Author Archives: Naomi Extra

It Could Have Been Me: Korryn Gaines & the Criminalization of Black Women

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In a matter of hours, it is possible for an individual with no prior criminal record to find themselves with a criminal warrant out for their arrest for a minor violation. If you are black and a woman, this is a potentially life-threatening situation. There is, without a doubt, a violent trend in state-sanctioned violence against black women. The way in which we are seeing police officers quickly escalate from stern orders to a violent arrest mirrors the polarity of our judicial system. Small violations such as failure to pay a fine or to transport one’s body to a courtroom to appear before a judge can potentially make one a criminal. We saw how this can carry out in the recent killing of Korryn Gaines in her Baltimore home on August 1st. Gaines did not have a criminal record. She did have traffic violations and a warrant for her arrest. Every bone in my body tells me that I could have been Korryn Gaines.

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Black Girl Magik As Feminist Formation (& A Valentine’s Day Well Spent)

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It was a cold day in Brooklyn, one of those days that’s so freezing you want to kiss a stranger on the subway just to warm your face. It was Valentine’s Day, after all, so maybe this would have been permissible but I kept my lips to myself as I chugged along on the L train. I went to Love Potion #5, a Black Girl Magik workshop, alone and without knowing a single person in the room. All of us introverts and socially awkward types know about those parties where we feel weird and lonely because we don’t know anyone. And the very thought of trying to start a conversation sounds like a day at the dentist. I strolled into Love Potion teary-eyed from the cold and a half an hour late from getting lost. When I walked in, the first people I saw was a group of young white hipsters who took one quick look at my befuddled face before saying, “It’s over there.”  Continue reading

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Finally, An Affirming Comic Book About Abortion

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Coming up as a teenager in a mostly progressive environment, the message about abortion was clear—my body, my choice. I felt happy and empowered by my fist-pumping right to make decisions about my reproductive present and future. The politics behind this choice were relatively clear to me. In school I learned the basics: Roe v. Wade and the history of organizations like Planned Parenthood. I have always been grateful for the right to choose. But not once was there any discussion, in school or elsewhere, of what it actually meant to have an abortion in the physical sense. Like, what actually happens when you go in to have one? Once a woman decides to have an abortion, what choices does she have? These are all very important questions that so few seem to talk about—except for Leah Hayes, that is. Continue reading

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On Breaking the Bad Bitch Archetype in Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child

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It isn’t difficult to notice the similarity between the title of Toni Morrison’s latest novel, God Help the Child, and the famous tune sung by Billie Holiday, “God Bless the Child.” Holiday’s tune speaks measures to how we see and treat vulnerable members of our society. It contains a problematic message about who is deserving of help. As the song goes: “God bless the child that’s got his own….”

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Indie Artist Spotlight: Rachel Eckroth

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If you’re like me when it comes to music, then it’s likely that you’re constantly scouring the internet for exciting and unheard-of musical gems. I get especially hype when I come across women who play actual live instruments and play them well. Rachel Eckroth is undoubtedly one of these jewel artists who allow me to happily revel in indie girl coolness. Although you may not have heard of Rachel, you may have seen her. She is a member of the all-female house band on The Meredith Vieira Show on NBC. She gigs with her band relatively often but can also be found working as a side-woman playing piano or keyboard and singing across a range of genres.

One of my most memorable encounters with Rachel was on a winter evening in 2013. I packed into a tiny room to hear Rachel’s six-piece band perform as part of the Capricorn Music Festival in New York City. The room of about thirty or so musicians and fans received a steady flow of music that sampled a panoply of jazz-infused colors. As the group performed, the room pulsated with nodding heads entranced by the groove. That night, they performed Eckroth’s original tune, “More Beautiful Than That.” When they hit the bridge, I looked around the room—not a single body was still. Her music has a distinct charge. It’s a sonic road-trip, one that will take you places if you decide to let it. As she glided through changes on her keyboard, I remember thinking Damn, she can play.

