Posts Tagged ‘black people’

Why you talk so white?

February 28, 2012

This right here.

via: Maya Wegerif

Beautiful Monster

July 22, 2011

Jeremy Love’s astounding, graphic novel Bayou (volume one) is filled with many not so beautiful monsters: ghosts of Southern racism and tragedy; and beautiful ones, like Bayou—the large, hulking, green-tinged monster of the Mississippi bayou who wonderfully calls on his inner courage to help a new friend in need, even as it jeopardizes his own safety. Admittedly, I am not the biggest reader of graphic novels and while I’ve read entire comic collections, namely: The Far Side and The Boondocks among others—I’d probably read more graphic novels if they were all like Bayou: haunting, achingly familiar and beautifully drawn. I couldn’t get the book out of my mind after I read it the first day: the colours, all the ochres and amber, shades of grey, browns, and moss greens nestled in the dark shadows; the soul of Emmett Till (Billy) with large sunset-tinged wings on his back, and Lee Wagstaff with her pluck and tenacity, reminding me fondly of Liza Lou in some ways, picking her way through the swamp to grandmother’s house. Lee is a well drawn blackgirl character who nicely encapsulates some of the variant tensions of blackgirlhood in the 1930s in the South (and still today in some ways). I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would encourage anyone to read it in print or online. (See Bayou link embeded above. You can thank me later.)

Race, Politricks & Crime in Trinidad & Tobago’s Electoral Debate

May 23, 2010

It’s election time in Trinidad and Tobago right now and it’s been very, very interesting so far, taking stock of the two contending parties. That being said, of course, I have to make the requisite elections post—‘the mother of all elections‘ even, says the Jamaica Observer.

It’s all so fascinating. Pondering all the main issues. The concerns. The relevant “wajang” behaviour newspaper headlines. The discussions being had with and amongst friends and family of mine. The fascinating facebook notes written by friends, popping up in my mini-feed. People in my mini-feed liking Patrick Manning’s latest insipid status updates. The person who did the wack photo edits on certain profile pics on this Kamla Persad Bissessar page in the neck area. I peeped her page the other day and thought, seriously? The woman looks fine, just as she is and the tweaked texture of her chin and neck are not preferable.

(more…)

Truth is stranger than everything else

May 18, 2010

The Bluest Eye by Dan Ramey

Yesterday on facebook, a girl I know posted a status update about watching the first part of the premier of Anderson Cooper’s pilot study revisiting the “doll test,” showing how young children (black and white) start to internalize racialized identities and negative ideas about others of different races (or their very own). A mini convo follows on girl’s facebook page with a few other folks chiming in about also watching said special.  

Then this black guy who I do not know comments, pondering on whether the black and white children’s negative assumptions about people of color–especially the linkages of black people–to crime and fear were in fact justified. He then proceeds to link this outta timing* theory to slavery because since we as black people HAD to be rebellious to become free, maybe it is kind of socially and genetically encoded in us and that’s why black people tend to be criminals, therefore people will assume as much.

Buh wha’ de jail is dis I hearin’? 

(more…)

Chomping at the Bit Wondering: Where have All the Black Vampires Gone?

August 23, 2009

I have been watching True Blood since it premiered, unlike some of the legions of never-see-come-sees out there and while I have never read a single Charlaine Harris book yet—surprisingly. I have skimmed them in a book store and I do think that I would enjoy them very much. About as much or even more than I enjoy the shows which are very entertaining. I also watched and enjoyed all seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so go figure that I would jump at the creation of a new vampire show.

I may not be at all Gothic and stuff but I do love imaginative story-lines and great characters. Ok, and I might be slightly, admittedly emo too. I’ve come to that realization. In a way that a quirky black West Indian feminist with a bit too much internal angst can be—without the requisite Hot Topic staples, dark clothes and strangulated countenance. Alas, but I do love me some black eyeliner. I know I have too much boobies and ass to be emo, swivel too much when I walk apparently and have an affinity for most variations of hot pink. But the whole emotionality thing? So got that. (more…)

Michael and Me

June 26, 2009

I really felt compelled to write something on the advent of Michael Jackson’s passing. Which really hit me. In my life, when I think about Michael — I think about my big brother and the two are inextricably connected for me in a multitude of ways. He is one of the biggest MJ fans I know. While everything I learnt about American and British 80s pop culture, its music and icons — I learnt from my big sis, hearing her play the music when I was little and watching her dress in the fashions of the day.

