Book Giveaway: Latin@ Lit Month

Hatchet Books is giving bloggers like yours truly the opportunity to give back to our readers through a book giveaway in honor of Latin@ Lit Month.

The Rules:

Tell me which three books from the list below you would like to have and why. Winner will be chosen at random. Deadline is May 31.

The Books:

Try to Remember By Iris Gomez

Hot (broke) Messes By Nancy Trejos

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter By Kathy Cano-Murillo

Little Nuggets of Wisdom By Chuy Bravo, Tom Brunelle

Lone Star Legend By Gwendolyn Zepeda

Into the Beautiful North By Luis Alberto Urrea

Amigoland By Oscar Casares

Restrictions

Sorry but the contest is open to U.S. and Canada only and books cannot be shipped to a Post Office Box.

More info

I will be reviewing some of the books on the list here on the blog as the month continues. You can also find out more about each book by clicking the links to Hatchet Books website.

Happy reading and good luck!

You Can Help People of Color Alt Media Survive in Two Easy Steps

Step One: Donate to BrownFemiPower one of the most consistent voices of female empowerment from a working class woc perspective (what I’d call feminist if she’d let me) on the internet.

Every person who donates will receive a gift!

For those who donate between:

$5-25: You will get a personalized thank you note from yours truly!

$26-50: You will get the personalized thank you note and a newly published zine!

$51-100: You will get the personalized thank you note, and two newly published zines!

Over $100: You will get the personalized thank you note, two newly published zines, and a surprise gift (I will tell you once you order–I only have certain quantities of each, so I don’t want to list them online!).

The bad news: Because this computer breaking down has taken me by surprise, I am only in the planning stages for the zines. So it will be up to two months before those of you who order zines will get them. So that you know what stage I am at making the zines, I will be documenting the process I go through to make them here on the blog. This has the added bonus of hopefully helping other people–so many people I know have expressed interest in making zines, but have also expressed not having any damn clue how to.

So, that’s what is where things stand right now. I hope that you are excited–I sure am. I’m a bit apprehensive as I know it will be a lot of work–but I also am really excited for the motivation to get these new zines out! I love zine making, and I’m really excited to get back to the drawing board again–see how things flow out of the mind this time.

Please donate and/or spread the word–and THANK YOU so much for your continuous support!

Step Two: Bid on Nezua‘s Sheriff Joe painting which gives you both the chance to raise awareness about the blatant racism in Arizona and keep an amazing activist blogger and multimedia radical working/eating.

HARD TIMES HAVE FALLEN UPON US ALL! I know this for sure simply watching the donations I once received from readers—unsolicited aside from the buttons on the page—dry up over the past year or two. It’s tough out there, and it’s not just blog donations but even work online with graphics that has tapered off a lot. In fact, I was bumped offline for two weeks for not being able to pay all the bills this month. And to be honest, this is the first time since I’ve lived in this apartment that I don’t have all the rent this close to the first of next month. Ouch. That’s four days away.

I’m not trying to paint a doom n gloom scenario. … So I’m going to do something here I’ve not done in a while and humble myself to make the direct request to my philanthropist friends, or the ones who have a few to throw down to support their friendly neighborhood nezua: if you have a few, throw ‘em in the bucket!

Alternately, I have put one of my paintings up at eBay, and I invite you to bid, or spread the link around if you want. It’s an 18 x 24″ Lotería card of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Times are tough for everyone, but with both activists asking for as little as $5 a person, we should all be able to come up with a little something to help them out. The coffee and pastry I bought today cost more than their minimum donation request. And if a distaste for “blegging” (a multi-directional derogatory term that conflates the use of online media and the desire to be paid for one’s writing, film, or activism work with the “undeserving poor”) is getting in your way,  just remember all the times you have talked about, worked on, or simply lamented in the front of a classroom, staff mtg, dinner party, etc. about the absence of radical, engaged, people of color at your events, jobs, or in the media and know that this is the tiniest of steps toward making the connection between words and action. For my POC readers, all I can say is, community means sharing the wealth even when you don’t have any; the wheel will turn and someone will have your back too.

Link Luv Sunday

A lot went on in our world while I was sick and/or overworked (yes including all the late diss chapters I had to read during Spring Break, cue violins) so I thought some link love was in order to cover some of the issues I have not here at the blog and to honor some of the voices holding it down across the internet. Since it is still Women’s History Month and yours truly has failed so miserably in doing her own feminist spotlight posts, I have linked to several folks who did use their blogs to honor and highlight specific women throughout the month.

  • Swandiver – Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow highlights a talk by Alexander about her new book and the civil rights inequities that remain in the U.S. through the loopholes provided in the prison-industrial-complex
  • National Center for Transgender Equality – breaks down what the new Health Care Reform Bill means for trans communities trying to meet their health care needs
  • Guerilla Mama – “The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha” – a painfully poetic discussion about the intersections of race, class, gender, nation, love, and family through the eyes of a black immigrant who survives an attempted rape (trigger warning)
  • Alexis – Happy Birthday Toni Cade Bambara – another informative and celebratory contribution from Alexis and her Black Feminist Mind Project
  • Vivir Latino – “19 years without justice” – 19 year old hate crime against a Dominican youth still not solved, yet his mother keeps the pressure on
  • Vegan About Town – Nacho Cheese Dip and Nacho Cheese Nachos because I was sick most of the week and unable to eat much, I got really enthralled by blogs about food (what the comic industry has referred to as food porn blogs b/c they make you drool) and I was particularly excited by how yummy Steph made this recipe sound since I am a picky eater & don’t eat anything with too much melted vegan cheese because of the melt quality (I like almond based cheeses for eating & soy based for melting but the latter only in small amounts)
  • Asian American Lit Fans – much like Feminist Review, this livejournal site offers accessible reviews of new and old fiction by API Americans and should just be a must read in general for anyone who loves books
  • Nezua – “Invisible: Thoughts on Immigration Rally in DC” – not only does Nezua look at the complexities of the reform in succinct text but he also has a powerful slideshow of photos from the event at the bottom of the post.
  • Viva La Feministe – “The Fly Girls are Finally Golden” – learn about the civilian women who helped win world war II but got little back for their service
  • The Green Belt Movement – “GBM Celebrates International Women’s Day” – truthfully I am just sending you to this blog to give you an example of what decolonized grassroots feminist environmentalism looks like.
  • Claire @ Hyphen Magazines – “Women’s History Month Profiles” – spotlights on Asian American feminists and women activists
  • Mark Anthony Neal  – “Women’s History Month Classic: Say My Name” – I happened to love this film and I teach it pretty regularly as a counterpoint to “the video ho” image of hip hop (of course I also like to trot out Tawny Kitaen for that purpose as well) so it was nice to see someone review this classic as part of women’s history month.
  • Annaham “Invisible Illness and Disability Bingo” – this post is old, but I just got sent there by vegans of color blog, and I have to tell you that as a person with “hidden” disabilities, not only have I experienced everything on that list but, like Damali Ayo’s rent-a-negro cards, I wish I had a stack of these to pass out to co-workers and family members whenever they made light of what it is like to be differently-abled

Happy Reading!

