, which is the flesh. And so basically captivity is what Hortense Spillers calls it. I’ll call it enslavement. But basically slavery, enslavement, creates the conditions for ungendering, which is turning bodies, or which happens when you turn bodies into flesh. So Brendane, what are you saying? [crosstalk] What are you saying to me? What does that even mean? [laughs]
Alyssa: Well, let me take a stab at it because this is my first, you know, this is my first foray into Spillers or into this essay. So what I understood from the flesh is that it’s something that’s disembodied, it’s undifferentiated. The body itself, it’s a whole, it kind of implies this personhood, right? So you know that a body exists, it’s in a particular form. Whereas the flesh is formless but it’s something that’s used to make people into objects in order to kinda subject them to physical and sexual violence.
Brendane: Mhm. Yeah, I would say that that encapsulates flesh in particular. And I think for Hortense Spillers, flesh is attached to ethnicity in particular. And so-–which is important when we’re thinking about Black mothers because Black mothers carry the condition of slavery, right? The law was if your mother was enslaved and Black, you were born a slave. And so it takes this, through her brilliance, right, she calls unto all these different layers of what it means to have a body and what it means to have a body that is reproductive, that is also Black, and how the flesh kind of encapsulates all of that.
And so, yeah Spillers talks about the body being this kind of liberated subject-position whereas the flesh belongs to the captor. Or, you know, the captor would be the slave master. Or the literal captor, the person who literally stole your body from Africa. Or the person who is stealing your body through forcing you to do certain types of labor. And what’s also, she mentions is that Black flesh or flesh, some would say Black bodies today, serve as a source of pleasure for people who do not occupy or live in this position of the flesh and also a site of mutilation. And so the actual physical markings she talks about, the physical marking and the physical violence of slavery, helps denote who belongs in the flesh category and who belongs in the body category, because the thing about flesh is that–because everybody can be mutilated, right? Everyone can experience violence.
But what makes flesh “flesh” is the fact that it is unprotected violence. It’s unprotected mutilation. Alright, so a white person who might not have been a slave owner but could experience violence, would not be able to occupy the space of the flesh because their whiteness protects them. So that violence could still be, you know, could be marching rights for a lynch mob. Right, like that violence could still cause some type of legal or social reaction that calls for that person’s protection. Whereas we know with enslaved people, right, shit will go down all the time. And like, it will just be what it is. Like, because they were treated as property.
Alyssa: Yeah. [Pause] I mean, one of the things I found really interesting about this piece is that ungendering [pause] I mean, there are 2 ways that it happens, from my reading anyways. Ungendering happens in this liminal space—and liminal is an idea, it comes from Victor Turner—but it’s when you’re betwixt and between, it’s when you’re not one thing, it’s when you stop being one thing but you’re not the other thing yet. So it’s, you know, it’s kinda like the idea of the adolescent. You’re not quite a child, you’re not really an adult. And so, ungendering, it happens in this space where you’re neither-nor. You know, when you’re, quote, “Suspended in the oceanic,” that’s what she says. So, you know, you’re no longer African because you’ve been stolen from your land, but you’re not yet American. And so through that process you become flesh and you are ungendered and I found that really [pause] just beautiful and captivating and you know, it’s something that I’m thinking about with some of my own work that I won’t get into now. But what happens in between these passages, you know. How is it that you go from one thing to another and ungendering is, I think is a really, I think there are other applications to this idea that you know we can think about you know the ways that people [pause] You know what, I will just get into it. So, I mean it’s something I’m thinking about with my work with Haitians and Martinicans, which is something that I did for some previous research. But there’s an idea that people in Martinique have about Haitians. They’re like “Oh, they’re so resilient,” you know, “They’re so creative” and all this work that they do and they’re kinda often used as [pause] as kinda like [pause]
Brendane: Like a role model kind of or…
Alyssa: No, not a role model, but you’ll kinda see them evoked in literature or you know, there was a lot of literature written where, you know, there were Haitian characters, or about Haitians in Martinique. They have this particular view of Haitians when they’re not in Martinique. When they are in Martinique, they’re negatively stereotyped, they’re stigmatized as boat people and people who live in these, you know, in squats in Martinique and live in squalor. And so there are these like two very different ideas and so one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is just like what happens in that passage from one place to another. What happens from them being [pause] You know, very cultured, resilient people to being, in Martinique, just having zero interest in them to the point where they are stigmatized. It’s just, it’s something that I have been thinking about.
