Contrary to popular belief, not everything you read in the blogosphere is trash. And that’s the mission behind Gina McCauley’s politically charged web spot, What About Our Daughters. McCauley, along with a like-minded lineup of frequent contributors, asks (and answers) the tough questions, forcing blind-eyed communities to open up, take notice and take responsibility. In essence, this site is leading the front of social change, one keystroke at a time.
Clutch caught up with the busy activist/organizer/advocate/attorney to talk politics, race, religion, and why she’s no Angela Davis.
Q: For those who are not familiar with What About Our Daughters please tell us in your words what it is and it’s mission/purpose?
“The mission keeps expanding. The original purpose was to combat negative portrayals of African American women in popular culture by highlighting grassroots efforts campaigning against demeaning and degrading images.
During the Imus brouhaha, Oprah hosted a town hall meeting. Many of the panelists were appealing to the entertainment content providers and artists to change their ways. To me, the lesson of the Don Imus debacle was that if you remove the big corporate money, the offensive content will disappear. The guests were directing their ire at record companies and video channels when they should have been directing their ire towards the companies who fuel these entertainment content providers. Recording artists don’t make nearly as much money on selling records. What they want is to get the big money from consumer goods companies. You have the likes of McDonalds, Starbucks, Verizon, Apple Computers, Microsoft, hooking up with Hip-hop artists. My question is this? When Black women control more than 60 percent of the billions of Black buying power why do these companies feel free to align themselves with someone who is denigrating 60 percent of their consumer base?
What transformed Hip-hop from its originality was the commercialization that crept in. These artists don’t want to sell records as much as they want to get access to huge corporate money through their endorsements, licensing deals and outside music ventures, and they are able to do that with partnerships with consumer goods companies. Imagine what would happen if this huge corporate money was made off limits to artists who dehumanize African American women or basically spew hate speech directed towards African American women. No other group would put up with the treatment we receive from the entertainment industry. When we control 60 percent of the billions of dollars that African Americans spend in this country, we give these companies too much money to have them pay for us to be treated this way.
Another fallacy that the media brought up was that Black people had not been combating these negative portrayals of African American women. They had been out there, but no one was paying attention to them so one of the first things I did on my blog was to feature some of these groups so that people would know that they were out there working.
So I wanted to do two things: Highlight the fact that there were Black folks from all over the country that were battling the negative portrayal of African American women in popular culture with the hope that if people learned about them, they would join these groups and assist them with their cause. Also, if these groups learned about each other, then they would coordinate campaigns to be more effective. The second thing I wanted to do was reinforce the lesson of Imus, that if you cut off the money, the images would change.”
Q: Why did you decide to name your site What About Our Daughters? “Well, I needed something and I must have seen a Simpsons episode in the previous month or so with a woman wailing ‘What about the children?’ For some reason that popped up when I was coming up with a name. I knew that in order to combat negative portrayals of African American women in popular culture that at some point Black women would have to confront and criticize the Black men who are the source and face of many of the negative portrayals of African American women. Criticizing each other is something that we are reluctant to do publicly, but it is necessary. You can’t have one school of thought go unchallenged. In fact I think one of the problems with commercial Hip-hop today is that there isn’t any push back. Everybody on the radio is talking about the same thing which is nothing at all. There used to be a time when commercial Hip-hop was so diverse. When you had people pushing back against each other and that was what made the genre better. Then the money came in a corrupted it. Power was consolidated and only one narrow slice of Black life was allowed to have access to the airwaves. When was the last time you heard a Hip-hop song or any song on the radio with a political message? Everything is about bling and booty or about some southern dance craze. There is a vibrant underground community, but when it comes to the big radio, its just bling and booty. We got a war going on right now, why aren’t we hearing anything about that? Other than Kanye West why isn’t anything on the radio about the plight of Hurricane Katrina evacuees? There isn’t any pushback.
But anyway, I figured that if Black women were not willing to stand up for themselves, then they might be compelled to stand up for future generations. I don’t know if we can undo the damage, but we have to at least try. I can’t imagine what it will be like in the world in 20 years after years of having popular culture portray Black women as strippers, hoes, gold diggers and baby mamas. We are so much more than that, but if you flipped on music television or listen to the radio, you wouldn’t know it. When I was growing up I had Diahann Carroll, Claire Huxtable, Whitley Gilbert and the young women at the fictitious Hillman to aspire to. Who are the young women of today going to aspire to? Superhead? You have an entire industry that is built on the backsides of black women. Look at any video and there is always a few guys and hundreds of women. We are nothing more than props or prostitutes and our daughters are getting the message that their value is based on the sum of their body parts which they have to move to a banging beat. Our sons are learning that women are interchangeable and disposable.