Go Ask Alice Pt I (Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Review, Spoilers)

I’ve recently returned home from a disappointing Alice in Wonderland. Like many other people, I think my expectations were too high. When you hear Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in the same sentence it almost always means something magic, add to that a mythical world of upside down that is really right side up, and how can you go wrong? Well …

Alice in Wonderland/Burton

Plot

An adult Alice, age 19, returns to Wonderland to avoid a forced marriage proposal and finds herself a key figure in the counterrevolutionary plot to overthrow the Red Queen and reinstate the White one. Accompanying her on her journey are all of the familiar characters from the original novel and a few new ones.

Feminism


I was almost immediately taken out of the film by the trite mobilization of banal “feminist issues” in the beginning of the movie. Don’t give me a sad morality tale about a “poor girl” and a boorish aristocrat, “spice it” w/ a cheating husband, and expect me to be politically moved, especially if you intend to drop the whole thing for “the real story” later anyway. Let’s get clear, Burton’s re-imagined Alice is feminist enough without this transparent packaging. She is courageous, strong, clever, and loyal. She also single-handedly bests or subdues several beasts in this film and stays true to herself no matter what others want or expect of her. Though powerful in Wonderland, Alice is reduced to caricature by a script that has her rehashing a trite marriage plot at the beginning of the film, then simply dodging it at the end by telling off ever single person involved, one after the other, in a far too tidy ending.

Worse, Alice’s seeming empowerment when she rejects the marriage, fails to empower any of the other women present. She does not tell her sister about her husband’s infidelity, though she does warn him that she is watching him, nor does she stand up for her mother or her aunt. Instead, she tells her “crazy aunt” whose “crime” is not getting married, and being driven slightly crazy by the judgment she endures as a result, that she needs to get over her fantasy life because no one is coming to marry her. What could have been a moment of shared triumph between Alice and her Aunt as self-directed women with active fantasy lives, turns into an ugly and dismissive gesture that seems to utterly contradict the empowerment Alice is supposed to have gained through her own fantasy world.

Nor is Alice’s empowerment very meaningful in and of itself. Moments after claiming the right to go her own way, she proposes a plan to the man who has bought her father’s company to increase their profits. There is no attempt by Alice to get the company back, presumably bought because women cannot be left in charge. While this is at least historically accurate, in the next breath the new head of the company offers Alice an “apprenticeship” for her ideas. It’s her father’s company and her ideas, yet she is not offered anything like the inheritance she would have gotten were she a man nor that she has earned on her own. You can’t have it both ways. If we are going to stick to history, Alice could not have been an apprentice sailing off to China on her own and if we are going to offer fantasy with a feminist twist, then why not give her mother back the company or at least partnership in it?

Race


There are no people of color in Alice in Wonderland. There is however colonialism. Not only does Alice resolve the unwanted marriage proposal with an individualized rant at various people, but she also proposes that her father’s company expand to China. This seems harmless enough, but colonial and Asian historians will shutter at the image of young blond blue-eyed Alice helming a boat to “open the markets in China” at film’s end. What is sad is that this is the way many white women in Victorian England escaped marriage and found empowerment, ie boarding boats and participating in colonialism to increase their station in life.

I also found myself thinking for the very first time: are there ever people of color in Tim Burton’s films? The answer that came back was telling since it hits on the next issue, dis/ability … The only film I could think of was Big Fish in which two Asian American women play conjoined twins.

Dis/Ability and Physical Difference


One of the things I have always loved about Burton is the way he embraces the strange, unique, and different. His worlds have always offered us characters that live outside the norm and often invite scorn from normative characters who turn out to be the more flawed. In the magical worlds of Burton unique characters are central, movingly human, and illuminating. While Alice in Wonderland gives us some of that in Johnny Depp’s Hatter, there is very little elsewhere.

In fact, the story hinges on a conflict between two Queens, the good one is able bodied and all white (except for some black eyebrows and black nail polish) in an all white world, and the bad one is best known for her big head and even bigger temper. The Red Queen’s head is the source of endless speculation, mockery, and even an ablist comment from the White Queen about her mental health as evidenced by her physical appearance. As if the emphasis on the Red Queen’s physical difference were not bad enough, everyone in the Red Queen’s court has some kind of physical issue. There are women with huge noses, ears, and pointed breasts, and men with paunches and eye patches. No human in her court is without some visible physical difference and everyone in her court is in some way morally corrupt.

Even though it is later revealed that most of the people in her court are faking it, the film fails to make the connection between their passing and their fear of the Red Queens judgment. While it would be easy to interpret the court as sycophants who exaggerated their features in order to suck up to the Red Queen, 1. this continues to center physical difference as a sign of corruption and failure and 2. Burton and the screenwriters do not do enough to depict the Red Queen’s court as three dimensional characters who both fear and loath her enough to act this way. Instead, the exaggerated body parts are played for comic effect and then torn off when needed to move the plot forward, much like Alice’s real world feminist dilemmas. Worse, the only two people punished at film’s end have actual physical differences while all of the able bodied characters on both sides remain free.

(It should be noted however, that characters with mental differences are actually on the side of the White Queen. While this does balance out the dis/ability issues on one level, mental health issues are no less positive in this film. Instead, we are given a hare who looks like someone chewed it up and spit it out, who mutters to himself and throws things at everyone’s head, while he is universally ignored and the Hatter whose bouts of PTS are often sharply corrected by Alice as if his abilities are a choice. Thus while their presence contradicts the differently-abled=bad, able-bodied=good paradigm, they do little to correct ablism in general nor the emphasis on physical difference as evil. Honestly, the ablism in this film is incredibly jarring given Burton’s classic, Edward Scissor Hands, and his wonder-inducing embrace of difference in all of his films.)

Character development in general is one of the major flaws of this film. Very few human creatures in this film are three dimensional. As a result, Burton’s attempts at visually deconstructing them is often lost. Like the ablist portrayal of sycophants in the Red Queen’s court, the White Queen’s constant pose with her hands “just so” like a fairy from Cinderella fails to resonate as a critique of her “overwhelming goodness” precisely because she herself never moves beyond the flat representation she embodies. Since the film ends with her win over the Red Queen, there is no structural critique of the “good queen” archetype either. Burton’s more subtle reference to the White Queen’s decision to study undead arts does a better job, but it is a fleeting glimpse at his genius that is otherwise sorely absent here.

