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re: the miseducation of a barbie doll

2 Nov

in her poem, “the miseducation of a barbie doll,” jasmine mans challenges women in the entertainment industry who deploy physical aesthetics in their mechanisms to attract listeners.

read/listen: Jasmine Mans Explains “The Mis-Education of a Barbie Doll”

i have several responses to this poem, several of which are certainly praise. the two, however, i would like to address here can be summed up by the following points: 1. nicki minaj’s “barbie” only constitutes one image she projects through her music, and 2. even if, barbie were nicki’s only image, why can’t barbie be an acceptable way of being? and with that, why does barbie inherently mean all that jasmine suggests it means in her poem?

nicki minaj has several “alternative personalities” she invites us to see in her music, each of whom have actual names and histories – barbie is one of them. to focus exclusively on one misses the point. and this is one of the reasons why i dig her – nicki (the artist) is fully human, complicated, and not one-dimensional. she does not have to say anything new or profound for that to be refreshing and meaningful to me. i do not know which of these egos are “real” to the artist, if any of them are, but i do not find it fascinating (and refreshing) that nicki can talk about enjoying sex, without actually be involved in actively pursuing it – if she were saying anything with her sexy image, it is that one can enjoy being sexy without having sex. and for all of you who believe young people can’t hear the quiet profession of her chastity – you’re probably wrong, that is if the youtube views of her interviews are any indication of to what parts of nicki minaj’s voice people are listening.

my second point has probably emerged from my growing frustration with so many of the voices within the social justice, critical media literacy circuit reprimanding artists because they do not widely promote more responsible (read: their) perspectives. these channels (of which i am admittedly a part) are preoccupied with identifying in what ways artists like nicki minaj do not meet the “phenomenal woman” criteria. and i believe in doing so, we neglect something else. primarily, that it is also important (and maybe even more critical) to invigorate efforts to help readers of texts and addicted pop culture consumers be more thoughtful. in other words, instead of silencing artists and limiting any creative movement (an idea that frightens me), i am an advocate of empowering a movement that helps individuals become stronger critical consumers and thinkers.

to be sure, it is daunting to think about the ways the original barbie and her predecessors, in all of their varied forms, contribute to some of the most destructive behaviors among women and young girls. esteem issues, the hypersexualization of our bodies, irresponsible sex, misinformed understandings of heterosexual and same sex relationships – the list, of course, goes on and jasmine mans has certainly implicated nicki minaj as part of the problem.

i think jasmine is wrong about nicki minaj. but i am not writing in defense of nicki minaj, but in defense of womanhood. and jasmine seems to believe there is a legitimate or “better” way to be female. i am not against discovering our best as women – i certainly want us to know that there exists more than our objectifications. still, i am fervently against constraining each of our varied forms to fit some narrow, pristinely righteous vision. we would all have to agree on that single vision, which i am not certain is even possible, nor desirable. each of our ways of being may not promote the sort of virtue and goodness and socially conscious political projects that challenge our racist/homophobic/sexist existence (past and present). we are all wrapped up in the mess of it. but the answer is not for each of us to become or to identify with the same voice. but to develop a language that can includes us, while simultaneously challenging and complicating our perspectives.

no, nicki is not lauryn hill or assata shakur, as jasmine points out in her explanation of the poem. and while i personally revere both lauryn and assata, they are not the only [valid] ways of being female, conscious, and fully human in this world. i value nicki and her barbie too. hell, i need nicki and her barbie – there are parts of me who i identify with them as well.

i appreciate that jasmine has her eyes and ears open, and is fearless in openly holding artists accountable for their artistic choices. but i dare jasmine mans to answer my question. why is barbie something I should not want to be? it might seem obvious or even laughable, but i promise i am not being facetious. anything so obvious concerns me, anyway. if we ever get a chance to talk for a while, i’d also like to ask, why must pretty also mean broken, and hypersexual? more, given the savvy business woman that nicki minaj is (even if we were to oversimplify her marketing strategy to selling sex), why project the dichotomy of powerful and chaste, versus oversexual and ignorant?

toward revisiting a passing thought…

27 Sep

check these ole jawns out (c) philly…

24 Jun

…cause i haven’t written in a while 😦

what i learned in school today, no. 2

17 May

i asked a few of the young women i work with if they thought it would be helpful to have a session on healthy relationships and safe practices in light of our upcoming prom. of course, they all laughed. “you can try ms. b, but people are gonna do what they wanna do,” one of them said. another student also reminded me (and how could i forget) that students have been planning whatever they are going to do for the entire year – “it’s goin down regardless of what you say.”