Brendane: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And you’ve never, we’ve never talked about this before, so I find that really fascinating. I think
Alyssa: It’s mostly in my head [laughs]
Brendane: Immediately for me, it brings up understandings of Blackness and how Blackness is tied particularly to a Haitian identity. And a lot of times in the pejorative sense of just like you know even though Haitians were the first ones to free themselves from slavery and from colonialism. In a particular way, how that–yes, that’s the spirit right, the revolutionary spirit that you want to hold on to, the creativity and the resilience that you want to hold on to. But then there’s a certain type of Blackness that can be associated with Haitians that is like, again, the voodoo–I mean, Zora Neale Hurston wrote a pretty problematic, I would say, ethnography, right, that calls back to these like themes around Blackness in Haiti and magic and [Pause] solidifying Haitians as these people that need to be ostracized even though [pause] I think, and still be admired for their rejection of colonialism. So I think that would be just really fascinating and you pointing to like how ungendering really speaks to a liminal space, I think I’m gonna have to sit and reflect on that too because I never really thought about it as liminal for me. I thought of it as just like defined categories, I guess. [Pause] Because I think also, I’m wondering about gender as a destination. Because I’m thinking liminality then I’m thinking you’re between two places, which means you have an origin and a destination. And it’s like, okay is gendering the destination? In this sense, probably not. But at least in my–I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m not Hortense Spillers. I mean, she’s and I–you know, she’s so brilliant.
And what I understood from this article was thinking about how captivity and slavery renders gender, which as I understand it, as you have this category of men, usually cis men, who have this patriarchal power and domination, right? So they are able to exert this power through domination of, you know, non-cis men. But also this kind of, this binary, right? So this binary, which on the other end of the binary is women who quote, unquote benefit from patriarchal power through protection from certain forms of labor. But then women become like particularly like “You are supposed to be in the domestic sphere and this is your sphere.” And what ungendering does is kind of say, okay, this construction of gender that’s rooted in these white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, cissexist—all of these things!—homophobic understandings around gender is irrelevant for when it comes to Black folks. It’s irrelevant when it comes to Black enslaved people and irrelevant when it comes to people who are in the category of the flesh.
Alyssa: Right. She starts talking about womanhood or femininity then being attributed to motherhood. Like we can then, alright, can we think about womanhood through motherhood? Which is something again that was denied Black women during the time of enslavement.
Brendane: Right. Like your body served a specific purpose and that was to breed more bodies to serve as a source of labor. And so, and even if that was not necessarily happening to all Black women all the time, symbolically, psychologically, socially, right? That was your purpose. So even if you were not really able to bear children, lots of enslaved Black women who were barren for a variety of reasons, were killed, right? Like you lost your value so it’s like what can you do if you can’t bring about new enslaved bodies. You could be killed, you could be sold off, you could be just a host of things. And so, Spillers points to that, right? This kind of, this erasure again of violence against Black women. Like we come to understand violence against Black women in slavery primarily being rape and violation of their bodies. But we also need to remember that Black women, as Sojourner Truth points out, right, she also was exposed to the same type of brutalities that enslaved African men were, including lynching, including, you know, all these kind of masculinized forms of violence that can be taken up during the civil rights.