The conflict between the two Queens and how it plays out also contradicts the trite nod to feminism at the beginning of the film. In Wonderland, we are given a world in which female leadership is reduced to “who is more loved.” Though the Red Queen makes references to the difference in the way she and her sister, the White Queen, were treated growing up, no real attention is paid to her complaints. Her desperation to be loved is played for comic relief and scorn rather than presented as a possible counternarrative to ablism linked to physical difference. And while Alice’s entrance into the conflict re-centers female power, both Queen’s wage their war with male champions, male spies, and male heroes prior.

Animals


On the positive side, most of the animals in Alice and Wonderland are far more complex than the 2-D humans. For the most part, their motivations and their desires are well thought out and their loyalties and actions convey a complexity that the original story relied upon. Alan Rickman’s caterpillar is appropriately condescending and wise. I think his casting was a stroke of genius even if his delivery of the famous line “who are you” was not slowed down enough for my liking. The Cheshire Cat’s comedic timing was also a highlight of the film.

The animation related to the animal characters is where the creative team shines. For the most part, I don’t think this film needed to be in 3 D as much of its wonder is no more spectacular than any 2D Burton film (which is both a compliment to Burton’s previous vision and a slight against the rush to 3 D film in Hollywood). While some of the animation for the dog was somewhat questionable at times, the animation for the Cheshire Cat made me fall in love with this character all over again.

Interestingly, despite their centrality, the Red Queen only keeps animals who can help her oppress others and like the humans of her court, she keeps them in line through cruelty. At least one of the animals in her court has its eye torn out and nothing is done to heal it. When Alice returns the creature’s eye, it in turn heals Alice’s wound. So there is some subtle comment on animal rights here as well, it is just too bad that it is still couched in the physical difference narrative of the film.

Conclusions

Ultimately Alice in Wonderland is another visually stunning film from team Burton. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter give two of the better performances in the film, though Depp’s in and out brogue is distracting. The newcomer playing Alice also does a good job, but the rest of the human actors are either wasted or phoning it in. The people in the real world are particularly two-dimensional and it is hard to separate the failures of the writing from those of the actors because their time on screen is so brief and insignificant.

The storyline is updated and yet retains much of the interesting lyricism and quirkiness of the original while losing the stark class critique. As long as the movie stayed in Wonderland it was compelling, but when it leaves that magical world it falls as flat as matzoh (unleavened bread). In the real world, the story is contrived and borderline offensive in its easy attempts to mobilize a throwaway feminism that never really comes to fruition.

With regards to diversity, there is very little, and what is there is sadly invested in oppressive narratives.

If you haven’t gone to the theater yet, I’d suggest renting Burton’s Alice in Wonderland or at least going during the matinee. Only pay for 2D unless you have a thing for 3D b/c it isn’t necessary for the majority of the movie and in my theater several people complained of eye problems or headaches during and after the showing, including my movie companion and myself. (This may have been a result of human error at the showing, but still, if you go to the 2 D version, you don’t have to worry poorly calibrated tech is going to cause you pain for no reason.)

And if you want my honest advice: skip this movie until it comes on cable and go rent Alice, a SyFy Channel import that was far more creative and interesting despite a much lower budget. (Review of Alice forthcoming, see: Go Ask Alice Pt II.)

BHM: Teaching TABs to See

Ever Lee Hairston is the first African American Vice President of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.

unattributed

During her childhood she helped her parents and grandparents on a Cooleemee Plantation in Winston Salem MA, where they were sharecroppers and took the bus to a segregated school 18 miles away from home. As a teen she went to New York to work as a live-in caregiver to a terminally ill child; when the child died, her parents offered to help put Hairston through nursing school. Unfortunately, the school would not let her attend due to the discovery of retinitis pigmentosa. Hairston refused to be deterred by ablism, so she went into the teaching program at a different college. Unfortunately, 4 years after she started teaching, she was fired because of her rapidly deteriorating eye sight.

While Hairston initially let repeated incidents of ablism and racism get to her, she ultimately fought back. Once in college she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Building on her own knowledge of discrimination and unfair labor practices in the South, Hairston was committed to ensuring African Americans had better choices and equal access to education and employment in the future. She recalls her involvement in the Sears and Roebuck discrimination case sit-in as the proving ground for her disability rights activism, By the time she was being ridiculed in public with other blind colleagues, she felt she had endured enough sanctioned identity based hate that she knew she had to stand up and stand strong.

In 1987, she applied to do entry level social service for the state of NJ and confronted the ableism of the hiring committee head on. When they claimed her blindness would get in the way of her ability to intake clients properly, Hairston pointed out that it takes more than one skill to understand people and that she had developed quite a few skills during her time as a caretaker and a teacher. She not only got the job but then exceeded her peers expectations by moving up the ranks. While her time as an advocate continues to be marred by workplace discrimination at the intersections of race, ability, and gender, Hairston holds her co-workers accountable as well tries to educate them. She feels her presence both as a Supervisor for State Health and Human Services and as an advocate in the court room has been essential to changing the way people think about both black women and differently-abled people.

Hairston’s work also allows her to continue working for working class women and people of color’s rights by working for social justice in the courts. She is also a club woman, and her advocacy and mentorship of other black women was recognized in 1999 when she won the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Woman of the Year Award.

BHM: How Wide the Diaspora

While I have kept these posts largely about N. Americans, I think it is only fair to include Aída Cartagena Portalatín in this year’s Black Herstory Month/ Latinegras Project posts. Portalatín was a Dominican feminist poet who wrote poetry about women, race, immigration, and imperialism. Her poems consistently centered the female experience and were informed both by her own travels, as a student in Paris, Santo Domingo as a transnational cityscape (ie a place where people from around the world interact and engage in discussion of ideas about identity and travel), and her friends, colleagues, and family members who had moved permanently to the U.S. Thus her poems represented the viewpoint of mothers whose sons had experienced racism abroad, or women whose longing had made them susceptible to exploitation, elder women who had been abandoned for younger ones, etc. At the heart of her work was a preoccupation with the limits of freedom and how freedom was both gendered and raced.

She has published in numerous anthologies and has a wide body of work most of which has not been translated to English. Her most famous poem Una Mujer está Sola appears below:

Una mujer está sola. Sola con su estatura.
Con los ojos abiertos. Con los brazos abiertos.
Con el corazón abierto como un silencio ancho.
Espera en la desesperada y desesperante noche
sin perder la esperanza.
Piensa que está en el bajel almirante
con la luz más triste de la creación
Ya izó velas y se dejó llevar por el viento del Norte
con la figura acelerada ante los ojos del amor.
Una mujer está sola. Sujetando con sus sueños sus sueños,
los sueños que le restan y todo el cielo de Antillas.