You can look at countries where the entire culture condones and looks away from mass atrocities carried out against the women. Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo where women and girls are systematically targeted for torture and rape. You don’t wake up one day and all of a sudden start doing that. There has to be a climate created for human beings to get to a point where they are willing to do that to another human being.
Entertainment isn’t just entertainment. It is mass media. Anytime you use the tools of mass media, magazines, radio, television to systematically dehumanize an identifiable group of people, that is dangerous. I believe that the dehumanizing of African American women and girls in this country is dangerous. Mass media teaches us how to treat each other and if that is the case, what is it teaching. Mass media tells us what to dream and what to aspire to, if that is the case what is it telling young black women? What about them?”
Q: In your opinion, what issues should be in the forefront of African Americans and Blacks internationally?
“I think it depends. Black on Black violence to me is a huge deal because it is a form of tyranny. It literally robs entire communities of their freedom, Black women and girls in particular. Since starting on my blog, I have been covering violence against Black women and children.”
Q: Do you have an issue or cause that has become a personal mission, more so than others?
“I think the main mission or cause is to convince people that we are not powerless. We don’t have to take this crap, the people that mean us no good rely on our apathy. They rely on our reluctance to challenge other African Americans and call them on their crap. If anything I want Black women to know that we have all the power we need to change whatever we want to, when ever we want to all we have to do is open up our mouths and speak.
Q: Last year was quite an eventful year for you and your site, in regard to your massive hand in protesting BETs Hot Ghetto Messs, Imus, Dunbar Village and a host of other issues. Two years ago, would you have thought that you could have such an impact in such a short time?
“No. Which goes to show you that I had little to do with what happened this year other than let the Universe use me.”
Q: What made you start “What About Out Daughters”? Did one thing or issue finally just make you say “enough”?
“You know I have been thinking about that a lot as I work on a book about my experience. I used to say it was Don Imus, but I think you have to go back even further than that to 911 and Katrina. I had grown up during the Cold War with the erroneous impression that my government would protect us and keep us safe and the types of human tragedies we see in other places, refugee crises, terrorist attacks, people hungry and starving and brutal rapes, tortures and killings just couldn’t happen in this country. So 911 and Katrina really hit home how fragile civil society is.
I remember watching a PBS special about a woman who survived the Rwandan genocide and how quickly neighbors turned on neighbors. People you had been living next to your entire life suddenly take machetes and hack your family to death and come to kill you too. You think, ‘How did that happen/ How did it happen so fast?’ So, I had already started to think about how vulnerable we all are. We are not safe because of the choices we make. The choices other people make in how they are going to treat us matter. If someone views you as less than human, they may mistreat you and feel bad about it, but if someone thinks you are the enemy, they will destroy you, hack you to death and not feel guilty at all.”
Where do we get our cues to distinguish who is human, who is less than human, and who is our enemy? We get those cues from mass media. Mass media drives the culture and what kind of culture do we live in when Black women are reduced to being props and prostitutes. How people view us matters. It affects how they treat us on the street, in the doctor’s office, in a job interview, when we travel. It isn’t enough for you to know that you aren’t a b!%#@ or a ho. If people treat you that way, that is a problem. When I was looking at those Hip Hop executives on that Oprah show, they showed a lack of compassion. An inability to see or acknowledge black women’s pain and I thought about those Rwandan neighbors who couldn’t see the humanity in the people they had grown up next to. It’s dangerous when we can’t feel each other’s pain. I don’t think the world sees the pain of Black women because we’re depicted as less than human, objects. Objects don’t have feelings.”
Q: How do you feel about the media, particularly, Black media when it comes to reporting on issues and news that affect our community and abroad?