i suppose i wasn’t surprised by their responses. just disappointed. and scared. i remember the night of one of my proms. and i was super naïve – things happened that didn’t have to. as a senior in high school i hadn’t spent the year planning an extravagant outro that included sexin it up with some dude. but regardless – even though i didn’t ask for it, or even consent to it for that matter – it happened. and i suppose that while i am concerned about all of my girls, I am even more concerned about those girls who have gaga eyes for some close friend they’ve known their whole lives – that guy who is definitely thinking more about the night after the dance than the prom itself, and is sharing secrets with his boys about what he plans to do. i worry about her.

and so i told my students what happened to me the night of my prom. sort of out of desperation. it was like i was screaming, “but you don’t get it!” and the conversation that developed after that was much different from the conversation that inspired the confession. one by one, each of them began sharing their stories – experiences with rape and molestation. emotional abuse, manipulation, and the men and women in our lives who did not or could not help. i am no longer surprised by the frequency with which such violence occurs. but each time i meet this same portrait, i become more and more irate. and sad that these things happen to so many of us. i am over trying to understand it – i abandoned the question, “why?” years ago – though that is certainly a task for someone (who isn’t me). at this point, i’m in survival mode – more like, what i am i supposed to do now? the only thing i have been able to settle on is aggressively battling the silence that is so easy to nestle in.

after the prom that year, silence was home to me, and it was an ugly hell. i looked like myself, but i was the worst in me – for sure. when i finally shared it for the first time with my mother – nearly a year later – i was relieved. crying to purge the weight of wounds is not cliché. or dramatic. for me, it was necessary. human connection and empathy are my unsung heroes. to be clear, this relief (however amazing it felt) did not manifest in any miraculous healing. but i discovered that the more i talked about it, the stronger my language became, and the better i was able to identify the places that experience still lived. i am grateful for my mother, that she is who she is and that she listened – and understood despite the fact that i have made decisions that depart from how she raised me. she gets me. but everyone does not have that. and i literally cannot imagine what it would be like to carry my own experiences alone.

coming full circle (hopefully)… this is what truly inspired my asking my students whether a healthy relationships/safe practices conversation could be useful. an hour after I asked my students what they thought, the five of us decided we needed to have that conversation. and that i would tell my story with every girl attending prom, small group style.

i have to admit that (just in case someone has anything to offer about it) while i believe in this process, and i trust in it, i am incredibly vulnerable – and for that, i am nervous. my students having access to this particular part of me causes me to be naked in a way that opens me up for attack – and anyone (young people especially) can use that against me in moments of anger or frustration. but the discussion we had, needed to happen. and the possibility that the discussions these girls and i are planning could help a single person far exceeds the risk that i will incur any injury. i would like to think that it didn’t matter, but instead i will admit that it does and pray for the best…

(see also:

cause i needed to hear it again…

4 May

my thoughts on kiely williams, and “spectacular”

28 Apr


most days
the only thing
i stand for
is pro-girl.
and her

that means
(i’m fighting

as i mentioned to my friends in a facebook conversation about kiely’s newest video, “spectacular” our problems (which are not new) are much bigger than kiely. yet, somehow after browsing the internet and catching up on the (disapproving) responses to the video – and after submitting my own jaded response, i became sort of defensive of kiely. it seemed like we were yelling at her, and talking past her. and this made me sad. because our first responses seemed to take for granted that we knew kiely (and who/what kiely represents). more than that, our responses presumed we had the answers, presumed our right was the right. we had an idea of what is best for us, and kiely’s video (and kiely, then) did not reflect that. but instead of engaging her, we chastised her first. and this, i believe, might serve to silence rather than encourage the dialogue we truly want.

i’m beginning to notice that a number of “social justice” oriented projects are driven by a pursuit of a particular truth (excuse my loose use of the term). such that the tools that are fostered, are nurtured in faith that participants will arrive at the right values, instead of joining the journey of consciousness building (in general). in other words, for this sort of initiative, the point is to expose problems (and individuals’ participation in them) toward accomplishing the task of fixing. listening to, and understanding, each other are peripheral – almost as if by way of our own assumptions, observations, and experiences, we know enough already. more than anything, this projects onto people what their problems are.  whether we are ever provided the space to first be ourselves (and see ourselves) in ways that allow us to scrutinize anything is never really a priority.

