Real Gs Move in Silence

Queer and allied students of Spelman College at the March for Women’s Lives in 2004.

The “Notorious BGS” strikes again. While the rest of us were wringing our hands about the latest far right homophobic attack, Beverly Guy-Sheftall has been quietly working to build institutions that will support us beyond reaction. I pride myself on staying up to date on the happenings of my alma mater but when my Spelman sister Ruha Benjamin forwarded me THE announcement I was shocked! Not only was I shocked by the incredible news, I was shocked to find that I was sitting in the same room with two of the people who made it possible at the moment it was announced, Evelynn Hammonds and of course Beverly Guy-Sheftall.

The news of course is that Jon Stryker of the Arcus Foundation has gifted Spelman College with a $2 Million matching grant to establish the Audre Lorde Queer Studies Endowed Chair, the first of its kind at any HBCU.

The significance of this gift cannot be understated. By establishing an endowed chair, the person hired for this position is freed from the institutional bureaucracy that is often used to silence progressive and radical thought. The person in this position will be free to develop curriculum, programs, and events that support Spelman College and other HBCUs in the vitally important work of gender and sexuality justice. 

HBCUs have long been leaders in fomenting racial justice minded graduates but this position has the ability to build on the incredible work that the Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC) is already doing to equip these same graduates with a liberatory framework around gender and sexuality. It was less than 15 years ago that the first queer theory course was taught at Spelman or at any HBCU, by alumna Layli Mapayan, and just last year that the WRRC announced the development of a Gender and Sexuality Institute. BGS has been busy.

When folks ask, what’s next after marriage equality, I hope they will look to Jon Stryker’s gift as a possibility model. This is what solidarity looks like and this is what it looks like to use your privilege in the service of others. It’s clear that ally is measured not in word but deed. I couldn’t be prouder of my Spelman sisters Beverly and Evelynn’s radical commitments to Spelman College.

Women Tweet on Violence: From #YesAllWomen to #MeToo

Sarah J. Jackson, Brooke Foucault Welles and I wrote a book!!! Here’s an article based on one of our chapters. I can’t wait for the book to be in the world!

From the earliest feminist press to Twitter, women have used technology to create and sustain narratives that demand attention and redress for gendered violence. Herein we argue that the #MeToo boom was made possible by the digital labor, consciousness-raising, and alternative storytelling created through the #YesAllWomen, #SurvivorPrivilege, #WhyIStayed, and #TheEmptyChair hashtag networks. Each of these hashtags highlight women’s experiences with interpersonal and institutionally-enabled violence and each was precipitated by high-profile news events. Alongside an examination of Twitter networks, we consider the social and cultural conditions that made each hashtag significant at particular moments, examining the ideological and political work members of these hashtag networks perform. We find that feminist hashtags have been successful in creating an easy-to-digest shorthand that challenges and changes mainstream narratives about violence and victimhood.

Read more here

A Mandate for More: On Unapologetic

I had the opportunity to read Charlene Carruthers book Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. Here’s a short excerpt of my Short Take.

Carruthers also challenges millennials’ and Generation Z’s affinities for social media, arguing that while it is potentially a useful tool, it can be distracting and take organizers away from building the relationships required for sustained struggle. She even draws a comparison between some of the FBI’s COINTELPRO tactics and the contemporary use of backchannels and BuzzFeed to spread rumors that promote organizational infighting. Carruthers cautions us to try to do the hard work of nurturing accountability offline in ways that don’t disrupt our organizing. 

Read more here

“Surviving R. Kelly” Serves Up a Toxic Cocktail of Misogynoir and Masculinity

I had some thoughts about music, misogynoir, and masculinity and it’s up at Bitch Media.

Survivors of R. Kelly’s abuse

Surviving R. Kelly unironically tracks the maturation of a predator who learned from his 2008 trial that it’s better to harm girls and women who are just north of 18 because slightly older women don’t garner police interest. Rather than understanding his behavior as predatory and abusive, a punitive justice system taught him to minimize his legal culpability and helped him adapt his behavior and refine his rapacity, becoming more controlling of the women in his life as public scrutiny intensified.

Read more here

“‘Misogynoir’ Coiner Moya Bailey Is Eating Pasta and Channeling Her Inner Black Auntie”

When doing an interview is an absolute joy and the title just fully sums up the way I live my life.

Dr. Moya Bailey believes that good things come from connecting and organizing. After seeing how Black women were stereotyped and miscategorized in medical yearbooks while working on her graduate school dissertation in 2010, Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” (a portmanteau of “misogyny” and the French word for “black”) to describe how Black women are viewed and treated in society vis-à-vis their race and their gender. “It was about creating clarity. Once you’re able to name your oppression, I think you’re better able to address it,” she says.

Read the full interview here.

Honoring Beverly Guy-Sheftall


What follows below are my remarks at the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association Conference honoring the work of Beverly Guy-Sheftall.

