Red engenders everything.
When enraged, we see red.
It is the color of blood, of rage, heat.
Scarlet is marked as lustful, indicative of adultery, if we were to listen to Hawthorne.
JudeoChristian hegemony marks it as corporeal, sinful, lustful, degraded.
I reject that.
Red is the color of blood, pumping in our veins. It is the hue of love at first bloom, of hot pink cheeks, sweaty palms, lips swollen and chapped after hours of kissing.
It is the color of fresh neck contusions.
Blush, indeed, the portmanteau of blood + rush, the flushing of one’s cheeks after thinking of one’s lover.
It is the hue of my wedding dress, seven steps circled around a fire.
Those vows changed everything.
It is sindoor in my Thakurma’s hair part, on her beautiful forehad, on ma and jethi and kaki’s too, signifying their shaadi bonds.
It is my red wedding bangle, nestled between two reed ones.
It is the deep burnt hue of my shaadi ki mehndi, lacy adornments on my hands and feet.
They held secrets, you see, his name was on both hands.
It is the sign of life, flowing out of my body, shedding possibility of life, with the lunar cycle.
It is the color of menses, sad cephalopodesque clumps flushed away.
It is our eyes, sore and tired after comprehending rejection.
(I should have gotten that tenure track job. I wish we had been pregnant. I lost both.)
It is the color of my Kali Ma’s tongue, signifying victory in battle, ruby droplets on the edge of her trishule.
Jai Mata Di.
It is the deep ruby hue of the root chakra. Muladhara signifies safety, grounding, rootedness, survival.
And inflammation that needs healing.
It is the lucky hue of wedding dresses, globally.
These predate Victoria’s bossy, boring, basic British Becky taste.
Dirty, colonizing beast. Who was “unsivilized” again? At least we bathe, bitch. Lotas and bidets and amla and shikakai and nariyal 4ever.
Red lights signify “halt” or danger ahead. Coupled with blue and white, they signify nationalism and bacon.
Reclaim the laal, crimson, rojo, maroon, scarlet, ruby, sanguine.
For the gore gwei lo gueras pakehas it means ruskies or gorbachev or yellow peril.
For us it signifies revolucion.
It is Fenty Stunna lip paint.
It is M.A.C.’s Ruby Woo and Russian Red and Viva Glam IV and Urban Decay’s shame.
It is life, love, heat, breath.
Do you like being scared by books, films, and surprises? Describe the sensation of being scared, and why you love it — or don’t.
Fear is profitable. Fear operates on the assumption of power inequity. For some, fear is thrilling. To most, fear is undesirable. To walk into a movie theater, to watch a film about fear, without fear of being murdered, is a privilege. To make films or write about fictional narratives centering fear is a privilege. Since we have an orange, egomaniacal narcissist as our current POTUS, I am in a constant state of fear.
We celebrate Stephen King’s oeuvre of fear. We revel in the discourses of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. We hunger for the phantastic Dementors, revolted by Voldemort but also fascinated by the Death Eaters. Jordan Peele recently penned and debuted the brilliant Get Out, an astute commentary on the cultural hegemony of whiteness, of the traumas of colonization and infections that whiteness and conspicuous consumption and the quite literal “eating the Other” has on marginalized communities.
I hate being scared by real life, actual, worldly surprises. I know some people revel in the sensations of fear and relish spine tingling and gut wrenching, but I am not one of them. When I get scared, I go into shock. I retch. I shit enormous amounts of fecal matter, several healthy, runny bowls worth. I dry heave. And worst of all, I get cold. My body shuts down. No matter the time of day or temperature, I need to crawl into bed, covered by multiple blankets. Ideally, my husband is nearby to tuck me in. Ideally, my cats are nearby, burrowing under the duvets with me, purring on me for comfort. They know. Animals always know.
My latest brush with gut-wrenching fear took place on October 7, 2017. I received an email that was time stamped 7:55 AM, PST. It was supposedly from one Cheryl Merryfield. The email was poorly written. Cheryl claimed to be formerly known as Brian, formerly a cishet white dude bro working at a construction company. Cheryl supposedly had a cousin named Heidi who took a gender studies course at an unnamed University. Cheryl was writing to thank me for teaching about toxic masculinity and white male privilege, as they had seen the light and were changing from Brian to Cheryl and wearing wigs, fake eyelashes, taking hormones, and attending protests. Cheryl wanted to know my thoughts on all of this. The tone walked the fine line between mockery and contempt.