Seria y callada frente al mundo que es una piedra humana,
móvil, a la deriva, perdido el sentido
de la palabra propia, de su palabra inútil.
Una mujer está sola. Piensa que ahora todo es nada
y nadie dice nada de la fiesta o el luto
de la sangre que salta, de la sangre que corre,
de la sangre que gesta o muere en la muerte.
Nadie se adelanta ofreciéndole un traje
para vestir una voz que desnuda solloza deletreándose.
Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga
en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa,
de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.

In 1981, she published her epic poem Yania Tierra, which retold the history of the Dominican Republic from the perspective of a woman. In the poem, Yania, the protagonist, is a female personification of the nation harkening back to the original declarations of independence in which the island nation as female was celebrated rather than negated as weak and violatable. Infusing both a female perspective into the “his story” of the nation and recasting the nation as a whole allowed Portalatín to insert women back into Dominican history at the same time that she questioned machista nation building at home and abroad.

You can read more of her poetry here.

Portalatín was also an active member of the international community. After her post-graduate studies in Paris, she was appointed to UNESCO and sat on the jury of the 1977  Casa de las Américas awards for Latin American poets. In 1969, her work was up for a prestigious Premio Seix Barral International Literary Award in Spain. She also traveled frequently in Africa, Latin America, and Europe engaging in feminist encuentros, expanding her knowledge of global blackness and colonial histories, all of which informed her work. Thus her work has inspired many black female poets and other artists in and outside of the Dominican Republic.

She also taught about colonialism and history at UASD for several years, encouraging a new generation of intersectional scholars who embrace blackness and feminism in their work.

BHM: The Women of Vampire Diaries

Before the John Mayer debacle broke on Wednesday, I had been planning to do a slightly fluffy Black Herstory/Latinegras post on the black diasporic connections embodied by the family of witches on the Vampire Diaries. The post was fluffy, but I had a critical race feminism point. (see footnote one for more) It is broken into two parts: analysis of the black female characters on the show and praise for the black diasporic actresses who played them, and marked accordingly. Even if you don’t care about the show and its meanings for black female representation in television take some time out to read the second part on the amazing black actresses who play the roles.

The Plot and the Characters:

Vampires are hot, or so sayeth the media. Since True Blood took HBO’s ratings to new heights and Twilight sent tweens and their parents into uncritical swooning fits, Vampires have dominated television, film, and published Young Adult fiction. Despite the rush to capitalize on the vampire craze, many of these projects have failed to garner the attention of break outs like True Blood and Vampire Diaries (which is based on a YA series). These two shows have dominated the ratings amongst their age groups and represent key anchors in the line up for their respective networks. Both blend vampire lore with other supernatural forces and the strong bond between a lead actress and an apologetic vampire lover that seem to be critical to the fan base, and both have a black family amidst their main characters, but that is where the similarities end.  While True Blood offers us a dysfunctional black family riddled with racial stereotype and storylines that often capitalize on both a racialized and sexualized gaze, Vampire Diaries offers an alternative vision of blackness as critical to the town’s success.

Thus in the small town of Mystic Falls, the popular kids, the stoners, and the vampires (all mostly white) are joined by a matriarchy of witches, all of whom are black. Like the white families in this small town, the Bennetts can trace their heritage back to the founding of Mystic Falls and also like them, the Bennett’s friendships and relationships are entwined with all of the prominent families in town. Though this seems like an obvious way to build character development and ensure cohesion of story lines, Vampire Diaries like True Blood stand out precisely because they tied the main black character’s histories and story lines to the main white ones rather than using the add black people and stir method. In most television programs black characters’ story lines only go back as far as their present friendship with a white character, they often have more relationships outside of town and off screen than on them, and they often represent the only person of color or the only black person on the show. All of these factors help make it easy to write black characters out of multiple episodes in a season or drop their story lines all together; in the worst versions of this, black people simply disappear one day without the writers or the show ever explaining where they went. And while True Blood has come dangerously close to permanently splitting the story lines between white and black characters that facilitates this process, after such a promising start, the same cannot be said for Vampire Diaries, where not only do the humans have important generational connections, but the supernatural characters are dependent on their connections to one another.

The fate of Bennetts (the black witches) and the Salvatores (the white upper class vampires) were forged through persecution. At the center of both their stories is an ancient vampire named Katherine, played by Easter European actress Nina Dobrev. For love of Katherine, the Salvatore brothers become vampires just before the Mystic Falls vampire massacre led by their father, while Bonnie Bennett’s Great Grandmother Emily arrived in town as part of the famed vampire Katherine’s entourage.  While Katherine and the other female vampires in the town successful insert themselves as prominent Ladies (title not gender) in the town, Emily Bennett is left to play servant. She moves amongst the then-young/human Salvatore brothers with an ease that shows their respect for her and while she maintains her servant role, Katherine’s references to her invaluable interventions speaks to her import amongst the vampires as well. When the town’s people rise up against the vampires, Damon Salvatore asks Emily Bennett to save the vampires’ lives. In his mind, and that of his brother Steffan, Emily Bennett casts a spell that saves the brothers and the vampires at his request; however, her spell gives both families their freedom. Emily is set free from the servant role she plays vis-a-vis Katherine’s class aspirations and the Salvatores should be set free from their blinding love for Katherine. Emily’s magic also seemingly binds the two families together in ways that has often protected both their lives through generations.

For Damon Salvatore, the Bennetts represent power he both needs and coerces to his own ends, while for Stefan the Bennetts are important allies against any number of supernatural evils, including in the vampire ranks. While from the perspective of the Salvatores, the Bennetts fulfill the traditional role of black women in the white imaginary, as Saphires and caretakers for their hopes and dreams, rather than subjects with their own agency, the Bennetts are far from stereotype. In fact, not only do the flashback episodes (“History Repeating”, “The Turning Point”, and “Bloodlines”) call into question how the humans learned of herbal defenses against the vampires, something a witch would certainly know, but when Damon first attempts to free the vampires from the spell Emily cast to keep them from dying in the town’s genocidal burning attempt, Emily returns from the dead to stop him. It seems her goal was not just to save the lives of the vampires but also the humans whom they would have extracted vengeance upon. Further, Emily lets Damon know that she has seen how he has threatened and harassed her family throughout the generations and that he cannot win. Though the youngest Bennett, Bonnie, has barely come to know her powers and is taken hostage by Emily’s possession of her, she too stands up to Damon to ensure that she and her family are not manipulated or abused by him. Finally, as Shiela Bennett warns Stefan, in “Bloodlines”, “I will help you but if it comes to a choice between you and Bonnie, I will protect my own.” In other words, the witches are willing to help out but they are not objects for the Salvatores to move across the chessboard of their own making; the Bennetts make their own destinies and their own choices and ultimately determine their own subjecthood and agency. And while Stefan Salvatore is clearly protective of Bonnie and treats all of the Bennett women with respect, Sheila Bennett’s warning also reminds us that Stefan’s kindness still does not completely translate to seeing the Bennetts as equally important in his struggle with his brother Damon.

