Monday, January 30, 2012

The Real Housewives of The Help Go to Africa


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via my best friend gayle by summer of sam on 1/30/12

Hollywood is so full of liberal do-gooders always on the cutting edge. As such, in advance of Black History Month, they have bestowed many acting awards upon members of the cast of The Help, namely Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who both won SAG Awards last night.

Perhaps it was because the embarrassingly entertaining Real Housewives of Atlanta happened to be arguing about how to properly acknowledge one another at the mall at the same time the SAG Awards aired, but Twitter responses to Marlo's desire to eat some African (it's a country, you know) food like fish (what she order?/fish filet?) were briefly interrupted by folks going on and on about the greatness of Viola Davis' acceptance speech. My allegiances are to RHOA, so I googled the speech. Davis looked really nice (those Bassett-esque arms!). Her professional community gave her a standing ovation. She talked about dreams. Shouted out Cicely Tyson and Meryl Streep.

If my feed was any indication, (Black) Twitter really loved this moment. When the most sensible member of RHOA has to be fed a line about apartheid, I can understand the adulation. Juxtaposition compels one to do odd things.

But wait.

Weren't we just mad about this movie three months ago?

Although I tend to think I have the ability to understand contradiction, I'm having some difficulty comprehending the collective embrace of this ambiguity. Many of us criticized--or refused to read--the book. Many of us criticized--or refused to see--the movie. Yet, we laud the speech of an actor who has become a critical darling and gives a speech we deem "brilliant," "wonderful," and "beautiful," precisely because she starred in the very film that we so stringently derided? Um, how does that work?

Perhaps it was the fact that I experienced all of this through social media, but the RHOA/SAG Awards moment was so incredibly odd. On one hand, I'm reading tweets about how embarrassing the former is--a humiliation so integrally tied to context. The twitterati's chagrin was so palpable, you would have thought Nelson Mandela was within earshot of Sheree and Marlo's argument. After all, the RHOA are up to their usual weekly shenanigans, but it's the fact that they're in an apartment in South Africa that makes it all the worse. And we all know you don't play with Africa. It's the Motherland! From whence we came! No jokes nor (n)ignorance allowed. Serious business. Singular and serious focus is required at all times. So much so that we cannot possibly begin to unpack the way in which that kind of grave reverence is based upon a fetishization that is just as problematic as Cynthia's dashiki or Kandi's chosen animal print dress for evening festivities. On the other hand, voices from the same cohort praised Viola Davis' speech. An admiration that required a willing forgetfulness of the vehicle which brought her and her co-star, Octavia Spencer, to that stage last night. An admiration totally divorced from that context. Convenient, really. Inconsistent, truly.

Davis and Spencer are both incredible actors whose talent demands that they consistently star in--and be awarded for--performances that do not require the revivification of old stereotypes. And if it is our claim that Hollywood needs to do better, I'm not sure how we applaud acceptance speeches that don't begin with, "Damn, it sucks who I had to play to get this..." Context is everything. And it is not a convenience. We cannot cringe at the thought that @BravoAndy has watched and will be commenting upon Negroes acting crazy for our entertainment with some Hollywood celebrities (or the owners of RHOA resident house slave, Sweetie, for last night's episode) after we've stopped shaking our heads, then not feel similarly nauseated by the visual of a room full of (white) Hollywood standing and applauding our latest pitch-perfect portrayal of a maid--even if she is dressed to the nines.

Despite the implications of that last line, I say that with a deep respect for Viola Davis' dream and her ability as an actor. My comments, though inspired by, are not about her. But how we applaud her acceptance speech without giving her at least a little Sam Jackson Face is something that perplexes me. (Unless, of course, it's because we had a sneaking suspicion that someone had to tell Mo'Nique who Hattie McDaniel was, and we assumed Viola Davis knew her history all along.)

Clarity regarding the matter would be greatly appreciated.


