Professor Burt Ashe on the History & Cultural Significance of Dreadlocks

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University of Richmond Professor Burt Ashe always saw himself as a sort of a renegade. Edgy. Bohemian. But no one else seemed to agree. “The way that I presented to the world was completely, just amazingly, conventional,” he says.

So he decided to change his look. “I thought maybe that me growing dreadlocks might be a kind of pathway to allow what was inside to be presented outside.”

bert ashe

In doing so, he learned about all the presumptions the world projects onto black people with ‘locked hair. Jai had ‘locks for 7 years, and like Ashe, he was often asked if he was Jamaican.

Ashe’s book, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, explores the history of dreadlocks, and details his own relationship with the look.

The natural hair movement continues to gain steam with black women, but what about men? Ashe says he got some interesting responses from them while working on the book. For example, “It’s just hair, man. You’re over-thinking this,” and, “Dude, your relationship with your hair is a little too….”

“It’s sort of a questioning of my masculinity,” he says, “because I decided to talk about my hair and to reveal the anxiety that comes along with ‘locking ones hair.”

But he says there’s a significance to black hair, regardless of gender—that we choose our hairstyles for a reason, whether or not we can put it into words. “I think it’s time we start thinking out loud about the cultural realities and personal realities of what we do with our hair means.”

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, and the history of domestic and racist terrorism in the United States. On this Independence Day weekend, we wondered whether the founding ideals of our country—as a nation of immigrants, where you can be free from persecution—still hold true today.

At the same time we’re confronted with more racially-motivated violence, like the Charleston shooting and the burning of black churches, we’re also seeing some striking acts of civil disobedience. Bree Newsome becmse a household name after removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse. And someone in Boston painted “Black Lives Matter” and dumped red paint on a statue of Christopher Columbus.

On a lighter note, we also recap what we loved and hated about the BET Awards, and argue about which members of #TeamStrangeFruit cried last week in the County Clerk’s office, and which simply had allergies.

Marriage Equality at Last! Sights & Sounds from Decision Day

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Friday was a historic day for the USA, and we spent it experiencing and documenting some of the sights and sounds of all the Decision Day activities here in Louisville!

On this week’s show, we share those sounds with you.

We started out at a press conference, where we heard first from attorneys Dan Canon and Laura Landenwich. Then plaintiff Luke Meade-Barlowe talked about how he met his husband, Jim, almost 48 years ago, and they got married in Iowa in 2009.

Plaintiffs and attorneys at the press conference

(Photo: Laura Ellis) Plaintiffs and attorneys at the press conference

Meade-Barlowe struggled through tears as he reflected on how much things have changed. “We had never held hands in public. It was just not something that was done, You didn’t even think about gay people being married, let alone adopting children,” he explained. “Some people are not as smart as we are.” He answered some questions from the press, then concluded by saying, “Watch this!” and kissing his husband at the podium, amid applause.

Plaintiff Tim Love told the gathered crowd that he and his partner, Larry Ysunza, plan to get married on their anniversary in October. “Today we’re gonna see the end to a lot of very long engagements in the state of Kentucky,” he predicted. “I can’t tell you how happy we are. We never thought we’d see this day in our lifetime. 35 years is a long time to wait to have your relationship recognized.”

Larry Ysunza holds the first license issued in Jefferson County

(Photo: Jackie Whitaker) Larry Ysunza holds the first license issued in Jefferson County

We also heard from friends to the show Michael Aldridge from the ACLU of Kentucky, and Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman. “As a gay man this affects me personally outside of my job,” Aldridge said. “I am overwhelmed with joy. I just want to go find my husband and hold him tight.”

As the press conference was wrapping up, word came through that Governor Beshear had ordered all county clerks in the commonwealth to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as they had the proper forms. Ysunza immediately dropped to one knee and proposed. We followed the throng of couples, lawyers, and media, to the County Clerk’s office.

There was some confusion at first, while deputy clerks there waited for new marriage license templates that would not say “bride” and “groom.” We waited in the hallway as more couples began showing up to get their licenses. Friends, family members, and supporters came in to celebrate. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer came in carrying bottles of chilled champagne for the engaged couples.

Eventually, new forms were sent over from the Kentucky Department of Libraries, and Love and Ysunza became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Jefferson County.

Benjamin Moore and Tadd Roberts were married in the County Clerk's office

(Photo: Jackie Whitaker) Benjamin Moore and Tadd Roberts were married in the County Clerk’s office

Benjamin Moore and Tadd Roberts caused an audible reaction among the crowd when they walked in wearing tuxedos, followed by a minister in a long black robe. The couple, who have been together for more than a decade, filled out their paperwork, and the minister immediately began officiating a wedding ceremony in the middle of the County Clerk’s office.

