Race

Home Race

Chi-Raq (2015)

(Screenshot from the film)
(Screenshot from the film)

Imagine Lysistrata—the classical play you probably read in Greek Lit class —but in the hood.

In this fictional but all-too-real version of Southside, Chicago, the women of Chi-Raq, lead by Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris), opt to withhold sex as a negotiating method to force an end to the gang related violence their men engage in. Lysistrata is inspired by the story of Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian woman who organized a sex strike amongst her peers to end a gruesome civil war. Her efforts were successful and earned her the Nobel Prize. The purpose of the Chi-Raq women’s strike is not so much to save their men from themselves as it is to bring a stop to the stray bullets that kill innocent children caught in the crossfire. These female revolutionists consider their responsibility to put children first an unwritten condition of womanhood. While Lysistrata herself is not a mother, her solidarity with them over her gang leader boyfriend, whom she loves, is powerful.

Is the labor of the Chi-Raq women’s strike itself a sort of sex work? As a sex worker myself, I have a very liberal definition of what falls under that (red) umbrella. I consider any situation where sex is used as a means of negotiation to be a form of sex work. Cash exchange is not a requirement. This definition can include negotiations between married couples or any suggestion of potential future sex to get what you want in the now—what some might call “flirting.” I understand this is a controversial opinion and an incredibly broad demarcation of sex work. But the reason I keep my definition of sex work so broad is because it normalizes the behavior. The more parallels I can draw between prostitution and sexual labor within civilian relationships, the weaker the arguments for intimate labor being an inherent evil become. This also means that when I work, I feel no guilt over avoiding terms such as “escort”—which would get me targeted by law enforcement—in favor of “sugarbaby” or “spoiled girlfriend”—even though nine times out of 10 they mean same goddamned thing, just without leaving me subject to the same legal implications.

The women of Chi-Raq considered themselves activists, and peaceful ones at that, but they still end up facing federal charges for their disruptive behavior. “Activists” sounds much better than “pissed off girlfriends.” There exists near infinite terminology to frame sexual negotiations depending on the conditions in which you negotiate. As the leader of this unconventional protest, Lysistrata is careful in navigating PR—it is her articulation of the dire circumstances in which the neighborhood lives, in addition to her resolve, that makes her a force to be reckoned with as opposed to being considered a joke, or worse, a terrorist. Different titles for the same actions produce vastly different outcomes.

What I Do Know: The Colonial Evisceration of Cindy Gladue

Medicines at a Justice for Cindy Gladue Rally in Ontario. (Photo via Ariel Smith)
Medicines at a Justice for Cindy Gladue Rally in Ontario. (Photo by Naomi Sayers)

Content warning: This piece contains references to rape, murder, violence against Indigenous women (especially Indigenous sex workers), and other disturbing material.

When I told my boyfriend that I was going to write an article about Cindy Gladue and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW), he reminded me that I should keep my bundle and medicines close to me. My elders tell me that all important activities should be entered into with good intentions and that the medicines help with this by providing strength and clarity of purpose. With that in mind, I made sure I took a moment to smudge and put out a tobacco offering before sitting down to write this. I know that writing about this is vital but it is also emotionally difficult for me. It is hard to describe through words the visceral sickening grief that I feel when I think about what was done to Cindy Gladue.

Cindy Gladue was a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree woman), like me. She had dropped out of high school, like me. She had worked in the sex trade, on the streets, like me. She had experienced a lot of violence and trauma in her life, like me.

On June 22nd, Cindy Gladue was found dead, naked, and covered in blood in a bathtub at the Yellowhead Inn in Edmonton, Alberta. She had bled to death from an 11cm wound on her vaginal wall. She was 36 years old.

A semi-truck driver named Bradley Barton was arrested and put on trial for her murder. Crown prosecutors argued that Cindy’s death was caused by Barton inserting a sharp object into her vagina. Barton claimed that Cindy’s vagina had been injured from him aggressively fisting her during consensual “rough sex.” Either way, Barton left the motel room for work the next morning, knowing that Cindy was in the bathtub bleeding profusely. He didn’t call 911 until hours later and lied to the police at first, saying he didn’t even know Cindy.

On March 18th, 2015 a Jury of 11 people, 9 men and 2 women acquitted Barton of first-degree murder and decided not to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter. There were no Native people on the jury.

Not Good Enough To Be Objectified?

I will be the first to admit that my experience in the industry has been super privileged. I was lucky to find a gig that works for me and hasn’t created in me a serious hatred towards the world in general for being kind of terrible and fucked up around race and sexuality. Having said that, I do recognize ugliness when I see it, and this industry is, in some ways, extremely racist, as are some of the people who participate in it. I often struggle to put that into words, because sometimes it’s as simple as someone thinking my body, because it is not white, is not worth as much as a woman whose body is white, and sometimes it’s as complicated as a client going all the way around the race issue (in his mind) but saying things that are clearly race specific and kind of awkward and weird (like “I love the things you people do with your hair.” because he didn’t want to say “Black Women” even though “you people” is so much worse and actually made me recoil in disgust and say, without thinking, “If you’re going to fetishize me you should figure out a way to do it that doesn’t make you sound like a troglodyte, ugh.”)

