Hillary Clinton, Angry Black Women & Questioning The Appropriate Imagery Of Tragedy

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what words? And which picture? Is the tragedy of the attacks of Mumbai best expressed by the inconsolable grief of Moshe Holtzberg, held by a friend of his slain parents while his grandparents grieve? Or by the horrifying, arresting pictures of those who died last week? Latoya Peterson of Racialicious and I might agree that both Caucasians and people of color deserve the same treatment, but we disagree about what that treatment should be. In the meantime, we wonder why Hillary Clinton is giving up her Senate seat and agree heartily that black women are not a monolithic entity, even when it comes to gay men, homophobia and insecurity.

MEGAN: Welcome to another grey, rainy D.C. morning. This did not help me drag my ass out of bed.

LATOYA: Yeah, the bed was strangely warm this morning. Ah well — I'll throw on some T.I. and that will get me started. In the meantime, have you been watching what's going on in Mumbai?

MEGAN: Yeah, what a terrible long weekend.

LATOYA: Understatement. The coverage was horrifying. Not just from a fucking asshole terrorist standpoint. But also from a "how do we cover things that go down in other nations" standpoint? I got emails all weekend from readers (of Racialicious) about the way this attack has been treated.

MEGAN: Well, "how do we cover things that do down in another nation on a holiday weekend" standpoint, I think.

LATOYA: No, this is a bit different. Did you watch any of the TV coverage? Lots of shots of the blood on the floor. Bleeding people being dragged to safety. While normally, if we are covering something that happens in the west, we only shoot the building, and shots of people and their families.

MEGAN: I hardly ever watch TV coverage of anything, honestly, and particularly not network coverage.

LATOYA: Maybe a destroyed item, like a bombed car.

MEGAN: Actually, I have a huge problem with not showing injured people.

LATOYA: We show more respect to the human casualties. Why do you have a problem with it?

MEGAN: Because I think that when we minimize the effects of violence, we minimize it's impact. I criticized the media a lot in the wake of the Bhutto assassination for sanitizing the violence. I don't agree that we shouldn't show white people, but I think we should show all of it. What turned people against Vietnam? Seeing the truth of violence.

LATOYA: Perhaps. And yet... we wrote about this before. Tami contributed a piece called "The Brown and the Dead" which focused on the discrepancy of coverage given.

MEGAN: Violence shouldn't be some pretty, sanitized ballet of bullets in the movie, or some cold, bluish corpse with a well-designed fake wound on CSI. That's just porn, practically. Show it. Make people recoil in horror.

LATOYA: She writes:

According to the Huffington Post, a CNN spokesperson, defending the news outlet’s work in Burma, said “the enormity of the story” merited showing corpses. What are the chances that CNN will show the broken bodies of the 22 people killed in twisters that plowed across the central United States this weekend, y’know so we get “the enormity of the story?” We did not need to see graphic footage of victims to understand the enormity of Oklahoma City or 9/11. I do remember seeing some footage of the dead in Katrina–not as graphic as the Myanmar coverage–but we all know those folks weren’t American anyway, they were “refugees.” (Tongue firmly in cheek, here.)

Now, I am normally for releasing the less sanitized version of historical events. It's one of those reasons people don't know what the fuck a lynching actually was. It's been sanitized. But the glaring discrepancy is odd, to say the least.

MEGAN: I think we did need to see the broken bodies on 9/11. Did you watch the French documentary they aired on CBS a year later? It was the first news coverage to deal honestly with the people throwing themselves out of the windows. No, I agree, I think people should be forced to confront the reality of what violence does to people. I just don't think the way to reduce the discrepancy between showing it abroad and here is best served by reducing the honesty of our coverage abroad.

LATOYA: Maybe. But as it stands currently, news outlets alter their footage as a sign of respect to the deceased — a courtesy that they do not extend to all the victims.

MEGAN: But, for the record, the media sanitized the shit out of the bombing in Pakistan.

LATOYA: For Bhutto, right?

MEGAN: I would put quotes around "respect." I don't think the only way to be respectful of someones death is to pump their body full of chemicals and plaster it with makeup and set it in a coffin.

