Coffee Rhetoric: Lions, and Tigers, and Racist Chairs? Oh My!

January 22, 2014

Lions, and Tigers, and Racist Chairs? Oh My!

Crossposted at Intersection of Madness & Reality.


I made a deal with myself, that I’d vet my battles a bit more thoroughly and not get worked up about the continued racial micro-aggressions and misogynoir©Moya Bailey that seems to grace my social media timelines at every turn, as of late, for my own peace of mind. Trying to bob and weave around the proverbial blows of isms, becomes exasperating; so I offer my thoughts as often or as little as I feel like it, or not at all... at least not publicly... or will reserve them for personal conversations among the safety of friends, supporters, and family.


A new year is upon us, but the upward ratchet of anti-black foolery and sexism and the anonymity the internet provides for many, continues to thrive. To be clear, social media isn't to blame for racism or for ‘making people racist’; technology has merely made it easier to illuminate and expedite the dark side of people’s thoughts.  The curtain has been yanked open, exposing regular folks, celebrities, leaders, and media entities that should know better but who choose not to do better; which is why I no longer assign ‘ignorance’ as an excuse to absolve anti-blackness and racially charged sexism, because I believe that kind of sociopathy to be deliberate and intentional; for instance …
Madonna endearingly tagging her white son Rocco as #disnigga on Instagram — despite having adopted two black children —, being defiant about it during the height of the backlash before finally deleting it , and then  whitesplaining her way through an apology, isn't ignorance. It’s the willful obtuseness of a wealthy, middle-aged white woman, operating under the influence of who gon’ check me boo? levels of arrogance and privilege, with no regard for how the N-word could possibly impact the lives of her black children.
Using the killing of an unarmed black teenager as a rhetorical device, to menace and dismiss an educated black athlete as a thug who deserves to be killed, for daring to exhibit the bombast that’s common in sports (especially after a win), wasn't a mere misstep made by a bumbling Twitter user. It was a scary illustration of what happens when black people, particularly athletes, dare to openly relish the euphoric feeling of triumph, lest we come off as being too ‘uppity’, and offend the sensibilities of 'whiteness'... Because, apparently, white people are the only ones allowed experience the full range of emotions. 
This level of vitriolic fervor is also prevalent whenever black people gain access to spaces often reserved for white elites: noted with the Obamas' occupation of the White House, Oprah Winfrey's interest in buying an expensive purse while shopping in Switzerland, with Cecile  Kyenge occupying a seat in Italian Parliament,  and with Christiane Taubira's appointment as Minister of Justice of France.
The nastiness, apologetics, and racism that ensued during Ani DiFranco-gate, was far more troubling than just impassioned fans speaking up on behalf of the singer and her poor decision making and insensitivity.
... I could go on, because the sheer volume of it all (in 2014... still) has been too overwhelming, at times, to process; and akin to over-stuffing one’s self at an elaborate buffet... it’s a heavy, bloated feeling. It makes me leery of people, places, and motives that could, potentially, be a threat to my humanity as a black woman.
That disclosure and brief list of infractions aside, every now and again something surfaces that even I can’t avoid having to openly lend a ‘WTF’ to.
Yesterday, on the day of commemoration for Dr. Martin Luther King, a Russian magazine called Buro 24/7 decided to publish a story about Dasha Zhukova— heiress, art investor, and editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine, Garage. The accompanying photo features a pouty-mouthed Zhukova, staring pensively into the camera, while perched on a chair sculpture (designed by NY-based Norwegian artist, Bjarne Melgaard) of a half-naked black woman-mannequin, folded over on its back, legs in the air.
Keeping in line with the long-held trend of desecrating and using black women’s bodies for science, for the amusement of the white gaze, and as props to accentuate white womanhood  — ahemMiley,  Lily,  … and others— the image is unsettling and, as Fashion Bomb Daily’s Clair Sulmers suggested, conveys a white woman who “appears the total opposite of the compromised black woman on the floor. The message: white dominance and superiority, articulated in a seemingly serene yet overtly degrading way.”
Zhukova apologized for her participation in the spread, conceding that its publication on MLK Day was ill-timed and offered: “I regret allowing an artwork with such charged meaning to be used in this context. I utterly abhor racism and would like to apologize to those offended by my participation in this shoot. Garage Magazine has a strong track record of promoting diversity and racial and gender equality in the worlds of art and fashion, and will continue in our mission to stir positive debate on these and other issues.”
Apparently, modern society, specifically the fashion and art world (which often collide and collude with one another) still hasn't figured out how not to (mis)use black and brown bodies toconvey its message. While the chairs are also sculpted in images of non-black female bodies, it still doesn't negate the impact of the casual racism and sexism of the one used in the Buro 24/7 pictorial (the magazine’s response was to crop the picture down, on their website), nor does it erase the continued disregard for black women and black bodies.
It's becoming tenuous to exist, express one's self, and navigate spaces (virtual and in 3D) as a black woman. As much as I want to sequester myself away from the racist sentiments and sexism that's seeming to become par for the course in this social networking age, it’s important to continue to take up as much space as possible, without needing to serve as objects to prop up, pacify, or amuse others.  Black people deserve to tout successes, and just safely be, without incident.