Who Gets Left Out: The People Who Coined The Term—Addendum to the Respectability Politics Round Table

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Black feminist scholar credited with coining the term "the politics of respectability" (Image courtesy of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research)
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Black feminist scholar credited with coining the term “the politics of respectability” (Photo courtesy of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research)

When we posted the Respectability Politics Round Table, Black beauty blogger and sex worker Peechington Marie immediately spoke up on Tumblr with a well-justified critique: Why, given that the term “respectability politics” itself originated within Black feminist scholarship, did the round table not include any Black sex workers as participants? We apologized for having this kind of Oh Shit Moment and asked Peechington Marie to write a short addendum to the round table elaborating on the history of the concept within the Black community and how respectability politics affect Black sex workers.

We call it “respectability politics,” but when the phrase was first coined in 1994, it was called “The Politics of Respectability” and was used by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham as a chapter title in her book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. But respectability politics, even before Ms. Higginbotham called them by name, affected every African American person in one way or another, and still affect us today. Try asking a Black friend of yours: “Do you know anyone who goes out in public with curlers in their hair?” and you’ll likely get an earful, maybe about why they absolutely don’t know anyone who would do that (except for their great aunt who always acted like she never had home training anyway).

Being respectable in the early Black community meant behaving in a way that would not embarrass yourself or other Black people. For example, The Baptist Women’s Convention used to visit poor Black folks, giving them pamphlets with titles like “How To Dress” and “Take A Bath First.” This was done to educate working class people on what were both the accepted and acceptable social norms established by wealthier Black communities. No one wanted their cousin LeRoy or his wife to show up to a church function improperly dressed or without their manners, and so the politics of respectability were born.

Why The #NYCStripperStrike Is So Relevant And So Long Overdue

(Via @NYCStripperStrike Instagram account)

A slightly different version of this piece was originally posted on Akynos’ blog, blackheaux, on November 8th

A personal history of being a Black stripper

It’s about fucking time! That’s all I can say about this stripper strike organizing.

I am excited to see more and more gentlemen’s club/exotic dancers taking this business seriously enough to take matters into their own hands. I think for far too long those of us in the adult entertainment industry have gotten engulfed in the socially acceptable invalidation of stripping as actual work, so that we’ve allowed ourselves to neglect so many of the labor violations, discrimination, and downright illegal actions by management, patrons, and staff that just couldn’t fly in other legal businesses.

I remember seeing dancers getting sexually and physically assaulted by patrons, while the bouncers employed because our naked bodies afforded them that job would do absolutely NOTHING. I recall one time a patron ejaculated on my ass as I gave him a standing lap dance at the bar. I went to the bouncer on duty at the time. He shrugged his shoulders and dismissed me.

The male staff who were employed by the club as stage managers or bouncers were also known to sexually violate us. Although they were employed by the same space we all occupied at the same damn time, they felt they were entitled to free feels and who knows what else from the dancers. If it was a nice day, they’d just insult you for even working in such a grimy industry.

Then there was the highway robbery in fees the club would charge the dancers who were coming in there to work—i.e., bring the establishment business. When I was in the game in the 90s, house fees were only just being implemented. They went from $5 to $20 in what seemed a matter of weeks.

Public perception often shapes law and policy, and vice versa. Without legal precedent or social acceptance we become prey to shoddy business practices.

I was 17 years old when I entered the clubs. I started with Al’s Mr. Wedge in the Bronx. It was the club I worked at exclusively then for a few reasons: Another club, The Goat, was closed by the time I got in the game. And besides, the legendary talk around this club sounded as if it was just too much for my bougie ass. For some reason, I just didn’t like Golden Lady, because its size and structure intimidated me.

And all my attempts at auditioning at clubs like Sue’s Rendezvous and whatever the name of the juice bar near Dyre Ave proved fruitless. I was too dark.

I recall once I went into Sue’s with a friend of mine, this mixed chic by the name of Jackie. Tall, light skinned, sorta looking like a young Mariah Carey, she was half White and Black. I went into Sue’s with her with the confidence that I would be allowed to dance in another club and increase my chances of making money. Young and naive, it didn’t dawn on me that when they told me Jackie could audition and I couldn’t it was the result of discrimination against my complexion.

Jackie ended up working at the high-end clubs in the city. Me and my Black ass had to keep it gutter and stay where they were not too picky.

I want people to stop being surprised that racism, colorism, and other biases against womxn (and Black people/or anyone with “dark” skin) exist. Determining who is worthy of making a living can be as superficial as how far from Whiteness they appear to be.

This shit is real.

Racism is real.

And colorism is also as fuckin real. The world is not existing in a post-racial/post-colorism mindset. It will never ever be like that. Now with racist humans writing code, even algorithms are becoming racially biased.