Periphery

Periphery (Cover)

Created by Justina Zuckerman (Editor), Judy Fisher (Journalist), Montana Bass (Journalist), and Ryan Garcia (Graphic Designer) in Block 6 2017

“We recognize that this work is far from easy, but disrupting the status quo is never simple, and as Sara Ahmed writes, ‘Where there is hope there is difficulty.’ Feminism is the work that we do against oppression to attempt to foster hope, collectivity, and understanding. Femininst theory is how we live our lives. We combine these two ideologies and create a form of rebellion. One that is quintessentially tied to sharing the experiences of those historically denied a voice by giving their work a place to be seen and shared. We will not attempt to appropriate their words to be more palatable by translating them into normative prose, but simply give the avenue and the means for these works to be regarded as legimate and true. As bell hooks writes, ‘I found a place of sanctuary in theorizing,’ and to create a place of sanctuary for expression and thought is absolutely Periphery’s objective.”
—Justina Zuckerman, Editor

Click here to read Periphery!

Periphery (ToC)

PEELS

PEELS (Cover)

Created by Emily Gaston (Editor), Olivia Blackmon (Journalist), Kelsey Maxwell (Journalist), and Will Cannistraro (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2017

“We hope to share critical information and insight about the operations of the prison system within the United States and consider various connections and contradictions between the numerous marginalized communities it targets. Ultimately, the goal is to contemplate identity and difference, to recognize the impact that such realities have on persons within and outside of the prison industrial complex (PIC), and to educate about—and advocate for—those impacted by the prison system. In the words of Audre Lorde, ‘In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior’ (289). The PIC is deeply representative of this dynamic of inequality.”
—Emily Gaston, Editor

Click here to read PEELS!

PEELS (ToC)

Emmett Till, White Subjectivity, and Immortal Controlling Images

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By Spencer Spotts

In August of 1955, fourteen-year-old black teenager Emmett Till had been visiting family in Mississippi when Till was accused by two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, of whistling at Bryant’s white wife, Carolyn Bryant, at a local store. A few days later, Till was abducted by Milam and Bryant, brutally murdered, and then disposed into a river. In court, Carolyn had elaborated that Till had made “verbal and physical advances towards her.” Even with sufficient evidence against Milam and Bryant, they were still found not guilty. However, more than sixty years later, Vanity Fair reports that a new book by Timothy Tyson includes a 2007 interview with Carolyn in which she admits to lying about Till’s verbal and physical advances. While the case of Emmett Till has been analyzed for decades by critical race scholars, there is obviously a temptation to re-interpret and re-analyze the Till case now. However, I advocate that we carefully engage in our “new” analyses, because if theories from critical white studies are applied, we can understand the case of Till – including the recent explicit claim of guilt by Carolyn – as anything but “new” or “shocking.”

Evoking the work of Patricia Hill Collins, the initial case of Till’s death relied heavily upon a history of controlling images about black men, and in particular, their sexuality – especially in relation to white women. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic explain that early images of black male slaves depicted black men as “never overtly sexual” and that any “potential to be a sexual and economic competitor was minimized by portraying him as an object of laughter” through the use of blackface (171). However, Delgado and Stefancic later note that during the Reconstruction period, “sexuality denied to uncles and mammies found a crude outlet in a new stereotype of the recently freed male Negro as brutish and bestial…ready to force sex on any white women” (171). This new controlling image was originally used by white supremacists (be it white jurors or the KKK) during this time period to justify any violence enacted upon black men. It continued to inform how white people conceptualized themselves through blackness, and through an Other that plagued white American subjectivity and law even fifty years later, when Till was murdered.

Furthermore, Till’s death and court case effectively functioned to uphold Carolyn’s whiteness. Even Tyson, the author of the new book The Blood of Emmett Till, writes that the case “went a long way toward ruining her life.” Regardless of what has been theorized prior to the 2007 interview, Carolyn has now openly admitted to her role in the murder of Till, and yet her innocence is still protected and prioritized. Thomas Ross writes in “Innocence and Affirmative Action” that “the ‘innocent white victim’ triggers at some level its rhetorically natural opposite, the ‘defiled black taker’” (28). Ross argues that the existence of whiteness and its innocence relies on blackness and “the unconscious racist belief that the black person is not innocent in a sexual sense” (31). If we apply the history of controlling images about black men’s sexuality as noted by Delgado and Stefancic, the deconstruction of innocence rhetoric by Ross, Carolyn’s comments, and more importantly, Tyson’s writing of Carolyn, we should not be surprised but instead further warned about the power, strength, and seeming immortality of controlling images and their formative roles in the construction of white subjectivity.

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The Monthly Rag: Block 5 2017

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Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media at Frauenkreise Berlin

Frauenkreise Talk

Helen, Heidi, Cassandra, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky

On Friday, June 13, I presented “Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media” at Frauenkreise in Berlin at the invitation of Project Manager Gabi Zekina. Below, you will find a written version of the introduction to my analysis. Click here to view the complete PowerPoint presentation, and click here to listen to the audio (approximately 90 minutes) recorded by Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück. I would also like to thank Vicky Germain for also recording the event and for suggesting that I post it to the web for you all to listen to and engage.

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Before I begin the analytical discussion, I want to spend about 10 minutes introducing myself and my work to you. As you know, my name is Heidi R. Lewis, and I’m an Assistant Professor in the Feminist & Gender Studies Program at Colorado College, where I also serve as a core faculty member in the Race & Ethnic Studies Program. My teaching and research interests include Black Feminist Theory, Transnational Feminisms, and Critical Studies of media and popular culture, feminism, race, whiteness, and hip hop. I’m also an Associate Editor for The Feminist Wire, a peer-reviewed online publication that provides sociopolitical and cultural critiques of anti-feminist, racist, and imperialist politics pervasive in all forms and spaces of private and public lives.