Unfortunately, the repeated powerful agency of the Bennett women begins to wane in the serious as Damon enacts vengeance on several of the Bennett women. Though Emily is able to best Damon magically and ensure that her will remains unbroken, Damon repays her defiance with a violent banishing of her soul and an attempt on the life of her grand-daughter. This penchant to murder Bennetts for failing to do what he wants, will ultimately decimate the Bennett line before the end of Black History Month. In what will likely be seen as a throwaway episode in the franchise, Damon takes Stefan’s girlfriend Elena, to visit Bree Bennett, played by Cuban-American actress Gina Torres. As “Bloodlines” unfolds, we find out that Damon found and wooed Bree Bennett in college, failing to tell her that he knew exactly who she was and that his love/attraction to her was a mask to get her to do help him let Katherine out of the tomb in which her ancestor Emily had sealed her. And though we are told that Bree considers Damon the love of her life, we are not told why they broke up, only that he cannot be trusted. Since Bree is the one who told Damon how to do the ritual that brought Emily back to protect the spell in the first place, we can only imagine that part of Bree’s broken heart is related to Damon’s obvious manipulation of her.

Bree is no victim however. While she pretends to entertain Damon, she is secretly helping to get him drunk and off guard so another vampire can kill him. She sets him up for heartlessly killing Stefan’s best-friend, a 300 year old white female vampire who poses no threat to the Salvatores except that she encourages Stefan’s independence. When Damon discovers the ruse, Bree also makes it known that she takes the same vervain that the humans who hunted down Katherine miraculously “discovered” in the past.

There are two ways to interpret Bree’s actions and her ultimate fate. On the one hand, while Bree never paid Damon back for whatever emotional, and potentially physical and sexual, violence he has done to her in the past, she risks her life to make him pay for killing her white female friend following a mammy narrative that disregards abuse against black women for the safety and comfort of white ones. On the other hand, Bree’s final stand can be interpreted as her fially coming into her own against Damon’s abusiveness and showing female solidarity. In other words, Bree had to come through whatever abusive history she had with Damon first, in order to find the strength to fight back; often we think of empowered, strong, women as exempt from cycles of violence and the emotional scars that come with them, but DSV crosses all classes and all types of women and Torres infuses Bree with a knowing reticence that speaks to this history even where the writers have failed to provide it. If we see Bree as a survivor, then we can also interpret her actions in “Bloodlines” as an attempt to ensure that Damon is not able to perpetrate against any other women, vampire, witch, or human, ever again.

Unfortunately for Bree, the assassination fails. Damon kills Bree by reaching into her chest and pulling out her still beating heart. The implication is that Damon is crushed by her betrayal because a part of him loved her and that he thinks her attempted murder was heartless and her inability to help him save Katherine has ripped out his heart. But again, that version of the story requires the centering of Damon and his desires over those of the women he continues to manipulate and/or kill. Both Bree and Emily understood that where they had shown love and compassion to Damon he could only repay in violence and thus had to be stopped. It was not an expression of Damon’s broken heart then that caused him to tear out Bree’s but rather a visual reminder of how Damon expresses his own disappointment and desire for dominance through emotional violence and manipulation of women’s desires often culminating in murder. Thus watching “Bloodlines”through the lens of intersectionality moves us away from a throwaway “road trip” bonding episode between Damon and Elena into the realm of powerful commentary on how we, as women, especially young women, are conditioned to interpret abusive behavior as love and obsession as praise. If you are inclined to see Damon as tragic the way Elena does despite all of the violence she saw him enact on her own friend, Caroline Forbes, in this episode, the image of Bree’s still beating heart in Damon’s bloody fist, reminds: He’ll tear out your heart, if you let him.

Bree’s senseless death marks the beginning of a critical shift in the discourse of female power represented by the Bennett women. For all their magic, Damon continues to kill them. Bree casts no spells, she places no protections around herself, her bar, or the vampire she calls to kill Damon. Outside of drinking vervain “every day since [he] left”, Bree does nothing but beg Damon to let her live. Unlike Emily, who stands defiant against Damon at the tomb, Bree’s last breaths are choked out through sobs begging for her life.

In “Fool Me Once”, the final episode before the current hiatus, Sheila Bennett, played by the formidable Jasmine Guy, also dies because of Damon’s quest to free Katherine. The strongest of the Bennetts, Sheila agrees to help Stefan and Damon free Katherine in the hopes of ending Damon’s reign of terror against her family. Though she warns Stefan again that her help will not supersede her commitment to her family, both brothers rush in as if their desires are the only relevant ones at play. However, they soon discover that Sheila’s warnings are never idle and that the Bennett women are never just pawns in vampire games. While Sheila promised to open the door to the tomb, she never promised to lift the curse that keeps vampires inside it and thus when Damon rushes in to get Katherine, he should end up trapped forever.

Though the Bennett women should finally have been free from the menace of rogue vampires, Stefan also enters the tomb against warning to save Elena who he fears is being drained by an Asian-American vampire named Pearl, also trapped in the tomb. Though Sheila warns him against it and feels no remorse for the choice he makes, the youngest Bennett, Bonnie, begs her to let him out. When Sheila refuses, Bonnie, like Bree, puts her friendship with Elena over that of everything else and tries to work the magic on her own. In an act of female and familial solidarity, Sheila helps her, echoing a tradition of joining magic across generations of black women in the show.

Despite great risk, the two remaining Bennetts work the ancient magic needed to free Stefan from the tomb. Had he exited the tomb with Elena, this act of solidarity would not only have upheld the bonds of women within and outside of the Bennett family on the show but also ensured the ongoing love story between Steffan Salvatore and Elena upon which the show hinges. However, with little regard to the lives of the two black women holding the magic at bay, Elena gives Stefan permission to go back into the tomb to find Damon because her word to a manipulative and often abuse vampire matters more to her than the friendship with and the lives of the black women who put their lives on the line to save her boyfriend. Stefan, who was prepared to be trapped forever only moments before, rushes back into the tomb to save his brother with equal disregard for the weakening witches reminding us of why Sheila keeps her distance from both Salvatore brothers.

Like Bree, only a few episodes before, the Bennett women’s cross-racial feminism is repaid by death. By episode end, Damon, Stefan, and Elena are free and primarily worrying about each other. Pearl and her daughter Ana are also free; though once again, Damon shows up and threatens them, almost crushing the life out of Pearl, because he didn’t get what he wanted. The weakened Bennetts go home with a simple “thank you”, and while Elena goes to check on her bestfriend, after taking care of herself and her boyfriend first, Stefan makes no similar gesture. As evening turns into night, Sheila, the most powerful of the Bennett witches, dies from the expenditure of magic it took to hold the door open for the Salvatore brothers. Three black women gone, two in the course of black history month, all walking a very thin line between subject and object.

