Today we’re answering the question What makes this anthropology?, discussing the politics of respectability and its iterations for African-Americans vs. Jamaican immigrants, we celebrate Black women’s bodies and Jamaican dancehall with Carolyn Cooper’s essay “Lady Saw Cuts Loose: Female Fertility Rituals in the Dancehall”, and we bring it to popular culture with Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new banger WAP and Kamala Harris’ historic nomination as the Democratic candidate for VP to think about the tax Black women must pay when they’re in positions of power.
Zora’s Daughters Podcast: Episode Three
Co-Hosts: Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James
Title: There’s Some Anthros in This House
Total Length: 01:44:28
Transcript by Alissa Rae Funderburk, Oral Historian
[00:00:10.05] ALYSSA: Hi everyone, I’m Alyssa, my pronouns are she, her, and hers, I am a PhD student in cultural anthropology currently self-quarantining and if you couldn’t tell by the intro to this episode, we’re going to be talking a lot about dancehall, about W.A.P., and respectability.
BRENDANE: [Laughter] Oh, well hi. I’m Brendane, I am a PhD candidate in anthropology, my pronouns are also she, her, hers, and yeah, I just moved into my new place, my body hurts, everything hurts but I look forward to decorating. That’s basically what I look forward to doing.
ALYSSA: Excellent. Have you been looking up all of the different designs ideas and things that you want to buy?
BRENDANE: Girl, everything is sold out. Like people, it’s back-to-school/everybody’s working from home so all the stores are sold out. Ikea is sold out, Value City Furniture, everything in that is already on back log so house is empty basically until mid-September—
ALYSSA: Oh, no. That’s wild
BRENDANE: —which I’m not happy about.
ALYSSA: I mean, I’ve heard that Ikea looks like the apocalypse right now [laughter] and I’ve been thinking about ordering a bed and obviously it’s just going to take too long to come so I was like forget it, it’s fine.
BRENDANE: Yeah. For me, it’s just like, yo, I need this stuff so I can actually do the things I said I was going to do in my life. And it seems like it’s just not possible so um, we’ll see. I don’t like living like this though, it’s not cool. It’s not cool. But my necessities are here which matters most. Like, you know about the whole debacle about getting my stuff here.
ALYSSA: Oh yes.
BRENDANE: At least the bare necessities are here but all the other things I need, I just, I guess I have to practice my patience. Which is hard, so hard [laughter]. So—
ALYSSA: You never wanna—
[00:02:20.71] BRENDANE: No, I was getting ready to ask you. [Laughter] So, how was your weekend? I heard it was pretty special.
ALYSSA: Yes, yeah. D and I went up to Lake George and we were thinking this is going to be a nice getaway, you know, finally leave the city, because I hadn’t left New York since probably last October. Yeah, so I mean, we were planning on going to Colombia in March, but then because of all of the COVID stuff that didn’t happen. And then, of course, because I’m worried about my visa and all of this stuff, I didn’t want to leave the country in case I wouldn’t be able to come back. So, finally we settled on going to Lake George, we booked everything, we stayed at a ranch and we went horseback riding and did some cute stuff. But the thing that we were just not prepared for was the Trump right situation [laughter].
BRENDANE: Yes, they’re everywhere up there. They’re everywhere up there, though. Like, outside the city, especially in New York and Pennsylvania, they’re everywhere.
ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean we counted. So, we had just started counting and we counted three blue lives matter flags and maybe four Trump 2020 paraphernalia so like shirts and someone was wearing a facemask and we were both thinking about the irony of having a Trump 2020 facemask because you would think that Trump supporters aren’t wearing masks [laughter]—
BRENDANE: Literally he’s the reason why we’re, right, he’s the reason why we’re stuck in the mess anyway.
ALYSSA: Yeah, and the day we were driving back to New York, we stopped in Saratoga Springs to have lunch and it was the complete opposite. It was Black Lives Matter signs everywhere and it’s literally just half an hour away from Lake George. And so, there were Black Lives Matter signs and all people welcome, everyone welcome, and all of these kinds of things. You know, they have like vegan restaurants [laughter] and it was just a more, I don’t know what to say, it was just a totally different place. Lake George, all of their restaurants were like American food and pizza and burgers and you get the odd nice restaurant, but a lot of it was very French food or Italian food. So, the way that I described it was, this seems like the kind of place that people who are kind of class traveling, think that upper middle-class people would vacation, and so that’s where they go. So, you know, they think that like, eating this Italian-American food is more refined and all of these kinds of things. It was and interesting place to go to.
[00:05:19.98] BRENDANE: Well, I’m glad that y’all had a good time. You look good horseback riding so I was like, wow. [Laughter] You was looking good, I was like, “okay, I see you,” hair out—
BRENDANE: —out here on the horse. I have avoided riding horses with all of the excuses so.
ALYSSA: It was actually really fun, I was scared to begin with but once we got going I actually really enjoyed it and I was like, “why aren’t we trotting, come on let’s go a little faster” because they kind of just walk you along a path, along a trail. But no, it was good.
BRENDANE: Do they smell bad?
ALYSSA: Um, only when they were pooping [laughter].
BRENDANE: Oh, gosh see that’s my other thing. Horses smell—
ALYSSA: And they just keep walking. They just walk and drop, [laughter] just walk and drop. That was interesting but D loves horses so I was happy that we got to do that.
ALYSSA: Yeah [laughter].
[00:06:16.06] ALYSSA: I know, I’m so cute. But any who, before we get too sentimental let’s get into the podcast. Y’all welcome to Zora’s Daughters. Alyssa and Brendane in the house.
BRENDANE: Whoop, whoop.
ALYSSA: Anthros in the house [laughter]
BRENDANE: Whoop, whoop, whoop. Anthros in the house yes.
ALYSSA: That will become more relevant later [laughter]. But speaking of art, since we’re anthropologists one of the things people are probably thinking about is like, you know, how is this podcast really anthropology? A lot of people really associate anthropology with bones or doing archaeology. At least, that’s what I get, like, “oh do you dig things up?” and I’m like, “no, I’m a cultural anthropologist” or they think of it as this very colonial form where, you know, that very colonial form of anthropology where you’re going into some uncontacted tribe and you’re noting down all of their rituals and kinship and all those kinds of things. This format might not necessarily be something that people associate with anthropology so I’m going to ask that dreaded question that every Americanist anthropologist gets especially if you’re studying Black folks. What makes this anthropology?
BRENDANE: Yeah, so I mean I would say, I guess I could just start with where I entered anthropology and then see if that helps answer the question. So, I encountered anthropology for the first time as one of Lee Baker’s students my sophomore year. He is, if you’re an anthro nerd you know who Lee Baker is. He is one of my favorite people in the world and he really took us through, what’s called anthropology of race and he really focused a lot on Blackness though and anthropology’s role in defining Blackness and defining what makes a person Black. And that really helped me as a poor Black girl from South Carolina understand why I experienced the world the way that I did, why I experienced the racism, the classism, the sexism, that was just deeply ingrained in my childhood. And it really opened up my understanding of violence as well too.
So, this podcast as an example of an anthropological tool, at least in my imagination, is one that allows us to make sense of the world through all of these different structures. I guess anthropologist, we’re concerned about the social, the in between. We talked about liminality last podcast right, these in between spaces, these undefined spaces and we’re not necessarily trying to make sense of them in a sociological sense where we’re like okay classifying them in order to put them into categories to do something with it. We’re literally just saying how is the world the way that it is and what happens because of this. And so, in this podcast we do that, we take all these different readings and we say ok how can we look at this particular thing through the lens of this particular theory or you know, what have you.
In anthropology though typically we’re seen, as you mentioned, as a discipline that examines and defines culture and then using that to define the Other, with a capital O. Which is usually a non-white person in a foreign country, as you said. What we’re doing here is what I think is really useful and also after our namesake, Zora Neale Hurston, she calls is “taking off the tight-fitting chemise” of our own cultures. Sometimes we’re so unable to see what makes things that are familiar to us strange or cultural, so I think we really do a good job of like peeling that back, you know. I really just think we do a good job of pulling that back.
[00:10:12.07] ALYSSA: Absolutely, yes. Making the familiar strange. I mean, people have also problematized that phrase but it’s still something that I hold, kind of, in my mind as I do my work as, if I am familiar with something, I try to ask myself questions about why things are the way that they are. So, I actually studied psychology in undergrad and it took me four years but by the end of it all I was just like, “nah, this ain’t it, this ain’t it” [laughter].
BRENDANE: I can see that though. I, you know, sometimes you be asking me questions and I be like, “hmm, this sounds like somebody who knows a little psychology.”
ALYSSA: I mean, yeah, I used to freak my family out because, you know, mental health and mental illness in the Black community but especially in the Jamaican community is something else. So anytime I used to say anything to my mom or something she’d be like, “don’t psychologize me.” [Laughter] But anyways, so psychology was a thing that, by the end of it, I realized it’s weird. And so WEIRD is the acronym that people use to describe the way that participants in psychology they’re overwhelmingly western educated from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries, so that’s what WEIRD stands for. And so, you have these people generalizing about humanity as a whole from this like completely non-representative group of people that makes up twelve percent of the world’s population.