Everything I learnt about Michael Jackson, his music and that of others from the 90s, before and beyond in pop, rock, rap, conscious, dancehall, calyso, soca and soul — as well as show business and how to recognize the consummate performer — I learnt from my brother. From listening to the “Bad” or “We are the World” LP to watching marathon sessions of “Moonwalker” and “Thriller” on vhs. Or “Michael Jackson Live in Bucharest” from the Dangerous tour. Before it fell apart in tatters, the poster of Michael Jackson on the door of the bedroom that I grew up in — I’d received from my brother.

I had forgotten all about video tapes until a friend of mine from undergrad, who grew up in Ghana, posted his own memory on facebook of seeing “Thriller” for the first time there on video, “through a mosquito net” and I laughed and was reminded of my own childhood. I’ve read “Moonwalk” and probably seen “Smooth Criminal” too many times to count. I had to eat my words as I watched my brother moonwalk across the carpet of our house in Trinidad after doubting that he could. In socks! On carpet! Guess all that practice and attention to detail paid off after all.

I used to cringe when my friends were educated in the artistry of Michael by my brother sometimes, when they came over but I grew to love Michael Jackson because, I grew up with him, about as much as I grew up with my brother. My friends in turn, learnt a lot about Michael, whether they wanted to or not. So, Michael Jackson reminds me of childhood and the reach and span of American pop culture around the world. He and other symbols of American music and culture embody so much of  what I love about pop culture and reminds me why I like to write about it, read about it and learn about it so much. Both the good and the bad aspects of it.

Any one who knows my brother can attest that he is one of the biggest Michael fans in Trinidad. Also a serious movie and music buff. One of the coolest people I know, a sometimes quiet, thoughtful fella — who always looks out for those he loves. No one brought my brother out of his shell growing-up, like Michael Jackson’s music and talking about the talent that he was. As a lover of great music across genres, I was (and still am) a little sister, basking in the recommendation of anything by my big brother. I am as big a Michael fan that I am today, largely due to him. So I was contemplating various angles to undertake when I thought about writing this.

Obviously I’ve been contesting with all the MJ naysayers in the facebook world and I wanted to talk about that, what that means, if anything. Secretly pleased to see how many people I know are as touched by his passing as I was. Legitimized that I am not an anomaly. Legitimized that some of the most negative people I know of, [NOT friends of mine but acquaintances] have the worst things to say about someone, on the eve of their death, via online communities, as though they know nothing about speaking ill of the dead.  These are the kinds of people who wear negative vibes like a shroud around them, so much so, that Michael Jackson is the least of their concern — not that much outside their realm is. Who you are sensitive toward in your life that you know personally, doesn’t impress me much (that’s okay though), it’s who you are compassionate toward that you don’t know, now that’s most telling.

Thanks to many branches of American media, to be part of a community of persons who love and appreciate Michael’s art was equated with some kind of freakishness. The man and his genius became nothing more than a caricature to some people. Some people from a certain generation —  their only understanding of the man’s legacy? Through a Katt Williams routine. If I never hear “wacko jacko” again, it’ll be one of the things making me happy. So will a certain someone’s spirit, resting easily now, rejoice too with happiness in this knowing, I am sure.

Now, on to the naysayers who probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway. About the extortion-plots, the child abuse charges — I’ve been a one-woman rallying cry amongst some of the people that I know personally, pointing them toward articles, encouraging them to get more information and alternate insight into the story. Before anyone starts, no I was not there — neither were you. But I do know that the media bias, the cultural witch-hunt and the mob rampaging after Michael Jackson, never went to any great lengths to paint an accurate portrayal of the extortion angle in the Michael Jackson case, the dubious characteristics of the accuser/s and their parents and their shady past — even though evidence for all this exists.