What started out as a powerful commentary on black female strength and a critical counterpoint to the weakness and obsession shown by many of the younger female characters in the show, regardless of race, ends with a dignified whimper.

The Actresses and the Diaspora:

Not only does the Bennett family initially offer us a critical intervention into the increasingly eurocentric vampire folklore and a media machine that sees black women as tangential if at all, its existence also offers the opportunity to see powerful black female actresses infusing the roles with both feminism and to some extent race consciousness. Just as three generations of Bennetts are shown on screen, the actresses who play them also represent three generations of black women. The casting of the characters also gives us an opportunity to see the diaspora at work, as two of the actresses are Latinegras/Afra-Latina, one is Black British/African and the other is an African American.

Jasmine Guy

I was actually drawn to the Vampire Diaries because of the re-emergence of Jasmine Guy on the show. Guy, who is African-American and Portuguese, is best known for her role as bourgeois Whitley Gilbert on a Different World. She infused the character with such elitest flair that I actually despised Guy, the actress, for some time. And yet, anyone who watched that show, also witnessed Guy transform Whitley from a stereotype of the light-skinned black bourgeoisie into a complex character with insecurities, heart ache, and compassion.

After a series of guest appearances on black sitcoms, including a powerful role as a therapist to Khadija, played by Queen Latifah, on Living Single, where she helped Khadija come to terms with her mental health issues and how “strong black women” are encouraged not to take care of their mental health, Guy returned to serialized tv on Dead Like Me. While her character in Dead Like Me, Roxy Harvey, was also largely a stereotype of the angry black woman, Guy infused the character with just enough pathos and compassion to elevate it out of stereotype.

Having watched her expand so many black female roles into complex meditations on the lives of varied black women, I can’t help but think of Jasmine Guy as a modern Hattie McDaniel. For those who do not know, Hattie McDaniel was instrumental in transforming the role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. While the character remained largely mired by stereotype, McDaniel refused to say several of the more offensive lines in the original script, successfully getting them removed at a time when black female actresses had even less power in Hollywood than they do now. McDaniel’s also managed to work in double consciousness readings of several of her lines and unscripted appearances in that otherwise extremely offensive film “classic”, and was rewarded for her talent as the first African-American woman and person to win an Academy Award. If Guy were given the right vehicles, I think she could become one of less than a handful of black women who have been awarded in this way.

Her ability to transform characters no doubt also stems from her commitment to black women’s empowerment. Among the many speaking engagements she has done to encourage black women and girls to follow their dreams and love themselves, Guy collaborated with Afeni Shakur to write one of a handful of black female panther memoirs, Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary. Thus it comes as no surprise that Jasmine Guy’s Sheila Bennett was a powerhouse on Vampire Diaries despite being given so few lines. Each time Guy graced the screen, she infused Sheila Bennett with compassion and care for the women and girls of the show and strength beyond measure against the men who would manipulate and potentially abuse them. Though most of her time on the show amounted to a few lines uttered through a cracked door way, Guy made Sheila sing with strength and race and feminist consciousness. When Stefan Salvatore waxes poetic about his memories of her oratory skills during the Civil Rights Movement, it comes across as genuine rather than pathetic chronology which always reduces blackness to either slavery or civil rights in this country, precisely because of Guy’s presence in the role. And when she steps outside her house to stare down Damon Salvatore, I actually stopped breathing. The way she put him in check with one glance spoke volumes about the potential for female power on the show and for Guy to transform and lead the female characters around her.

Gina Torres

Watching Jasmine Guy die on Vampire Diaries was like a knife through the heart, as the last death of the established strong black women actresses on the show, she left behind only new comer Katerina Graham to fill the void. However, Guy was at least given time to infuse her character with such strength and determination that she became invaluable to the storyline and at least my connection to the show, beyond an academic interest. Gina Torres, on the other hand, was largely wasted talent on the show.

Gina Torres, an Afra-Latina of Cuban descent, played Bree Bennett in a single episode during black history month. Despite only having the one show to work with, Torres brought her immense strength and humor to the character and the show. Her Bree exuded sexuality and power, humor and flirtatiousness, and a quiet strength that was only undermined in the last few minutes of the character’s life. Two moments speak to her considerable talent in this episode: the way she managed to show solidarity with Elena, warning her about the company that she kept with body language and inflection in dialogue that in less capable hands would never have brought the two women’s story lines together, and the fact she managed to make Ian Somerhalder look taller in the scenes where they flirted and menacing/able to best her in the scene where he ultimately kills her despite being several inches taller and more muscular than he.

Despite the fact I know they won’t, I can only hope they bring Torres back in flashback sequences. She has a long list of scifi and fantasy credits under her belt, including the critically acclaimed Firefly, Alias, Angel, and Matrix series. Whether in hit or miss television shows or films, Torres has always been a powerful presence on screen. She infuses her characters with strength, humor, loyalty, and knowledge that makes her stand out in even the smallest of roles. And what some may not know is she is also a theater actress, who has appeared in stage productions like Antigone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Dreamgirls.

Like Guy, Torres also brings considerable socio-political consciousness to her roles. Prior to moving in to television, Torres worked with a theater company that brought classic plays and plays written by and about black people into low income schools in New York in order to encourage people of color to embrace the arts and see themselves reflected in them. At the same time, these performances also helped mainstream audiences learn the tradition of black theater and imagine canonized plays beyond the unspoken race orientied casting that often excludes black performers. Also like Guy, Torres has resisted the urge to play a “pretty face” on television and film despite overwhelming beauty in order to be taken seriously and to develop/use all of her considerable acting talent; subsequently, she helps show young actresses that while looks are becoming even more important in Hollywood than ever, that what really matters is your ability to act.

Gina Torres’ work not only encourages basic gender and race consciousness in tv and film, but she also helps to reverse the trend of erasing the African diasporic presence in Latin@ communities. As and Afra-Latina/Latinegra, Torres reminds mainstream audiences of the diversity of the Latin@ community and Latin@s of our mixed heritage. She also provides Afra-latinas themselves the chance to see one of their own succeeding in Hollywood as a beautiful and powerful woman. This impact is immeasurable.

Katerina Graham

I can only imagine what it was like for African-Swiss “new comer” Katerina Graham to work with these two women (if in fact she was able to meet Torres, with whom she shared no scenes). Guy, who played her mentor and grandmother on the show, no doubt also mentored her off screen as well.

I recently pointed out that Katerina Graham could easily have graced the cover of the Vanity Fair “Young Hollywood” edition. She began her entertainment career at the age of 6, starring in a series of commercials before landing several roles on Disney shows known for making tween stars, including Hannah Montana. Disney was committed enough to her to offer her a major role in their remake of 17 Again, which though it flopped helped her land the Vampire Diaries.