And what I find to be really interesting is during that time, right, it was not even about Black women’s bodies being violated as like a violation of Black women. It was about Black men not being able to protect them. And so that was the true harm. The harm of Black women being raped during slavery was not that “oh, these Black women were hurt.” It was that actually Black men were demasculinized through raping of Black women because they could not then protect them. [Crosstalk] Which is just like, again, this call to this kind of patriarchal form of power and domination where it’s like, “Well we should be able to call ourselves men, which mean men protect women” and it’s like “Actually, how can we move away from that?” because that’s not what it is. But yeah, I think that you, that you really point to something really insightful there in thinking around liminalities so I’m gonna have to think about that some more for sure.
Alyssa: Yeah, so Brendane, since you’ve been reading this and you’ve really been thinking about it for a while, particularly in relation to your work, what do you think would be like the big takeaway for somebody reading “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”?
Brendane: Great. I think that’s a great question. So [Pause] I think people should understand—and Spillers spells this out so well, right-—that sexual, symbolic, and physical violence against Black women is not an aberration.
Brendane: And it’s not a mistake. And it’s not just, I think as we’re moving towards our consciousness publicly now (indistinct) saying, “Oh it’s the norm. Black women experience it the most.” And I think it actually, it causes a radical shift in understanding that actually all of these forms of violence is actually the glue that holds society together. Violence against Black women is not just an object or something that just happens, it’s also the negation and the erasure of that violence. So what I mean by that is that we know that violence against Black women happens. But this violence, another set of violence is something that makes it more apparent is that through popular, public, and even private discourses, this violence is distorted, it’s misnamed, or it’s renamed. Or even denied all together, right? So it’s like, “Oh, you black women don’t even really experience the stuff that you’re saying” or “Oh that’s not rape. That’s just-–you know, he was just trying to talk to you” or, you know, “That’s love. That’s a part of love, enduring this type of violence.”
[01:02:54.2] Alyssa: Okay, whew. I mean, that is a perfect segue actually into our next segment, which is “What in the World.” What in the world? Brendane: Like, what in the world [laughs]
Alyssa: That is perfect, just thinking about the way that violence against women is normalized but
Alyssa: Which is something that we saw–oh sorry, violence against Black women is so normalized, which is what we saw with Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez. So you might’ve heard, or you might not have because the media has kind of dropped the ball on this one. Like, can you imagine how much and for how long people would be talking about this situation if Justin Bieber had shot Selena Gomez in the foot or something like that?
Brendane: Oh, we would never stop hearing about it.
Alyssa: [Laughs] No! No, and I mean, we shouldn’t not, you know, we shouldn’t stop hearing about it but we wanna draw attention to the fact that there might have been one article here or there, something like that. So you may have heard, you may not have: on July 12th, Tory Lanez allegedly—and we’re saying allegedly because we’re tryna keep it legal up in here—allegedly shot Megan Thee Stallion multiple times and she was struck in both feet. And so there are just so many things to talk about here. But it’s all love. Like, we’re all, you know, this is coming from love because we love Megan Thee Stallion.
Brendane: Mhm, I really do.
Alyssa: Brendane, who were you for [crosstalk] Halloween this year? Or last year, 2019?
Brendane: Last year, because Halloween is cancelled for 2020. Um [laughs] [crosstalk] Halloween is cancelled. Um, I was Megan Thee Stallion for Halloween last year. I had a nice little cowboy hat, a little, you know, leotard thing poppin’ and [laughs] [pause]
Alyssa: I will never forget when we were sitting there having Friday lunch, you know, it was Friday lunch, it was a little initiative to bring the professors and the graduate students together, and you know, they’d have this huge catered lunch or something and we would all sit down and [crosstalk]
Brendane: And it would be gone in five minutes. The food would always be gone in five minutes [laughs]
Alyssa: Absolutely! [Laughs] Because if you know graduate students, we’re on the “freegan” diet.
Brendane: We’re hungry.