It was much, much easier to tie someone’s supposed eccentricities to alleged criminal behavior. Not that I think that Michael Jackson is any kind of weirdo at all, though pop cultural discourse loves to paint him that way. Some of the weirdest things — thoughts and habits, go on inside the heads and lives of all of us. All. People like you and me. What’s weird? Wanting to stay a child? I’ve felt that way sometimes. Loving the company of children? I have — at times. Ill-behaved brats, not so much. Not liking what you see in the mirror? Been there, done that. Wanting a cool pet chimp? Ok, maybe not. Monkeys kind of creep me out but I do want a baby pig! And what’s weird anyway? Think about that. Weird I say, not criminal. Not problematic. It’s not all the same thing either. People would police Michael Jackson’s behavior so much that the inane became “weird,” code in MJ-related speak for normal for him — but not us! Everything therefore, was always weird when it came to him. He became a spectacle for the media especially, as though any of the rest of us are fucking normal. Whatever that even means.

Like the boy who cried wolf! The ploy only worked because since actual wolves existed, the fear of a wolf existed and people knew that it was entirely possible for one to eventually appear one day — and it did. But people also lie about awful things all the time. People do. And people also forge all kinds of terrible allegations for money or in the hopes that money (gobs and gobs of it) will be forthcoming, all the time. Child abuse — not unlike wolf! is one of those cries where the fear of such a crime, manifests itself in the awfulness behind even just an implication and the implication alone becomes enough. The mere fact that it was even made in the first place.

We might need to see a wolf first but some things in life require just a hint, a whisper, a creepy consternation in the mind of one or two bad-minded persons. An imagination of the awful takes root in a masquerade of truth. Why was that even said to begin with? — some people say in retaliation. It must be true, they contest. I mean, why is anything ever said? Depends on who’s doing the saying and why. And about what. If we understand more about the boy who cried wolf! (that’s a metaphor folks!) then perhaps we’d understand more about why he said what he said in the first place. And for that story, you have to go look for it and really want to unearth it. That story will not be brought to you by the people who have drawn the “weirdo” line in the sand and are pointing and laughing at the person on the other side from theirs.

Some of the least informed people are the people holding these things to be true most vehemently. Likewise, they tend to be those people who least appreciate Michael Jackson — but love to think that they know more than his supporters who actually got informed about various aspects of the allegations. I started embarking on this piece by looking for an article that I read in Vibe magazine — one of the best articulations that I’d read at the time about Michael, through a lens of deconstructing race.  Got me to thinking too — that piece, saying some of the things that people don’t want to hear. Or think about. Got me thinking about how some black people were upset that he became so-called “white” [not that it’s even possible] — like some of them never wanted to themselves and white people were upset that he had the gall to try.

What do black people really see when they look at him? Do you look past the external? Is the outside, in this case, at all relevant to your view? And what do you think about, if you’re white and you look — really look, at the face of Michael, through that kind of critical-thinking lens: that he’s trying to be you, look like you? That he just hated his nose? Or do you see “a freak?”  Do you try to reconcile this with your sense of self — your people’s history of white dominant values and constructions of beauty? Or do you dare not tread there, just detach yourself and talk about how fucked up he must be? Just him. That man over there with the tweaked nose — The Fucked Up One?

What about you reading this? Have you thought about what you think about Michael Jackson? And why you think what you think?

I was originally tempted to do a retrospective about what his transformation — said about race and identity [topics that concern me].  Then I thought, that maybe now wasn’t the best time to do so. But when is ever a good time really? Seems like never. So here I am, just going with the flow instead, doing a kind of retrospective on the man, his music, race, color, what it means for me in my life — however the heck it flows. And it’s flowing. Here I had been, hopefully waiting for the announcement of US tour dates after Europe [I knew they HAD to be coming] and had told my brother that we would be going, no matter where in the States they were — I’d get us tickets. He’d fly up and we’d go. Might be his last tour. The man’s no spring chicken I thought, never ever expecting this. Thought he’d just kick back in Neverland, enjoying watching his kids grow  up. So much for that. *Inward sad sigh*

Earlier today,  I got a call from a dear primary school friend in Trinidad and we talked about the news, the music, the memories, the sadness. She also reminded me that some people under a certain age just will NOT get any of this at all.  Plus we both understand that some people in the world, just feel like they have to loathe Michael Jackson for whatever reason — any reason or no reason. So we’ll just ignore them and all the folks like them. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the man, the music, the legend, humanitarian, father, brother, son, the memories, the innovator — the icon.