By the time I got to the end of it, I was like wait, all of these—not all, but a lot of psychologists, they’re basing their conclusions on doing research with undergraduates. So, for myself, I would get class credit, I would get credit for my course for going and participating in someone’s study [laughter] and that’s basically where they get a lot of these theories. So, when I was like trying to go back to graduate school it was just like well what were some of the most influential texts or some of the most insightful things that I’ve read and they weren’t in psychology they were in sociology. I had read one ethnography [laughter] by a Caribbeanist anthropologist and I actually worked with him for my master’s research so that was great—
BRENDANE: Flex on us [laughter], flex on us real quick [laughter].
ALYSSA: Hey [laughter], no it was fantastic. So, for me, the strength of anthropology is looking at the particular and theorizing about how that influences and is influenced by these global and structural forces. And because we also aim to spend these extended periods of time with people, you know, it’s not the shotgun form of research, I really think that that gives you a lot more insight and connection to the people that you are working with or the group that you are a part of and speaking about. Yeah, so for us in this podcast I think that the one experience that both of us have spent a lifetime with is being Black and female. We are our own ethnographic data. I’m an expert in my own experience and we’re taking ourselves and other Black women seriously as theorists of our lives and of our worlds and I think that’s super key to what makes this podcast anthropological.
[00:14:02.14] BRENDANE: Right, we’re like pushing back against these ideas that your own life can’t be ethnographic data or even “scientific” data and we think about a lot of Black feminist principles is rooted in not just the self but a theorizing of the self, a theorizing of your experiences that moves away from what people would call these western forms of objectivity which say that you as a researcher have to stand outside of whatever you’re researching in order for it to be valid. And I’m like, that’s not true for anything that you do, but it’s especially not true for us as Black women. We are never allowed to really stand apart from our Blackness or our womanhood on order to study something. It is almost always a part of us in some way.
ALYSSA: Yeah, I think that one of the things we see a lot of people doing now after the reflexive turn is you know stating their positionality and it almost just becomes this thing set apart or set aside from what it is that they do. They’re just like, “I’m just letting you know that I am this person and so people might have been affected or influenced by this way that I walk in the world,” whereas it’s like for us it almost doesn’t need to be stated, it’s just always there. It isn’t something that’s set apart from the work that we do and the things that we write. It is, I want to say entangled but [laughter]. It is entangled with everything that we do at all times and so there isn’t necessarily this need to separate it out from the research that we do.
BRENDANE: Right. At least for me, I think of research as something that has a purpose and a use and so the research is not just something that I’m interested in but it has either like a pollical project attached to it, especially, obviously, the work that I do now for my dissertation. I’m not trying to study the world just to be like okay this is the world. My work is to make the world better and so I think for a lot of—I mean it’s like a blessing and a curse for a lot of Black researchers, right? We do work that matters to us deeply but also this work matters to us deeply and it is steeped in trying to change the world around us and for a lot of Black folks we feel like we can’t study just, you know, interests. I can’t just study why the sky is blue because I’m interested in it, it has to have some kind of political attachment to it. I think we’re moving away from that in some circles but I think a lot of us are still politically charged because, of course, this world needs to change and who else is going to do it but us. Like we’ve learned who else is going to do that work [laughter].
ALYSSA: That is something that we’re going to come back to later as well in our “What in the World” segment but yeah, I mean, if anybody out there is ever told that your personal experience is not valid as data because it’s anecdotal evidence. As people like to say, “oh, that’s anecdotal.”
BRENDANE: Oh, they love to do that. They love to throw that out there.
ALYSSA: Just be like, just be like “objectivity is an ideal that emerges from a white Eurocentric subjectivity.” So, they were just sitting there and they were like, “hmm, what could make the world, or make my information seem more important, oh objectivity.” Well, objectivity is something that comes from somebody’s own personal experience, and ideas, and understandings of the world so everything is subjective.
BRENDANE: Literally. Someone had to decide how many times to repeat an experiment, right? Someone had to decide that, it was not an objective decision. It was like “okay three times sounds enough.” Why not five times, why not seven? All these things that we think of as scientific and then of as true because of a lot of philosophers in the enlightenment period and blah, blah, blah, told us so, are really actually constructed and can change. And so, I think changing the way that we think about subjectivity and objectivity will allow us to embrace bodies of knowledge created especially by Black people and especially by Black women without having to do this justification work all the time of why we are doing that. But I feel like that’s a conflict for another time [laughter].
[00:18:34.44] ALYSSA: But I think it was good to get that out there [laughter].
BRENDANE: I think we’re going to go ahead and get to our word because I’m pumped. Like, today’s episode, y’all, gets into my whole spirit. My whole spirit. So, we’re going to go to our next segment which is called “What’s the Word?” And Alyssa, what’s the word for today?
ALYSSA: Alright, our word today is respectability. So, respectability politics, that started as a philosophy promoted by Black elites to “uplift the race” and they believed that conforming to mainstream standards of behavior and appearance would protect them from systemic racism and prejudice. I think that’s a word that we hear kind of thrown around a lot these days.
BRENDANE: Right. These days especially, I think, as we move into this election season and the middle of this uprising when people are trying to figure out what’s a “good” form of protest versus a “bad” form of protest. Yes, respectability is the word for the moment. And I know that we both have experiences growing up with that so I’mma just ask you, where have you experienced this in your own life or what is your relationship really to respectability?
ALYSSA: Yeah, it’s been everywhere in my life. My relationship to respectability is strong. I think I said to you and some of our colleagues, you know, that during some of these conversations that we’ve been having, just that I’m not used to being the trouble-making Black [laughter]. I’m very used to being the good Black and obviously it’s something that I myself am working on and thinking through. But I grew up Black in Canada, the child of Jamaican immigrants and even though we didn’t really call it respectability, you know, adhering to a politics of respectability was really important. I was very much encouraged to adhere to that. You know, if I used slang my mom would be like, [Jamaican accent] “don’t talk ghetto” [laughter] and I always felt very encouraged to, you know, be like deferential to authority, to not be too loud, not to take up too much space and not to dress in a certain way. And so, in my early teens when I kind of started to rebel against this, that was when my mom and I really started to clash as a lot of mothers and daughters do.
BRENDANE: I know I definitely did [laughter]. Definitely.
ALYSSA: [Laughter] Yeah and it’s still something that’s always in the back of my mind, that if I act the right way or speak the right way or dress the right way then I won’t be treated negatively, I won’t experience prejudice in the same way and things like that. It’s all an unlearning, as we say, yeah?
[00:21:40.72] BRENDANE: Yeah. I would say for my own experiences, we were poor Black people and so there were certain things that I feel like—as someone who was identified as gifted early on, so like kindergarten or whatever—I was kind of thrust into this social learning of this is what good students, good people do. This kind of like class training that I wasn’t getting at home. My mother is the strong Black woman, like she does not play any games. I remember being younger and she would just show up to the school and demand to speak to whoever she needed to speak to if something was going wrong with me, my sister, my brother. And this was before a lot of the school shootings and bombings and things like that, but she would literally show up and be like “I will blow this place up, if you do not take me to who I need to talk to.” And so, it became so much so that when I would just say “oh, I need to talk to my mother,” that people would be like “please do not call your mom, things are fine, we will work it out.”
So, she has always been a fire in that way and always just loved us deeply. But yeah was not a very respectable woman in that sense, like class wise or even she would just wear whatever she wanted to wear. She, my mom was very intelligent and so—she had some college education—so, she knew how to talk in certain spaces when she needed to talk but she also knew how to wield her anger and her language whenever she wanted to. But we were never chastised, at least as far as I can remember, for talking ghetto. I used to get a lot of flak for talking the way that I talk. Like my family assumed for the longest that I didn’t have any Black friends which, if you know me is like, what? They assumed that I was going to be married to a white man and you know [laughter] ugh no. Whenever I would say, “oh, I have a boyfriend,” when I was younger, I would be like “I have a boyfriend” and the first question would be like, “oh, is he white?” and of course not.
And it would be one of those things where it would just be like because I was put into—you know, marked as smart, I was thrust into these circles which was very different from my family background. We see a certain type of respectability that’s marked by the church which I think is like a different—which can be class but it’s just different in certain ways. But yeah, that so interesting to hear the difference between a particular type of African American respectable experience and like a Jamaican immigrant experience. Blackness is so vast and it’s just so interesting.
[00:24:47.68] ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean ours was very much marked by education. So, it was get those grades in school. My mom was fantastic about putting us in the extra—in the “right” extracurriculars. So, my brother and I, we did piano lessons, that didn’t stick. I did taekwondo for a little bit, that didn’t stick. But one of the things, I mean when I was a little, little kid [laughter].
BRENDANE: Oh, I was about to say, let me find out you could whoop some ass out here.
ALYSSA: Well I can, I wrestled in university, so you know.
BRENDANE: Oh yeah, I got a list of people who need [laughter] you need some reckonings [laughter].