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The World Can Wait


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via The Crunk Feminist Collective by moyazb on 1/30/12

Members of the CFC smiling for a picture.
Cis and trans* women of color do a lot of work that they don't get paid for. Work at home, work at work, work in our communities, everywhere really. And a lot of it is done out of love. Love for our communities, love for our lovers, and things/people we believe in.There's a saying, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and it has always missed the mark for me because it assumes that we would and do treat ourselves well. Women of color don't always do that. We have a well documented history of doing for others before we do for ourselves. This self-sacrificing martyrdom has its consequences but I'm really interested in the impact it has on each of us.

It seems like we expend so much energy helping and saving others, we have nothing left for ourselves. I see too many of us feed everyone else and forget to eat. In the case of this blog, I've seen us use a lot of energy dealing with negative comments and backlash, finding and becoming resources for those who ask, then end up with little time or reserves left to support each other.

I take inventory from time to time of what posts get the most attention on the blog. Pop culture posts and even more specifically, moments in pop culture when white women do racist things or black men do sexist things get folks all atwitter. To me, this speaks to the gendered racism and racialized sexism that impact many of the cis women of color bloggers here. These posts that rise from our particular stand point are often the ones where we have to do the most work, reminding folks that no, this is not a post racial world and gender, race, and sex are always at work in complex ways. And we want so badly for folks to get it, that we neglect each other and ourselves in the process.

I think because we are so used to an embattled position with folks who wield power over us, we cut corners and are sometimes less patient/more careless with each other. As of late the CFC has taken some hits from other women of color, some deserved, some not, about what and how we write here. I've seen moments of real opportunity for engagement squelched by reactionary stances. I look for models of fierce and loving critique between women of color and I'm saddened by how rare it seems to be.

As I check my own willingness to hear the hard truths about myself, I see another connection to  my thoughts about women of color's labor in the world. Why is it that my self-care to do list is the shortest and the last one I get to? Why do I expend more energy trying to make people understand rather than giving that time to the people who show up for me? Why do I lay claim to allyship when I'm too busy to be present in the ways people ask me to? Honestly, I think I find it easier to deal with someone else's stuff than my own.

Racism, sexism, queer hate? I know how to handle those. I've got my arsenal of feminists theory and lived experience to take them down. By dealing with the world, I can avoid my own places of privilege or the stickiness of issues that don't have such clear power differentials in my life. In an age where internet courage can allow you to rail at any deemed threat through a screen, we still have trouble saying the hard things to the people who are closest to us.

But I want to do better. For me that means not using the continued assaults on marginalized people writ large to shirk my own accountability to myself and fellow marginalized folks who I claim to love. It also means not expending inordinate amounts of energy on people who have no interest in my well-being because it impacts my ability to be there for the folks who love me.So, I'm adopting a new (for me) and modified mantra:

Me and mine first.

The self-care list gets checked first. The work I need to do for myself is next. Then comes the family/friends/loved ones.

The world can wait.


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scrying Nicki Minaj, Stupid Hoe, and #Afrofutures


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via Nuñez Daughter by Kismet Nuñez on 1/29/12

If a video drops in a forest of things that seem to matter a lot–like  fingers waving in presidential faces and self-deportation–does sit make a sound?

Nicki Minaj dropped "Stupid Hoe" last week.

Maybe I'm too old to have my thumb on the relevant spaces in the interwebs, but it seems like the video barely caused a buzz.  Responses from Jezebel, Clutch, and Vibe were mainly negative, complaining about Minaj's use of animalistic imagery, neon colors and her less than creative wordplay.  Black feminists offered mainly negative critique for obvious and perfectly legitimate reasons.  Minaj's challenge to "stupid hoes" included a reference to "nappy-headed hoes" and images of a pale, plastic, Venus Hottentot Barbie.

