Sunday, January 5, 2014

0 The Apologetic Body | Bodies of Critique, Respectability, and Resistance

            In the words of acclaimed writer Dream Hampton, the anatomy of an apology is as follows: 1)I’m sorry, 2) Here’s my understanding of how I hurt you. 3) I will never do that again. Various PR blogs expand upon this idea by stating  it is important to note tone/intent, delivery, and actions to follow. Apologies are a mainstay in our culture and we often hold popular and powerful figures to the same acts of penance that we expect from our close friends and family. I understand this phenomenon. Celebrities and pundits and politicians alike are responsible as cultural influences. They carry with them platforms to create, defend and critique seemingly personal opinions and beliefs. When you feel they have offended, I understand the desire to make them apologize. To apologize requires a person to take the blame and shame of committing a wrong or an offense; offering in the end some sort of retribution. But I think we have used apologies to further victimize particular bodies.
            Last week MSNBC political pundit and Tulane University Professor, Melissa Harris Perry hosted an end of the year rap up where a host of comedians were to provide captions to some of the years most iconic photographs. Upon a Romney familyportrait featuring Kieran Romney, the adopted Black grandson to the Former Republican Presidential Candidate, the panel burst into laughter. Actor and performer Pia Glenn alluded to the Sesame Street maxim, “one of these things is not like the other…” and Dean Obeidallah noted it was a analogy for finding a Black person in a Republican National convention. Perry supported and validated these statements citing her personal history with the Mormon faith. Despite her valid interest into the critique the media spiraled into frenzy shaming her and her panel. She immediately apologized via Twitter, then public statement on her show.

In a particularly cutting attack,CNN’s personal Uncle Don Lemon attempts to shame Perry for crossing a line. After pitting his two-person panel against each other, he dives into a commentary about the nature of MSNBC’s critiques of him. In his opening point he mentions he doesn’t respond to them and quotes “the dog is suppose to howl at the moon, the moon isn’t suppose to howl back.” How are we to understand that? How are we to understand his positioning as somehow unavailable to critique? Yet he stands here demanding that of one of his colleagues? Don, for whatever reason, features Marc Lamont Hill who vehemently calls Lemon on his attempted color-blind respectability bullshit. Talk of double standards and context ensue and critiques of comedy and intent remain.
The central aspect of the critique is that we cannot make fun of people’s families, especially their children. This concept of saving our children, or protecting our children (though there seems to be a preference for white or transnational) is a complex and divisive one in America. I, in no way, believe mocking or shaming adoption however it may occur is fair. However, there is a deeper problem here.  As I’ve written before as defense, Perry and her panel were not mocking  the child but calling to light the exploitative nature of transracial adoption. While there must be a myriad of narratives from transracial(and transnational) adoptive families, I have seen and heard particular traumas that these children have faced. The erasure of history and difference, the denial of cultural awareness. But the central issue here is the way Melissa Harris Perry was personally attacked and vilified. The way her “colleagues,” specifically a fellow correspondent of color could dare erase her lived experience and fair critique under some guise of respectable humor or commentary.
While I have the utmost respect for Perry’s apology, its slays me the outcry her comments produced. It slays me that fellow news correspondents demand her resignation. She and her panel simply highlighted whiteness at its core. They highlighted how the diversity discourses place bodies of color at the crux of their narrative. What slays me is how Don Lemon works in this way for whiteness. He works in terms of respectability and aspiration. He works in the notion of colorblind equality. He’s only resistance is that to act of resistance. It is viscerally uncomfortable for him to face the truth of racial difference. But why? How does his token, respectability jargon do? He is a living apology. He apologizes for “under performing Blacks,” for “saggy pants wearing Blacks,” for the echoes of Moynihan Blacks. His apology, though, completely undermines the ways Black bodies and other bodies of color act out their resistance. Melissa Harris Perry resists in the ways she sees fit in the face of her class and education privilege. She calls out her location and still holds herself and panel to the fire on countless episodes. She can critique and praise news media and her work is informative and accessible. (I am not going to question or critique her radicalness because there to understand resistance we must see all forms of it). And here we find her apologizing. It is sincere and heartfelt but in my mind horribly unfair. I would share the video below but I don’t want to reproduce a Black Woman’s shame especially for something so scathingly unfair.

Despite his problems, Lemon’s remarks that we can all learn something about apologies from Perry are unfortunately too accurate. She did not excuse her actions but clearly stated how she understood her defense and reestablished the barrier she intends to not cross. We find in her speech the anatomy of an apology. We find the heart of how to make right a wrong. However, we have too many women of color having to apologize, for being assaulted, for being killed, for protecting their bodies, for protecting their families. We have too many men and men of color demanding such apologies from women. It is ironic then that we on the body of Dream Hampton we find an anatomy of an apology, we find it ironic that the most heartfelt apology of the year so far is that of a Black woman.  We assume certain repentance from these bodies and ridicule them until the apologize for being, for speaking, for demanding, for resisting. . While we should know how to repent for trespasses ; we must be wary who is truly trespassing against us. If there was any doubt #IStandWithMHP and Pia Glenn.

for any feedback, comments or critiques find me on twitter @jayydodd 


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