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Beyond Respectability, Beauty Beyond Binaries, and the NAACP

May 30, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.

1. Beyond Respectability: A New Book on Black Female Public Intellectuals
Ibram X. Kendi interviews Brittney Cooper about her new book, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women. Cooper: “Beyond Respectability makes three key interventions: first, it moves to situate the National Association of Colored Women as its own school of intellectual thought, a move that makes clear where Black women intellectuals received their training and intellectual orientation to the world. Second, it argues that respectability politics cannot be understood solely as a form of class policing among Black women. Rather, I argue that respectability discourse is an early form of gender theorization emerging from Black communities in the aftermath of Reconstruction. Respectable ideology is an attempt to give meaning, shape, and form to categories of manhood and womanhood that Anna Julia Cooper argued had been “impoverished” in the process of slavery. Rather than excusing problematic class politics, viewing respectability discourse as a form of gender theorizing points us to Black communities’ intellectual debates about the meanings and performances of gender and the relationship of these gender performances to notions of Black identity and to the project of Black freedom. Third, I argue that race women themselves maintained a healthy skepticism about respectability politics and often looked for opportunities to subvert it. In particular, Murray and Bambara revise and critically challenge heteronormative and cisnormative ideas about Black gender and sexuality. I hope that by taking on these women as theorists and thinkers engaged in a multigenerational conversation about Blackness, feminism, and womanhood, that we can enrich both our existing intellectual history and the conceptual terrain from which we theorize around race, gender, sexuality, and feminism.”

2. DHS Public Database Includes Personal Information of Abuse Victims
P.R. Lockhard in Mother Jones: “Last month, DHS created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, aimed at assisting the victims of crimes committed by immigrants. At the same time, it rolled out a database called Victim Information and Notification Exchange, or DHS-VINE, ostensibly to provide information on the custody status and detention information of immigrants who have been accused of crimes. But the database appears to contain information about a much broader group of people, including undocumented immigrants in detention who are not suspected of infractions other than lacking legal status—and who are sometimes themselves victims of abuse. The problem was first highlighted by the Tahirih Justice Center, which supports immigrant women and girls escaping gender-based violence. On Thursday, the group wrote a letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement explaining that the personal information of immigrant survivors was searchable in DHS-VINE. Earlier this month, the center was able to find the personal information of one of its clients in the database. The group then reached out to attorneys who work with immigrant survivors; together, they confirmed that the names, custody status, and detention location of other survivors were searchable in the DHS-VINE system. The database also includes information about where detainees are housed and sends notifications when they are transferred or released, potentially allowing abusers or traffickers to find their victims and cause further harm.”

3. Women in Public Office and the Workplace
Watch on C-SPAN: “The Center for American Progress Action Fund hosted a discussion on the political system and women’s participation in the electoral process. In the first panel, Representatives Nanette Barragan (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) talked about about the challenges they encountered as women and minorities running for their seats. In the second panel, representatives from Emily’s List, Three Point Strategies, and Higher Heights for America organizations outlined efforts to encourage women to run for public office.”

4. How to Save the N.A.A.C.P. From Irrelevance
Melissa Harris-Perry in the New York Times: “If it wants to survive, the N.A.A.C.P. has two options. It can move aside gracefully. […] The time, talent and financial resources available for doing high-impact racial-justice work are severely limited. The urgency of this political moment makes it a moral imperative to direct these resources toward organizations that will produce meaningful outcomes for ordinary people, not just pursue institutional durability. If the N.A.A.C.P. is unprepared for emeritus status, it must be ready for a return to the bloody years. It must become radical and expect a time when people will be mocked and potentially even harmed simply for being aligned with it. This will happen only if the organization commits itself to making substantive change that disrupts the balance of power for the most vulnerable. To get there, the N.A.A.C.P. must search for its new president not in the highest places, but rather in the lowest. Is the N.A.A.C.P. ready to follow the leadership of undocumented women? Queer women? Black women? Is it ready to listen to those who have been incarcerated? Those who are H.I.V. positive? Is it ready to have as its president a young person just out of foster care who, because he is transgender and black, lived with vulnerabilities many can’t imagine?”

5. The Mermaid Trend Has an Extra-Special Meaning for Many Trans Women
Janet Mock in her new Allure Magazine column Beauty Beyond Binaries: “Like mermaids, trans women are wrongly accused of seducing men, which is one of the driving factors as to why the killings of trans women of color are largely left unsolved and underinvestigated (just read trans journalist Meredith Talusman’s powerful investigation, “Unerased”). Like mermaids, trans women are viewed as half-women, half-other. Like mermaids, trans women grapple with people’s disturbing curiosity with their genitals. And like mermaids, we are fascinating and beautiful and magical. So many things we enjoy, from food to art and popular culture, can also be escapism, allowing us to take a breather from our grim, chaotic, uncertain political times. Beauty is no different. It makes complete sense why our culture has reached peak mythical creature madness: so many of us want to escape reality and believe in magic. But being able to turn your head and escape comes with great access and privilege, something many trans women, especially those from low-income and/or people of color communities, do not benefit from. So we resist by seeking joy and beauty.”