Alyssa: So we sit down and we have this, you know, an older male professor and we’re talking about Halloween and he’s saying ‘Oh what are you going as for Halloween?”, and I’m like “Oh, I think I’m going to go as Frida Kahlo or something.” [Laughs] And he’s like, “Oh, what about you Brendane?’ And Brendane’s like, “I’m going as Megan Thee Stallion.” And he’s like “Oh…who’s that? How, you know, how—what kind of costume [Pause] What kind of costume would that be?” [Laughs] And Brendane and I make eye contact and I’m just like, how is she—
Brendane: How am I gonna get myself out of that one? Um, literally, I was like, wow, I really should have lied. Or been like “Oh!” [laughs]
Alyssa: [Crosstalk] You did a great job, though. You did a great job.
Brendane: I basically was just like, “Oh she’s a rapper, she’s from Texas and so she has this kind of cowboy, sexy cowboy aesthetic” I think is what I said. And he was just like [pause] “Oh!” And then, we kind of ended the conversation there before I could really embarrass myself, but [laughs]
Alyssa: Yeah, professors, just don’t ask us about our weekend [laughs]
Brendane: Basically. Don’t ask me what I’m doing for Halloween. But I don’t know, I just really, for me, just really, like this story brought up my own experiences as a survivor of intimate partner violence and I really admire Megan. She’s an Aquarius, she just gets out there, she is very strong in her opinions and she’s been painted as a Sapphire, I think, a few times in media because of her height.
Alyssa: Okay, first of all, she’s Aquarius gang? Yaaass.
Brendane: Yes, that’s why she don’t care. She was like, “I don’t care what y’all think.” Like, I love it.
Alyssa: Yeah, no, I mean one of the things that I think is so important to point out is that this is part of a genealogy. Like, in the same way that we were talking about literature and scholarship being a genealogy, like, this is also a genealogy. And not just the violence that Tory Lanez perpetuated, but also the media coverage and the way that people have been reacting to it. So, you know, we always–genealogy is like a line of descent. Who is speaking to whom? And it seems like every generation kind of has one of these domestic violence stories. And I think, you know, Ike and Tina, Bobby and Whitney. And for us millennials, it was of course the Rihanna and Chris Brown [sighs] abuse, which was awful, and now you know, we’re seeing in 2020 this situation with Megan and Tory. So, you know, we can say that this genealogy has kind of carried on these generational curses, as well as, or as a result of, these stereotypes.
Brendane: Yeah, and I think what also is in this genealogy, too, is painting abuse as this necessary part of love. Which allows society to excuse these violent actions against women in general, but particularly Black women. And you know, our guy, Tyler Perry is another popular example of, like, depictions of what Black women should expect in relationships. Basically telling us that, you know, nobody should love you so take what you can get, even if, you know, it comes at the expense of your life or your happiness.” And, that’s just like, ridiculous. It’s like, no, we should be able to expect more.
Alyssa: Exactly. I mean, every episode we’re gonna talk about Tyler Perry [laughs]. I mean, there’s a lot to unpack. I mean, we’ve been like “We could do a whole episode on just Tyler Perry films.” But maybe…maybe for next semester. For semester 2. But yeah, no, I think that’s a really good point, like, love not, you know, that’s not a reason to excuse violence against Black women. And I think that was encapsulated by Draya Michele fixing her mouth to say she “wants a man to love her enough to shoot her in the foot if she tries to leave, too.” [Pause] I’m sorry, but that is toxic and let us just be clear: love and abuse, they cannot, should not, do not exist.
Brendane: Like no. Like, sis, you need to fix your mouth to [Pause] [Sucks teeth] Let me stop because now I’m about to be like, “Okay, Draya.” All the jokes about [Draya] and her child that, you know, I was like “Who is this child and what is she-–.” It was like, why do you think that this is an issue to speak on? And especially to say that instead of being in support with another Black woman, and you were like “I wish someone would do this to me.” And it’s like [mocking] “You can have an opinion about it”—no you don’t! Like, you really don’t want anyone to shoot you. You just want to feel loved in a world that tells you that you can’t be and you won’t be. Alright, so it’s like [pause] that’s what you want. You don’t want the actual violence. You want the love but we’ve been told that like literally those two things must coexist for Black women and that’s, like, ugh.