Alexander

Marissa Alexander

Regarding my own career, I have begun to situate myself as a theoretical activist, because often, especially within “liberal” and “progressive” communities in the United States, I hear people denigrate theory in an effort to communicate the necessity of action. For instance, sometimes my audiences, including my students, grow frustrated when they ask about what they can “do” to affect change, and I respond that theorizing is one of the most important things that can be done in response to injustice. I respond in this way, because for me, theory is simply a way of thinking about, understanding, and explaining the world. How many of you are familiar with the Marissa Alexander case in the United States? It’s my contention that a theory sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years for self-defense. Of course, the racist legal system, including police, attorneys, the jury, and the judge, sentenced Marissa Alexander. However, this sentencing would not have been possible without racist and sexist theories about Black women’s bodies and lives, theories that suggest that our bodies are not worthy of love, affection, and protection, theories that suggest that our lives don’t matter and that they’re not worth saving. Only racist and sexist thinking would allow someone to see Marissa Alexander as anything other than a victim.

At this point, then, I’d like to clarify the theoretical framework of my work on U.S. media, a framework situated at the nexus of cultural studies, critical media studies, and feminist studies. As Paula Saukko points out, “The trademark of the cultural studies has been an interest in the interplay between lived experience, texts or discourses, and the social context,” which relies heavily on an investment in multiple validities. Saukko points out that this draws attention to the fact that the theories, methods and modes of analysis that underpin our research open up different and always partial and political views on reality. Multiple validities ask us to be more critically aware of what drives our research. Additionally, acknowledging that there is more than one way of making sense of social phenomena asks us to come up with a more multidimensional, nuanced, and tentative way of understanding one’s object of study. Multiple validities, then, suggest that we should approach reality in less simplistically dichotomous ways, such as “true” or “false” and “right” or “wrong,” and instead to develop more complex terms. This does not mean that there are no rules for conducting research. It simply means that rather than one universal rule that applies everywhere, there are different rules, and we need to be aware how they make us relate to reality differently. There are three methodological approaches to uncovering multiple validities: hermeneutic/ dialogic validity, which evaluates research in terms of how truthfully it captures the lived worlds and experiences of the people and communities being studied; poststructuralist/ deconstructive validity, which evaluates research in terms of how well it manages to unravel social tropes and discourses that, over time, have come to pass for “truth;” and realist/ contextual validity, which refers to the capability of research to locate the phenomena it is studying within the wider social, political, and even global, context. My talk this evening will be methodologically reliant upon the latter two frameworks insomuch as I will examine how advertisements communicate tropes and discourses that have come to pass as “truth” for racialized women in the U.S. and also how these tropes and discourses can be best theorized by examining the wider sociopolitical contexts in which the advertisements are situated.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

Regarding critical media studies, James Lull argues, “The most potent effect of mass media is how they subtly influence their audiences to perceive social roles and routine personal activities.” This happens because media functions as a hegemony, which Lull defines as a “power or dominance that one social group holds over others.” Along these lines, Antonio Gramsci argues that hegemony and mass media “are tools that ruling elites use to perpetuate their power, wealth, and status by popularizing their own philosophy, culture, and morality.” More specifically, Sut Jhally argues that “advertising thus does not work by creating values and attitudes out of nothing but by drawing upon and rechanneling concerns that target audiences already shares.” Stuart Hall would, of course, connect this to racism and white supremacy. He writes, “Every word and image of such programmes are impregnated with unconscious racism, because they are all predicated on the unstated and unrecognized assumption that blacks are the source of the problem.” Hall defines this as “inferential (or unconscious) racism,” which leads to “apparently naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, whether factual or fictional, which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions.” Audiences typically only respond viscerally to “overt racism,” which Hall defines as “occasions when open and favorable courage is given to arguments, positions and spokespersons who are in the business of elaborating a racist policy.”

Scholars writing within the tradition of feminist theory have advanced these arguments by taking an intersectional approach that considers race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, and other social markers when examining mediated constructions. In “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” bell hooks explains that in “mass culture, imperialist nostalgia takes the form of re-enacting and re-ritualizing in different ways the imperialist, colonizing journey as narrative fantasy of power and desire, of seduction by the Other.” Further, she explains that white males “claim the body of the colored Other instrumentally, as unexplored terrain, a symbolic frontier that will be fertile ground for their reconstruction of the [white, Western, heteropatriarchal] masculine norm, for asserting themselves as transgressive, desiring subjects. They call upon the Other to be both witness and participant in this transformation.” Marian Sciachitano explains that these “heteropatriarchal and imperialist politics of domination that desires and demands the construction of ‘fantasy islands,’ ‘new planets,’ and ‘playgrounds’ where Black and ‘Third World’ women are positioned as interchangeable, exotic, sexual commodity-objects.” It is this practice of commodifying the “Other’s” interchangeable, essentialized difference that, as hooks claims “promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies significance of that Other’s history through a process of decontextualization.” I also want to point out here that throughout this talk, I won’t describe these constructions as “stereotypes,” which refers to “too-simple and therefore distorted images of a group, generalizations, usually exaggerated or oversimplified and often offensive, that are used to describe or distinguish a group.” Instead, I will use Patricia Hill Collins’ “controlling images” theory, which I think more effectively conveys the implications of stereotypes for subjugated people and communities.

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Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation.
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the discussion.