A less astute person or intellectual might read it as complimentary, an invitation to self-congratulate. Alarm bells rang for me, though. There was nothing specific about the email or my courses, which do address white privilege, toxic masculinity, and gender politics. I surmised, correctly as it turned out, that this kind of email is usually part of a wider phishing or scam net. I suspected it was the kind of drivel produced by the scum-sucking rodents at 4chan and Reddit, perpetuated by the far right, the alt-right, Men’s Rights’ Activists, and Pick Up Artists. My husband, a straight cishet white computer scientist, looked at the headers and told me the message was from a Russian (!!!) server.
My work email address may have been scraped at random from the web. I do not speak to newspapers about my political opinions; I am not safe. I do not have the privilege of safety. I did what any vulnerable nontenured person would have done: I sent it to my department chair. She then sent it up the chain. I could not wait for their responses. I sent the message to two deans, the associate VP of academic affairs, and re CC’d my chair. I made sure to tell them I was scared for my safety and well-being.
One must be careful when sending out emails like this, if one occupies a precarious position in the academic industrial complex’s unsteady food chain. One needs to tone police oneself. Be humble but deferential. Be firm but polite. And always, always make oneself invaluable to the space. I have been a lowly adjunct for over half a decade, my teaching labor overlapping with finishing my dissertation. My one attempt at a tenure-track position was self-sabotaged by my lack of a curated publishing archive. How can one publish when one is teaching ten classes a year simply to survive? Publish or perish, indeed. For a die-hard tenure advocate, I’ve died, lost in the mise en abyme of the academic industrial complex.
For the teaching purist, I have thrived, earning countless devotees who enroll in everything I teach, hundreds of accolades and glowing reviews, and winning every campus grant I’ve applied for with the hopes of increasing my department’s visibility. But I digress. After I sent the scary email up the chain, I got notification of a Facebook login attempt. I was on the phone with my husband while this happened. The fear elicited nasty physical reactions. The dry heaving, chills, rumbling bowels, liquid excrement. My poor bidet got a lot of action that day.
My dear husband stayed on the phone with me while I screenshot the login attempt, locked down social media accounts, changed passwords, set up two-step authentications, sent another panicked message up the food chain. He stayed on the phone with me while I crawled into bed and shut down. He stayed on the phone while I dozed in and out of consciousness. He booked a ticket from Maryland to California, coming in the next day. He has always claimed to find my snoring to be soothing, as he reads snoring as a sign of deep and full sleep. The last time I was in shock with him was when I destroyed my ankle. This was long before we were engaged or married. He took care of me for three days. (Take note: marry the person who loves it when you snore, who tucks you in bed when you are in shock, who helps you bathe and dress when you can’t walk, who cleans up your vomit, who takes on care work without comment.)
Campus police and IT determined the email was “not a threat” and came from a Russian email server, similar to Google. They advised us to not reply. I thought, no shit. There would never be any reason for me to respond to any sort of email like that. My fears were disturbingly assuaged when I was told that a colleague received the very same email. I phoned her when I found out. It was comforting to know we were not alone, but we were still uneasy. When news of the email spread to others in our department, one person replied that they get goading, inflammatory messages like that all the time, inviting response. That person keeps them in a file.
I read their response to the incident as contemptuous. I don’t know if they were minimizing my fear. It doesn’t matter anyway. The net result has been shutting down for several days. It is now October 10. I have not slept well since the incidents. I don’t know how I managed to lecture on Monday morning; the topic was Elaine Brown’s leadership in the Black Panther Party and narratives on internalized misogyny and patriarchy within social justice spaces. We were connecting Brown’s depictions of violence to what transpired with Angela Davis and the prison industrial complex, the American Indian Movement and the words of Wilma Mankiller, the life and death of Annie Mae Acquash, and the work of Asian American students at UCLA.
Patriarchy is rooted in violence. Internalized misogyny within communities of color is the worst of all. It is a death drive. I am well-aware of the times we live in. Since 9/11, those of us who live in the intersections of Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, we have to walk every day under surveillance. We are policed in a myriad of ways. We have to be mindful of everything we say. We do not have the luxury of boredom, relaxation, or free self-expression. If you are a woman of color, the surveillance is amplified time and time again. If you are an academic, it is unbearable. The temptation of celebrity feminism, the thirst for public recognition as the means to success within a capitalist narrative, is destructive. I do not tweet publicly. My Twitter account has always been private. I use it to practice brevity.