Alyssa: Yeah, and she got dropped from Fenty [Beauty]. I mean, obviously that wasn’t going to go over well. Was it Fenty or was it Savage by Fenty?
Brendane: Savage Fenty, yeah.
Alyssa: Savage. So, I mean, she got dropped from that, which…that joke was never gonna go over well with Rihanna. But–and I wanna just say that Rihanna, she stans for Black women. Like, I love that. She, you know, she did that. She sent Meg some flowers. Beyonce sent Meg flowers. And so, there have been people, Black women especially, who are rallying behind Meg and supporting her and saying, you know, “Get well soon” because that’s not something we saw. There were the jokes. And @johnxgenius on Twitter, he said it best. He was like “Niggas have jokes for Meg but prayers for Ye [Kanye West].” So, again, it’s just like, Black men get sympathy, Black women do not. And I think that, you know, we can talk about what happened on her Instagram, when you know she went live on Instagram and all that stuff. But like, I remember when, you know, the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation happened [pause] And you know, you know, I’m not even gonna talk about it. But it was a game that you could play online and it was just a disgusting game. I don’t even think it’s worth bringing back up on this podcast.
Brendane: Oh my gosh!
Alyssa: It was disgusting. And so, you know, just the way that people make jokes about this violence is ridiculous.
Brendane: Right and it points to what we’re talking about earlier in thinking around the flesh and like the pleasure in mutilation. And so it’s just like, why is it that people would want to even make a game out of this type of violence, right? There’s a certain kind of pleasure that people get from thinking about hurting Black people but Black women in particular. Yeah, I think about, too, also in this Megan situation, right, like that line of pleasure in people going through–and someone on Twitter misnamed it as “ungendering” but they actually misgendered Meg, right? Meg is a cis woman and saying that “Oh, you know, Tory Lanez discovered that she’s trans and that’s why he harmed.”
Alyssa: Yeah. It was Cam’ron. Cam’ron we’re gonna name, we’re gonna name, it was Cam’ron. He said something like [pause] You know what, I’m just gonna read. He said that Tory Lanez saw the D and started shooting.
Brendane: And [pause] [sigh] First of all, calling on these histories of Black women as masculine, not real women, of course. The transphobia all up and through that. The unacceptable transphobia because trans women do not need to be killed or harmed for any reason. Like, just period. So just all of that, too, and just like the jokes that were being made about Meg–right, and it was framed as a joke, right? Like, “Oh, like, ha ha” because she’s this tall woman, she’s brown-skinned. And a lot of men would feel small next to her. Tory Lanez is a short man. And so, you know, if you are into men, you know, cis men, and they are short, you just know that you might endure a level of just like their insecurities, like. And I think that also played a role into it because she is so much taller than him. I think Tory Lanez is like [five feet, three inches tall] or like maybe even that. And so, who knows what happened in that car exactly. All we know is that a Black woman ended up being hurt. And then to see the public reaction, which was to deny and dismiss her experiences and to misgender her and misname her in such a way, and to characterize her. And it shows that even when you are seen as beautiful and desirable, that can be taken from you instantly.
Alyssa: Yeah, the world can turn on you at any time. And as you were saying, I mean, they essentially labeled her as a Sapphire. They were saying “Oh, you know, she was putting her hands on Tory” and this, that, and the other. And, I mean, the same thing happened with Rihanna, people–I remember people saying that she didn’t deserve to get beat up like that but she shouldn’t have been putting her hands on Chris Brown. And so, it was just like, you get labeled in this way and in that sense, it justifies the abuse that was perpetrated against you.
