Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Yo Mama" as a racial marker in 12 Moods for Jazz and Puerto Rico?

first attempt at engaging in discussion via the blog/mailing list:

at our last class discussion on Langston Hughes on Feb 21, ( ) Will Clarke said that the connotation of "Yo Mama" varied throughout the different parts of the clip/concert. I wanted to problematize that.

At the Langston Hughes: 12 Moods for Jazz, I picked up the word "Ask Yo Mama" once, which is when this seriously liberal-minded white middle class woman asks Hughes (and you really need the intonation imitation here to get the right atmosphere/situation) "is it TRUE, that blacks are violent?, is it TRUE, that blacks this, blacks that, is it TRUE?" At which Hughes responds, "Ask Yo Mama"

During a Latin American History class in the Fall of 2002, professor Javier Morillo-Alicea said that in Puerto Rico, when someone pretends to be like totally white, like "yeah, so my family is all white, you know, no browns/indians, all white", people ask them, "Ah so? Where's your grandma [¿y tu abuela donde está?]" Hitting both at the permeability of interracial coupling in the island (e.g., you are really 100% white? you are joking right? were you born in a monastery?) and the place of gender of such relationships in colonial hierarchies of power. (e.g. if there are very few blacks in your family, it's most likely your grandma, not your grandpa)

I think "Ask Yo Mama" can be interpreted along the same vein. That is, who are you, white woman? Is your mother white? What is the position of you asking me, a black male, where blacks do this or do that, as if we were some strange insects put under a microscope? Thus contextualizing the conversation, painting racially the grey-neutral interrogation of the objective white woman into the colored folk.

Also when I was doing research with Mexica dancers and trying to present the women dancers as a danger/problem to the construction of the Chicano nation as an imagined brotherhood of males, Jessie Buendía '04 pointed out that the space of the mother cannot be denied in an ideology of blood-based nation, for she guarantees the nation's production(labor) / reproduction(birth, continuation of kin). So how does the figure of the mother simultaneously present a grave challenge to a patriarchally imagined nation a la Nazi Germany and yet be a critical component in its sustenance? How do patriarchal structures/discourses manage, or fail to, control the mother in the context of the nation?

I think the figure of the mother is closely related to the social relationships and the ensuing racial markership in the constituents of the nation and/or racialized groups, both as a physicomaterial body and an ideological space of contested meanings. The problem is, how do you understand it as an analytical category, do they make sense when all put together, and if so how (keywords, methods) do you weave them together?

So, my question is, how do you swallow this interpreation? How is this paradox manifested in Mandela (still reading through that book)? And second question is, which were the other manifestations/interpreations of "Yo Mama" at Langston Hughes? Because I couldn't read/see others.