ALYSSA: I use my powers for good but one of the things that my mom would not let slide unless it was due to a financial issue but we were almost always, I think until I was in grade nine, we were in Kumon. Which is—I was just doing math—
BRENDANE: Oh, with the learning, is that like the learning thing?
ALYSSA: Yeah, my brother did math and English, I did math and it basically accelerates you in math and makes you really good at doing mental math. So, to this day I’m fantastic at the more simple stuff. But by the time I was in grade seven I was doing grade ten, grade eleven math. Academics was really, really important and getting good grades was integral. But it’s interesting that you bring up this kind of difference between the experience of African American and Jamaican respectability. In the 1960’s in anthropology, respectability and reputation became something that was a structuring principal of the Caribbean especially in the Jamaican society.
In 1969, Peter J. Wilson, he wrote an article and he argues that anthropologists of the Caribbean should stop thinking in terms of gender and class as like the structuring principle of society and instead start thinking about reputation and respectability. And those things are gendered as well, and they carry markers of class, but he said that those concepts are a lot more stable and more common throughout the region. And so, you kind of felt that, like, Caribbean ethnographers, they’ve been alluding to these ideals, you know, particularly in terms of marriage, economic stability. And he also said that, you know, women are very much the carriers of respectability. They uphold the values of the church, you know, similar to what you were saying, and at the same time, men they live according to a value and status system that’s based on reputation. So, they were like, “Alright, well, you know, how can I get status through the things that I own and the people that I know and the money that I make.” Meanwhile, women are like I get respected status based on how moral I am.
So, these ideals are still somewhat in use. I mean, for example, Deborah Thomas, she’s an anthropologist at Penn. She works in Jamaica, and she defines respectability as “a value complex that emphasizes education, thrift, industry, self-sufficiency via land ownership, moderate Protestant living, community uplift, the constitution of family through legal marriage and leadership by the educated middle classes.” I think a lot of my first-generation Canadian friends will recognize some of these values in their Jamaican parents. Just like the importance of some of these things.
[00:28:19.39] BRENDANE: Yeah, I just find that to be really fascinating. Just on like, a personal level, because I think about like, like, yeah, like women being the holders of morality. At least growing up in the church in a way that I did, which was nondenominational, but I would say we were much closer to just like Pentecostal than anything else. And like our form of respectability was through morality, but it was like a very strict morality, in that sense of just like in a purity like a pure like P-U-R-I-T-Y, and you will not do anything outside of what the Bible says that you should do as a young woman. Now for young boys, which I think we’ll get we will get to that later. But like, the difference, the gender difference in that for sure. But like to be respectable in that area, you had to, as a young woman adhere to certain things. And if any of it if you appear to be unholy, then you are unholy. And thus, you know, not able to be respected.
And so, yeah, and you mentioned like dressing a certain way, talking a certain way being a certain way. Just the difference for us being that, like, we couldn’t afford to dress certain ways, like we had to get our clothes from goodwill or had to have the hand me downs, had to have a certain thing. So, I always kind of looked a certain way and the thing that made me respectable was just the way that I talked, the classes that I took, being an advanced student. So, like my mother, who I think she trusted the school system because of how well I did. She trusted that it would treat my brother and my sister in a similar way and so what’s really, I wouldn’t say tragic but just sad about that is like I was identified as gifted. And so, I was just like, shuffled through these accelerated programs, you know, these reading programs. My sister, she is kind of a middle of the road student and then my brother, like many Black boys and girls in public school systems, right, fell victim to the school to prison pipeline and has been in and out of jail a few times and is not reading on grade level, at least when for when he dropped out of high school and so there and I’m like getting my PhD.
So that is a vast difference, um, as far as like respectability, in that sense and largely due to class. And so, I recognize respectability to be kind of similar to what you’ve been saying, as a politic that Black people believe will allow us to avoid this racial sexual violence and allow us access to certain white spaces so that we can have access to resources. And in the United States, especially when slavery was abolished, formerly enslaved Black folks, particularly those who were lighter skinned, “Creole” folks. If you’re from that region, my father’s Creole. Respectability politics allowed them to believe that their behavior which emulated white society would allow them to escape the kind of oppressive racist violence, such as lynching or segregation but—
ALYSSA: Right, but that’s not the case [laughter].
BRENDANE: Period. No, like, if you had one drop of Black blood, you were Black. Um, and so that was, and sometimes people could pass. And I know passing now is like a word that people want to problematize but I still find it useful. Sometimes people could pass and gain some of the advantages of white society, the economic advantages of white society, but for the most part, you couldn’t. One case, in particular, I think about is like Plessy v. Ferguson and this, you know, this light-skinned Black man who’s actually I’m going to use the term here, what’s was called an octaroon. Which if you’re not familiar, means that you are one eighth Black. So octo means eight, and you’re one eighth Black. So, his great grandparent, one of his great grandparents were Black. His name was Homer Plessy. He was sitting on a train. And he was actually a member of a group, a creole group of prominent Black citizens. And they use him as kind of this test case to test the newly minted laws in Louisiana around segregation.
ALYSSA: What year was this?
[00:33:10.09] BRENDANE: And so, this is like during the reconstruction period, post slavery, so he’s his man that if you look at a picture of him, you’re like, Black??? But back then, right, like he was Black. And so, these prominent Black citizens wanted access to the white car trains because they have better food, you know, they’re better conditioned seats that you could actually enjoy sitting in. And so, they wanted to push against these segregation laws that would allow them to have access to these cars that they could afford to sit in. But what happened is you know homeboy got arrested, and they took it to court and he made it to the Supreme Court. And that’s actually the Supreme Court was like, actually, these segregation laws are good, right? As long as things are separate, but equal, they can be separate.
And so, we know the legacy of that, of course, which is in segregation, and things were anything but equal, but they were definitely separate. I use that as an example to really highlight like class plays a huge role and who can be perceived as respectable, and class with them a major driver for respectability, politics and also for integration, because poor Black people will almost always be excluded from the realm of respectability. Unless they’re like me and they are exceptional and I’ve really had to battle with that and over the course of my life. Like my exceptionality in the ways that I’m allowed access to spaces because people see me as, “one of the good ones,” even though I always like to shake the table when I get there [laughter].
ALYSSA: I’m learning from you. I’m learning from you. But I mean, it’s interesting that you bring up Plessy v. Ferguson because it reminded me of something I had read and you—I just have to tell you all, I have a terrible memory [laughter]. But, you know, Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to be arrested for not sitting at the back of the bus, right. There were other people who had been arrested in the past, other women who had been assaulted for doing the same thing, but they didn’t get the same—the movement didn’t kind of organize around them, in part because they didn’t hold the same position in society that Rosa Parks did. One woman she’s a darker skinned woman. So, you know, and Rosa Parks was a light-skinned woman who would just simply look better, would be more respectable on the cover of newspapers and in stories. And so, you know, even within the community and within activist spaces, these kinds of characteristics are still used to kind of push forward what might be considered more radical agendas.
[00:35:59.80] BRENDANE: Right. Like, you know, our homeboy W.E.B. Dubois and his self. He—I mean I have lots to say about this man—but what he learned over the course of his life, besides the fact that even though he had Dutch ancestry, that white people were still not going to allow him to marry their daughters. That [laughter] that [laughter] sorry, I just—
ALYSSA: [Laughter] This is, this is what—no, should I say this? This is—no, I’m not gonna say it [laughter].
BRENDANE: We were all thinking it right like, I think a corollary to thinking about respectability is integration and thinking about what integration really allows Black men in particular to do. I’m gonna I’m going to leave that space open for the listener to figure out what I’m saying. But basically, like he, you know, he starts out poor, gets this great education, goes to Germany, and everywhere he turns He’s like, “wow, people are still out here calling me a nigger. And like, what does that really mean?” Um, and then he’s like, well, what if we fight? NAACP, What if we fight to integrate these places? What if you fight to do this, that and the third. Lives this long time and then at the end of his life is like “actually, I’m gonna just move to Ghana and be with my be with my people and recognize that this was a “failed”—I would say that integration did not fail because of course it did happen—but this political project that he envisioned of being seen as the same or seen as an equal with his white counterparts, his white sociologists, right?
His work was dismissed as not real sociology, for a very long time, even though it cemented the way that Black people are talked about and in sociological texts. I think about him too, as an example of just kind of like, respectability politics, and I’m sure I’ll get some heat for that. And how they operate especially along the lines of skin color. And back to your example about Rosa Parks. Claudette Colvin, I think is how you pronounce her last name, but the darker skinned fourteen-year-old girl who was pregnant, who they said could not be a figure in this movement because of her skin and her unmarried status. And so, the civil rights movement really used—well certain factions of the civil rights movement—really played on respectability politics, to do and to integrate spaces. And I mean, we see that in the movement where, you know, you have people doing the sit-ins where they’re silent and they’re peaceful, as white people are literally attacking them. And that is supposed to be, is talked about as a sign of strength, right? And in some ways, it is but also it is also just you seeing racist violence again, enacted on people, even as they’re literally being as respectable as possible.