Me?  Minaj hurts my head.  She perplexes me.  I think of her as Trickster, two-faced in her betrayal of global black feminist possibility and powerful in her contradictory elucidation of black woman's power within the realms of celebrity and hip hop.  Reading her as Ellegua, that frightful guardian of the crossroads and the in-between and the everything-that-is-not-yet seems to fit an artist who switches alter egos as easily as she switches clothes.  Conjuring the ritual and physicality of possession seems to fit a celebrity who changes clothes as she changes personality, putting on her and taking off her tropes as each personality comes down.  The sometimes garish, sometimes delightful carnival of color, glitter and expression–even the repetitive dancehall/house music refrain–also fit a woman whose aesthetic choices continually find their footing in her Trinidadian roots.

In other words, I think of Nicki Minaj as diasporic black, as radical, and as speculative.

A week ago, I would have said she is also afrofuturistic. There is something otherworldly about her ability to pick up and put down masks and characters.  It's more than just having a stage persona.  It's something I see as rooted in a longer black experience of contending with mainstream politics and culture, both of which prefer black female presenting people fit neatly into particular boxes.  Those boxes come in different shapes and sizes.  Some are just bodies, but with bionic booties for your jiggling pleasure.  Others are all-knowing Mammies with wisdom for latently racist white girls.  Still others are cruel, pray-the-gay evangelicals with anger written in hard lines across their faces.

A black gyrl can't walk out the house these days without falling into one of these boxes.  Hell, with Oscar season on top of us, we've seen all of these stereotypes appear in the media, one right after the other, at one point or another, just over the last few weeks.

But I'd argue we've never seen anything like Nicki Minaj–or at least nothing like Minaj and her alters.  What she represents, yes even in all of her problematics and misogyny, what she represents is a black gyrl who has chosen.  She knows she can't walk out the house without falling into one of several boxes.  Which is fine by her because she has a walk-in closet full of handcrafted masks, carved, of course, in the raw material caking the bottom of our worst stereotypes (let's not be wasteful, yall).  And she has decorated and bedazzled and glitter-taped them all and those masks are no longer theirs or yours but her own.  And she doesn't walk out of the house; oh no.  She skips or saunters or "twerks and spins away" according to whichever personality she has decided to put on her head.

I think this is why, in an epic conversation on Twitter with (Kima) @sweat_btwn, (Summer) @fecundmellow, @zero317, @AfroFuturAffair, and (Treva Lindsey) @divafeminist (the conversation, Storified here in full by @sweat_btwn, read away), I suggested Minaj could be read as afrofuturistic.  The conversation that ensued was amazing and hinged on clarifying and articulating what afrofuturism is.

For some of us, to be afrofuturistic meant more than aesthetics or appearance.  It meant contributing to a specific political project part of whose purpose was, in Kima's words:

"abt a politicized body with a specific gaze toward building multiple blk communities in the beyond–beyond the scope of patriarchy or capitalism or racism."  

Octavia Butler was the patron of this powerful vision, key being her ability to articulate the potential of the beyond–and its dangers.  And the ability to imagine and move beyond this world, into other realms, was crucial.

For others, the aesthetics actually were of importance, as was the potential for Minaj to inspire a particular vision, and the right of readers/viewers/fans to use Minaj's project as inspiration for their own afrofuturescapes.  As @AfroFuturistAffair noted:

"…it is political but it is also aesthetics and imagery. she may fit in that sense…"

The conversation lasted for hours, with people coming in and out.  And I hope it continues.

Because I think I'm on the fence now as to whether Minaj is afrofuturistic.  That afrofuturism must be beyond-this-world is valid as shit.  Whether that means into outer space or into the underworld, to be afrofuturistic means being self-aware about what the next day or days will hold–even if the next day or days will be the end of days.  To the extent that Minaj or her alters have a specific gaze toward the future is questionable.

But the underlying assumption behind this definition of afrofuturism is that time is linear and revelatory.  It speaks to a  conception of time that is Anglo-black in its ideal and Judeo-Islamic-Christian in its eloquence.  Time soon come.  Time will be here.  The time is now.