“Oh the irony is that no one would know about What About Daughters? If it wasn’t for white media. No one. You instinct is that African American reporters will be clamoring to cover these stories that bloggers are covering. The reason bloggers are blogging is because Black media isn’t covering these issues. I mean look at the Jena 6 case. The Chicago Tribune probably has some of the most in dept coverage of Jena, thats not a Black media outlet and the lead reporter on Jena isn’t a Black person I don’t think. That being said there are Black reporters and Black media that are piping in to what we are doing and using their megaphones to make our message even louder. NPR News & Notes frequently features Black bloggers and in October, ESSENCE magazine covered Dunbar Village, a story I had been working on for a few months at the time. They are the first and only major Black publication to address Dunbar Village. When it comes to reporting abroad, I have noticed that Ebony magazine has beefed up its international coverage for two months in a row, they did stories on Africa, including one about the Chinese involvement in Africa.”
Q: Last month, we interviewed Shawna Renee of the XMs Cocoa Mode. In the article, she refers to you as the 21st Century Angela Davis. How does that make you feel? Ha! that is interesting because I am a lawyer and thus a law and order kind of person and our politics are different. I don’t think I will be plotting any prison breaks or anything like that. I just don’t think that what I am saying and doing is all that radical. I am a free market capitalist. In some ways Angela wanted to dismantle the system. I think you can use the system against those who crank out endless negative portrayals of African American women. Use their love of money above all else against them.
It is interesting because when the whole thing went down with THAT SHOW and THAT NETWORK, people tried to anoint me as some kind of movement leader and I was like um, NO! I am just a woman with ideas. The blog was supposed to be five minutes a day. I’ve been in the rat race before. I’ve been in high profile positions before. It is not fun. It is not pleasant. For now I am the name attached with this burgeoning “movement” of whatever this thing is, but I am working hard to get new voices and faces and names attached. I’ve brought on contributors. I host a podcast called “The Black Womens’ Roundtable” and the best time I ever had was when someone else hosted and I was the producer. I don’t have to be the one whose voice is out front, I just want to be a part of it all. So I definitely would prefer to move back behind the scenes. I want to focus on producing content and writing. We cant just rail against the machine, we have to provide people with an alternative. We have to give people a choice and I think the Internet is an amazing equalizer in the content production battles.”
Q: This issue celebrates Black History Month. Usually every February the media honors and celebrates Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, etc. Not taking anything away from their iconic contributions, do you have anyone you would like to add that doesn’t quite get the credit or recognition they deserve?
“I would definitely have to say some of the unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement: Ella Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark and Fannie Lou Hamer.
It is a myth that the drum majors for justice were all men. In many cases the organizers of direct action were Black women. These women weren’t just foot soldiers, they were organizers. Most people don’t know that the first group to call for a boycott in Montgomery was the Womens’ Political Council, headed by Jo Ann Robinson.
Going beyond that, modern day trailblazers like Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University. There are Black women today that are Blazing trails. We aren’t all video vixens, but lawyers, doctors, engineers, musicians and academics.
But honestly there are millions of ordinary black women who are living honorable decent lives. Raising families, holding down jobs, purchasing their own homes, building their own version of the American dream. Those women don’t get air time. We hold up the stripper or the video girl and act as if these other women don’t exist or that they aren’t something to aspire to. You don’t have to be great, just try to be good and blaze your own path. Make your own history. Yes, one person can make a difference. My blog is a testament to that.”
Q: What makes you proud to be a Black woman?
“Oh wow. My mother, grandmothers, and great grand mother make me proud to be a Black women. Our resilience. Our love of life. Our fierce loyalty and the drive to do whatever we need to do to survive and do it with grace and dignity.
Q: If it were one thing you could tell to other sisters in the world, what would it be?
“We don’t have to take this crap. We can change the lives of future generations if we would just open up our mouths and speak and be willing to fight. Not for ourselves, but for the people who come behind us. We have a moral obligation to do so.”
Q: What’s in the future for you and your empowering site?
“Wow. Well MY main focus is working on Blogging While Brown, the first international conference for bloggers and blog readers of color in Atlanta next July 25-27, 2008. As for WAOD, we are definitely going to keep pointing out foolishness where we see it. I am going to try to get back to our roots of encouraging Black women and the men who love them to stop funding foolishness. Pointing out the corporate enablers of the degradation of Black women. I’ll be putting out some of my favorite posts in book form with some original content. Not everyone reads a blog. There is also a move afoot among readers to form organizations or associations to build on some of the things we’ve discussed. But the one thing I have learned from a blog is that you really can’t direct it. Things come at you and the neat thing about a blog as opposed to some other form of media is that you can respond and adapt quickly. My hope is that I never lose my love of waking up in the morning and posting something.”
To learn more about Gina and What About Our Daughters please visit whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com