What you may not know, is that Katerina also has a successful music and dancing career amongst the international tween market. She has danced on the BET Awards and as back up to artists like Missy Elliot, whose choreographer is universally critically acclaimed. While it isn’t music I would listen to it is certainly no less insipid than Cyrus or Swift. Her collaborative work continues work with the Black Eye Peas, Will.I.Am and Snoop. One of her first songs was featured in a blockbuster film. More important, she is a self-taught engineer and producer. After her first few songs broke, Graham decided to buy her own studio and learn that production end of music in order to empower her own craft and that of other young artists. She later went on to complete a degree in music engineering before reaching her 17th birthday.

Her role as the youngest Bennett on the Vampire Diaries represents a critical shift away from the unofficial whites-only policy that seems to dominate the casting of teen and tween shows on the CW network. Graham plays the bestfriend of the main character, Elena, on the show and also the youngest witch on the show. Her character follows in the footsteps of the other young women on the show in being concerned about fitting in and dating that is both typical of the age group and yet handled by the show in ways that is largely miss in terms of female empowerment. Graham’s character Bonnie, much like Caroline Forbes, often makes the wrong choices in love and finds herself on the receiving end of mental and physical abuse or disdain. During black history month, she was beaten, kidnapped, and ridiculed by the boy she liked for being “so needy”; but that is pretty much par for the course for the young women on this show, with the exception of Elena and Ana.

Graham’s character actually has some of the most potential on the show. As a new witch who was just learning how to use her powers, she has the ability to grow and develop into a powerful presence in the town. Stefan Salvatore has already showed considerable interest in helping her develop her powers and stay safe from Damon’s unfair influence; though as I noted in the first part of this post, one cannot assume his interest is completely altruistic. It is also disconcerting that the show’s producers decided to leave a vacuum in Bonnie’s education by killing off her grandmother that will now be filled by Stefan. Not only does reinsert a master narrative of race and gender, but it severs the important storyline about shared female power and powerful family ties in the black community.

Bianca Lawson

Finally, African-American Bianca Lawson rounds out the cast in the critical role of Emily Bennett. While she wasn’t really given a chance to breakout in the role, she did a great job of playing both a subtle background character in the flashback sequences and a powerful presence in the tomb sequences against Damon. Both she and Graham collaborated well to pull of a possession that was partially acted by Graham and partially by Lawson. Lawson has over 37 television and film credits during her long career as a child star turned young adult actress. She has appeared in a number of television roles including her brief stint as Kendra, the racially problematic slayer on Buffy, and is set to appear on ABC Family, an affiliate of Disney’s, as 1 of 4 main characters in Pretty Little Liars, a YA book series turned tv program. Should the show do well, Lawson may finally be poised for her big break.

Conclusions

While I am sure the casting agents at the CW do not pay nearly as much attention to ethnicity as I do as a teacher and published author on race and media, it was nice to see them include such a wide range of the black diaspora in their show. For young black women watching, it provided them not only with the rare chance to see talented black women doing there thing on a popular tv show but also to find their unique reflections in one or more of the actresses. The only thing missing in their casting decisions was the use of dark-skinned black actresses along side these talented, and mostly bi-racial, women. By casting astute and gifted actresses who took their roles very seriously, they also ensured that even the smallest parts would resonate along both feminist and race consciousness lines while appealing to a wide range of the audience.

Now that the black history month cleansing of black folk on Vampire Diaries has come to an end, it will be interesting to see if they retain Bonnie as a central character or shove her to the side like that black kid from Smallville. While I still believe the show has done more for ensuring the presence of positive black characters, played by strong black actresses, than many other shows on tv, I can’t help but be concerned about the recent loss of so many of them coupled with the rise of the black male demon image in the final moments of “Fool Me Once.” For now, I am just grateful to see so many amazing black women in major roles on the show and the reinsertion of diversity into both the CW tween market and the vampire folklore as depicted by modern television and film.

——

footnotes

  1. My goal in writing this post had actually been to use the tween-oriented People’s Choice Award winner for Best New Show as a launching point for talking about the diaspora and setting the stage for a contrasting piece about the treatment of blackness and black families in popular vampire television. The post was partially inspired by my post, Do You See What I see the Black Herstory edition, on the Vanity Fair white washing of “young Hollywood”. It was also an attempt to reconcile the differences between a show that most of my contemporaries find entertaining and frothy, while failing to address the overarching racial messages embedded within, and a show that is universally mocked outside of its age demographic that openly chooses to avoid these messages. Unfortunately, in the two days that the post waited on the shelf in my brain, the realities of blackness on Vampire Diaries radically changed. In the course of just 3 episodes, all aired in February, the black matriarchy on the show has been reduced to one survivor; two of three black women, both played by Afra-Latinas, have died or been killed in the service of the white male leads. Another member of the matriarchy, who was already dead, was also re-killed last month. And while brutal murder is an essential part of the vampire lore of the show, the death of 3 of 4 central black characters to the show, espec in February, raise major questions about the shows actual commitment to diversity; what ultimately clenched it for me was that last night’s show ended with the resurrection of the black demon/black male rapist as a cliffhanger for their second mid-season hiatus.

images

  • Unpleasantville episode Guy D’alema/The CW
  • Children of the Damned. Quantrell Colbert/The CW
  • History Repeating. Quantrell Colbert/The CW
  • Bloodlines. Guy D’Alema/The CW
  • Fool Me Once. Quantrell Colbert/The CW
  • Unpleasantville. Guy D’Alema/The CW
  • Bonnie and Grams cast spell. Quantrell Colbert/The CW
  • Jasmine Guy/unattributed
  • Gina Torres/unattributed
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer/WB/unattributed

An Open Invitation: National Level Feminist Organizing and the Super Bowl

So it’s the Super Bowl, one of the highest emergency phone call days for women’s crisis lines and E.R.s … it seems odd to me that there was more national organizing this year around the conservative “christian” advertising for the Super Bowl than there has been about the link between violence against women and super bowl weekend in at least 15 years. And it makes me wonder about the shift to “lifestyle liberalism” in feminism that makes it more hip to discuss the potential feminism of Beyonce’s latest single than to address the failure of relief agencies to consider women’s basic needs (sanitary napkins, plan b, estrogen replacement meds, etc.) to disaster zones on a regular basis. In other words, it makes me wonder when we stopped fighting to change the world and started just wanting to be comfortable in the one we already live in.

