Exhuming the Ratchet before it’s Buried

January 7, 2013
By

Recently, social media was set ablaze after Oxygen revealed it was developing a reality TV show featuring rapper Shawty Lo (real name Carlos Walker) entitled, All My Babies’ Mamas.  Yup, all 11 of them.  Or is it 10?  In any case, if you were able to watch the preview before it was removed from the web, you noticed that these women seem to be continuously struggling with each other for power.  They argue over the amount of time and money Walker spends with his children.  They’re upset that he’s building a relationship with a 19-year-old woman—his eldest child is also 19.  For these reasons and others, Nick Chiles called the show a “festering stew of ratchetness.”  It was no surprise, then, that online petitions quickly ensued calling for boycotts of the network and the show.  This tends to happen when “ratchet,” “black women,” and “reality TV” converge.  You may remember the boycott of Basketball Wives (BBW) and other ratchet reality shows initiated by Star Jones.

Ratchet was first popularized when rapper Hurricane Chris released his debut album 51/50 Ratchet (2007).  For Hurricane Chris, ratchet meant getting excited, partying, “going hard.”  More recently, though, ratchet has become a derogatory term leveled mostly at women, but especially black women.  In these instances, ratchet is used to describe women that are unintelligent, loud, classless, tacky, and hypersexual, among other things.  One of the most popular takes on this brand of ratchet has to be the “Ratchet Girl Anthem” (2012), a parody song written by Emmanuel and Phillip Hudson and produced by DJ Suede.  Their video has garnered over 37 million views since its release almost a year ago, and was eventually repackaged as an official video for BET.  Think of ratchet as a combination of Mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel, and the Welfare Queen—every controlling image of black women Patricia Hill Collins taught you about all rolled into one.  So, while the term itself may be relatively new, the construction isn’t.  And ratchet black women on reality TV aren’t even all that new.  I remember when Tami Roman gave us a weekly dose of ratchet on MTV’s The Real World: Los Angeles, almost 20 years before giving it to us on VH1’s BBW: Miami.

In response to all of the uproar about All My Babies’ Mamas, Brittney Cooper wrote “(Un)Clutching My Mother’s Pearls, or Ratchetness and the Residue of Respectability.”  She also previously examined Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta in her essay, “Ratchet Feminism.”  The latter asks whether or not “ratchet” can be considered feminist, and the former asks whether or not ratchet effectively challenges the “politics of respectability” that have plagued black women for decades.  Both pieces were a breath of fresh air for me, because many black women in academia are struggling, and having conversations can help mitigate some of the conflicts and tensions.

My own struggles with ratchet came to a head when my colleague alerted me to the “Bury the Ratchet” campaign being launched by Michaela Angela Davis.  The campaign will begin with a symposium at Spelman College this March, when black leaders will examine how reality TV shows featuring ratchet black women are “harming Black culture.”  The symposium will be followed by a public service announcement featuring black women discussing their feelings about such depictions.  Along those lines, Davis argues, “It has become completely evident that there has been a brand of women from Atlanta that are adverse to what most of these women are like.”  To be honest, I’m not struggling with ratchet as much as I’m grappling with false binaries like this—binaries that are being manifested in conversations about all things ratchet.  However, the either-or dichotomies erase women like me, and others, from the conversation.

Davis started the campaign in order to “get the spotlight off the ratchetness and on the successful women in Atlanta.”  Well, wait a minute.  I wasn’t aware that “ratchet” and “successful” women were mutually exclusive.  What if some network decided to develop a reality TV show about me, or sisters like me?  I’m a well-educated, happily married mother of two.  I’m a professor at an elite liberal arts college.  My husband has been a successful entrepreneur for almost 4 years.  I admit that representations of black women like me are scant across all genres of television.  Think about some of the reasons so many black women faithfully watch MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show and ABC’s Scandal.  But, I’d be just the kind of candidate Davis would be looking for to combat these ratchet images of black women on reality TV, right?  Well, probably not.

I have no qualms admitting that I can be a bit ratchet at times.  Okay, a lot of times.  You should have seen me and my husband on New Year’s Eve this year.  Trinidad James anyone?  You should have heard me talking to my sistercousin after a meeting one day a while back.  “They don’t even want me to go there, okay?!”  You should have read that blog where I wrote about Li’l Wayne and cunnilingus.  Ooooweeee!  You should have seen me and my homegirl on the deck overlooking my backyard this past summer.  “If you ain’t gone finish that last li’l bit in that bottle, I will.”  You should have seen me and my other homegirl in the bar that night a few years ago.  Talk about snatching wigs!  Okay, I think I’ve said too much already.  But, see, therein lies the problem.  Said too much for what?  Too much for whom?  My family?  My friends?  My colleagues?  My readers?  I guess I really do have some qualms after all.

And *this* is what I’m struggling with.  The kinds of binaries regarding ratchet presented by Davis are, I would argue, as harmful as, if not more injurious than, the ratchet black women on reality TV.  I came to this conclusion after re-thinking Hazel Carby’s “policing of black women’s bodies” theory, as well as Darlene Clark Hine’s “culture of dissemblance” theory.  The former theorizes the ways black women’s bodies are policed by the folks who control the dominant culture, and the latter theorizes the ways black women police our own bodies in attempts to self-protect against those aforementioned folks.  That said, there are unrealistic ontological expectations for black women coming from every angle, but it hurts more (at least for me) when those expectations are coming from us!

Do we hate ourselves and each other that much?  Yes, I was disgusted when Brooke Bailey and Jackie Christie got physical on BBW: LA this season.  Don’t get it twisted, though.  I wasn’t disgusted because of embarrassment about how their actions made me or other black women look.  I’m not here for any viewer that saw black women everywhere in place of Brooke and Jackie.  First, Brooke and Jackie are not representative of all black women.  Second, I was disgusted because I thought their fight was stupid and unnecessary.  ”Y’all are really fighting because Brooke said she would break up a physical altercation between Jackie and Draya [Howard] that hadn’t even happened!?  Stop it.”  I digress.

Maybe some of you can tell me how it is that some black women who cry foul about ratchet black women on reality TV were hollering, “Yes, girl!” and “I know that’s right!” when Jill Scott sang, “I’m ‘bout to take my earrings off, [and] get me some Vaseline!” on “Gettin’ in the Way” (Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds Vol. 1, 2000).  Now, let me be clear.  I’m not comparing Jill Scott to Brooke or Jackie, per se.  I’m suggesting that an analysis of black women’s reactions to ratchet in its various contexts, manifolds, and appearances is much-needed, because inter-textuality and thus positionality are everything.  Jill Scott is a beautiful singer/songwriter with topics in her catalogue ranging from you-tryin’-to-steal-my-man-so-I’m-‘bout-to-beat-yo’-ass to my-man-love-me-and-can’t-nobody-tell-me-nothin’ to almost everything in-between.  She’s complex, opaque, and talented.  However, none of that really mattered when she lyrically threatened to beat the shit out of another black woman for crossing that line.  I wonder if she thought about that when she leveled her own Twitter critique of ratchet black women on reality TV.