ALYSSA: Mm hmm. Yeah, I mean, I don’t—I definitely don’t want to discount the power of silence. I mean, especially if you think about like Tina Campt’s work on listening to images. And you know, the power of quiet revolution and refusal [The Sovereignty of Quiet]. But there are just some instances where we need to make a mess. We need to destroy some things. And so, you know, these politics of respectability are often used against Black folks to police our behavior like, “oh, you shouldn’t be this, you shouldn’t do this, don’t be ghetto,” but it’s like, you know, and then that way people will still they’ll treat you with respect and dignity. But it’s like people should still have rights and dignity and humanity, regardless of their respectability. Like, if a girl is darker skinned and fifteen years old and pregnant, that shouldn’t—why does that mean that she’s less deserving of having a seat on the bus?
BRENDANE: It doesn’t. And yeah, like, for Black women in particular, like respectability is kind of flexes this shield, in a sense, right? Like, oh, if you just act a certain way, talk a certain way, be a certain way, then people won’t assault you and it’s like, that’s not the truth at all. Like even as an academic, I act a certain way, am a certain way, whatever and still experience sexualized violence in my workplace. And so, it’s just like, actually respectability politics are born of this fear. This fear that if we don’t inhabit or abide by these societal constructs and norms that we’ll die, but the gag is yeah, we’re gonna die anyway. The actual gag is, no matter what, we’re gonna die anyway because this society is actually based upon our exclusion, is based upon death. So how do we how do we move from that, honestly, politics of respectability?
[00:41:22.03] ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean, our PhDs, your suit, your straightened hair, they’re not going to protect you from bullets. So, what’s the point? But I mean, alright, let’s, let’s keep it moving forward, you’re like, “Alright, well, how can we, you know, what can we do?” And I think the answer to that is like reclaiming all of these negative stereotypes, owning them, talking about them. And I think that that leads us nicely into our next segment: “What We’re Reading.”
BRENDANE: Yeah, so today we’re reading “Lady Saw Cuts Loose: Female Fertility Rituals in the Dancehall” in Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large by Carolyn Cooper. Who is the baddest, I just want to say, the baddest.
ALYSSA: So, Dr. Carolyn Cooper, CD, that means she has the Order of Distinction in Jamaica. She’s a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus in Jamaica. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto, my alma mater, [in Jamaican accent] big up, big up, [Jamaican dancehall horns]. But her work is mainly focused on theorizing and historicizing dancehall culture and she was integral to the creation of the reggae studies unit at UWI, which is the University of West Indies. Her book Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large was published in 2004. So, Brendane is our—[laughter] as our resident American, what do you know about dancehall?
BRENDANE: Girl. When we were thinking of this idea, I was like “dancehall? What do I know about dancehall?” I know I like dancing in the hall. I’m just kidding. I love dancing. I liked whining way before I even know what it was. I was doing it. Twerking, you know, all of that. But I really can’t say that I’m familiar with the music, dancehall music outside of like Sean Paul, which I feel like it’s just you know, whenever I’ve caught on and I like looked it up and I was like oh Beanie Man. There are people that I do know, that was not I didn’t know was dancehall been listening to throughout my childhood. And I dance anytime a song comes on and in recent years especially since I went to Barbados for my twenty-fifth year of life [laughter]. Yeah, clap over, I was out here looking like a true anthro and I’ve been trying to learn more about different forms of Afro Caribbean music and dance. And also, as a side note: Google, Drake is not a dancehall artist. I googled—because I was like, let me see what I know—and I googled dancehall and Drake’s name for sure popped up. It’s an affront to me and my home girls, we are upset about it.
ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean, Alright, so we’ve got you know, Vybez Kartel, we’ve got Shenseea, we’ve got, who else have we got, Alkaline. I’m just trying to—Movado. All of these people are, these are the kinds of like, the songs that I have mostly on my playlist. Every time they come on, of course, I’m whining up myself, which my mom would never want to see. Actually, she thinks it’s cute now that I’m older, but I think when I was younger she wasn’t having it [laughter]. She’s like, oh, wow, you can dance. I mean, I used to not be able to dance. I’ll just admit it. I will tell you all how I learned how to dance [laughter].
BRENDANE: I want to know. I’m listening
[00:45:09.27] ALYSSA: So, there is a movie. It is called Dancehall Queen [laughter].
BRENDANE: I think I’ve seen that.
ALYSSA: I had basically watched it maybe five or six times over and over right before my thirteenth birthday. Because I was going to go to this party. And I wanted it to be able to dance. And so, it’s just like okay, so she moves like on the rhythm. So, let me also say that my dad can’t dance. My mom’s best friend likes to say how my dad is like [in Jamaican accent] “knock knee and can’t dance.” [Laughter] And my mom doesn’t really dance. So naturally this was downloaded to me.
BRENDANE: Baby Alyssa over here.
ALYSSA: But now you’ve seen me out okay, I can now, you know.
BRENDANE: Yeah. Okay, I’m not gonna say too much but we was out here, like we was out here.
ALYSSA: Yeah. Precisely. I’m still not the best dancer but I do love it so. Yeah. And so anyways I just I love that we’re talking about Carolyn Cooper. I read her in undergrad because some of the—besides psychology I actually majored in equity studies and so I took most of my courses in sociology and Caribbean history with one professor. She is fantastic and she was probably—she was my first and probably only Black professor, Black woman professor, I think up until my PhD, so I took like four courses with her. Yeah, she’s fantastic. And so, I read I read some of Carolyn Cooper’s work in her Twentieth Century Popular Culture and History [Politics] in the Caribbean course. I still remember to this day. So yeah, and one of the things that I’m really happy about is that I think Carolyn Cooper is very aligned with what we’re trying to do with the podcast.
So, in Jamaica, when you when you are promoted to Professor, you give an inaugural professorial lecture and she gave hers in Jamaican patois. So, that’s the native tongue for a lot of Jamaicans it would it was broadcast around the country and she said that, you know, to this day, people still stop around the street and they’re like, [in Jamaican accent] “you know, me know you.” And she’s like, “oh, maybe you know, I write some stuff in the newspaper” and they’re like, “no, no, I’ve seen your lecture.” And they talked to her about it. And so, it really just shows that when you translate academic discourse into plain or popular language, people will understand and people will engage with it. And really, it’s also dope because she was like, “nah, like, forget all of you middle class and upper class Jamaicans and your politics of respectability. I’m just going to do this in my, in my mother tongue in my native language that people can understand.” Because that was not seen as it isn’t necessarily seen as respectable, particularly in academic spaces.
BRENDANE: Hmm. Well, I mean, just from reading this, I could tell, sis was what with all of it, like, she was like, come from me and I will come for you with the quickness. I love it. I love it. I would say that, like, for me, I was really excited to—this is my introduction to Carolyn Cooper’s work. And now I’m really much more interested in reading more about what she’s done. And honestly just learning more because all of my interactions with dancehall music has just literally been, you know at random clubs so this is like for me, I’m learning.
ALYSSA: Yeah no, we’re out here theorizing. My friend was like, “oh, your kids one day in the future they’re just going to be so tired of you academics theorizing everything.” Like she’s Jamaican and she was just like, “there’s y’all theorizing everything.” But in any case, so in this essay, you know Carolyn Cooper she’s talking about Marion Hall, formerly known as Lady Saw. I don’t know, do you know Lady Saw? She had a [song]. I want to sing it but I also don’t, but I’m gonna do it. She had a song called “Under the Sycamore Tree.” That is a dutty [dirty] song. And another one that’s called “Chat to Mi Back,” she’s like, [singing] “chat to mi back, chat to mi back.” No?
BRENDANE: No, I see. I have to put this on the playlist.
ALYSSA: Yes, yeah. Lady Saw. And so we’re just going to refer to her as Lady Saw just for consistency with the article. But yeah, so anyway, so she was the first female dancehall DJ, which is what the vocalists in dancehall are called to be certified triple platinum and to win a Grammy. In 2015 she was baptized, she became a minister. So, she’s called Minister Marion Hall now, and she has a new career in gospel but, you know, just for consistency we’ll still revert to her has Lady Saw, recognizing that she is Minister Marian Hall now. But prior to her rebirth [laughter], she was known for her slackness. And so, slackness you can think of as like being the opposite of respectability. It’s the antithesis of you know, high culture, the capital C culture. Slackness is almost exclusively sexual when it’s used in the Jamaican way. So, it means lascivious, lewd, in the dictionary of Jamaican English it’s specifically gendered. So, it means a woman of loose morals. And, you know, this kind of goes back to what Wilson wrote that, like, women are the guardians of public and private morality. Right?
BRENDANE: Right. And like slackness—and i sound so American when I said, I’m sure—slackness, I’ve heard the term in songs by like, Preedy, it’s Preedy, uh, am I pronouncing that okay? Pretty and Destra, and so when I was preparing to go to Barbados, I was listening to a lot of like, songs that were played at like Carnival, you know, like DJ Private Ryan’s playlist and stuff like that. And so, I came across “Lucy,” which is one of Destra’s songs and she talks about just like whining up and things and her slackness and enjoying Carnival. And I think that, especially from Cooper’s reading of dancehall, like her whole thing about dancehall being a celebration of women and that centers Black women and their fertility and that’s kind of like calling into this history of African fertility rites and turning it back to something that celebrates the agency of women’s bodies. I just was like, “girl” [snaps fingers] snaps all around, claps all around, air horns, I’m here for it. [imitates shooting sound effect] [laughter].