Disclaimer: So as not to field any comments (emails) and feedback from people getting all defensive and shit. Of course, child-abuse is a serious charge and crime; whenever, wherever it occurs. And whomever commits it. I am not contesting that. If you think I am, then you’ve clearly missed the whole point entirely.  

Things to check out:

Please read Mary Fischer’s “Was Michael Jackson Framed: The Untold Story” below, for added perspective that you probably don’t have. You don’t have to be Nancy Drew to connect the dots between the first extortion case and the 2003 charges leading up to the 2005 trial.

http://www.buttonmonkey.com/misc/maryfischer.html

The article I referenced above in my blog was “Black Skin, White Mask” by Karen R. Good from the March 2002 issue of Vibe Magazine. Read the article here at The Michael Jackson fanclub. Short but lovely piece taking on the intricacies of skin color, race and identity—and Michael.

One of the best blogs I’ve surfed onto about Michael Jackson and race, performativity, identity, pop culture, prescribed gender roles, the media–among other things. Do check it out below:

http://orvillelloyddouglas.wordpress.com/2007/09/04/michael-jackson-and-james-blake-a-product-of-north-american-society/

Pan on the Net Radio does a stellar show dedicated to Michael’s memory through sweet pan! Click  above link to take a listen.

I also liked these celebrity responses found at yahoo! in response to Michael Jackson’s death.

John Mayer: “A major strand of our cultural DNA has left us.”

And ?uestlove from The Roots, whose original tweet/post [whatever it was] this morning, when I read it said:  “I just hope that he will get due justice in all the press memorials and whatnot. I know he was mired in controversy the last decade of his life but I think it’s time we let him rest in peace and learn to separate the ART and the ARTIST. That is the MJ I will forever remember. Elvis got revisionist media treatment. I expect the friggin same for my hero.” The version on yahoo! now has the Elvis bit edited out. Interesting.

Poignant and telling MJ quotes from the interview on Oprah in 1993:

About the press: “The press has made up so much…God…awful, horrifying stories…it has made me realize the more often you hear a lie, I mean, you begin to believe it.”

On performing: “Well, on stage for me was home. I was most comfortable on stage but once I got off stage, I was like, very sad.”

On his physical appearance: “No, I’m never pleased with myself. No, I try not to look in the mirror.”

Elizabeth Taylor on the misunderstanding of Michael Jackson: “He is the least weird man I have ever known. He is highly intelligent, shrewd, intuitive, understanding, sympathetic, generous – to almost a fault, of himself.”

Click to read the rest.

The 2005, inteview with Jesse Jackson: “…But what I like to do is help other children who are less fortunate than I am. You know kids who are terminally ill, kids who have diseases, poor children from the inner cities, you know the ghettos, to let them see the mountains, or to let see or go on the rides, or to watch a movie or to have some ice cream or something.”

From the 1999 interview in Britain’s Daily Mirror: “I’d slit my wrists rather than hurt a child. I could never do that.”

Lyrics from “Childhood,” written and composed by Michael Jackson, from the HIStory album, [disk 2] 1995:–

“Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for the world that I
Come from
‘Cause I’ve been looking around
In the lost and found of my heart

No one understands me
They view it as such strange eccentricities
‘Cause I keep kidding around
Like a child, but pardon me

People say I’m not okay
‘Cause I love such elementary things.
It’s been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood
I’ve never known

Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne

Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?”

MJ

John Mayer (el douche) pays tribute.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kX2Vb68egWA]

Retrospective clip from Moonwalker.

Man in the Mirror.

Montage of Michael to the fabulous sounds of Phase II Pan Groove doing “Billy Jean.”

RIP.