This makes me ask:  Which forms of ratchet are acceptable and which are not?  The ratchet sure to flow from the women on All My Babies’ Mamas is probably not okay with Davis and her supporters, because, after all, these women are just babies’ mamas.  They’re nothing more than some child’s mama.  Not only that, they each procreated with some tattooed, gold-mouthed rapper who became famous for an ass-shaking anthem called “Laffy Taffy” (Down for Life, 2005).  The ratchet that flows from The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) is also probably unacceptable, because, after all, those women are nothing but so-called fashionistas that pull each other’s hair over he-said-she-said gossip and who-said-what-on-Twitter beefs.  And the ratchet flowing from BBW is probably unacceptable, because, after all, those women are nothing but gold diggers who sleep with basketball players for money.

However, those of us who actually watch these shows know that’s not completely true.  We don’t know much about the women on All My Babies’ Mamas yet, but we do know something about the other ratchet black women on these shows.  We already knew Kandi Burruss of RHOA is a successful singer/songwriter from her days with R&B group Xscape.  But we know from watching the show that she has parlayed her celebrity into a successful web series (Kandi Koated Nights), boutique (TAGS), and pleasure products company (Bedroom Kandi).  We know from watching Malaysia Pargo of BBW: LA that she launched her Three Beats jewelry line last year, and donates part of the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club in Watts/Willowbrook, CA where she grew up.  Why don’t they get a pass from Davis for their ratchet behaviors?  They actually are successful by their own standards.  So am I.  Would the privilege that my Ph.D. affords me grant me a pass from Davis?  My privileged place of employment?  My heterosexual privilege?

Cooper asks a very important question in her essay,  “(Un)Clutching My Mother’s Pearls, or Ratchetness and the Residue of Respectability”:  “Are any of us winning in a scenario where respectable and ratchet are the only two options?”  My answer is emphatically, no.  I would not only not be winning, I wouldn’t even exist!  Black women are complex, and I don’t think many of the existing conversations about ratchetness reflect that.  Davis says that “mean, gold-digging women” come to her mind when she thinks about ratchet.  Well, not mine.  Not necessarily.  Sure, ratchet sometimes entails that.  However, sometimes, it doesn’t.  I’m not so sure I’d really aspire to fit what I perceive to be such a narrow construction of “success” anyway.  I think I’d much rather define “successful” and “ratchet” on my own damn terms.  I’m done being policed—by other black women and everyone else.


CC3A3359Heidi R. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College. Her teaching and research focus on feminist theory, gender and sexuality, Black Studies, Critical Media Studies, Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, social justice, and activism. Her essay “An Examination of the Kanye West’s Higher Education Trilogy” is featured in The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, and her article “Let Me Just Taste You: Li’l Wayne and Rap’s Politics of Cunnlingus” is forthcoming in the Journal of Popular Culture. She is currently in the process of completing articles that examine Rihanna’s “Pour It Up,” as well as FX’s The Shield. She has given talks at Kim Bevill’s Gender and the Brain Conference, the Frauenkreise Projekt in Berlin, the Educating Children of Color Summit, the Sankofa Lecture Series, the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, the Gender and Media Spring Convocation at Ohio University, and the Conference for Pre-Tenure Women at Purdue University, where she earned a Ph.D. in American Studies (2011) and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies (2008). Heidi has also been a contributor to Mark Anthony Neal’s NewBlackManNPR’s “Here and Now,” KOAA news in Colorado Springs, and KRCC radio (the Southeastern Colorado NPR affiliate), and she was featured as a Racialicious Crush of the Week.” She and her husband, Antonio, live in Colorado Springs with their two children, AJ and Chase, and their cat Max. Learn more by following Heidi on Twitter at @therealphdmommy and by visiting her FemGeniuses website.

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44 Responses to Exhuming the Ratchet before it’s Buried

  1. Tiffany Wilkins on January 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Dear Dr. Lewis,

    AMAZING ARTICLE! AMAZING ARGUMENT! Im writing a reflexive paper, preparing to defend next year, and I look at gender and sexuality binaries in the black community; my work looks at how college access for lgbtq teens of color in predominantly black secondary schools is hindered as a result. My reflections are on my own experiences with this and how to communicate this in such a way that it can be understood then combating by the black community as a whole; education for kids of color is a big priority in our community but some young ppl are being left out if this struggle, and Im hoping to change that.

    Your article got me back to writing! I just wanted to reach out to say thanks because anytime anybody black talks about anything black and includes sexuality it opens up that dialogue to be inclusive of what is considered “unspeakable” in our community. And it does hurt. There is a degree of respectability surrounding ratchet that lgbtq blacks cannot claim even as it is reveiled; to be lgbtq is FAR worse! And there are no passes despite the privilege surrounding my pursuit of a doctorate and the professoriate.

    Anyway, it was wonderful to read your article, and I am seriously considering attending that symposium; my mentor is an esteemed alum! Just texted her about it!

    My best,
    Tiffany

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you, Tiffany, for reading AND sharing! I am so looking forward to the conversation you’ll begin!!! Keep at it!! I remember those hurdles all too well. =D

  2. Tiffany Wilkins on January 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Dear Dr. Lewis,

    AMAZING ARTICLE! AMAZING ARGUMENT! Im writing a reflexive paper, preparing to defend next year, and I look at gender and sexuality binaries in the black community; my work looks at how college access for lgbtq teens of color in predominantly black secondary schools is hindered as a result. My reflections are on my own experiences with this and how to communicate this in such a way that it can be understood then combating by the black community as a whole; education for kids of color is a big priority in our community but some young ppl are being left out if this struggle, and Im hoping to change that.

    Your article got me back to writing! I just wanted to reach out to say thanks because anytime anybody black talks about anything black and includes sexuality it opens up that dialogue to be inclusive of what is considered “unspeakable” in our community. And it does hurt. There is a degree of respectability surrounding ratchet that lgbtq blacks cannot claim even as it is reveiled; to be lgbtq is FAR worse! And there are no passes despite the privilege surrounding my pursuit of a doctorate and the professoriate.

    Anyway, it was wonderful to read your article, and I am seriously considering attending that symposium; my mentor is an esteemed alum! Just texted her about it!