Like thinking about us women, right, as we’re just not holders of what Cooper calls “airy-fairy” which when I saw that I died “airy-fairy” Judeo-Christian value systems. Like we’re actually celebrating our bodies and ourselves by using these same elements right, our hips or thighs, you know, our waist right, things that we are told her unholy that should be covered unworthy. We actually celebrate those through dancehall through the music and through the dancing itself. And so, the fact that she’s able to read dancehall as an act that puts Black women’s bodies at the center, I was like, mhm hmm, mhm hmm.
[00:52;51.81] ALYSSA: Yeah, I mean, people are really taking back and reclaiming a body that is not considered beautiful and making it beautiful. And that is, you know, her interpretation, I think is really cool in terms of that. But you know, she’s also really celebrating the cunning and subversion of slackness. She’s just like, forget all of your respectability politics and here’s what this really means, like here’s an interpretation of what this can mean and why women get dressed up, get dolled up, go to the dance hall, and [in Jamaican accent] whine up them pum-pum in front of people [laughter]. And it’s just like, it’s fun. It’s enjoyable. I mean, when I’m, if I’m out and I’m whining I’m not doing it to attract a man like, I’m doing it because it feels like my ability to move my waist and my hips, that’s my birthright right there.
It is a celebration of this physical capacity. And so much of Western feminism, they conceive of women as victims of the male gaze. And so, in dancehall culture, you’re really dressing up to be seen, not just by men, but by everyone. And so, what if we flipped that narrative and we thought of it as like, capturing the gaze rather than being captured by it, you know? There’s a lot to be said here about, like feminism that’s particularly situated, and Cooper is really like critiquing the hell out of people who were critiquing her work, and especially anthropologists. She’s basically saying you’re imposing these Western interpretations of dancehall on Jamaican women’s bodies and lyrics and music and joy. And you’re actually imposing your own gaze. But we have our own and it’s different. And I think that’s quite, quite an indictment [of white/Western feminism].
BRENDANE: Yeah, I totally agree. Like, I feel like yeah, I mean, how do I even express this? Like, even the moments where she’s talking about Lady Saw using these “vulgar” lyrics, and she points to the fact that, like, women enjoy sex too, right? Like we can we can talk about things that actually make us feel good without it being something that pleases men like sure men get pleasure from it. And also, she’s like, what’s so bad about that, right? Like, what’s so bad about people getting pleasure from music, it’s rooted in these kind of pure, the “airy-fairy” right? These purity values that should not, especially should not be an anthropological texts about this music, right? If anything should not have it, it should be these anthropological texts.
[00:55:45.24] ALYSSA: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, she really takes down some of the anthropologists and their critiques of dancehall and of her work. So, like she talks a lot about Norman Stolzoff, the late Obiagele Lake. And that was something that—that was actually something I found really interesting because she talks about one academic who admitted—she like, approached him in private—and he admitted that he oversimplified her arguments in some of his work. But then, you know, he proceeded to reproduce the same critique the same oversimplification in two more articles and so he knew that his readers they weren’t going to go back. They didn’t know her work and they weren’t going to go back and read it. And then others, you know, other critiquers? Other people critiquing her—
BRENDANE: Critics? [Laughter]
ALYSSA: Yeah [laughter]. Other critics of her work, they were drawing up these straw man arguments, straw person arguments, as you know, she likes to say. You know, misinterpreting her and then going on to offer the solution that’s their own innovation. And I feel like this is something that’s so common with women academics and scholars from the global south. Their work is just like co-opted and misrepresented by Western scholars, because Western scholars aren’t as familiar with non-Western work.
BRENDANE: Yeah, like, I wonder, I don’t know. I wonder how much academia would be enhanced by Cooper’s methodology or even just like when she writes where she’s just like, I’m going to directly take on what you say about me and I’m not going to mince words, right. It almost reads as if you’re sitting in a room with two people in the conversation. And it reads very Black to me though too, right? It’s kind of this like, not necessarily anti-professionalism, but this this realm of actually I’m going to engage you and meet you where you are and what you’re saying and say like, no, what you’re saying is not correct. This is what I mean and you’re actually mischaracterizing me. You’re mischaracterizing these women through this Western lens that you put on to dancehall. And I think that like, I stan, I just stan.
ALYSSA: I love it. I mean, I loved what she was doing with all of her, you know, with her just taking, taking on these critiques. Like sentence by sentence. I was just, I loved it. And I mean, one of the things is that in Jamaica like wordplay is so important. She really, I mean, she pays attention to the lyrics. Some of her critics are like, well, all she does is pay attention to the words and, you know, not to the dance moves and the culture and the history and she was just like, I’m not writing the definitive history of dancehall, I literally say in the introduction In that I’m interested in the lyrics because these are the ones that are always misrepresented, misunderstood. And wordplay is just so, so important.
But okay, I feel like we should rewind a little bit and help everyone kind of like understand, you know what she’s talking about. She does two things in this essay. So first, she’s really contextualizing the space of dancehall as a celebration of the female body and the event almost as a ritual that can be connected to the continuity of West African traditions and fertility rituals. So, the dancehall Queen and the event kind of evokes the orisha of Oshun and Oya. I don’t know, Oshun I think people might be a little bit more familiar with, especially if they’ve, you know, watched Beyoncé’s Lemonade and such. And so, through this evocation they kind of assert the beauty of their bodies in a culture where Black women’s bodies are not valued. But that said, I do think that we should always be careful about these kinds of like, cultural continuity arguments, because they often get taken up in one of two ways. One, to essentialize the other and other certain aspects of culture or it’s kind of wielded against different groups of people to delegitimize or challenge the authenticity of their culture as it exists in the present. So, it’s like “oh, the Masai use cell phones? Well, that doesn’t seem very authentic. They weren’t using cell phones a hundred years ago.”
BRENDANE: Right. Like it’s usually levied against indigenous people. Saying like, you can’t really be indigenous because to be indigenous means that you’re primitive and primitive—“primitive” people don’t do X, Y, and Z and it’s like, okay, but we’re all here in the year 2020, right? So, let’s stop. Um, yeah, but like I absolutely agree and want to affirm that these cultural continuity arguments can be harmful, even at times in history of anthropology where they’ve used them to kind of justify that Black American people have a culture, a distinct culture. Which was a period of time in like the, I would say, the twentieth century, the mid twentieth century where like Melville Herskovits and Zora Neale Hurston and other anthropologists which were doing Black folklore work in order to prove that Black American people had a distinct culture, which they could see where it was more easily visible, in the Caribbean or in in the continent of Africa. Because they were trying to basically make an argument about how Black folks are distinct from white folks, even though everyone knew that that was the truth, right.
I was saying, its situated in how much African “was left in,” in you, in your culture. What I liked about Cooper’s work was that she situates dancehall culture like, as you mentioned, kind of within this, what I would call like a matrix of African spirituality that like, now I don’t want to say legitimates it but kind of solidifies it and gives it an authority to say like this preexists the western gaze. Before you all came and looked at it and said that it was something bad, it’s something that is not only fun and sexy and beautiful, it’s something that like actually is older than these Western ideas of purity. Um, and then also really like the description of Oshun as a woman who has numerous lovers and is like the erotic personified. I did not watch Beyoncé’s performance where she kind of embodies Oshun, but I mean, I just see Lemonade, and I think about the ways that even in her performance that piece of Oshun being erotic personified kind of gets washed away by the beauty piece of Oshun and the fertility piece. So yeah that’s—yeah that kind of bind that we’re allowed to be beautiful and fertile but not necessarily “promiscuous” that’s interesting
ALYSSA: Yeah, I feel like Oshun also has even though I think she’s the God of water she’s the orisha of water or of the ocean, she’s very fiery like has a lot of anger. And so, “Hold Up” is also Beyoncé’s embodying Oshun in “Hold Up” when she’s walking around in that yellow dress and she’s breaking everything with her hot sauce.
BRENDANE: Oh, the bats. Yes, I was like wait, I thought the bat. Oh [laughter].
ALYSSA: Yeah, and then Oya, as you know, she’s the orisha of masquerades and of female power so I think Cooper kind of, she uses both of those orisha to understand the dancehall. Yeah. The second thing that she’s doing she’s, you know, challenging these Jamaican, particularly the respectable readings, and American readings of Lady Saw as a victim of internalized misogyny. And she kind of shows that as a female dancehall DJ, she’s taking control of the mic, she assumes this power and she speaks back to the to the male DJ so her body is not a site of domination. It’s one of pleasure and that I want to mark because we’re going to talk about that when we come to our “What in the World.” But yeah, so I think that Cooper she really valorizes the erotic dancing and the instructive lyrics, like Lady Saw is telling men what she wants to make herself feel good. Like why are we going to moralize that?
[01:04:37.20] BRENDANE: Right? Like don’t we deserve to feel good. It connected to—
ALYSSA: No [laughter].