What if the underlying assumption behind this definition of afrofuturism was challenged?  What if, instead of black life and thought (and future) existing in time and on straight, if intersecting, lines–what if it curved?  Webbed?  What if you wore time on your person so that instead of the time is now, time IS now, and then, and later.  What if the moment you are living here is being written of as the moment that will happen and the moment you are just past?

I opened the Storify by saying I see Minaj and moments like these as an afrofuturista.  I do. But I'm also a radical womyn of color who sees the future through the lens of Afrolatinidad. Latinidad has less room for linear time in its conception of the future.  Infused with indigenous elements, the future is happening now and has happened already.  Speculative latinidad, in some ways, is about the inability of being able to call the future what it is, or send the past back.  So that something like "Long Time Ago" by Leslie Marmon Silko (poet and author of Laguno, Pueblo, Mexican, white descent) can resonate as cautionary, prophetic and preemptive all at once:

It's already turned loose.
It's already coming.
It can't be called back.

While speculative latinidad is often placed in the category of magical realism, I wonder if it is also futurist.  I wonder if it's just that speculative/futurist latinidad imaginings are as much about the past as they are about the future.  And if that's the case, and if afrofuturist imaginings are as much about the future as they are about the present, I wonder what Afrolatinidad looks like?

In other words, preoccupied with the slaveholding past and concerned about the racialized future, does an afrofuturist latinidad live at the crossroads between magical realist latinidad and the Afrofuture?*

Engaging with Minaj (and for my black-Puerto Rican, Chicago house music self, this also means engaging with the Caribbean characteristics in her work) forces me to consider ways afrofuturism can include magical realist latinidad and vice versa.  Earlier I said I was on the fence on whether Minaj is afrofuturistic.  Why?  Because she is still very much about, as Summer noted, a hyperhyperpresent, her caricatures being as much about mirroring our own stereotypes as they are about her self-representation.  Hottentot Venus Barbie aside, she also does not seem to be concerned with reevaluating the past-as-prophecy (unless in the Story of Female Emcees Past).  In other words, she is espousing neither a dream nor a nightmare of the future.

But what if she isn't supposed to be the vision?

What if she is just the oracle?  The vessel?  A portent of things to come?

What if she is just the keeper of the crossroads?

She may be what lives at the crossroads between magical realist latinidad and the Afrofuture.  Well, mira, not her (praise Gawd).  But oracle work, scrying, divination.  All  making the act of and attempt to see the future just as important as the past-future seen.  The moment in the present before the past and future separate and becomes siblings as #relevant.

What if at the heart of an afrofuturist latinidad/futurist afrolatinidad is good, ole Second Sight?  And #Obatala?

*Which of course is a project to superimpose ON TOP of pushing latinidad itself to include its own black and African elements.

Filed under: Speak Your Mind, TechnoAfrocats, The Sable Fan Girl, Turn the Volume Up Tagged: afrofuturism, black feminists, bodies, catch a fire, diaspora, feminism, guardian of the crossroads, inspiration, latinegros, media, music, race and racism, rwoc, sex, still brave, TechnoAfrocats, venus hottentot, video


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teach-In - Stand in Solidarity with Tucson

Greetings Good Folks,

I am writing on behalf of Georgians for Freadom, a new collaborative effort designed to respond to the ethnic studies ban in Arizona. We are interested in planning a "Teach In" to educate teachers, students, professors, and community members in Georgia about the AZ ban and about how Georgians can respond. We are a collective of faculty, graduate students, and teachers from Georgia State University, Emory University, Clayton State University, Kennesaw University, and metro Atlanta districts.

Our event is scheduled for February 4th from 11:00am through 2:00pm at Georgia State University's College of Education.  For those of you not in Atlanta or unable to be there with us next Saturday, we will be streaming the Teach-In live, and we are encouraging folks around the country to organize gatherings to watch the stream, discuss, and plan local action.  I will forward the url for our live stream once we get it. 

We are interested in your support for this event and hope you can consider our request.