    My best,
    Tiffany

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you, Tiffany, for reading AND sharing! I am so looking forward to the conversation you’ll begin!!! Keep at it!! I remember those hurdles all too well. =D

  3. Tiffany Wilkins on January 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Dear Dr. Lewis,

    AMAZING ARTICLE! AMAZING ARGUMENT! Im writing a reflexive paper, preparing to defend next year, and I look at gender and sexuality binaries in the black community; my work looks at how college access for lgbtq teens of color in predominantly black secondary schools is hindered as a result. My reflections are on my own experiences with this and how to communicate this in such a way that it can be understood then combating by the black community as a whole; education for kids of color is a big priority in our community but some young ppl are being left out if this struggle, and Im hoping to change that.

    Your article got me back to writing! I just wanted to reach out to say thanks because anytime anybody black talks about anything black and includes sexuality it opens up that dialogue to be inclusive of what is considered “unspeakable” in our community. And it does hurt. There is a degree of respectability surrounding ratchet that lgbtq blacks cannot claim even as it is reveiled; to be lgbtq is FAR worse! And there are no passes despite the privilege surrounding my pursuit of a doctorate and the professoriate.

    Anyway, it was wonderful to read your article, and I am seriously considering attending that symposium; my mentor is an esteemed alum! Just texted her about it!

    My best,
    Tiffany

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you, Tiffany, for reading AND sharing! I am so looking forward to the conversation you’ll begin!!! Keep at it!! I remember those hurdles all too well. =D

  4. Tiffany Wilkins on January 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Dear Dr. Lewis,

    AMAZING ARTICLE! AMAZING ARGUMENT! Im writing a reflexive paper, preparing to defend next year, and I look at gender and sexuality binaries in the black community; my work looks at how college access for lgbtq teens of color in predominantly black secondary schools is hindered as a result. My reflections are on my own experiences with this and how to communicate this in such a way that it can be understood then combating by the black community as a whole; education for kids of color is a big priority in our community but some young ppl are being left out if this struggle, and Im hoping to change that.

    Your article got me back to writing! I just wanted to reach out to say thanks because anytime anybody black talks about anything black and includes sexuality it opens up that dialogue to be inclusive of what is considered “unspeakable” in our community. And it does hurt. There is a degree of respectability surrounding ratchet that lgbtq blacks cannot claim even as it is reveiled; to be lgbtq is FAR worse! And there are no passes despite the privilege surrounding my pursuit of a doctorate and the professoriate.

    Anyway, it was wonderful to read your article, and I am seriously considering attending that symposium; my mentor is an esteemed alum! Just texted her about it!

    My best,
    Tiffany

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Thank you, Tiffany, for reading AND sharing! I am so looking forward to the conversation you’ll begin!!! Keep at it!! I remember those hurdles all too well. =D

  5. Claire Oberon Garcia on January 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Dear Professor Lewis~ Thank you for calling attention to the real and unfortunately persistent problem with the controversy surrounding this particular reality show and the concept of “ratchet”: the false and constraining binaries that obscure black women’s complex lived realities. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, Claire, for reading and commenting!

  6. Claire Oberon Garcia on January 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Dear Professor Lewis~ Thank you for calling attention to the real and unfortunately persistent problem with the controversy surrounding this particular reality show and the concept of “ratchet”: the false and constraining binaries that obscure black women’s complex lived realities. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, Claire, for reading and commenting!

  7. Claire Oberon Garcia on January 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Dear Professor Lewis~ Thank you for calling attention to the real and unfortunately persistent problem with the controversy surrounding this particular reality show and the concept of “ratchet”: the false and constraining binaries that obscure black women’s complex lived realities. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, Claire, for reading and commenting!

  8. Claire Oberon Garcia on January 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Dear Professor Lewis~ Thank you for calling attention to the real and unfortunately persistent problem with the controversy surrounding this particular reality show and the concept of “ratchet”: the false and constraining binaries that obscure black women’s complex lived realities. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, Claire, for reading and commenting!

  9. Cherina B on January 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a wonderful piece! I truly appreciate this dialogue being opened up to all. The “ratchet” v. “successful & respectable” dichotomy is not one that we seem to be able to escape. Black women have always been cast in these roles when in reality as you so eloquently state many of us hold both narratives inside of us and act upon them at different times. To be quite honest I am reminded through this whole discussion of the “madonna” v. “whore” dichotomy. This is the most recent incarnation and one that we (women in general, black women in particular) can never seem to escape. The world is not a binary as much as humans would like to believe so, nature and thus personalities are a messy, beautiful mix of seemingly contradictory parts.

    I think that the embracing of “ratchet” culture among many of my friends is that we finally see a representation of a part of ourselves that is not polite nor can be neatly tucked away and furthermore if success is measured by access & money then these women have achieved it in many ways. When black women stop policing each other and recognize that there is a place for all of our incarnations then we can really move forward. Until that day though I will continue to live a seemingly schizophrenic life and put on my pearls and cardigan by day and my heels, tight-barely there outfits and black girl attitude by night while shaking my ass to Trinidad James and general stripper music by night.

  10. Cherina B on January 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a wonderful piece! I truly appreciate this dialogue being opened up to all. The “ratchet” v. “successful & respectable” dichotomy is not one that we seem to be able to escape. Black women have always been cast in these roles when in reality as you so eloquently state many of us hold both narratives inside of us and act upon them at different times. To be quite honest I am reminded through this whole discussion of the “madonna” v. “whore” dichotomy. This is the most recent incarnation and one that we (women in general, black women in particular) can never seem to escape. The world is not a binary as much as humans would like to believe so, nature and thus personalities are a messy, beautiful mix of seemingly contradictory parts.

    I think that the embracing of “ratchet” culture among many of my friends is that we finally see a representation of a part of ourselves that is not polite nor can be neatly tucked away and furthermore if success is measured by access & money then these women have achieved it in many ways. When black women stop policing each other and recognize that there is a place for all of our incarnations then we can really move forward. Until that day though I will continue to live a seemingly schizophrenic life and put on my pearls and cardigan by day and my heels, tight-barely there outfits and black girl attitude by night while shaking my ass to Trinidad James and general stripper music by night.

  11. Cherina B on January 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a wonderful piece! I truly appreciate this dialogue being opened up to all. The “ratchet” v. “successful & respectable” dichotomy is not one that we seem to be able to escape. Black women have always been cast in these roles when in reality as you so eloquently state many of us hold both narratives inside of us and act upon them at different times. To be quite honest I am reminded through this whole discussion of the “madonna” v. “whore” dichotomy. This is the most recent incarnation and one that we (women in general, black women in particular) can never seem to escape. The world is not a binary as much as humans would like to believe so, nature and thus personalities are a messy, beautiful mix of seemingly contradictory parts.