it is this distinction that (i think) separates ruth nicole brown’s Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) from other programs (i should note that brown goes so far as to suggest her engagements do not constitute a program, but a lifestyle – and i am diggin that so far). i have been reading brown’s black girlhood celebration: toward a hip-hop feminist pedagogy (check it out here:, and it is truly impacting the way i think about my own work in the fields of education and women’s studies (and now, girls studies).

as a solhot participant, brown does not set out to “fix” people, or to illuminate each of the ways her students are participatory in self-deprecating behaviors. certainly it is important to her that she remain part of a process that helps to make “things” better, and people healthier. but for brown, while she is not without opinion or critique, healthier seems less like “anti-this and that” and appears more like visible, celebrated, conscious, and self-observant. in the process of dialogue and meeting students where they are, brown seems to create a constructive space for reflection.

her primary goal, as it seems to me, is to help build a space wherein young people can be. what she seems to have learned is that in the process of developing this space with students, and engaging in it, students organically arrive at (and/or recognize) their own truths. they develop their own set of values about which they become intentional. and even if a student does arrive at a shared (read: dominant) truth claim, it is not because a hierarchy of values, ideas, or lifestyles were promoted over others, but because students were provided the opportunity to be, and think, and question from where they were.

we don’t want to walk on eggshells to help make people comfortable. yet, we do need them to be open. if we are truly serious about impacting social consciousness and building a community – supporting one another, growing and evolving, educators must step down from pedestals. somehow we have to learn how to prevent our critiques from shadowing over those things we can celebrate (and put that in reverse). more than that, we have to learn how to talk to one another in ways that make both critique and celebration possible.

i don’t want to romanticize the parts of us that could ultimately destroy us. i only want us to cultivate spaces and communities where we can be ourselves and build together. because we all have our stuff.

does life really just happen?

1 Apr

i am convinced more than ever that if i want to realize the fullness of this life, i have to refuse to accept the idea that “life happens,” and therefore (passively) let life happen to me. i have been thinking that “life happens” is a cliché phrase that sounds wise, but holds no real truth – at least not as we typically deploy it. to suggest that life happens is to say that life happens apart from us.  but life does not happen without us, or better – life happens with us.  (stay with me.)  as we grow and mature, our worlds expand.  as we experience, our eyes widen (or narrow).  as we fall and struggle, survive and win, the process keeps changing.  and we can respond by developing walls, or by dismantling them.  by believing in people more, or less.  and not one of these are inevitable products of our experiences.  they are choices. life cannot “happen” without them, or without us.

life only happens to those of us who are convinced we have no control. and that itself (the submission) is a choice.  and it is a dangerous one.  if i submit to the idea that i have no control over my life, the worst in me will eventually thrive because this is ultimately an acceptance of the idea that i have limitations.  and if i were really being real, which i’m bout to be, i’d have to say that if i am as spiritually aligned as i claim (or try) to be, i am one with God such that what the Universe wills, i also will – therefore eliminating my own limitations. the acknowledgement of possibility, or impossibility, alters my striving.  if nothing is possible, i will try at nothing.  if i believe that the best is possible, i will try to achieve or gain that which i desire most.  and if i “fail,” this proves nothing except that it was not for me.  or that the striving itself was the point (or a number of countless other things). one of the “advantages” of being one with God is not perfection, and does not mean that my life – thus anointed – would ever be without challenges or strife.  but this frees me to have faith in the idea that everything is as it should be, and will always be – through good and bad.   everything happens for a reason.  this is peace.   i am grateful for this revelation.

i am about to be unstoppable.

i am somewhere i have not been in a long time – a place where i am meeting my future.  it is not a crossroads per se, but it is a noticeably distinct moment.  and the message is this:  i can either move forward, and walk into my future.  or, i can stay here. i can either carry the increasingly heavy bags of old, gone and passed, or i can sit them down – right here.  and walk into my next season.  but regardless, the season will pass, with or without me.  and that is a choice.

i suppose, i also have to admit, that these are new ideas for me.  and i have not considered them next to my disbelief in coincidence, and my belief in the idea that some things are beyond our control – though i have noted possible tension.  this is for another conversation – maybe one of you will start it…

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