BRENDANE: No, [laughter] absolutely not. Sex is all about, you know, this, this heterosexual imagination effects is something that you know pleases men and so I really like when Cooper says, she says self-righteous critics of the sexualized representation of women in Jamaican dancehall culture, who claim to speak unequivocally on behalf of “oppressed” women often fail to acknowledge the pleasure that women themselves consciously take in the salacious lyrics of both male and female DJs who affirm the sexual power of women. So yeah, like everything is not always oppression, you know, sometimes it’s like actually this is pleasurable for me to hear from this rapper. I mean, sometimes rappers use violent language. We’re not talking about, of course, like the violent language around like killing or raping women. But when a rapper is like, you know, Ludacris like [rapping] “I want to li-li-lick you from your head to your toes,” I’m like okay, you know?
ALYSSA: [Laughter] Do that thing.
BRENDANE: You know?
ALYSSA: I mean, that’s actually I wanted to ask you about that because, you know, your work is about violence against Black women and girls, and I think a critic of Cooper’s work would be like, why are you reading a song that’s literally called “Stab Up Mi Meat.” So, stab up my meat. And the meat in this instance, is a metaphor for Lady Saw’s vagina. You know, how is it that you could read that and not think this is violence? This is glorifying violence?
BRENDANE: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t believe that women have agency and can use language that yes, if you’re looking from the outside and it seemed violent, but I can use violent language to actually describe what they want or what they need. And I mean, what that’s like the words that they use in dancehall, right? They’re not, she’s not making up some new language and going about being like, Oh, I’m gonna bring my white feminist principles to dancehall. I’m gonna say, instead of saying, you know, stab up me meat, I’m gonna say put your, you know, insert beep-beep-beep here lay, you know, like, whatever. It’s just like, I think people tend to take agency away from survivors and say that survivors because you’ve experienced this racist or sexist or whatever violence like you should not want to feel or experience or talk about certain things in certain ways. And it’s like, actually no, I still have the agency to want to feel however I want to feel like the act of violence does not take that away from me. And you saying that it should is actually you perpetuating and perpetrating another type of violence on me.
I think also to that, like people just get so wrapped up in in respectability politics and purity culture, that they can’t recognize women as sexual beings. And so, it’s just like you were unable to see that even though a woman has had her agency taken from her through—you know, some of my interlocutors have been raped or been in situations where they’ve been sexually assaulted. That doesn’t mean that they no longer desire to be seen as sexy, that doesn’t mean that they no longer desire to like have sex with people. And something that also just an aside that I thought was really interesting from Cooper’s article was when she talked about like this kind of redefinition of virgin, where we kind of take it away from this like Christian purity thing where it says that your sexuality or your literally your body parts belong to the church to not to your father. But actually, making virgin mean that these things belong to myself. And that as a virgin I can freely interact with whomever I choose. Virginity then being something that that is stoked in agency, right, like something that I choose, that doesn’t even necessarily need to be given away. As soon as I Christian purity circles will try to say.
[01:09:18.26] ALYSSA: Yeah, no, I mean, that’s literally something I had just heard. I’ve been listening to this podcast, Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel. She’s an erotic or a sexual couples therapist. I mean, she’s a couples therapist, but she does deal a lot in the erotic. She was counseling one couple, and they were raised very much in a very conservative church so they had early on in their marriage, a lot of issues with sex and sexuality. Because the woman she said that, you know, when she was a child, her sexuality was her parents—she has Indian parents—and then growing up her sexuality became the church’s. And then she got married and her sexuality was her husband’s. Having ownership and agency of your body of your sexuality, I think is in many senses revolutionary, particularly in our “airy-fairy” Judeo-Christian society that we live in.
BRENDANE: Absolutely. And I think that will bring us to, I mean, the topic of the day.
ALYSSA: Which we’re so excited about [laughter].
BRENDANE: Which we’re like, literally so excited about. Yeah, so we’re gonna talk about that in our next segment, which is “What in the World?”—
ALYSSA: What in the world? Like what? [laughter]
BRENDANE: —where we talk about kind of this mainstream application of the word of the day and so today we are talking about one of my new favorite songs, W.A.P. by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion and Megan, we love you, girl. That’s why we brought you back this episode.
ALYSSA: Yes, absolutely. We were gonna talk about something else but we were like, we’ve got to talk about W.A.P. Are we gonna say what W.A.P. stands for [laughter]? You know what, y’all if y’all don’t know what W.A.P stands for just Google it [laughter].
BRENDANE: Just Google it, it actually means world and peace. I’m just kidding [laughter].
[01:11:29.07] ALYSSA: But I mean it. Cardi and Meg have been getting so much hate. One—oh my goodness—this tweet was what like, it sent me into a spiral. Deanna Lorraine, @DeannaforCongress, she said, “Cardi B and Megan the stallion just set the entire female gender back by one hundred years with their disgusting and vile W.A.P. song.” And I was just like—she’s like “the democrats support this trash and depravity.” And I’m like, so I posted I tweeted, “if Taylor Swift released a similar song”—sure, okay, maybe I will concede that there would be some, you know, there’d be some outrage, but people most certainly would not call her vile and disgusting.
BRENDANE: What? Taylor Swift? Absolutely not.
ALYSSA: She wouldn’t do it, but they wouldn’t call her those things they would be like, really like saying all these things and it’s like, Miley Cyrus did this and nobody was like, “oh my gosh, she’s vile and disgusting.” I think that this is definitely an example of misogynoir because it’s not even like it’s the nastiest song out there, but—
BRENDANE: It’s really not. Like I grew up—okay, Southern music here—I grew up in South Carolina. And if you couldn’t tell by the way I sound, well that’s where I grew up and like Southern rap music. My roommate and I we, one of our songs is by Lil Ru, it’s called “The Nasty Song” and like, if you think W.A.P. was nasty, it—like the song is literally called the nasty song. But of course, it’s like normalized right for men to talk about what they want to do with their bodies and with women. But for women to be like, “hey, I have world and peace” and you know, [laughter] “I have world and peace and like this world of peace needs this in order to you know continue to be world and peace.” I just—Gosh, I was lit from the beginning. Like I loved it from the beginning.
ALYSSA: I mean, that was a comment from the women, the men were, they were on some other stuff. It’s just like men want women to be pure and submissive and chaste, to be a good girl, but to also do the things that they want in bed. So, it’s basically like they’re saying, have sex with only me, but don’t enjoy it. So as soon as a woman’s like enjoying sex, as soon as Black women are centering their pleasure rather than the male gaze. Men can’t stand it. They can’t stand it.
BRENDANE: No, absolutely not. Like what’s—like oh my gosh, I think about that the “outrage” that happened when Beyoncé released “Drunk in Love” and “Drunk in Love” was not even like a pleasure me song. It was kind of just like me and my husband enjoy doing these things together while we’re drunk. And people were just like, all the Christian women were like, well, we already knew Beyoncé was the devil. But now we really know, you need to talk about this with your husband and not us. And I actually heard on the radio because my partner, likes to listen to the radio. So, we were listening to this talk show and this woman called in and she was just like, “Yeah, I heard the new song and it’s cool but my husband, he didn’t really appreciate it.” And it’s like nobody asked you to get on the radio and announced that you were married. Like, I’m happy for you. I’m glad that you endure, you want to endure that indentured servant-ship. But I know like, since nobody asked you what your husband thought about the song, or that the fact that you thought that it was okay to just like, this is only a conversation that women should be having with their husbands. Some of us don’t want husbands. At least not, you know, in the in this like cisgendered heterosexual kind of way.
And I, you know, I will admit, I used to be on the twerk team as a teenager, I was. I was at the parties, I hope my mom oh [mutters]. But like, I was there at the parties as a teenager and this was the music that really made my childhood, music like this. And so, listening to is just like brought me back. But you’re definitely, what you’re talking about is like with men who want these pure women. It’s this purity policing? That’s like, really not at all what people want, like, you don’t want a woman who’s not going to do what you want to do in bed, right?
ALYSSA: Or they might. They’ll want her in the streets, but they’ll find someone else for the sheets.
BRENDANE: Right. And it’s just like, also, I was thinking about like reading these Christian blogs, or this Christian woman was like, “all the Black Christian women who are hating on this song, hate themselves most likely and hate the fact that they subscribe themselves to a religion that doesn’t allow them to experience pleasure. And what would it mean, as Black Christian women for us to embrace that God wants us to feel pleasure in this lifetime.” I was like if that Black women, Black Christian women embrace that, the Black Christianity-industrial complex would fall apart.
[01:17:05.55] ALYSSA: So, I’m in this I’m in this group, in a Facebook group, and just a really great one. But actually, was this in a group or was this I think it might have been a comment on Instagram. But this is a Black woman as far as I know, because who knows on these internets. But she said that because the rap industry is run by white men, W.A.P. is the worst display of the Jezebel/Sapphire tropes. And if you want to learn more about those tropes, you can check out our episode two where we talking about archetypes. And then she said that Sarah Baartman must be rolling over in her grave. And of course, like you can counter that this was a song that was made for a strip club. Women, they play the song or the DJ plays the song, and they take men’s money. So, it’s like liberation in a system of bondage like capitalizing on the male gaze. And you know, of course, of course, we can concede that, in some instances, commercial sex workers, they’re disempowered and caught in a cycle of exploitation, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Just like Lady Saw, in W.A.P., Cardi and Meg are talking about pleasure, because that’s how a W.A.P. happens.