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Three Pieces of Feminist Advice From Jackie “Moms” Mabley

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Before there was a Paul Mooney, a Red Foxx, or a Richard Pryor, there was a hilarious woman on the comedy scene who could probably get a shoe to giggle. If you haven’t heard of Moms Mabley or listened to some of her stand-up, you have been missing out on a beautiful piece of American cultural history and downright comedic genius. To put it simply, Moms was fly. Her artistic prowess traversed the lines of singing, acting, and comedy. Mabley’s career spanned nearly forty years and included performance on film, television, and in clubs throughout the nation and abroad. In the 1930s she performed regularly at the Apollo alongside artists such as Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, and Billie Holiday. By the 1960s she had crossed over into the mainstream, making multiple appearances on shows such as The Merv Griffin Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. Moms not only used her voice to garner laughs but also to engage in political activism. She became famous for her rendition of “Abraham, Martin, and John,” a song about social change, which hit the top forty in 1969. Moms was also one of the boldest pre-sexual revolution celebrity voices of the 50s and 60s. Through her comedy she perfected the art of sexual innuendo. Moms was feminist. She was funny. And she said what was on her mind for the good of us all.

Check out a few of my favorite pieces of Moms Mabley feminist advice below.

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Revisiting Raven: Thoughts on Zora, Nina, and Take-Down Culture

One of the bits of news from 2014 that I keep wanting to revisit is the Raven Symone brouhaha. Remember when Raven said the notorious words “I want to be labeled a human who loves humans, [and] I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American; I’m not an African-American, I’m an American,” and the internet went batty? I know, so passé. It’s 2015 already. But in 2015 I want to make a plea for thoughtful and sisterly discourse on the internet (and in general). To me, this means returning to old conversations where we may have responded impulsively; it means thinking twice. And then three or four times more about things. In this spirit, let us return to the scene of action: the Oprah Winfrey show on October 4, 2014. Continue reading

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ALL THE FEMINIST BOOKS: The Healing by Gayl Jones

This month. we asked our regular contributors to write about the feminist books that they love—books that struck a chord, for one reason or another, books they couldn’t put down, that they’ll never donate, that are underlined and dog-eared and bookmarked eternally, that you can maybe borrow, but you most definitely have to give back. Here’s Naomi on The Healing:

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d_cCo003ff1Y4M6KXTXKp48x9Z_XKioeVhpfSyDHh5g,PZXm1Tyd8z9Okw_3_2gHV1uJcqd3Mf6iebfL4miadU0I have always had a sweet spot for stories centered on women with magical powers. I loved watching the show Charmed throughout my high school years and to this day the film Matilda reigns among my favorites. When I read the novel The Healing by Gayl Jones in grad school, finally I understood why I was attracted to female magic on television. It was even more than the power of transformation, agency, and spirit of playfulness that drew my attention. It was the actual healing—these women could fix things including themselves. Continue reading

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On Bending the Gaze As Resistance: From Cosby Show to How to Get Away With Murder

When I was five, my father told me that I was Rudy from The Cosby Show. He probably said this as a joke but I took it literally. And since I believed that my father knew absolutely everything, I watched the series in deep connection to this shell of myself. Despite the absence of any memory of being Rudy and the chronological impossibility of me being a child actor on the show (Keshia Knight Pulliam, the actress who plays her, is four years older than me), I was Rudy and Rudy was me. It wasn’t difficult to take on this identity (especially as a child) because I didn’t understand the spurious line between acting and reality. I didn’t quite get television as a constructed space that may or may not represent the lived experiences of actual people. When I saw something scary on television, I was scared because I couldn’t create a division between these worlds—whatever happened on television could potentially happen to me in real life. In my mind I could seamlessly move from my small upstate New York home into a Brooklyn brownstone and family of six. Rudy’s lessons were my lessons, her triumphs and falls were mine too. I remember watching the episode where Rudy gets her period and how I positively inserted myself into the storyline. I saw the possibility of black girlhood (this was one of few places where I saw black children on television at the time) and I saw my period a link in the chain of womanhood. When Rudy got her period, all women got their periods. The shame of this biological happening was erased from my consciousness. I saw that menstruation wasn’t something I had to be silent about or ashamed of.

This interpolation wasn’t just unique to me; my father did this as well. The two of us were watching television one day when he matter-of-factly stated that the news reporter was Haitian. I remember laughing and turning to him to ask, “How do you know?” My father was having his very own Rudy moment. He was inserting his Haitianess into a space that claimed non-race, class or nationality. I still smile when I remember this moment that seems more like a fantastic act of agency than the passive subconscious at work. We were making television productive for us through our gaze. This ocular practicality was a sort of bending of the gaze that served us as two individuals of color watching mainstream television. Continue reading

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