Invisible Women [pt 1]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

“I have come to the conclusion that to a lot of people, nothing black girls do is good enough!! They get the blame for everything seem like it!!”–young black girl commenting on the demonizing of black women on a BET message board.

“I am so sick of losers like you putting black women down, like we are the lowest thing on earth.”—black female poster on another popular black message board.

It’s an interesting time to be a black female in America. The difficulties it seems are paramount. What makes it so difficult being black and female in America in this day and age? Well, lots of things. First of all, there are many more mediums out here that do more harm to the representation of black women than good. American pop culture and its ideas are so pervasive too; its images take root and reach all around the globe, far and wide. Think about the implications behind this range of the image of black women and girls, and not just on this continent.

In particular, the position of young black females who view these images (wherever they might be located) is particularly tenuous. It is this group that I am most concerned with as well as not so young ones (smile) like myself. The insistence of the media in various forms and fashions to blatantly ignore the plight of young black women wherever danger befalls them, to consistently fall short in its representation of women of color ends up sending a clear message to young women of color. One that says, you are not valued and you are not important.

If you think this message is not resonating loud and clear in the minds and souls of young black girls, then maybe you should find a cross section of them, sit down with them and see what they have to say. Or perhaps take the time to trawl some message boards where they frequent. Everywhere you go, the message is this same. Young black girls feel increasingly disenfranchised, they feel ugly, unrepresented, unimportant and irrelevant.

While young black girls should not be looking to the media to develop a sense of self worth, they still do so. Teenagers are particularly susceptible. Now there is nothing innately wrong with doing so, if there were balanced healthy images available for them to ingest and if they could consistently view these images with a critical eye. Young people must be actively given the tools with which to develop the skills that will allow them to take in these messages into a more discerning mind. Still, TV and pop culture should not be the sole outlet by any means because we all can see that MTV and BET and the like, seriously fall short.

However my central criticism is that whenever the media does send a message of inadvertent omission (or a consciously direct one), this in and of itself, is a message. One of the most powerful ones of all. If it’s not a message that black people do not exist within a particular space whether it’s as scholars, upper class, intellectuals, middle class, eclectic and so forth, because these images are nowhere near as populous as some of the other kinds. Then it’s one of dismissal. Non recognition and non inclusion makes an equally powerful statement. So it becomes an argument quite beyond that of simple inclusion and visibility. It’s also about those faces and voices that have been seen, felt, heard and still ignored. Maybe because they were not deemed good enough or worthy enough.

The significant thing about the invisibility of black women in some places despite all that I have learnt about race, gender, sexism and the like, is the strange way that I end up internalizing some of it. I feel as though I am less fearful than some of my fair headed and fairer skinned female friends when it comes to certain matters. I am not afraid of The Bad Man (whoever that is), some infernal boogeyman or strange things that go bang in the night. No looking out for suspicious vans with curtains that practically scream “serial killer inside!” But it’s not because I think that I am invincible at all, rather I have, at one time or the other, in a dark parking lot with aforementioned creepy van encroaching thought, “now who would want to grab me?” I suppose I am more fearful of specific people, places and things—more than any mysterious things out there.

Pop cultural discourse on The Serial Killer and Other Scary Things doesn’t ever seem too concerned with trying to make black women look over their shoulder but as a demographic—white women always must. Not just the actual Ted Bundys out there but all these other myriads of scary things out there, primed to get women—white women. The biggest difference we see with this message is when The Serial Killer forays into the world of sex workers or some other group supposedly on the fringes of society—then and only then, does the call to fear and fearfulness usually begin to cross racial lines.

Like Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character in the Scream 2 movie—subtextual messages in certain films, the absence of people of color in many popular horror films or the ease with which they might be decapitated early on, if there are any in the first place—all help contribute toward creating this absurd, twisted bubble of safety that I feel I sometimes exist in. These representations are further compounded by the fact that the black actresses and actor in the second Scream movie were seen by many as a way to save face for the absence of any in the first film. Black women in horror films are clearly dispensable when we even exist to be preyed upon at all.

