Monthly Archives: January 2014

Pete Seeger: Clean Water Is a Human Right

Debbie says:

I don’t think of Pete Seeger in the same breath that I think of body image, but Laurie encouraged me to recognize his life and death here, and then it wasn’t hard to find a connection.

Aging Pete Seeger at the microphone

He died earlier this week, at the age of 94. I’ve known his music since I was a teenager, been to his concerts since I was in my 20s (so for forty years or more). He always struck me as one of the most inclusive performers I’ve ever known, deeply involved with his audience. He would come to a town, meet with the local folk music club, teach them the songs he was going to do, and seed them around his concerts to encourage other people to sing too. Like most folkies of his time, he would often invite other singers up to share (or take) the microphone for a song or three.

As I wrote elsewhere the day he died, he was an amazing figure of political optimism. I once took a 20-years-younger friend to a Seeger concert, after Pete had lost most of his voice. The friend was astonished by the amount of hope and forward-looking energy in the room, which he had never experienced before, while I was breathing that like air and would not have noticed it. I was busy mourning Pete’s voice and appreciating having his grandson Tao on center stage.

No obituary of Pete Seeger could be complete without mentioning his wife Toshi. Seeger, by all accounts, was a much more admirable political figure than personal figure, and Toshi shared (and managed) his life for decades, putting up with a lot more than many of us would think she “should” have. Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the founders of the amazing black women’s harmony group Sweet Honey in the Rock named her daughter after Toshi, and Toshi Reagon has become a well-known performer in her own right. Toshi Seeger died in 2013.

So what’s the body image connection? Laurie and I both see access to health as an essential body image issue. Since the late 1960s, Pete Seeger’s core cause has been the health of the Hudson River. In 1969, after reports of the pollution of the river were published, Pete got a crew together and launched the sloop Clearwater to raise awareness and activism.

Sailin’ up

Sailin’ down

Up and down the river, sailin’ on

Stopping all along the way

The river may be dirty now, but she’s getting cleaner every day.

The sloop was still followed by the Clearwater Festival (formally “The Great Hudson River Revival”) an environmentalism and music festival still going strong today. I only went once, probably in the late 1990s, but I remember it fondly.

Today, and for the past several weeks, 300,000 people in West Virginia don’t have water to drink. Recently, they’ve discovered they shouldn’t be bathing in, washing their clothes in, or coming into contact with, their water either. The West Virginia government is neither doing very much nor taking much responsibility. Hospital visits and illness are up significantly. People are moving out of the affected area (in the third world, they call this “internally displaced persons,” but we don’t have those in Amurrica, the land of the free market). The company responsible for the toxic chemical spills which caused the problem has gone bankrupt (in a very shady way). You can’t go bankrupt to avoid your student loans, but a corporation that ruins the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people is more protected than you are.

A friend of Laurie’s and mine points out that if folks that we would call terrorists had poisoned the water of West Virginia, the full faith and effort of the U.S. government would be behind fixing the problem. As it is, we’re seeing lots of handwaving and unsuccessful bullshit, while people move, or get sick, or cope hopelessly as best they can.

I want Pete Seeger–alive as you or me–sailing up, sailing down, stopping all along the way. He would be telling the folks of West Virginia that they can, and they should, and he will take this on and solve it. I only hope that somewhere in West Virginia, the next Pete Seeger, the next optimistic activist, the next crowd-shifter, is building a sloop.

Tuesday Linksday

Debbie says:
A very rich selection of links this week:

Extreme wheelchair sports provide great visuals:

occupied wheelchair hangs upside down in front of the crowd

Wheelz does what he calls WCMX, or wheelchair motocross. It’s like BMX, except with four wheels instead of two. Oh, and a disability thrown in just to keep it interesting.

Wheelz practically invented the sport. There are other wheelchair users out there doing WCMX, but Wheelz is the undisputed king. He’s gone bigger and jumped farther than anyone. You ever see an average guy in a wheelchair do a double back flip? No? That’s because only Wheelz can do that.


Pamela Raintree is my hero. In an attempt to overturn an anti-LGBT-discrimination ordinance, Shreveport, Louisiana councilman Ron Webb started quoting the Bible.

Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman … called out the Bible-quoting councilman, daring him to stone her to death.

“Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death,'” Raintree began. “I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”

Webb withdrew his repeal measure just minutes later, without calling for a vote.


What do Muslim women and gay black dads have in common? Reductive stereotyping, perhaps?

First, Maureen Ahmed at PolicyMic takes on the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research:

Here’s my two-cents: Why do we only see studies on women’s visibility from Muslim-majority regions? People everywhere have pressure placed on them to represent a society’s shared systems of value and belief.

Does anyone truly think that women in the United States are not subjected to similar forms of scrutiny? Just take a look at the discourse around rape culture here, and you will quickly find your answer.

Then, Courtney Baxter at Feministing looks at the Kordale and Kaleb viral internet sensation:

There’s something about the virality of these photos, including that they were stripped from an Instagram account, that yells: “OMG black men can be gay and they can be gay-dads and isn’t it the cutest thing you have ever seen?!” It sounds like they’re talking about goddamn puppies.

—> These Black Dads and Their Three Kids Golden Retrievers and Their Puppies have the Cutest Instagram Ever…Much cuteness. Such adorable.”

What’s happening here feels like, to me, a dangerous tokenization of these very daily, “normal” black and queer lives. It reduces and co-opts their normalcy into something that can be put on Huffington Post, and Policy Mic, and BuzzFeed and shared on social media. And so I’m frustrated and conflicted – we do need visibility around the “normalcy” of our queer lives.

I can’t speak for Maureen Ahmed, and I know sociological studies are very different from Instagram pix, but I imagine her having some of the same frustration and conflict.

The only reason Laurie and I didn’t pick this one out of links to write a whole blog about is that we couldn’t think of one more thing we would add to Shannon Barber’s piece about skin-bleaching at Nudemuse. Read the whole thing.

I was at the dirt mall beauty supply store and came upon a skin lightening product. The woman told me if I used it I could be “fairer” and my skin would look pretty.

I went for it.

Of course I did.

I bought and used it twice a day for months.

At first I only used it on my dark spots but when those faded I used it on more of my face.

You know what happened?

First my skin was kind of okay and then it just really wasn’t. I burned my cheeks, my little Ashanti style sideburns were burnt off, I got darker marks on my chin and a scar by my left ear that did not fade for almost a decade.


And for a different kind of body imagery, Ria Misra at i09 found this remarkable collection of old medical illustrations.

cutaway of a hand with metal workings shown inside

Aside from my usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville, the Wheelz link came from Jay Lake.