BRENDANE: World and peace can happen in pleasure.
ALYSSA: Yes, exactly. It is very, yeah it is very pleasurable to have world and peace [laughter]. So, you know, it’s like should they not be free to express that and to choose whatever metaphor they want to choose like, if Lady Saw wants to choose meat and Cardi and Meg want to choose like, the garage and all these other great metaphors—
BRENDANE: Big Mack truck.
ALYSSA: “Big Mack truck right in this little garage!” [Laughter] So yeah, are they not like free to choose these metaphors as they want to rather than them being like victims of patriarchy? So, I think that what we’re seeing is like, all people pay attention to is the body. There’s like a complete objectification of the body when people are thinking about like how dancers in dancehall move, how Cardi B and Meg and Normani how they twerk and how they move their bodies in the video is just like, what’s the problem? What’s the problem? That’s their bodies that they’re owning, they’re taking ownership of it. And all of this music is written deliberately. It’s not like we’re in a time where there’s some men out there writing this song for them, like the they’re writing their songs, maybe people are involved as well, but like, they’re coming up with these ideas and songs and metaphors as they wish so why are we going to hate on them for wanting to express how they enjoy themselves.
[01:20:00.65] BRENDANE: Right? And like also just this their job. It’s their literal job. Like it’s not their job to raise your children. It’s not their job to be your role models. It’s not. And also, why would you put that on a twenty-seven-year-old and a twenty? What Meg’s twenty-five? Cardi’s twenty-seven, right? Like, yeah, Cardi B and I are the same age, but it’s like, yo, why are you entrusting your children’s wellbeing to strangers. To these strange Black women one and like, by strange, I mean, not unusual, but like you do not know them. And like that, I think that speaks more to your parenting than to anything else. The fact that you expect for someone who don’t even know to be a role model to your child is ridiculous, but it’s misogynoir because you expect a Black woman to do it. Like a lot of that was coming out to have just like well, I wouldn’t want my children to listen to this, you know, world and peace on the radio and I wouldn’t want to, you know instill that and to my young daughters and it’s like a y’all play 2Chainz and y’all play all this music like.
ALYSSA: Listen, when I was a kid I was singing the song, that song by—I think it’s called RL, the group is called RL or Next or something and they had “Too Close.” It’s like, [signing] “baby when you’re grinding, I get so excited.” And it’s like I was listening to that I was singing “My Neck, My Back,” I was singing “Nice and Slow,” I didn’t know what I was really—
BRENDANE: You were singing “My neck”?
ALYSSA: [Singing] “My neck.” I mean, I was singing the clean version [laughter]. But I mean, my point is that, you know, we were listening to some filth, and we didn’t grow up to be sexual deviants or anything and even if we did, so what? Like, as long as it’s consensual as safe like, who cares all of this I don’t want my daughter to grow up to be a hoe is just like more purity policing. But one of the things that I found really, I loved this tweet, you kind of have to read it because some of the words are in capital and he’s like really stressing these words, but Bocxtop on Twitter. He was like, “I’m a straight man. I can’t stand W.A.P. and hearing women talk about their bodies, which I’m attracted to. I only want to hear other men talk about their dicks and how good they are at sex. I’m a heterosexual man.” [Laughter] He’s clearly being sarcastic. Okay? And it’s just interesting that all of these men who identify as heterosexual they don’t want to hear women talk about their bodies, but they don’t mind hearing Lil Wayne talk about what he’s gonna do to, to so and so. And all of this other stuff. They don’t get up in arms about it. So, it’s interesting. He’s calling out this kind of like a homo-sociality. That’s what it is.
[01:23:24.29] BRENDANE: Yeah, the homo-sociality, homoeroticism, CJ Pascoe, who’s like a sociologist, did a whole study on like high school boys, and it’s like, in order to prove that you are straight, there are certain things that you have to do that are actually what some people would read as like “gay” acts but it’s like, it’s to prove that you’re straight. So, this like compulsive heterosexuality that you perform, that’s actually overlining or underlining this performed homosexuality. It’s so interesting to me like, you know as my friends would say, the straights are not okay. They’re not okay. We need to ask like that’s the thing I saw that tweet and I died because I was just like that’s literally what it is. Y’all want to hear about, well not just you know men doing things with their dicks but also just like men violating women in certain ways. Like that’s what you want to hear, you don’t want to hear someone taking control and taking power over that because that’s just like that would go up against, buck up against these kind of constructed norms around like patriarchal power I would say. And I mean “Back That Ass Up” was my jam.
ALYSSA: That was your jam. It’s still the jam. That comes on in the club—
BRENDANE: I’m hitting a split, like it’s over.
ALYSSA: Listen, I’ve hit a split or two in my lifetime so [laughter].
BRENDANE: I mean, I might not be able to do it any more but last summer, catch me, could have caught me out here. Like, my favorite line or one of my favorite lines from W.A.P. was [laughter] when Cardi was like “I don’t cook, I don’t clean but I still got that ring” and I was like, wow, let me sit with this because I cook and clean, I don’t have a ring though.
ALYSSA: I was just like. Listen, I was like the pick-me’s must have cried when they heard that song. So, for those of you who are like what’s a pick-me, pick-me is usually a woman who has like, some internalized misogyny she’ll sort of she’ll kind of act the way that she thinks women are supposed to act like what’s expected of them. So, you know, and she’ll do that in order to be chosen or picked by usually a man. So, she’s that woman who will be like, I’m not like the other girls. I cook, I clean. I treat my man Like a king blah blah blah but they ass is still single.
BRENDANE: Yeah, like cater to you personified basically, and Twitter-fide and so but it’s just like sis we all—as Sukihana said you come at home and your, you know, your vagina is wet but your rent is still due and so like it’s like, Sukihana’s like why are you going to demonize me, demonize Cardi, demonize Meg, but your rent is still due? My rent not due, so let’s talk about it.
ALYSSA: Don’t waste your pretty. Don’t waste your pretty. Speaking of that, I actually hate listen to this podcast and I’m not going to name it but I just listen to it because it angers me. I’m just like, I can’t believe that men think this way and they’re, you know, so they’re these two like, young in their twenties Black Christian men. And so, in one of their recent episodes, they were talking about Ruby Rose. And she made $100,000 on OnlyFans[.com] in two days. And it was just by she posted some pictures that were already on Instagram and I was just like, get that bad girl. Just scam them, scam these men—
BRENDANE: And then share with me.
ALYSSA: Exactly. And so, one of the things they said was like, “why would a girl even go to college if she could make that much money by taking off her clothes in the comfort of her own home” and I was just like, y’all hate women. They talk about how much they want to be in a relationship and be married. But I’m just like, y’all don’t like women. They might be attracted to women, but they don’t like them. And so I mean, this is the kind of like, logic that underlies there being more value on women’s bodies and youth and their looks than on anything else. So, in this book, it’s called Bullshit Jobs by David Graber, he’s an anthropologist. He was really involved with the occupy movement and I think he got—you know what I’m not even going to, no rumors, all right. But yes, he was very involved with that. And he’s an anthropologist, and he actually interviews a professor who was an erotic dancer throughout her PhD. And she was like, I earned more as a stripper than I do now as a professor. And it really just speaks to the way that like, in a patriarchal capitalist society, we place more value on a woman’s looks than their minds and it just it blows my mind.
[01:28:32.46] BRENDANE: You know, I just realized that we said dick and we didn’t say pussy. Which also speaks to the ways in which like, yeah, like we internalize these words is dirty.
ALYSSA: I mean, to be fair, I was quoting somebody.
BRENDANE: I know but then I thought about how I just said, I just said dick, without saying pussy. So anyway, world and peace because Cardi said they had to censor their own video.
ALYSSA: I mean we could have said wet and gushy this whole time [laughter].
BRENDANE: Wet and gushy [humming]. Okay [laughter].
ALYSSA: Yeah. All right. Well, the expectation that these women like protect other people’s children it makes no, first of all, makes no sense. But I think that that is so that’s such a role that is imposed on Black women in in various ways. I think that that’s what we’re seeing right now with Kamala Harris. She’s the candidate for vice president with Biden. And I think it’s a very, it’s a multi-layered, it’s a multi-layered situation, for several reasons, but on the note of like, the tasks that we that we demand from Black woman. There was this comment on Twitter, by Malini Ranganathan and she said “Kamala Harris’s lineage is one of upper caste Tamils civil servants and diplomats like my own. She will have to work to dismantle the taken for granted nature of caste supremacy, while also being held accountable to Black freedom, reparation, abolitionist and anti-colonial demands.” Can a Black woman just live? Can we just live? Like, why do we have to be responsible for more than our job descriptions? When Biden got his nomination, no one was like, well, he’s a white upper-class who will have to work to dismantle classism, ableism, white domination, settler colonialism and patriarchy, while also being responsible for U.S. imperialism, indigenous genocide and climate change, like the person who should have the most added tasks to them. Nobody said that. They were just like, let’s get him. Get Trump out of office, you know?