Invisible Women [pt 2]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

We can connect these images too, to the larger discourse about black women, their desirability when stacked against white women. Macabre perhaps, but in the context of horror films and the larger conversation—clearly significant. By that same token, black women being picked off by a psychopath with a carving knife for example, would be equally problematic. I do not want to be mistaken for coveting more race-specific depictions of violence against women, encouraging it, nor wistful for any.

Rather, I am trying to consider how our social, racial, cultural, historical, political past informs those pop cultural images inside these dark places that we voluntarily want to go to—-like those inside of a scary movie. Even at a relatively young age, when we are supposed to be psyched about safely encountering our fears and having our hair follicles prickle, like inside the pages of the Fear Street books of my youth—these always seemed to feature wide-eyed, white females on the illustrations on the covers.

I know that I am not necessarily safe from anything in this world, but so much of the discourse on certain kinds of violence against women that we hear about, when not committed by someone close to the victim (and sometimes even then), is often portrayed in the media as linked to female desirability. If the victim is physically appealing, you hear about her beauty all the time. The awful media swarm around the JonBenet Ramsey case was always underscored by the little girl’s beauty and her glamorous pageant footage ran endlessly over and over on many news programs. She was portrayed as the tragic little woman-child.

One hardly ever sees accurate linkages to power, control, other systems of oppression, pornography and other factors explored in these kinds of cases. If black women are then considered less desirable, are we any less fearful of certain kinds of violence? Along with films, mainstream media and their news outlets play a large role in the creation of a culture of fear, fear of violence against women, as well as clearly establishing exactly which women need to be fearful. Take for example, the case of Stepha Henry who went missing in May 2007.

Stepha Henry is a great example because I had often heard newscasters espouse the fact that young, attractive women who go missing in America will have a better chance at their story gaining national attention regardless of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance. Race of course conveniently being that factor that was left out and overlooked. So I wondered about Stepha Henry because she was young, about to go to law school and attractive. But then again, she was black. What message does this send to black women in America when her story is initially ignored?

This of course being coupled with the lack of options for diverse representations of black women in the media and entertainment that are positive. Missing black women are at the other end of the spectrum, voiceless, faceless to the masses because of a media that refuses to publicize their tale, forgotten and ignored by all but those who are personally invested in the story. That’s how the media works though. A story only becomes imbued in the public consciousness because of this very media manipulation.

Which is in fact why I can recite so many of the facts of the Natalee Holloway case off the top of my head as I type, little nitty gritty things like she was a straight A student and on her senior trip, she liked to dance, she was about to start university on a full scholarship. This is also why I can in fact get the unique spelling of her name right in the first draft of this piece and not type “Natalie” because I know. I do not know her but I do. She is blonde and young and missing in Aruba. Her disappearance is certainly tragic but I wonder, why wasn’t Stepha Henry afforded the same personalization and coverage? And why (if I am to be honest) am I not surprised? What happens to the other stories of black women who go missing?

Historically, black women have had to deal with a lot, both within our communities and outside of it. Between colorism, slavery and its various legacies: the black mammies on Southern plantations, slave concubines for slave-masters, colonialism, oversexualized stereotypes of black women, the so-called video vixen, good hair vs. bad hair and more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all. The Hottentot Venus exemplified the ways in which perceived black female sexuality was literally dissected and paraded to a curious European populace.

American southern states clearly placed a higher value on the lives and preservation of white women, while the lives and well being of women of color were considered expendable. Southern trees would often bear the fruit of black men who in some cases, refused to accept this disregard for their wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters. Our collective story runs deep and is rife with complexities, some stretching back centuries, some self-imposed, some not, all being part of the rich fabric that is the black female experience. At once beautiful, painful, poignant, enduring and so much more. Yes, so I guess there has never been an easy time to be a black female.

Invisible Women [pt 3]: The Plight of Missing Black Women and the Media

May 14, 2009

The first time I saw anything about the name Stepha Henry was when several friends of mine began joining a group dedicated to her on the social networking site Facebook, and this popped up in my mini feed regularly. If you are unfamiliar with Facebook, I simply refer to a tool on the site that notifies you when your friends do things like join new groups, add new pics and update profiles. Stepha’s cousin, a student in school in Florida, started a group called “My cousin Stepha is missing” and reached out to all of her friends in her school network and beyond and soon the word spread.