    I think that the embracing of “ratchet” culture among many of my friends is that we finally see a representation of a part of ourselves that is not polite nor can be neatly tucked away and furthermore if success is measured by access & money then these women have achieved it in many ways. When black women stop policing each other and recognize that there is a place for all of our incarnations then we can really move forward. Until that day though I will continue to live a seemingly schizophrenic life and put on my pearls and cardigan by day and my heels, tight-barely there outfits and black girl attitude by night while shaking my ass to Trinidad James and general stripper music by night.

  12. Cherina B on January 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a wonderful piece! I truly appreciate this dialogue being opened up to all. The “ratchet” v. “successful & respectable” dichotomy is not one that we seem to be able to escape. Black women have always been cast in these roles when in reality as you so eloquently state many of us hold both narratives inside of us and act upon them at different times. To be quite honest I am reminded through this whole discussion of the “madonna” v. “whore” dichotomy. This is the most recent incarnation and one that we (women in general, black women in particular) can never seem to escape. The world is not a binary as much as humans would like to believe so, nature and thus personalities are a messy, beautiful mix of seemingly contradictory parts.

    I think that the embracing of “ratchet” culture among many of my friends is that we finally see a representation of a part of ourselves that is not polite nor can be neatly tucked away and furthermore if success is measured by access & money then these women have achieved it in many ways. When black women stop policing each other and recognize that there is a place for all of our incarnations then we can really move forward. Until that day though I will continue to live a seemingly schizophrenic life and put on my pearls and cardigan by day and my heels, tight-barely there outfits and black girl attitude by night while shaking my ass to Trinidad James and general stripper music by night.

  13. Anne on January 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I visit Feminist Wire often and am always glad to read the commentaries, so I was glad to read such a prolific piece by such a talented sister. Just as importantly, however, was my introduction to this new reality show on Oxygen. I’d never heard of this “baby mama” show until now and because of it I’ve read numerous pieces posted on the web. The show is absolutely unbelievable. Even though the YouTube video has been blocked by NBC due to copyright regulations, I was still able to locate an online video and am appalled at what I saw. I am a professor at an HBCU, and am constantly talking to & with my students (the young ladies and young men) about being socially responsible, public images, stereotypes, etc. in our communities, on television, etc. This show, however, is one which I hope they never, ever get to see. I truly hope that the petition drive re. the show’s cancellation has an impact and this wretched show gets the boot.

    Perhaps the writer and philosopher Franz Fanon had it right when he titled his work: “The Wretched of the Earth.” We all know that he was ahead of his time, but we didn’t know he was THIS ahead. Thanks, Prof. Lewis, for a well-written and timely piece.

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you, Anne, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for calling upon Fanon! As you write, that man was SO far ahead of his time!

  14. Anne on January 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I visit Feminist Wire often and am always glad to read the commentaries, so I was glad to read such a prolific piece by such a talented sister. Just as importantly, however, was my introduction to this new reality show on Oxygen. I’d never heard of this “baby mama” show until now and because of it I’ve read numerous pieces posted on the web. The show is absolutely unbelievable. Even though the YouTube video has been blocked by NBC due to copyright regulations, I was still able to locate an online video and am appalled at what I saw. I am a professor at an HBCU, and am constantly talking to & with my students (the young ladies and young men) about being socially responsible, public images, stereotypes, etc. in our communities, on television, etc. This show, however, is one which I hope they never, ever get to see. I truly hope that the petition drive re. the show’s cancellation has an impact and this wretched show gets the boot.

    Perhaps the writer and philosopher Franz Fanon had it right when he titled his work: “The Wretched of the Earth.” We all know that he was ahead of his time, but we didn’t know he was THIS ahead. Thanks, Prof. Lewis, for a well-written and timely piece.

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you, Anne, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for calling upon Fanon! As you write, that man was SO far ahead of his time!

  15. Anne on January 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I visit Feminist Wire often and am always glad to read the commentaries, so I was glad to read such a prolific piece by such a talented sister. Just as importantly, however, was my introduction to this new reality show on Oxygen. I’d never heard of this “baby mama” show until now and because of it I’ve read numerous pieces posted on the web. The show is absolutely unbelievable. Even though the YouTube video has been blocked by NBC due to copyright regulations, I was still able to locate an online video and am appalled at what I saw. I am a professor at an HBCU, and am constantly talking to & with my students (the young ladies and young men) about being socially responsible, public images, stereotypes, etc. in our communities, on television, etc. This show, however, is one which I hope they never, ever get to see. I truly hope that the petition drive re. the show’s cancellation has an impact and this wretched show gets the boot.

    Perhaps the writer and philosopher Franz Fanon had it right when he titled his work: “The Wretched of the Earth.” We all know that he was ahead of his time, but we didn’t know he was THIS ahead. Thanks, Prof. Lewis, for a well-written and timely piece.

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you, Anne, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for calling upon Fanon! As you write, that man was SO far ahead of his time!

  16. Anne on January 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I visit Feminist Wire often and am always glad to read the commentaries, so I was glad to read such a prolific piece by such a talented sister. Just as importantly, however, was my introduction to this new reality show on Oxygen. I’d never heard of this “baby mama” show until now and because of it I’ve read numerous pieces posted on the web. The show is absolutely unbelievable. Even though the YouTube video has been blocked by NBC due to copyright regulations, I was still able to locate an online video and am appalled at what I saw. I am a professor at an HBCU, and am constantly talking to & with my students (the young ladies and young men) about being socially responsible, public images, stereotypes, etc. in our communities, on television, etc. This show, however, is one which I hope they never, ever get to see. I truly hope that the petition drive re. the show’s cancellation has an impact and this wretched show gets the boot.

    Perhaps the writer and philosopher Franz Fanon had it right when he titled his work: “The Wretched of the Earth.” We all know that he was ahead of his time, but we didn’t know he was THIS ahead. Thanks, Prof. Lewis, for a well-written and timely piece.

    • Heidi R. Lewis on January 8, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you, Anne, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for calling upon Fanon! As you write, that man was SO far ahead of his time!

  17. Gwendoline Y. Fortune on January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Dr. Lewis,
    I avoided this discussion for several days. A former acaemic, and ‘elder,” I have stopped making an effort to comprehend the latest generation of “my people.” I taught history, social science and sociiology , tenured, retired,,. How about study into the perceptions and assessments of elders, like me” on what I term the enfolding of everyone into the “dumbing-down of the culture.