[01:30:56.86] BRENDANE: Yeah, I definitely think Black activists were holding trying to hold Biden accountable from the beginning. And yeah, mainstream wise though it was always just yeah like you saying like people were not trying to task him with all of these extra responsibilities because his foil is, you know, the current carrot in office and like trying to make sure that he is removed. Um, and I was just like troubled by some of the discourse around and oh my gosh, I keep wanting to call her Kamala, my Southern-ness keeps coming out. But yeah, I’mma say, VP Harris. Just because of this whole thing about Black girls having someone who “looks like them” in office.
ALYSSA: Yeah, that turn of phrase it irks me. I’m still kind of unpacking why. I think it’s partly because, you know, not all skin folk are kinfolk. And we shouldn’t just aspire to representation. But yeah, sorry, I cut you off.
BRENDANE: No, no, I’m just saying like, yeah, like that irks me too, because, of course, representation does not always mean that someone like, as I always be saying, integration is not always activism. And I lost a few Twitter followers for that, but I just want to put that out there. But also, just on the truth of the fact that like VP Harris does not look like many Black girls. She absolutely does not look like me. And she cannot speak to or speak for people in my community. And that’s and that’s just the thing about these politics of representation that makes it so messy because as you’ve read right now, South Asian communities are like, VP Harris, you need to speak to this, that, and the third, and Black communities are like, yo, you’re a cop, you need to speak to your record as attorney general, like you need to speak to your record of actually putting Black trans women in men’s prisons and making that a practice in California. And so, it’s like, yes, we need to hold her accountable. But how do we do that without participating in misogynoir, right? Without imbuing her with all of these additional responsibilities and expecting for her to “save us” because now the, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but like these, like, charges to listen to Black women, even the ones you don’t really like, and it’s like, ah, I don’t really know about that. And it’s like, I think in Biden’s case, like a lot of activists have already written him off like, okay, whatever. He’s a white man. He’s not gonna listen to us, right? But I’m trying to have the ability to see like the heat that she’s getting as people trying to hold her accountable while also trying to temper what I can read as some of the like misogynoir-ist comments that she’s getting as well.
ALYSSA: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s definitely that the politics of representation we can say and then, you know, for others this is this is a validation of respectability politics, right. Like she did and has done and is doing these things that that fit into mainstream expectations, particularly you know, by mainstream I mean white let’s be honest. And you know, she was tough on crime, white people love that and, you know, this kind of validates her being appointed as the VP candidate. It validates that if you if you walk good, talk good, then, you know, your life will be good. You will. You’ll progress in society, you’ll move up in the world. And so, in that sense, it’s like, it’s a very much a win for these Black elites who think that, you know, representation is the revolution. Just having someone there is going to solve all of our problems, but it’s not.
BRENDANE: It’s not and it’s also just like, yeah, how much of her walking good and talking good is because she is a mixed-race Black woman with straight hair, particular body type, particular education background, right? Like, how much of her access to these spaces is because of how she looks and how she carries herself which does not, like and because of who she is right? It would not allow a woman like me to be able to walk through those same doors. Yeah, doors that she can open, I can open and I know some doors like I don’t like to open, I’m good, I’m actually gonna stay in my lane, right. But like, if I wanted to do politics if I wanted to, for some reason, invest myself in this country. I couldn’t do it and the way that she’s doing it right, which people are talking about Stacey Abrams, and like how Stacy Abrams was excluded because of her skin color and her hair texture and the fact that she’s like a fat Black woman that excluded her from even being considered as a VP candidate, because she didn’t fit a certain type of Black that could be seen as like, agreeable or amenable to this pretend audience that the Democrats have right. Because they’re not actually vying for the folks who actually continually vote for them. They’re trying to reach these moderates and the centrists but these moderates and centrists, we know who they vote for. They show us each election before.
[01:37:12.06] ALYSSA: Word. But one of the one of the things, at least in terms of, like popular reactions to Kamala Harris was that like, these whites don’t know how to deal with mixed-race-ness, when it’s not entangled with whiteness [laughter]. Some are just like, oh, but she, you know, is she a Black woman? Is she an Indian American woman? Is she, you know, how do we how do we talk about which is how do we talk about her race, ethnicity, her culture, her background is just like, well, do you really need to talk about it that much? And I think a lot of people particularly in like, like Germany, and you know, different parts of Europe, they’re like, we would never talk about a candidate in this way. We would never talk about the Black vote or the Asian vote and they find it very disturbing that in the US, this is something that’s just like, so commonly easily said on the news. But yeah, it’s just it’s interesting that when whiteness isn’t a part of being mixed race, it’s like people don’t know how to how to understand or conceptualize it, at least in the popular media. And of course, you know, Kamala Harris, she’s half Jamaican. So that’s why we wanted to throw her in here, or at least I wanted to, because this is news to Brendane.
BRENDANE: It is. I’m like what? You know, I, my mother’s side of the family, they’re Bahamian at least my great grandfather was Bahamian and so I that’s the only connection I have, really. But if you didn’t know Bahamians are actually, among, at least among Caribbean folks. They’re like the first to acclimate and kind of become subsumed into Black American culture. I learned that a couple of summers ago and people are like, yeah, the Bahamians moved to like South Carolina and after one generation, they’re like, yeah, we’re Black American, whereas a lot of other Black immigrant communities hold on to their identities longer. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know why. But I think that’s cool.
ALYSSA: Yeah, that’s interesting.
BRENDANE: I like Jamaicans [laughter].
ALYSSA: Yeah. So, so yeah. So, she is her mother, I believe is Indian. And her father is Jamaican. And so of course, you have these birther people coming out who are just like, well, if something happens to Joe Biden, she can’t even become president. We have to, we have to check the status of her parents. She could. She’s just an anchor, baby, blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, Alright, y’all. The 14th Amendment has already dealt with this. Deuces. I don’t understand.
BRENDANE: And also, the current president. I mean, current carrot in office. His parents are from where? Alrighty, well, um, I don’t even know. I don’t even know. Now I don’t think I don’t think I’m from the US. But who knows? I don’t know anything. I don’t. I am not a gardener. I don’t know anything about carrots. So, I can’t even really tell you where they come from. That’s enough airspace for that.
ALYSSA: Yeah. I was gonna say we can’t end on that.
BRENDANE: All this to be said, if VP Harris comes out about her wet and gushy, we know that she is trying to appeal to a larger audience. And I just hope that she also throws in some dancehall moves in that promotional video. In addition to some, you know, Indian moves as well to speak to all sides of her heritage if she so chooses.
[01:40:58.54] ALYSSA: You know, there’s some really good, there’s some actually some great I don’t know like fusion music that you know, with Indian Bhangra music and Jamaican dancehall music. So, if she includes some of that in in her campaign videos I’m not going to be mad at it. I’m going to be I’m going to be dancing right along. Alright, well, I think we’ll just call it a day ended on that note because this is a long one. It’s like an hour and fifty minutes probably [laughter] almost two hours, so somewhat wordy today. But we just want a huge, huge, huge thank you to everyone who supported us in non-monetary and monetary ways. Just knowing that our students are listening and discussing, people are like cosigning our interpretations of the texts. Leaving us reviews on iTunes and sharing our podcasts with friends and family. It’s been especially heartening and it really has motivated me to keep putting in the work and doing a lot of work on this. So yeah, like being less of a side job and more like a very large portion of my week.
BRENDANE: Yeah, like this takes a lot of time and energy for both of us. And also, our transcriptionists, thank you for listening and doing the work that y’all do. And our students. Like shout out to y’all. We love y’all. We appreciate you for chiming in and letting us know so just wanted to shout y’all out again. This really like really touches my heart to just like hear y’all’s feedback and things like that. But be sure to follow us on social media. We are at Instagram, we are @zorasdaughters; on Twitter, we are Zora’s_Daughters and send us your feedback we take DMs we are getting emails now. Um, you know, email us email@example.com
ALYSSA: Oh, and check out our website. Check our website, our brand-new website.
BRENDANE: Thank you, Alyssa. Alyssa is a magician. Alyssa is that—well first of all y’all Alyssa is a gift. Okay. A gift, she is the gift, she has a gift. I all I know how to do is type on a Word document. And some days that does not even work out for me. So, she’s able to do all this computer stuff. And I know I sound like old lady but she’s done all the computer stuff. And I really love it and appreciate it. So, shout out to you Alyssa definitely. We’re just excited to grow in excited to have such a wonderful audience. So, thank you all so much.
ALYSSA: Thank you. It’s zorasdaughters.com go visit it. Leave us li’l review. Follow everything do us, all right? Do—don’t do us. Do you. [laughter]
BRENDANE: Do you. And yes, and let us know if you have any comments about respectability if you think that we could have continued the conversation somewhere. Drop us a line, let us know.
ALYSSA: Yeah, thanks. Alright y’all be kind to yourselves. Bye.
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