LATOYA: Not surprising. She was a friend of the West — did you miss the retrospectives?

MEGAN: Gosh, I must have stopped paying attention in between looking at photos of the other people her assassins killed and writing about how the media was sanitizing it for our collective right to not have to look at dead people. Though, to point out, blood on the floor and bleeding, but still live, victims are generally considered fair game, as news coverage of 9/11 and Oklahoma City and, if I recall correctly, the Olympic bombing showed.

LATOYA: There's looking and there's gawking, Megan.

MEGAN: I'm not disagreeing with the thesis, but I want it all. I want people to see what we really do to one another. I want to de-mystify, and de-romanticize violence. Let people gawk! Make them look! This is what I think was so effective about war coverage in Vietnam — it was the violence wrought upon us and by us that made people think, wow, maybe war isn't a good thing. Maybe Communism isn't the worst thing in the world, maybe this is.

LATOYA: Perhaps. There's some "not encouraging serial killers" logic for that that I remember from Forensics class, but I'd rather head back into the land of the living.

MEGAN: Yeah, if we're going to talk foreign stuff, we should probably mention that Hillary's nomination goes live at 10:40 this morning. And although the New York Daily News is reporting she turned down the chair of the Appropriations Committee for it, there is no way on God's green earth that she was offered the Chair of the committee. She was probably offered a chair on the committee, that I can see, but she's not going to get hosed because of seniority issues on the HELP Committee and then get chair of Approps.

LATOYA: True, true. To be honest, I'm still kind of wondering what drew her to that post.

MEGAN: Maybe it's true that when the President asks you can't turn it down? Although, I sort of assume it's about the feeling that she could make a real difference in the world there, as opposed to waiting another 15 years for people to die in the Senate to get the opportunity.

LATOYA: But there are a lot of positions where one can make a difference. Why Secretary of State?

MEGAN: And possibly a sense that, given its history, by the time she has enough seniority to make a difference, the balance of power might have swung back to Republicans. It's a mindset most partisan politicians don't have. They always think they'll be in power forever (see: the 20 House Republican retirements this cycle).

LATOYA: Hmm...

MEGAN: Well, Secretary of State was what was offered. It's high up in the line of succession. It's got the most autonomy of any of the agencies, and the most ability to set policy. It's the only agency that requires approval of its actions, rather than legislation to push an agenda in the first place.

LATOYA: I also wonder what she and Condi will talk about in the debriefing.

MEGAN: Plus, if you look at the things she talked about in terms of her pre-Senate political achievements, what did she always mention? Her speech to the UN women's conference in China. She's really obviously (and rightly) proud of that. I think that's sort of telling.

LATOYA: Hmm — this will be an interesting cabinet to watch, to say the least.

MEGAN: Totally. Condi might have gotten Glamour's Woman of the Year award this year for her work at State on women's issues, but I have a feeling that Hillary might trump those achievements.

LATOYA: I can see the headlines now: "Hillary vs. Taliban — It's Personal, bitches!"

MEGAN: Oh, God. Well, if we want to talk inflammatory headlines, want to talk about how black women, pissed that they aren't married, helped pass Prop 8 in California?

Marriage can be a sore subject for black women in general. According to 2007 Census Bureau data, black women are the least likely of all women to be married and the most likely to be divorced. Women who can’t find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other.

LATOYA: Hahahahahaha. I was just going to mention that. Yup, we are all just a bunch of lonely haters.

MEGAN: As an unmarried woman, although not black, I just want to say: I don't want to marry a gay man, thanks.

LATOYA: Teh gayz took all teh menz, so we took our revenge at the ballot box.

MEGAN: What, your mom didn't tell you to get a man you need to have a penis? Even a fake one? My mom got me one for my Sweet Sixteen so I could get me a husband.

LATOYA: Though, I must admit — after all the prop 8 madness, I was more amused than angered at his conclusions.

First, comparing the struggles of legalizing interracial marriage with those to legalize gay marriage is a bad idea. Many black women do not seem to be big fans of interracial marriage either. They’re the least likely of all groups to intermarry, and many don’t look kindly on the black men who intermarry at nearly three times the rate that they do, according to a 2005 study of black intermarriage rates in the Wisconsin Law Review. Wrong reference. Don’t even go there.