    I mean no disrespect. As an interdisciplinary “change agent” I understand change. My question is, how far, deep, and long will the current momentum (ratchet) continue until there is a reversal in the cycle–the “J” curve? I refer to the historical tendency of the movement upward of mass culture that, eventually, overtakes what some call “haute culture.”
    Thank you for an interesting view.

  18. Gwendoline Y. Fortune on January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Dr. Lewis,
    I avoided this discussion for several days. A former acaemic, and ‘elder,” I have stopped making an effort to comprehend the latest generation of “my people.” I taught history, social science and sociiology , tenured, retired,,. How about study into the perceptions and assessments of elders, like me” on what I term the enfolding of everyone into the “dumbing-down of the culture.

    I mean no disrespect. As an interdisciplinary “change agent” I understand change. My question is, how far, deep, and long will the current momentum (ratchet) continue until there is a reversal in the cycle–the “J” curve? I refer to the historical tendency of the movement upward of mass culture that, eventually, overtakes what some call “haute culture.”
    Thank you for an interesting view.

  19. Gwendoline Y. Fortune on January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Dr. Lewis,
    I avoided this discussion for several days. A former acaemic, and ‘elder,” I have stopped making an effort to comprehend the latest generation of “my people.” I taught history, social science and sociiology , tenured, retired,,. How about study into the perceptions and assessments of elders, like me” on what I term the enfolding of everyone into the “dumbing-down of the culture.

    I mean no disrespect. As an interdisciplinary “change agent” I understand change. My question is, how far, deep, and long will the current momentum (ratchet) continue until there is a reversal in the cycle–the “J” curve? I refer to the historical tendency of the movement upward of mass culture that, eventually, overtakes what some call “haute culture.”
    Thank you for an interesting view.

  20. Gwendoline Y. Fortune on January 10, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Dr. Lewis,
    I avoided this discussion for several days. A former acaemic, and ‘elder,” I have stopped making an effort to comprehend the latest generation of “my people.” I taught history, social science and sociiology , tenured, retired,,. How about study into the perceptions and assessments of elders, like me” on what I term the enfolding of everyone into the “dumbing-down of the culture.

    I mean no disrespect. As an interdisciplinary “change agent” I understand change. My question is, how far, deep, and long will the current momentum (ratchet) continue until there is a reversal in the cycle–the “J” curve? I refer to the historical tendency of the movement upward of mass culture that, eventually, overtakes what some call “haute culture.”
    Thank you for an interesting view.

  21. mr.know A. lilbit on January 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    well im in l.a. and the ratchet is real, it grew beyond the “negative film covered stereotype” of black women in the sub culture i live in. full of trust-fund white 20 somethings along with their asain chicano and black counterparts who are all in a lump called scenesters like hipsters but go from scene to scene and leave once it becomes a mainstream trend and it gets picked up by the trendsters who then feed it to the main stream (all that to say) the way scenesters use ratchet is they way was used at the birth of the word. and they tend to set the tone of the culture of the population, so you see tweens that look like hanna montanna talking about “lets get ratchet!!!” only because its what their cool cousin becca says when playing “trap” wile shes over to visit… ive seen so many women use it to i.d. the feeling of being wild and letting go acting out (now not saying they do anything wrong or unhealthy) but what goes on in the black culture is nit picking and name calling and shit talking so “oh she ratchet” has a totally different meaning a negative one so when black people who see a person acting a fool and know the word they use it to categorize those they see as that (ratchet) its not the word thats the issue its a black word a young black word but how black people are programmed anything good to normal ends up negative down the line but i think the dropping of the ball happens between those black that are hood and have friends who are black and are better off they teach those “highclass” people new words but when the highclass people use them they put that border (that separates the 2 classes of black) and they put it on thick so you hear 2 well off sistas talking and the see a hood sista looking free doing her own thing but its “distasteful and unapproved by whitewashed eyes” and one says oooooh she ratchet, and the other one “gets” what it means and tells it to other uppidy sistas who then burn this new definition into its “proper black definition” and then hood black people hear it used in this new way knowing or not of the original form and then use it to seem “higher class” then its just lost!!!! i know a person who is programmed by tv everything she says and wears eats and everything is from tv she now uses the word constantly so i know its now in the american lexicon with the wrong definition and ill just say “the situation” and snookie and they whole squad is ratchet as ratchet can be in both definitions of the word but i think black people mess up and only use it for black females “the power is in the people who know how to use the words and make them mean something” cuz really ratchets are the triangle teeth that let things move one way and not the other… but really has anyone ever did a recap of words we black people have remade its just sad when we let go of the wheel and blame the car when it crashes… we should all GET ratchet and let RATCHETS be no matter, their way of life is for the living so let em live peace everyone have a great day/night

  22. mr.know A. lilbit on January 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    well im in l.a. and the ratchet is real, it grew beyond the “negative film covered stereotype” of black women in the sub culture i live in. full of trust-fund white 20 somethings along with their asain chicano and black counterparts who are all in a lump called scenesters like hipsters but go from scene to scene and leave once it becomes a mainstream trend and it gets picked up by the trendsters who then feed it to the main stream (all that to say) the way scenesters use ratchet is they way was used at the birth of the word. and they tend to set the tone of the culture of the population, so you see tweens that look like hanna montanna talking about “lets get ratchet!!!” only because its what their cool cousin becca says when playing “trap” wile shes over to visit… ive seen so many women use it to i.d. the feeling of being wild and letting go acting out (now not saying they do anything wrong or unhealthy) but what goes on in the black culture is nit picking and name calling and shit talking so “oh she ratchet” has a totally different meaning a negative one so when black people who see a person acting a fool and know the word they use it to categorize those they see as that (ratchet) its not the word thats the issue its a black word a young black word but how black people are programmed anything good to normal ends up negative down the line but i think the dropping of the ball happens between those black that are hood and have friends who are black and are better off they teach those “highclass” people new words but when the highclass people use them they put that border (that separates the 2 classes of black) and they put it on thick so you hear 2 well off sistas talking and the see a hood sista looking free doing her own thing but its “distasteful and unapproved by whitewashed eyes” and one says oooooh she ratchet, and the other one “gets” what it means and tells it to other uppidy sistas who then burn this new definition into its “proper black definition” and then hood black people hear it used in this new way knowing or not of the original form and then use it to seem “higher class” then its just lost!!!! i know a person who is programmed by tv everything she says and wears eats and everything is from tv she now uses the word constantly so i know its now in the american lexicon with the wrong definition and ill just say “the situation” and snookie and they whole squad is ratchet as ratchet can be in both definitions of the word but i think black people mess up and only use it for black females “the power is in the people who know how to use the words and make them mean something” cuz really ratchets are the triangle teeth that let things move one way and not the other… but really has anyone ever did a recap of words we black people have remade its just sad when we let go of the wheel and blame the car when it crashes… we should all GET ratchet and let RATCHETS be no matter, their way of life is for the living so let em live peace everyone have a great day/night