Overview of Issue:
As you have probably seen, the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona just banned Mexican American studies from their curriculum. They also banned several books from the curriculum, including Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, major contributions to the Chicano(a) studies movement, a book by Rethinking Schools, several books by Sherman Alexie, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities, and even Shakespeare. Teachers may now not teach anything where "race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes." Here's a brief overview if you haven't heard about it yet:   Our Teach-In was even highlighted in Huffington Post yesterday!!:

Overview of our "Teach In":
Attendees will gather for a general session in which we will introduce them to the events in Arizona and the implications for Georgia educators. We have already confirmed four "virtual" guest speakers whose books have been banned in Tucson. These well-known speakers will share their backgrounds and information with the audience. A lunch break will lead into three smaller sessions.

These three groups will include: (1) curricular action, in which participants create lesson plans and activities for PK-12 students on issues of censorship, critical pedagogy, and/or Mexican American history; (2) censored books dialogue, in which participants learn about the books that were banned and the theories contained within them; and (3) legislative overview, in which participants discuss legal implications of the ban in Arizona and around the country. Finally, the group will come back together and discuss responses for higher education, PK-12 schools, and community settings.

How you can help:
In order to proceed with our goals and plans, I hope you can attend the event, spread the word, and let me know if you and/or the organizations for/with whom you work/volunteer/engage in struggles for social justice can offer financial support.

As we need to move quickly on the plans for the event, we hope to hear from you soon. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

In peace,

Jillian Ford, on behalf of Georgians for Freadom

HELPED are those who receive only to give; always in their house will be the circular energy of generosity; and in their hearts a beginning of a new age on Earth: when no keys will be needed to unlock the heart and no locks will be needed on the doors.    ~The Gospel According to Shug [Avery]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way. Or not. AKA I *heart* Mir...

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via QueerBlackFeminist by andreana clay on 1/24/12

I'm just going to come out and tell you right now that I watch endless reruns of Sex and the City. And I'm not ashamed. I have lots of guilty pleasure TV, but Sex and the City is something I will turn on when I'm working, bored, whatever and watch, even if I've seen the episode. Like, five times. Of all the characters, Miranda was, is, my favorite (although the whole 'I'm going to date a Black man, Robert, and NEVER talk about race cause he's just great!' pushed my limits). And, given that the actress that played her, Cynthia Nixon, is apparently as outspoken as her character was, Miranda will always reign supreme.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Obama Comes to Harlem


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via Black Youth Project by Summer M. on 1/23/12

Late last week I caught a little flack for hatin' on Obama's incredibly brief rendition of the Rev. Al Green's classic, "Let's Stay Together." I'm sure you've seen the clip. If not, here: I hear he gave a speech after hitting the falsetto. Of course, that's not the impression one would get. Those 55 [...]


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Friday, January 20, 2012

What would the World be Like if all Little Black Girls Were Treated Like Ms....


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via Black Youth Project by Fallon on 1/20/12 What if we treated every little girl of color like we treat Ms. Blue Ivy Carter? What would the world be like if everyone in the world waited with breath held for every little girl of color Spirit to divinely make their grand entree into this world because as Jay Z so methodically rapped [...]


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When the Shit Hits the Fan: On the “Shit [People] Say” meme and why it matters


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via The Crunk Feminist Collective by moyazb on 1/17/12

Screen shot from Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls video

In case you missed it, there's a new meme on the block and its kind of my favorite thing ever! The video that got things started, Shit (white) Girls Say, makes up for its own lacklusterness with the brilliance that it inspired. I have to admit, it's been a while since I've been around groups of straight white women to know if those characterizations are true or not, but it smacked of sexism that made me think it's more projection than accurate performance. It was followed by  Shit Black Girls Say which failed to capture the things I say as a Black girl. These weren't simply reflections of "shit girls say" but a demographic of straight white and black women with a particular class background. The infantilizing title aside, "Shit Girls Say" poke fun at women through the use of the male gaze.