And so, I mean, Meg had to go, she went on Instagram and she was like, she had to tell people “I didn’t put my hands on anybody.” And she specifically said, “I didn’t deserve to get shot.” And it’s like, the fact that you even have to say that out loud, that people would make it seem like that’s the case, it’s disturbing. And, I mean obviously, it’s indicative of our culture of victim-blaming, particularly when those victims are women, particularly when they are Black women, and especially when they are trans women. Which Meg is not, I’m just adding that on because we’re talking about it all.
Brendane: The violence compounds. As marginalization increases, the violence compounds, right? So, and also, just like, thinking about how people–she gets on IG [Instagram] Live and people are like, “Don’t cry! You’re so strong! You’re so strong. Oh my gosh, we love you. Please don’t cry.” And it’s like, first of all, stupid-head—I’m like, let me find—you know, she doesn’t use that word, she says “M-Fers, like, I got shot in the foot! What do you mean I can’t cry about getting shot in both of my feet?” I’m like, are people–but it’s just again, [the] strong Black woman stereotype that calls upon these archetypes.
Alyssa: And denies humanity.
Brendane: Right, you can’t [pause] She’s like damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, like. If she didn’t get on IG live to speak, people would say, “Oh, Megan, you’re trying to protect this person who harmed you.” And it’s just like, survivors are not compelled to tell their stories every time you, as a person who does not know her or who she is, feels like you’re entitled to this. And I feel like this is specifically the issue with Black women and issues of violence is we are not allowed the time to process or be or anything. It’s like we always have to be open because, again, our bodies are seen as things that must do the will of whoever captures us.
Alyssa: I have very strong feelings about that as well, the way that we expect survivors of abuse and police brutality and so on. Like, especially especially when they’re Black women. They’re expected to become spokespeople about their pain. And it’s like, “Forget your personal and private healing process. Use that experience for the greater good, for the betterment and the advancement of Black people.” I just think “Where’s the time for us? Can’t something just be for us? For me?”
Brendane: No! [laughs] I mean, yeah, if you create it and you protect that space. So many activist spaces I’ve been in where that has been kind of the going politic of “don’t take time to heal, you’re instantly-you have to make yourself a martyr and save your community.” But it’s like, “But who’s gonna save us? Who is gonna protect us? Because usually what happens is we become the martyrs and we become spokespeople about our own pain, but then Black men—Black cis men especially—are still centered in that. So it’s like “This happens to Black women, but in order to protect Black people, which what we really mean protect Black men, is we gotta do XYZ.” Or the common, like, “Black men only beat up on Black women because they are subjected to all these forms of racist violence.” And that is the thinking that’s behind that, as if Black women aren’t also subject to that violence.
Alyssa: Yeah, and I mean, you know I have a rant about this. But, one comment that I did see—I’m not sure if it was on a post about Meg Thee Stallion or not—but a Black woman commented—this was on Twitter—and she said “Black women really are the most unprotected group of people in the world.” And a Black man replied and said, “After Black men.” [Sighs] And I was just like, “You see, here you go. Here you go again. Here we go. Centering yourself and actually also proving the point.” Just proving the point.
But, I mean, there was also a really important comparison made by Elexus Jionde, and if I pronounce that wrong please let me know as well. So she did a post about intimate partner violence and she made this comparison that in 2018, 215 Black people were killed by police, meanwhile in 2016, 272 Black women were killed by a lover, spouse, or ex. So we’re not safe on the streets. We’re not safe in our homes. And so, Brendane, when you said “Black men kill us” in the last episode, you’re [claps] being [claps] very [claps] literal [claps]. And a lot of it comes down to this narrative that Black women are emasculating. I mean, I told you the other day that like, I don’t even think we need to say “toxic masculinity.” It’s redundant. Masculinity is inherently toxic. And I don’t want to say that masculinity is fragile, because like whiteness, it is dangerous, it is durable, and it is enduring, and it kills.