Don’t get me wrong, obviously Focus on the Family has a major impact on the rights of women and the queer community/ies around the world, but

  • where is the public, national, concerted effort to block Focus on the Family lobbyists from working to deny women in developing countries access to a wide range of reproductive choices and family planning services?
  • Where is the public, national, concerted effort to expose Focus on the Family’s supposition that all gay people are child predators and to mobilize anti-gay rallies and sentiment in battleground states by main stream feminists?
  • Where is the concerted effort in a campaign that targets hypocrisy at CBS to hold Focus on the Family accountable and raise awareness about their local, national, and global agendas to stunt define family in ways that negatively impacts both straight and queer women, to deny repro rights around the globe, to invest in homophobic and transphobic campaigns, etc.
  • How does writing songs about how much CBS sucks and putting them on youtube actually impact what Focus on the Family does or does not do? (And I love that song and that elder women did it by the way)
  • How does focusing on CBS’ hypocrisy raise awareness about how much money is generated by advertising for the Super Bowl while no money is being spent on women’s safety during the event?
  • How does today’s activism translate into a concerted effort to continue to confront these issues in the future?
  • And does this effort, which has so much potential for intersectional feminist organizing, actually address intersections relevant to ALL of the women impacted by Focus on the Family and CBS’ hypocrisy?

So while I see this organizing as a critical part of a larger feminist movement, I wonder about its narrow focus and the ease with which we can rally at the national level against a single commercial while funding for domestic and sexual violence services are being universally cut, women’s crisis services were not budgeted for as part of the extra money funneled into Super Bowl security and EMT services, and some women’s advocates dared to pit the needs of “women” (read white floridians) against those of Haitian refugees (read black men, b/c obviously they aren’t women right? and certainly not women who experienced any kind of sexual or physical trauma), while the nation is silent.

I could go on with this guilt trip, after all it seems when I do my stats always go through the roof, but instead I’ll leave you to ponder these things and if you are so inclined to weigh in on the things you think we should have been organizing around as a national level feminist movement with a local-global focus in addition to the advertising for the Super Bowl.

BHM: Strengthening Our Communities Aud M. L Secard

Aud M. L. Secard was born in Haiti and moved to Chicago in 1977. In 1991, she became the first Haitian woman to own her own boutique through the Ford Foundation economic development grants. Fifi’s Boutique catered to the desires and homesickness of the Haitian immigrant community, a community that Secard has been deeply committed to serving since arriving in the U.S. In 1982, she joined the Haitian American Benevolent Association to help newly arrived Haitian immigrants buy homes and become economically viable and she also worked as a mentor and guide to young Haitian and Haitian-American children. She also helped found the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition which was instrumental in passing the Haitian Immigration Fairness Act. And she worked as a liaison with FL Police Department to curb anti-Haitian profiling and harassment of Haitian women.

She has also been a critical force in local and national politics in support of Haitian American rights, particularly Haitian American women and children. In 1994, she interned with Congresswoman Meeks working on both immigration and women’s issues. A few years earlier she founded and was president of Women Alliance of Miami-Dade & Broward. The Women’s Alliance focused on the rights of Haitian immigrant women and children, with a particular focus on health issues. She also published an award winning essay about edler women’s access to health care and how elder Haitian women immigrants are among the highest groups being ignored in the Fl health system.

Thus her work draws attention to women and girls across the age range in the hopes of supporting Haitian and Haitian American women’s rights and supporting the Haitian diasporic community. She has received numerous awards for her work with women as well, including from: The Commission on the Status of Women in Miami, County Commission on Immigration Advocacy, the Haitian Organization of Women, etc. As well as winning the Women of Impact Award and the Women of Distinction Award.

She is currently working to raise awareness about the health and safety needs of women and girls in the Haitian crisis and advocating for new immigrants displaced by the earthquake.

BHM: Marisa Richmond – Rocking the Intersections

In 2008, Dr. Marisa Richmond made herstory as the first trans woman to win an election in the state of Tennessee. Though some have disparaged her win of 99.7% because she ran unopposed, they are ignoring the massive election based movements around the country designed to shove queer people out of politics. Dr. Richmond’s candidacy was so solid in her district that no such concerted opposition led to an oppositional candidate on the ballot. In fact, only 6 people who cast a named vote in her district voted for someone else. Her overwhelming win thus tell us a story of powerful success against an increasingly hostile national political climate.

Dr. Richmond is also the first black trans woman to be elected a delegate to a major party convention from any state in the union. She worked tirelessly to ensure increased representation of queer people at the DNC in 2008 and specifically requested that more trans people were included in the Democratic Party and its representation at the DNC and other critical caucuses. She was also an active participant in the Women’s Caucus there advocating for women’s rights. (You can read more about her impressions of the DNC in a 5 part post here – brief discussion of immigrant rights, black caucus and LGBTQ caucus meetings, here – some discussion of women’s safety at the DNC and her response to both anti-Obama hecklers and “get over it” anti-Clinton delegates, here – where she talks specifically about creating an impromptu trans women’s caucus on the DNC floor, here, and here- where she talks about the Women’s Caucus and Michelle Obama)

She has also worked tirelessly to ensure transgender equality, and equality between white and poc transgender people, in TN. As such she is President of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and served on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Equality Project & Board of Advisors of National Center for Transgender Equality. she was also a Board member of the Nashville’s Rainbow Community Center, helping to provide leadership, publicity, and critical funding for the now defunct queer hub. Her work on the planning committee of Nashville’s Black Pride 2004 also represented a critical intervention into the whiteness of Pride events and the dominance of gay and lesbian people in leadership positions for Pride events in general.

Her work has also had an important impact on education and social discourse. She served on the Boards of American Educational Gender Information Service and the International Foundation for Gender Education working to create and support gender inclusive education at the local, national, and international levels. In 2008, she started a column for the Triangle Journal News in Memphis, an area with one of the highest rates of murder of black trans women in the nation. Like her participation in Pride, her column helped serve the dual purpose of re-inserting black and trans identities into the queer alphabet for readers. Since the column is also written in Memphis is gives voice to the plight of black trans women in the area and hopefully helps to humanize black trans women in the eyes of those who are systematically killing them and the people (both in the community and in law enforcement) who are doing nothing to stop it. When the Triangle Journal News made the decision to stop print circulation, Dr. Richmond began contributing to Out and About Today, a feature on local news.

Dr. Richmond’s tireless work to create and sustain transgender communities and equality for transgender people is an important part of black herstory. Not only has she participated in milestones in both trans and black history but has taken on the sometimes difficult task of representing black people in the queer and straight communities, trans people in the queer and straight communities, trans women and trans women of color in the trans community, and black trans people in these same spaces. More than just working on representation, she has been a strong advocate and activist for multicultural trans inclusion in education, media, government, etc.

As a black woman representing her district in local, state, and national politics she also increased the visibility and inclusion of black women’s perspectives and leadership in our government. She works actively on women’s and feminist issues at the national level as well. She was a Clinton delegate, hoping to support female leadership at the highest level of office and a strong Obama supporter. She has offered women’s and gender analysis at the structural and personal level throughout her career. And she is able to talk about “women’s issues” while actively resisting the mainstream urge to reduce those issues to white, straight, able-bodied concerns. Her ability to move across intersections from a feminist perspective is invaluable to women’s equality.