  23. mr.know A. lilbit on January 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    well im in l.a. and the ratchet is real, it grew beyond the “negative film covered stereotype” of black women in the sub culture i live in. full of trust-fund white 20 somethings along with their asain chicano and black counterparts who are all in a lump called scenesters like hipsters but go from scene to scene and leave once it becomes a mainstream trend and it gets picked up by the trendsters who then feed it to the main stream (all that to say) the way scenesters use ratchet is they way was used at the birth of the word. and they tend to set the tone of the culture of the population, so you see tweens that look like hanna montanna talking about “lets get ratchet!!!” only because its what their cool cousin becca says when playing “trap” wile shes over to visit… ive seen so many women use it to i.d. the feeling of being wild and letting go acting out (now not saying they do anything wrong or unhealthy) but what goes on in the black culture is nit picking and name calling and shit talking so “oh she ratchet” has a totally different meaning a negative one so when black people who see a person acting a fool and know the word they use it to categorize those they see as that (ratchet) its not the word thats the issue its a black word a young black word but how black people are programmed anything good to normal ends up negative down the line but i think the dropping of the ball happens between those black that are hood and have friends who are black and are better off they teach those “highclass” people new words but when the highclass people use them they put that border (that separates the 2 classes of black) and they put it on thick so you hear 2 well off sistas talking and the see a hood sista looking free doing her own thing but its “distasteful and unapproved by whitewashed eyes” and one says oooooh she ratchet, and the other one “gets” what it means and tells it to other uppidy sistas who then burn this new definition into its “proper black definition” and then hood black people hear it used in this new way knowing or not of the original form and then use it to seem “higher class” then its just lost!!!! i know a person who is programmed by tv everything she says and wears eats and everything is from tv she now uses the word constantly so i know its now in the american lexicon with the wrong definition and ill just say “the situation” and snookie and they whole squad is ratchet as ratchet can be in both definitions of the word but i think black people mess up and only use it for black females “the power is in the people who know how to use the words and make them mean something” cuz really ratchets are the triangle teeth that let things move one way and not the other… but really has anyone ever did a recap of words we black people have remade its just sad when we let go of the wheel and blame the car when it crashes… we should all GET ratchet and let RATCHETS be no matter, their way of life is for the living so let em live peace everyone have a great day/night

  24. mr.know A. lilbit on January 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    well im in l.a. and the ratchet is real, it grew beyond the “negative film covered stereotype” of black women in the sub culture i live in. full of trust-fund white 20 somethings along with their asain chicano and black counterparts who are all in a lump called scenesters like hipsters but go from scene to scene and leave once it becomes a mainstream trend and it gets picked up by the trendsters who then feed it to the main stream (all that to say) the way scenesters use ratchet is they way was used at the birth of the word. and they tend to set the tone of the culture of the population, so you see tweens that look like hanna montanna talking about “lets get ratchet!!!” only because its what their cool cousin becca says when playing “trap” wile shes over to visit… ive seen so many women use it to i.d. the feeling of being wild and letting go acting out (now not saying they do anything wrong or unhealthy) but what goes on in the black culture is nit picking and name calling and shit talking so “oh she ratchet” has a totally different meaning a negative one so when black people who see a person acting a fool and know the word they use it to categorize those they see as that (ratchet) its not the word thats the issue its a black word a young black word but how black people are programmed anything good to normal ends up negative down the line but i think the dropping of the ball happens between those black that are hood and have friends who are black and are better off they teach those “highclass” people new words but when the highclass people use them they put that border (that separates the 2 classes of black) and they put it on thick so you hear 2 well off sistas talking and the see a hood sista looking free doing her own thing but its “distasteful and unapproved by whitewashed eyes” and one says oooooh she ratchet, and the other one “gets” what it means and tells it to other uppidy sistas who then burn this new definition into its “proper black definition” and then hood black people hear it used in this new way knowing or not of the original form and then use it to seem “higher class” then its just lost!!!! i know a person who is programmed by tv everything she says and wears eats and everything is from tv she now uses the word constantly so i know its now in the american lexicon with the wrong definition and ill just say “the situation” and snookie and they whole squad is ratchet as ratchet can be in both definitions of the word but i think black people mess up and only use it for black females “the power is in the people who know how to use the words and make them mean something” cuz really ratchets are the triangle teeth that let things move one way and not the other… but really has anyone ever did a recap of words we black people have remade its just sad when we let go of the wheel and blame the car when it crashes… we should all GET ratchet and let RATCHETS be no matter, their way of life is for the living so let em live peace everyone have a great day/night

  25. Sherrema on January 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Hello Heidi,

    I meant to comment on this back when I posted it on my FB page a few weeks ago and I apologize for my lateness in doing so. I really liked this article for a few reasons. First, I appreciated that you unpacked the term ‘ratchet’, discussing its relatively short history and how it was quickly co-opted from being about partying and “going hard” to becoming a pejorative term with long historical roots concerning black women. I think it’s important to talk about words when they enter the lexicon and the dangers they hold when they become labels about women or people of color or both. I think your article does this quite effectively.

    Second, by the time I reached the article’s end (both times I read it), I was struck by the fact that once again, black women find themselves, their bodies, and their successes always already politicized in a way that white women don’t have to experience. I believe to some extent all women in general find themselves, their careers, aspirations, behaviors, beliefs, ways of dressing (on and on ad nauseum) politicized but these politicizations (if that’s even a word) quickly become stacked against black women. For instance (and these are just musings), has the word ‘ratchet’ ever been used to label a white woman? For that matter, if any of Shawty Lo’s baby mamas were white, would the white baby mama(s) also be considered ‘ratchet’ by default or would there be a special word reserved for her/them? (The old term ‘n*****-lover’ comes to mind.) These are the dangers concerning words when they are used in this manner because they quickly leap from being sexist to racist. Or vice versa. Or perhaps there’s no leap to be made when they come as flip sides of the same coin; they are both sexist AND racist. Not classist though since even wealthy black women get these labels right alongside poor black women. (Even the term ‘baby mama’ was originally reserved for black women until whites appropriated it, most famously in the movie of the same name, written by and starring Tina Fey. Ironically, the term was now shaped by humor. Of course, the original baby mamas had been invisible and their challenges no laughing matter until a white woman co-opted the term and made millions.) As you pointed out in your article, the labels fly so thick and fast, black women who do not see themselves in these labels do not have the luxury of ‘checking out’ or truly self-creating because they’re left wondering where they fit in and what labels others are always already placing on them. Those who have become successful by their own standards but who have also publicly worn the badge of ‘ratchet’ or had the label placed on them get their successes ignored (i.e., Kandi Burruss, Malaysia Pargo, etc.). These successful women instead become shaped by the media and people’s narrow opinions – or the crawl space in the mind, as one woman put it in Patricia Hill Collins’s book, Black Sexual Politics – about black women. (And of course there’s the ol’ chicken and the egg problem: are people’s narrow opinions shaped by media or is media shaped by people’s narrow opinions? Could be a mixture of both but that’s a whole other discussion.)