But this idea that circulates, that tells Black men that our very existence—an existence that has become required of us because of white supremacy and systemic racism—to say that it’s threatening to their manhood is part of the reason that they harm us. They put us in our place in order to claim their rightful spot— “rightful” —spot in this place created for them by patriarchy. And yet Black women, we are required for masculinity and whiteness to exist. So as Spillers wrote—she wrote this in like the first paragraph of that essay—she says, “My country needs me. And if I were not here, I would have to be invented.” So Black women are indispensable, yet disposable.
Brendane: Yeah, I think that–I don’t [sighs] I’m like, you know, is masculinity inherently toxic? In my opinion, no, but I do think if we put it, as you situated it, within this kind of matrix, right, of all these oppressions, that it does, especially in this particular society, masculinity can function as this like toxic form of being. And so I think the question is, “How do we get to the point where we can abolish these gender norms and notions about living that allow for people to have a structural reason to exact violence against each other?” Right, and also for that violence to be erased, right? So like–or justified, right?. So this whole thing around rape culture is this idea that, like, we actually believe that women and girls, mostly, should experience violation and that men should be the ones that violate them.
And so, how do we dismantle that? How do we move past that? And the Black Women’s March that was conducted in 2017, they have like a short piece from their manifesto where they talk about, they say, and I quote, “In this moment of realization, once again, that we are all we’ve got, we call on all Black Lives Matter, Movement for Black Lives, and Black communities at-large to march especially for the lives and rights of Black trans women, for the gender nonconforming, and for our Black girls in all the 50 states. Plus the so-called territories and all the African diaspora. By their very being, it is through Black trans women and Black girls that the revolutionary potential of our entire Black community resides. Theirs are the Black lives who underscore the poignancy of this moment in a future where all Black women and Black communities are liberated from persistent, imposed, and internalized axes of gender oppression, domination, and discrimination.”
So we have internalized all these forms of oppression that make it so that we can point to these forms of violence and see them as like systemic and structural. And so we put out the call, right, to protect all Black women, and I wanna highlight in this moment that in the last week there have been reports of at least 3 Black trans women who have been killed, one in the Bronx. And so far in 2020, there’s been 28 trans people who have been killed. So here are the names of the Black women who have been killed this week. We want to honor them and lift them up now: Alejandra Monocuco, who was a Colombian Black trans sex worker who was killed by negligence of the paramedics who refused to take her to the hospital because she was HIV-positive. We lift up the name of Tiffany Harris, who died at the age of 32. She was stabbed to death reportedly by her partner. This is the woman who lived in the Bronx and she was left to die in the hallway. Queasha Hardy—and excuse me if I’m not pronouncing your name right—but we want to honor you, Queasha, here, who was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. These women, these women, these Black trans women in particular, are losing their lives because of the ways that we think about womanhood and the ways that we think about femininity and the ways that violence is justified against Black women in particular. And this has to end. It has to end.
Alyssa: We’re gonna end it there. I really want that to be the last thing that we really talk about because I want people to leave with that in their mind, meditating on that, and really spend time thinking about that. That was beautiful, thank you for that Brendane. Again, we uplift those names.
So thank you all for listening. I know that was a little bit heavy but, you know, we appreciate you sticking all the way through this conversation. And, you know, we very much welcome your feedback, so you can send us an email to email@example.com. Hit us up on Instagram at @zorasdaughters or Twitter @zoras_daughters. And please subscribe on whatever platform you’re using. That really helps us with our ratings and it also helps you because you’ll be automatically notified of when our next episode comes out. So yes, and if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, please give us a 5-star rating. That also helps us.
Brendane: Yes, please. We’re 5-star. It’s only real hot girl s*** out here. Thank you, Megan for that real hot girl [laughs]
Alyssa: Thanks Megan. So yeah, so we appreciate y’all so much from the bottom of our Aquarius and Gemini hearts. Thank you.
Brendane: Yes, thank you. We also want to say that we love and support Megan Thee Stallion and her healing during this time. And also you and all of you who are listening, if you are healing, thank you so much for listening and remember that you must take care of yourselves and we must take care of each other. So until next time, bye!
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