I realized what didn't make these funny to me was exactly what made the ones that came after them work so well: Privilege, or rather the lack there of. The power differential in "Shit Girls Say" is skewed. Men dragging women and parodying what they believe to be their words as marginalized people in society has significant limits. In contrast, the videos that have marginalized folks speaking for themselves and back to the power structure by simply repeating the privilege denying questions and statements they field, are solid gold!

None has more fully made its way around the Interwebs than Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls. I have heard every one of those statements. And according to facebook, so have many many of my friends. Comedian Franchesca Ramsey brilliantly pulls the meme out of patriarchal hands and creates the opportunity for folks to see and hear privilege in action. Her appearance on Anderson discussing her viral video actually underscored many of her points. Anderson was shocked an awed that she had experienced what she described in the video and the sad truth that many white people still don't know what racism means came to the fore.

Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls begat so many gems:

the list goes on. A friend on facebook quipped, "I'm almost starting to feel sorry for white girls. almost." And that got me to thinking about the limits of this meme.Laughing at the ridiculously offensive things that white women say to women of color is one thing but it's much harder to laugh at the threats of violence that are often embedded in the things white men say to women of color. Watching Shit White Guys Say to Asian Girls didn't make me laugh it made me sad and it made me pause and think seriously again about power differentials across axes of color and gender.

Watching Shit People say to Native Americans left my heart feeling heavy. Shit Black Guys Say  did make me chuckle but again, my laughs were stifled by the dishonesty directed at female partners laid bare (I was super excited to see a comedian favorite of mine from my favorite web video ever). Shit gets real and not very funny when the power differential is wide.

And  as much as I love the witty way that people are speaking back to oppression through this meme, I realized that some conversations are just too fraught to be distilled in this way. I started to think about conversations amongst different "girls" of color, what a Shit Black Girls say to Arab Girls (or vice versa) might look like. I don't think that this format could hold the complexity of such a conversation and it definitely couldn't be the one sided, question/statement only nature that these videos suggest. But now as the meme starts to peter (maybe?), we might be open to thinking about conversations and exchanges amongst the margins and how that might shift the camera lens.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scholarship applications for student activists available

Student activist scholarship application available
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Are you organizing for progressive social change?  Leading student movements on your campus or in your community?  If so, read on.
The Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund has applications available for student activists who are building progressive movements for social change and will be enrolled in school during the 2012-13 academic year.  Our website provides answers to questions about the Fund, the application process, and the students we support.  If you know of students working for peace and justice, or if you have a list of activist contacts, please send this announcement along and refer potential applicants to the Fund's website:
Since 1961 the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund has provided need-based grants to students who are involved in building movements for social and economic justice and are able to do academic work at the college level.  Grantees are both graduates and undergraduates enrolled in accredited schools for the period covered by their grant.  Although citizenship is not a consideration, applicants must be participating in activities in the US and plan to enroll in an accredited program in the US in order to qualify.
The maximum grant is $10,000 and may be considerably smaller depending on the applicant's circumstances and the funding available.  All the funds come from individual donors and there are 25-30 grants awarded each year.  Grants are for one year although students may re-apply for subsequent years.
Applications and the supporting documents -- transcripts, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, a photograph, financial aid reports -- must be postmarked by April 1, 2012.  Those selected to receive a grant will be notified in July. 
In solidarity,
Carol J. Kraemer
Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund

Monday, January 16, 2012

We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most...


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via Liquor&Spice on 1/16/12

We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system. But also for and with those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity. - Dorothy L. Height


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Latoya by Alan Coulson 2011.This is...


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rhivolution:saathi1013:Found her! BlackBettie on...


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via mosaic on 1/11/12



Found her! BlackBettie on DeviantArt.

And ohmigosh, I LOVE ALL OF THIS.  I couldn't settle on just one pic from her gallery, so HAVE A PICSPAM.  :D

Wow. WOW. She is AMAZING.

[Images of a black feminine person dressed in various steampunk outfits, predominantly involving machine repair. amaze.]


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