    Finally, I came away thinking of how what I would call ‘real women’s lives’ get neatly packaged in small boxes with words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘baby mamas’ and ‘gold-diggers’ and instead of viewers being able to see themselves or learn a little bit about how the ‘other half’ lives, these women’s stories get boycotted and trampled and their bodies paraded and labeled.

    Thanks for writing about this, Heidi, and I did read your article about L’il Wayne and cunnilingus. (As you said, Ooooweeee! ;o) I had a few take-aways from that one as well, namely musings that if enough feminist writers wrote about L’il Wayne, would that actually make him take notice of his own sexism? Probly not since writing about ‘ho’s’ brings more money. (Labels again.) Still, I think it’s useful to critique his and others’ work, whether or not they’re paying attention because the rest of us are and that’s how great discussions get started. They objectify women all the time with their gaze. By turning the gaze back on them, we can co-opt that objectification and make something useful out of it.

    Keep up the great writing, Heidi! I appreciate your work.

    ~ Sherrema

  26. Sherrema on January 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Hello Heidi,

    I meant to comment on this back when I posted it on my FB page a few weeks ago and I apologize for my lateness in doing so. I really liked this article for a few reasons. First, I appreciated that you unpacked the term ‘ratchet’, discussing its relatively short history and how it was quickly co-opted from being about partying and “going hard” to becoming a pejorative term with long historical roots concerning black women. I think it’s important to talk about words when they enter the lexicon and the dangers they hold when they become labels about women or people of color or both. I think your article does this quite effectively.

    Second, by the time I reached the article’s end (both times I read it), I was struck by the fact that once again, black women find themselves, their bodies, and their successes always already politicized in a way that white women don’t have to experience. I believe to some extent all women in general find themselves, their careers, aspirations, behaviors, beliefs, ways of dressing (on and on ad nauseum) politicized but these politicizations (if that’s even a word) quickly become stacked against black women. For instance (and these are just musings), has the word ‘ratchet’ ever been used to label a white woman? For that matter, if any of Shawty Lo’s baby mamas were white, would the white baby mama(s) also be considered ‘ratchet’ by default or would there be a special word reserved for her/them? (The old term ‘n*****-lover’ comes to mind.) These are the dangers concerning words when they are used in this manner because they quickly leap from being sexist to racist. Or vice versa. Or perhaps there’s no leap to be made when they come as flip sides of the same coin; they are both sexist AND racist. Not classist though since even wealthy black women get these labels right alongside poor black women. (Even the term ‘baby mama’ was originally reserved for black women until whites appropriated it, most famously in the movie of the same name, written by and starring Tina Fey. Ironically, the term was now shaped by humor. Of course, the original baby mamas had been invisible and their challenges no laughing matter until a white woman co-opted the term and made millions.) As you pointed out in your article, the labels fly so thick and fast, black women who do not see themselves in these labels do not have the luxury of ‘checking out’ or truly self-creating because they’re left wondering where they fit in and what labels others are always already placing on them. Those who have become successful by their own standards but who have also publicly worn the badge of ‘ratchet’ or had the label placed on them get their successes ignored (i.e., Kandi Burruss, Malaysia Pargo, etc.). These successful women instead become shaped by the media and people’s narrow opinions – or the crawl space in the mind, as one woman put it in Patricia Hill Collins’s book, Black Sexual Politics – about black women. (And of course there’s the ol’ chicken and the egg problem: are people’s narrow opinions shaped by media or is media shaped by people’s narrow opinions? Could be a mixture of both but that’s a whole other discussion.)

    Finally, I came away thinking of how what I would call ‘real women’s lives’ get neatly packaged in small boxes with words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘baby mamas’ and ‘gold-diggers’ and instead of viewers being able to see themselves or learn a little bit about how the ‘other half’ lives, these women’s stories get boycotted and trampled and their bodies paraded and labeled.

    Thanks for writing about this, Heidi, and I did read your article about L’il Wayne and cunnilingus. (As you said, Ooooweeee! ;o) I had a few take-aways from that one as well, namely musings that if enough feminist writers wrote about L’il Wayne, would that actually make him take notice of his own sexism? Probly not since writing about ‘ho’s’ brings more money. (Labels again.) Still, I think it’s useful to critique his and others’ work, whether or not they’re paying attention because the rest of us are and that’s how great discussions get started. They objectify women all the time with their gaze. By turning the gaze back on them, we can co-opt that objectification and make something useful out of it.

    Keep up the great writing, Heidi! I appreciate your work.

    ~ Sherrema

  27. Sherrema on January 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Hello Heidi,

    I meant to comment on this back when I posted it on my FB page a few weeks ago and I apologize for my lateness in doing so. I really liked this article for a few reasons. First, I appreciated that you unpacked the term ‘ratchet’, discussing its relatively short history and how it was quickly co-opted from being about partying and “going hard” to becoming a pejorative term with long historical roots concerning black women. I think it’s important to talk about words when they enter the lexicon and the dangers they hold when they become labels about women or people of color or both. I think your article does this quite effectively.