Her cousin took it upon herself to start the group in order to help publicize the details surrounding Stepha’s disappearance in the hopes that she would be found. The group’s facebook description inscribed on the front page at its inception, specifically references the media snub on the story with the observation that “unfortunately the news about her missing status is not important enough as Paris Hilton’s jail time escapades.” From early on, it was the internet that helped get the word out about Stepha and not the mainstream media. Unfortunately with the hotel heiress’ arrest dominating the airwaves at this time, it was an especially bad time for any black female to turn up missing. Not that any time is really a good time in America.

Prominent popular Trinidadian soca music artistes on my friends list were in turn, blasting the internet via myspace, sending out bulletins about her with the details about her disappearance, rewards for information, and many placed Stepha’s picture prominently in their default profile pics. Stepha was a US citizen with roots in Trinidad and Tobago and the Trinidadian community in the state of New York. Even before all this happened, my own father (himself an avid purveyor of the US media fear mongering, from his vantage point in the Caribbean) woke me up early one Sunday morning, warning me of the perils of being female and living alone in America, by urging me to be especially careful because of what he had recently read about the “missing Trinidadian college student.”

It would be several weeks before I realized that my dad was in fact, talking about Stepha Henry and several more before I had even heard any whisper of her name through my Facebook mini feed or anywhere. This was largely because it took a while for some of the American news outlets to connect her to her Trinidadian heritage. At least one of the Trinidadian newspapers had reported on the story, posted it in their online edition and followed it from early because she had connections to the island.

Sometime after all this happened, the story took off on the web with media outlets scrambling with PR sound bites explaining why it took them so long to give this story some serious attention and even then, it nowhere nearly matched the coverage of any featured missing white female in the mainstream press. Grassroots mobilization with friends, family and other concerned individuals through the internet did much more for the Stepha Henry story (as far as I can see) than any media affiliation. This kind of mobilization had been taking place before I ever saw any snippet on a major network about her story. Many major news networks were quick to do damage control as soon as bloggers and other observers critiqued the coverage of the Stepha Henry case.

Exploding beyond the person[al]—Stepha became a symbol, prompting frank discussions on race and missing black women and creating a powerful reminder about the perceived value of young black women. We go missing in the night and there is no matching furor, no outpouring of indignation far and wide, except by those concerned and within the community most likely. This creates a kind of universal currency and value for missing white women that women of color do not get. This is why we can all rally around the missing Holloway girl and others like her. We can all connect to the stories of missing white women and girls (which we should) but women of color are never afforded the same coverage, the same universality of human experience, when their stories are even told.

I know nothing more about Stepha Henry other than what I have just written. Yet I know that Natalee was a dancer. I have seen her prom pics on CNN. I have heard testimonials from the mouths of her friends. Coverage time aside, even the way the stories are told when reported are different. Do not think it does not matter. It does. It all matters because it seeps into our consciousness as viewers. In this way, Natalee becomes a full person, more than any statistic and we are all rooting for the Aruban authorities to eventually get to the bottom of this. This can only happen because she is a young white, attractive, blond female and this affords her a particular kind a privilege even in the midst of a missing person mystery and unknown circumstances.

Many in the media went on the defensive with statements online and in print, denying any blatant bias. They tried to rectify a resounding silence that sent an already resounding message loud and clear: black women, we do not care about you. When major media coverage could not be bothered to jump on the case from day one, in fact, yawned in the face of a missing young black college grad and turned to Paris Hilton updates first: a message was sent. As a black female myself, it hurts me to think that I am not as highly valued. Heaven forbid I should go missing one day. Yet still, I trod on and I hold my head high. As we strive from day to day, contemporary black women in a growing changing world, hearing echoes of the past all around us, we have to stay strong and keep going forward. Creating our own currency of self  because we know we are worth it. Even when other people do not.

[an update to this piece: in January 2008, major news outlets were able to report an arrest in the Stepha Henry case.]