It is my great honor to say a few words about the incomparable Beverly Guy-Sheftall. To give her her flowers while she is here. Who would have thought a shy girl from Memphis, Tennessee would become a world renown educational freedom fighter by working on gender justice at Spelman College? As a first year student from little bitty Fayetteville, Arkansas, I was floored when Dr. Guy-Sheftall told my entering class about Sarah Baartman’s experiences as a human exhibit in Europe, the way her body was examined in life and death under the cloak of objective science but which was in reality reflective of scientific racism and sexism. In my first week at Spelman, before I’d even attended a class, Dr. Guy-Sheftall had blown my mind!

After that moment, I knew I wanted to take every class I could with her. At some point she revealed one of my favorite stories about her childhood. Her mother insisted that she did not need to take home economics. Beverly’s mother knew that her daughter had other work to do and other skills to learn. Her mother’s nurturing of her intellect allowed her to become the venerable scholar she is today and her mother’s actions also account for Beverly’s rarely if ever used oven.

Who has time to cook when you are growing a field of scholarship?

In typical Gemini fashion, Beverly is doing all the things all the time. If you ever send Beverly an email, don’t be surprised if you get a response at 2:30am.  A prolific night-owl, Beverly will answer your email while in between books she’s reading and finishing that day. Her nightly productivity has resulted in multiple collaborative texts, the development and flourishing of the Spelman College Women’s and Resource Center and her latest venture with the Mellon Foundation, a Gender and Sexuality Institute dedicated to addressing the violence disproportionately experienced by Black women and girls.

Who has time to sleep when you are remaking institutions?

No one has a more eclectic sense of style or a more pithy set of one liners. Beverly does not dabble in shade. Beverly reads. And her reads are legendary. Some of you were there, in 2004 when Beverly said, at the Chicago hip hop feminism conference organized by Cathy Cohen, that it was ludicrous to compare Madonna’s self fashioned and commercialized eroticism to the exploitation of Black women dancers in rap videos. Beverly said it so simply, “You can’t compare exploitation to the whorification of white women.”

Who has time for propriety when you are telling the truth?

Beverly set the stage for me to be in that room, at that conference, and hear that comment. It was in her Feminist Theory class, that the so-called Nelly protest was born that launched me, Leana Cabral, and Spelman into a national spotlight. How could Spelman, a historically Black women’s institution, host the rapper Nelly on campus for a bone marrow registration drive after depicting Black women as objects in his music and videos? Beverly gave us the time to process, in class, our conflicted feelings about his video “Tip Drill” and his impending visit to campus. She thought our voices mattered and she gave us the space to work it out. Our meek interest in writing a letter blossomed, with her encouragement, to naming Nelly the Misogynist of the Month, which distressed him so much he elected not to come to campus at all. The national attention that Nelly’s bowing out garnered, lead to the  invitation to the Hip Hop Feminism conference, where I got my first honoraria check, and got to see Beverly’s brilliance in action.

Who has time for the theory vs. activism debate when your classroom is a spaceship for praxis?

The resulting media attention raised Beverly’s star as well but she has remained committed to Spelman despite its sometime ambivalent relationship to her. She could be at any institution but she remains dedicated to the students of Spelman College, teaching and mentoring new generations of Black feminists who will be in every sector of society, even some we haven’t thought of yet.

Who has time for the Ivy league or PWIs  when you can make a choice to change the world?

We’ve done this here before, but if you have ever taken a class with Beverly, heard or read her words and been moved? Stand up.

Beverly, look around. This is the profound power of your scholarship in a discipline forged out of necessity for something different. You have inspired generations of Black feminists and feminists writ large. I hope you can feel your impact because we continue to feel yours.

Hello, again!

It has been an incredibly long time again.

I am happy to report that I have accepted the position of assistant professor in the Department of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies and the program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University. My work focuses on Black women’s use of digital media to promote social justice as acts of self-affirmation and health promotion.

When Margins Become Centered: Black Queer Women in Front and Outside of the Classroom

My co-authored piece with my colleague Shannon Nasah-Miller, When Margins Become Centered: Black Queer Women in Front and Outside of the Classroom is live in the Special Issue Institutional Feelings: Practicing Women’s Studies in the Corporate University of Feminist Formations.

Heres our abstract

This article revisits the authors’ experiences as Black queer women teaching undergraduates and receiving graduate education, ultimately reflecting on these from their current professorial positions. It explores how graduate teachers and junior faculty who are Black queer women navigate the process of creating and maintaining feminist pedagogy in the college classroom while simultaneously negotiating universities that have very little space for queer women, Black women, and those at these intersections. The article asserts that feminist classrooms are arenas for discovery, liberation, and resistance of hegemonic structures, and attempts to construct these spaces both in- and outside of women’s studies departments. This task is particularly challenging when the instructor holds the very marginalized identities that exist in the content of the class and their education. Ultimately, the article argues that their unique experience has been under-theorized, even by them, and necessitates specific strategies that would not be addressed by a focus on Black women who are assumed to be straight or queer women who are assumed to be white.

Read the full article here!