    Second, by the time I reached the article’s end (both times I read it), I was struck by the fact that once again, black women find themselves, their bodies, and their successes always already politicized in a way that white women don’t have to experience. I believe to some extent all women in general find themselves, their careers, aspirations, behaviors, beliefs, ways of dressing (on and on ad nauseum) politicized but these politicizations (if that’s even a word) quickly become stacked against black women. For instance (and these are just musings), has the word ‘ratchet’ ever been used to label a white woman? For that matter, if any of Shawty Lo’s baby mamas were white, would the white baby mama(s) also be considered ‘ratchet’ by default or would there be a special word reserved for her/them? (The old term ‘n*****-lover’ comes to mind.) These are the dangers concerning words when they are used in this manner because they quickly leap from being sexist to racist. Or vice versa. Or perhaps there’s no leap to be made when they come as flip sides of the same coin; they are both sexist AND racist. Not classist though since even wealthy black women get these labels right alongside poor black women. (Even the term ‘baby mama’ was originally reserved for black women until whites appropriated it, most famously in the movie of the same name, written by and starring Tina Fey. Ironically, the term was now shaped by humor. Of course, the original baby mamas had been invisible and their challenges no laughing matter until a white woman co-opted the term and made millions.) As you pointed out in your article, the labels fly so thick and fast, black women who do not see themselves in these labels do not have the luxury of ‘checking out’ or truly self-creating because they’re left wondering where they fit in and what labels others are always already placing on them. Those who have become successful by their own standards but who have also publicly worn the badge of ‘ratchet’ or had the label placed on them get their successes ignored (i.e., Kandi Burruss, Malaysia Pargo, etc.). These successful women instead become shaped by the media and people’s narrow opinions – or the crawl space in the mind, as one woman put it in Patricia Hill Collins’s book, Black Sexual Politics – about black women. (And of course there’s the ol’ chicken and the egg problem: are people’s narrow opinions shaped by media or is media shaped by people’s narrow opinions? Could be a mixture of both but that’s a whole other discussion.)

    Finally, I came away thinking of how what I would call ‘real women’s lives’ get neatly packaged in small boxes with words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘baby mamas’ and ‘gold-diggers’ and instead of viewers being able to see themselves or learn a little bit about how the ‘other half’ lives, these women’s stories get boycotted and trampled and their bodies paraded and labeled.

    Thanks for writing about this, Heidi, and I did read your article about L’il Wayne and cunnilingus. (As you said, Ooooweeee! ;o) I had a few take-aways from that one as well, namely musings that if enough feminist writers wrote about L’il Wayne, would that actually make him take notice of his own sexism? Probly not since writing about ‘ho’s’ brings more money. (Labels again.) Still, I think it’s useful to critique his and others’ work, whether or not they’re paying attention because the rest of us are and that’s how great discussions get started. They objectify women all the time with their gaze. By turning the gaze back on them, we can co-opt that objectification and make something useful out of it.

    Keep up the great writing, Heidi! I appreciate your work.

    ~ Sherrema

  28. Sherrema on January 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Hello Heidi,

    I meant to comment on this back when I posted it on my FB page a few weeks ago and I apologize for my lateness in doing so. I really liked this article for a few reasons. First, I appreciated that you unpacked the term ‘ratchet’, discussing its relatively short history and how it was quickly co-opted from being about partying and “going hard” to becoming a pejorative term with long historical roots concerning black women. I think it’s important to talk about words when they enter the lexicon and the dangers they hold when they become labels about women or people of color or both. I think your article does this quite effectively.

    Second, by the time I reached the article’s end (both times I read it), I was struck by the fact that once again, black women find themselves, their bodies, and their successes always already politicized in a way that white women don’t have to experience. I believe to some extent all women in general find themselves, their careers, aspirations, behaviors, beliefs, ways of dressing (on and on ad nauseum) politicized but these politicizations (if that’s even a word) quickly become stacked against black women. For instance (and these are just musings), has the word ‘ratchet’ ever been used to label a white woman? For that matter, if any of Shawty Lo’s baby mamas were white, would the white baby mama(s) also be considered ‘ratchet’ by default or would there be a special word reserved for her/them? (The old term ‘n*****-lover’ comes to mind.) These are the dangers concerning words when they are used in this manner because they quickly leap from being sexist to racist. Or vice versa. Or perhaps there’s no leap to be made when they come as flip sides of the same coin; they are both sexist AND racist. Not classist though since even wealthy black women get these labels right alongside poor black women. (Even the term ‘baby mama’ was originally reserved for black women until whites appropriated it, most famously in the movie of the same name, written by and starring Tina Fey. Ironically, the term was now shaped by humor. Of course, the original baby mamas had been invisible and their challenges no laughing matter until a white woman co-opted the term and made millions.) As you pointed out in your article, the labels fly so thick and fast, black women who do not see themselves in these labels do not have the luxury of ‘checking out’ or truly self-creating because they’re left wondering where they fit in and what labels others are always already placing on them. Those who have become successful by their own standards but who have also publicly worn the badge of ‘ratchet’ or had the label placed on them get their successes ignored (i.e., Kandi Burruss, Malaysia Pargo, etc.). These successful women instead become shaped by the media and people’s narrow opinions – or the crawl space in the mind, as one woman put it in Patricia Hill Collins’s book, Black Sexual Politics – about black women. (And of course there’s the ol’ chicken and the egg problem: are people’s narrow opinions shaped by media or is media shaped by people’s narrow opinions? Could be a mixture of both but that’s a whole other discussion.)

    Finally, I came away thinking of how what I would call ‘real women’s lives’ get neatly packaged in small boxes with words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘baby mamas’ and ‘gold-diggers’ and instead of viewers being able to see themselves or learn a little bit about how the ‘other half’ lives, these women’s stories get boycotted and trampled and their bodies paraded and labeled.

    Thanks for writing about this, Heidi, and I did read your article about L’il Wayne and cunnilingus. (As you said, Ooooweeee! ;o) I had a few take-aways from that one as well, namely musings that if enough feminist writers wrote about L’il Wayne, would that actually make him take notice of his own sexism? Probly not since writing about ‘ho’s’ brings more money. (Labels again.) Still, I think it’s useful to critique his and others’ work, whether or not they’re paying attention because the rest of us are and that’s how great discussions get started. They objectify women all the time with their gaze. By turning the gaze back on them, we can co-opt that objectification and make something useful out of it.

    Keep up the great writing, Heidi! I appreciate your work.

    ~ Sherrema

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Arts & Culture

  • I’ve Got Something To Say About This: A Survival Incantation Kate Rushin
credit/copyright: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

    Kate Rushin: I see the whole thing played out. I’m bludgeoned, bloody, raped. My story is reduced to filler buried in the back of the paper, on page 49, and I say, “No. No way.”

  • what is left M. Nzadi Keita
photograph: ©Elizabeth Ho

    M. Nzadi Keita: what you remember/ starts with a smile/ a raw edge/ a single snip/ from the someone dead

  • Praise to the Writer Toni Cade Bambara,
Southern Collective of African American Writers (SCAAW), 1988
©Susan J. Ross

    Alice Lovelace: Toni Cade made an art of living/ Toni stood and we were lifted
Toni spoke and our lives were saved/ Toni listened and we were validated/ She is the breast that fed our union/ Hers’ was the womb of our nourishment.

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