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This guest post is published as part of our blog series related to the American Studies Association annual meeting November 7-10 in Honolulu. #2019ASA
By L.H. Stallings, author of A Dirty South Manifesto: Sexual Resistance and Imagination in the New South
I am the protector of your dead
my mother is Marie Laveau
my daddy Stagolee
I am the earth shaker
protector of women
do u know me?
“Superhero”—Kelly Norman Ellis
I know my mama prayin’ for me
She don’t like my demons
I know the reaper waiting on me
Let me grab my Adidas
“The Mutha of Tears” BbyMutha
Since beginning this project and submitting the final version to the press, a number of events and incidents have transpired that corroborate why thinking about gender segregation and legal regulation of sexuality in the South away from the lens of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s underdevelopment of racialized women and gender non-conforming persons, through legal rights and moralism, is essential to decolonization and challenging capitalism, anti-blackness, transphobia, and heterosexism.
Despite public conversation around trans rights and transgender culture and communities, transwomen continue to be murdered with little national response. In the South, activists called for action and remembrance of the dead: Dana Martin, Muhlaysia Booker, Bee Lover Slater, Chyna Gibson, Jazzaline Ware, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Denali Berries Stuckey, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime, and Itali Marlowe.
In March 2019, Candice Russell, a reproductive justice activist wrote an online blog accusing Willie Parker—the noted abortion provider and advocate for access to abortion as a moral right—of using his position in the movement to sexually coerce and intimidate women. Despite the strong and steady development of reproductive justice organizations, numerous, forced pregnancy bills were introduced throughout the south. ARC-Southeast (Access Reproductive Care-Southeast) continued strong mobilization efforts, while Planned Parenthood removed President Leana Wen over strategies being used to combat attacks on the organization. On a positive note, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 199, a sexual assault bill that incorporates language about individual’s right to revoke consent during sex, which finally allowed challenges to a 1979 precedent that established what has been known as the “Loophole of Consent”– if actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s initial consent, then accused is not guilty of rape….” Earlier this year, NC Roy Cooper had signed an executive order banning any state funding for conversion therapy on minors. These incidents and events also further reveal the speed at which gender and sexual violence that is epistemic and physical can move: faster than the pace at which they can be addressed, challenged, impeded, ceased, or stopped. Faster than the pace it takes to heal from historical and present-day assaults. Assaults that are both spectacular and ordinary, predictable and unexpected. Therefore, an offense or defense that can deliver the wretched and the ratchet from a system intent on their demise must also address how to heal and recover from the everyday aggressions that can lessen the will to resist.
In the realm of southern girl hip-hop, Missy Elliott returned with Iconology; fully clothed Rhapsody topped charts and received a ton of critical acclaim for her release of Eve, what Rolling Stones labeled as a” masterpiece of hip-hop feminism”; City Girls and Megan Thee Stallion topped charts, provided much joy, pleasure, and bad bitchery. Undoubtedly, however, the less-radio friendly, corporately viable words and performances of Chattanooga, TN rapper Britnee Moore aka BbyMutha signaled a clarion call that signifies the rough messiness of gender and sexual resistance in the New South. Itmost notably underlines the approach A Dirty South Manifesto needed to take to address the complications of addressing gender and sexual freedom without public support via legislation or funding of radical organizations, due in large part to concerns around morality and religious freedom.
In the video for BbyMutha’s “Rules,” BbyMutha raps moving from a hallway and to a possible classroom-like setting of a sparsely furnished building hallways Around her, young black women and men, queer and hetero, cis, gender non-conforming, and trans, dance with and on each other. They also play children’s hand games. They post up in the classroom, some sitting at desks reading J. Trembles erotic fiction or Adam Schorder’s war fiction, as others play guitar, drink brown liquor, smoke weed, and listen to BbyMutha school them on the rules as she stands in front of a blackboard rapping. For me the video signifies, the less formal modes of education taking place in the south to train liberators how to center community, pleasure, and learning in resistance and the care of self and others. This alternative space apparatus replaces black counterpublics of churches and HBCUs. BbyMutha’s voice and approach is not new, as Kelly Norman Ellis’ poem outlines with her attention to earlier black generations of Bad Men and Queer B(?)s in the South who performed similar feats as sacred purpose.
In some societies, there is a time for heroes. In other societies, there has always been a time for tricksters. Hollywood wants you to believe that this is a time for superheroes, but based on everything happening in the New South with regards to gender and sexual resistance, this is undoubtedly a time for tricksters. The epigraphs from Ellis and BbyMutha articulate why my contribution to the American Studies Now Series focuses on the South, as well as demonstrates why I chose to allude to the manifesto genre throughout the book. While BbyMutha’s lyrics capture the danger of disclosing non-heteronormative desire, as well as colonial dehumanization/demonization of what is different and unknown, Ellis’ “Superhero” signifies on Western empire’s secular representations of moral superhuman men. Ellis chooses instead to begin in a sacred belief system that is less binaristic and precedes and evolves alongside Western archetypes of good heroic men and bad villains. Together, these women words remind us that something existed before and something can exist after the legislative foundations of gender, racial, and sexual oppression hierarchies that derive from an white settlers inability to imagine life and living outside of a particular world order. This is a time for manifestos. This is a time for tricksters. Do you know any of them?