I do not feel safe being a public figure. My Instagram is a curated archive of food photos, sunsets, cat and dog pictures, and celebrations of friends’ joy. Mine is remarkably devoid of selfies, because I fear being in front of cameras, even my own. Privately, I take selfies to remind myself that I am not a monster, even though white beauty standards would have me believe otherwise.
It is the fear of the external gaze that I loathe most. Michel Foucault wrote of “le regard,” the penetrative lingering ocular moment of visuality, reserved for medical purposes and scientific, surveillance performed by guards and captains, nurses and jailers. bell hooks wrote of the “oppositional gaze” taken up by Black women spectators claiming their agency, those consumers of public and visual culture whose ancestors were denied the right to look back at their masters, in the context of the colonial slave plantation, of hegemonic whitewashed popular culture. Some get off on being watched, the narrative or fetish of voyeurism and exhibitionism that are so valued in what we deem as raunch culture.
Me? Let me be. Let me write. Let me do my work. Let me teach my classes. Let me be with my family and friends. Let me be free from unimportant and superficial interactions. Let me process my rage and pain and let me speak to it through the classroom. Let me survive in my cocoon of literacy and sleep and love.
Le Mepris (on contempt)
I find myself riddled with contempt.
I feel it seeping into my bones, soaking into all of my cells, and then leaking out into the world, through the snarky things I say or think or feel.
I am deeply contemptuous of things I deem inferior, or not worthy of my time. I am deeply contemptuous of white people who do not understand colonization.
I wonder, how could they, meaning the eurotrash mayonnaise populace of the globe, deem me and my ilk, as less than, simply because of our gorgeous black and brown skin?
I have contempt for the snaggletoothed fools who benefit from those legacies. I look at their pasty, dough-colored bloated bags of skin and bones and think, their mouths look like 17th century graveyards.
I feel contempt for X, a city rife with murder and violence, 3000 miles away from our beautiful Los Angeles, that has taken my beloved husband away from our bed and home and cats for 24 months.
I feel my lips curled in sneers around my own teeth, perfected after years of Amreeky orthodontia, and my body is flooded with heat and blood and rage.
Feeling contempt rush in is not always bad.
The worst is coming across people who attempt to tap into empathy, who want so desperately to help, who perform friendship or advocacy or allyship, but then who actually feel nothing, and then who feel guilt.
Your guilt is not my problem.
I am contemptuous of hyper-religious zealots, so encapsulated by their own myopia that they choose not to acknowledge the sheer, utter disbelief on my face when they tell me of their volontourism, of their journeys to the global South, to “sivilize” the “savages.”
I am contemptuous of entitled dude bro nontraditional undergrads who equate chattel slavery with indentured servitude. Not. The. Same. Thing. Bro.
Your history is taught as a requirement. Mine is taught as an elective. That is the height of hegemonic privilege.
Contempt is heady and addictive.
It is expressed asymmetrically, through the lifting of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip into a sneer. It makes my hands sweaty and my heart beat fast.
I have to reserve the full expression of my contempt for only one person, my best friend, who understands and does not judge, or if she does she doesn’t express it.
I cannot fully express my contempt to my husband, for he will be upset.
He, who is sweet and calm and so kind and loving, does not find value in expressing contempt.
But he is the beneficiary of white male science professor privilege.
He can be contemptuous and be rewarded.
I have to ask, why are we taught to disregard contempt? Why is the expression of it only reserved for those who hold hegemonic power?
In a capitalist system, the distribution of wealth is not equitable.
The owners of means of production are not given fair shares. The profits are always maximized.
I have earned the right to be contemptuous.
I have earned the right to bristle at injustice.
Generations of epigenetic trauma remain encoded inside me.
The expression of contempt must be cautious.
It must be kept under wraps, away from the prying eyes of panopticon guards.
Bentham and Foucault’s predictive models extend into the world of social media.
I fear the wrath and consequences of fully expressed contempt.
I fear the internalization of it, as it affects my health and well-being.
I am contemptuous of those who do not or cannot feel.
We are encouraged to not pay attention to our bodies, to heartbeats or sweat beads, or tears.
top photo by Jeremy Wermeille on Unsplash
“Lal Qila” photo by ian dooley on Unsplash
“Fright Night” photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash
“Le Mepris (on contempt)“ photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
“What if we took all this anger born of righteous love and aimed it?”
—Ijeoma Olou, “We women can be anything. But can we be angry?” Medium.com