Don't even go there? Did homeboy add a two snap in the circle on the end of that?

MEGAN: I believe he did, along with the head roll.

LATOYA: Guuuuuuuuurl....

MEGAN: Also, I love how the subtext of that is "black women are racist" in addition to homophobic.

LATOYA: I told you we're just a bunch of hating harpies. Weren't you watching those two specials on blackness? Now, I can only remember the What About Our Daughters' site take on the two shows. They retitled them "Black Women, it sucks to be you" and "Black women, it doesn't suck to be you, it just feels like it." I'm personally hating the race based hand wringing over this one.

MEGAN: Well, if they had been titled that, viewership probably would have been higher.

LATOYA: Ha — true! But back to prop 8 — I just love how people were so quick to fall back on stereotypes to justify an end. It becomes one of those moments when you hear shit like "black women are against homosexual marriage" and I have to ask "and which black women are you talking to?"

MEGAN: What, black women aren't a monolithic entity?

LATOYA: Oh right, I forgot. There's just a whole lot of us "exceptions" who are counted separately. Bullshit.

MEGAN: You are not allowed to be different people for difference reasons! It's too complex!

LATOYA: The worst part of all this is that legitimate tactics, organizing, and information sharing is getting obscured by all the sensationalist shit. Like this little tidbit:

More specifically, blacks overwhelmingly say that homosexuality isn’t morally acceptable. So many black men hide their sexual orientations and engage in risky behavior. This has resulted in large part in black women’s becoming the fastest-growing group of people with H.I.V. In a 2003 study of H.I.V.-infected people, 34 percent of infected black men said they had sex with both men and women, while only 6 percent of infected black women thought their partners were bisexual. Tragic. (In contrast, only 13 percent of the white men in the study said they had sex with both men and women, while 14 percent of the white women said that they knew their partners were bisexual.)

MEGAN: White bisexual men lie about it, too. Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.

LATOYA: Now, an argument could be made that homosexuality is less accepted in minority communities for various reasons — the specter of masculinity, religious affinity, etc.

MEGAN: The specter of being a multiple-minority.

LATOYA: That too. And if that is the case, we need to be supporting the people within our own communities who deal with these issues and help them to spread their message. Because that's where these battles are ultimately fought — person to person.

MEGAN: I think everyone knows that the LGBT community's outreach — particularly on Prop 8 — to the African-American community was lacking in general.

LATOYA: That it was. They also didn't humanize their cause.

MEGAN: Where was Jesse Jackson? Where were the televised confabs?

LATOYA: I remember seeing ads featuring a straight couple to drive home the point about gay marriage.

MEGAN: The homophobes' ads were really well done and devastating.

LATOYA: They couldn't get Wanda Sykes? I loved Wanda's message. I didn't see any of the protect marriage stuff, but I did see Wanda's speech, which was awesome.

MEGAN: Totally. I mean, if you're targeting the message, target it. I'd bet Whoopi would have done one, too. Get every black icon to do one.

LATOYA: I do hear the "why do gays have to flaunt their lifestyle" b.s. And Wanda was like "hell, I was just living my life. Then this shit happened."

MEGAN: Because they're having anal in the streets now? Bitch, please. They're not "flaunting their lifestyle" any more than any other couples who hold hands and shit.

LATOYA: I know. How dare you act like heteros with your damn hand holding and affection?

MEGAN: Why must you make me think of your penis! By holding hands with another man, all I can think about is your strong, throbbing cock penetrating his quivering asshole! You pervert! Stop holding hands!

LATOYA: Wasn't that Mary J. Blige who said homophobia was the dumbest shit ever?

MEGAN: It's only dumb if you are confident in your own sexuality.

LATOYA: I remember reading an interview where she was like "What difference does it make to you what another man is doing? It's like you're unsure of yourself — and if you're unsure about that, you're unsure about a lot of things in your life." Well, I guess it's like we were talking about before, with sanitizing history. Rights are hard won.

MEGAN: If you don't see it, it doesn't exist?

LATOYA: And there are always going to be idiots on the wrong side of history.

MEGAN: Of every color.

LATOYA: Word.