WFPL’s Jacob Ryan was there with us, and produced an audio postcard of what’s believed to be the first legally-binding same-sex marriage in the state of Kentucky (we can’t promise that some of the sniffles you’ll hear in the background weren’t ours).

We close the show this week with the last passage of the Court’s opinion, which we predict will find its way into some wedding ceremonies before long:

Mayor Fischer congratulates Tim Love

(Photo: Jackie Whitaker) Mayor Fischer congratulates Tim Love

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”

It was an unforgettable day in Louisville, and #TeamStrangeFruit is so happy to be able to bring you an archive of it. We hope you feel like you were right there with us, witnessing history!

 

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Rachel Dolezal Didn’t Come Out; She Got Caught

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As we celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, it’s with the impossible-to-ignore knowledge of how much work the United States still has to do to achieve safety and true equality for all its citizens.

We recorded this show before a white supremacist named Dylann Roof opened fire on a bible study group at historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. It was before mainstream media assumed he was mentally ill. It was before Roof’s roommate said he’d been planning the attack for six months, but no one tried to stop him. It was before Roof was taken into custody, alive and unharmed. It was before a 5-year-old girl played dead to survive the massacre. It was before leaders publicly said we would probably never know the reason for the attack—despite the fact that Roof was very clear he had gone to the church “to kill black people.” It was before the US and state flags were lowered to half staff over the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina… while the Confederate flag continues to fly high.

It was also before the president of Louisville’s Fraternal Order of Police wrote a menacing letter to “sensationalists, liars and race-baiters,” telling them (us, we guess?) to “Consider yourself on notice.”

We will come back to these topics next week, with as much clarity as we can achieve between now and then.

On this week’s show, we covered a story that seems downright frivolous by comparison, but still raises important questions about racism, identity, and taking up space: Rachel Dolezal.

one dropDr. Yaba Blay, scholar, and author of “(1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race,” joined us to try to make some sense of the story. Is there such a thing as transracial? And is it comparable to being transgender?

“Trans people are trying to be honored in their truth, ” Dr. Blay said. “They are coming out. And there are things that they have to risk in order to come out, and be taken for who they believe they are. Rachel Dolezal never came out. She got caught up. And if she didn’t get caught up, she would continue this lie. Her identity is seated in deception. And I think a lot of people presume that trans lives are seated in deception, and that’s why they’re making that comparison.”

We also learned a little this week about queer people’s place in the history of medical marijuana activism. The connection began when cannabis oil was found to have therapeutic benefits for patients with HIV. Whit Forrester is working on documenting that story in a project called “Affinity in the Tall Grasses of California: The Rainbow Roots of Medical Cannabis.”

And it’s not only Juneteenth, it’s also the Kentuckiana Pride Festival this weekend. We’ve been long-time supporters of KPF, and because we love them so much, we’d like to see them do a little better in terms of diversity and inclusiveness for people of color and gender non-conforming folks. We talk about why and how.

Fruitcakes, be as proud as you can this weekend, and celebrate Juneteenth, and if you need a break from the news, check out #BlackJoy on twitter. And check out this advice from friend to the show Ashlee Clark: “For my black folks: We can’t just survive. We must thrive in the face of domestic terrorism. We might be weary, but we are resilient, too. Centuries of struggle have taught us to keep pushing. We must succeed in spite of hate.”

Mother Tongue Techniques Takes Queer Southern Culture to California

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Happy Pride Month, Fruitcakes!

This week we speak with mixed media artists Rahel and SCZ, who are part of a collective called Mother Tongue Techniques. Their group is in San Francisco this weekend presenting “Y’all Come Back: Stories of Queer Southern Migration.”

The artists of Mother Tongue Techniques

The artists of Mother Tongue Techniques

They talk about their work, and why it’s important to lift up the stories of queer folks and people of color in the south.

The actions of (former) Officer Eric Casebolt at a pool party in McKinney, Texas have raised conversations all over the country about who is presumed to be a criminal. Casebolt has since resigned, but questions remain about why the police were called in the first place, why he reacted the way he did to teenagers who weren’t resisting, and the long legacy of segregation in swimming pools.

Also this week, we talk about a new show Jaison loves called The Prancing Elites Project. The Oxygen Network’s docu-series follows an African-American, gay and non-gender conforming dance team. They perform within the tradition of J-Setting – a style that originated at southern HBCUs in the 1970s.

Oxygen’s website says the Elites are “challenging societal norms while overcoming several obstacles with passion and humor on their journey to be their authentic selves.”

We also talk a bit about the troubled relationship of WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson. Griner announced she had filed to annul their marriage just a day after Johnson announced they were expecting a baby. Their arrest for domestic violence shortly before their wedding raised questions about how violence is viewed within queer relationships.

This week, like every week, you count on Strange Fruit to bring you musings on politics, pop culture and black gay life. We do our best to make you laugh, and make you think. Our show is a labor of love for Jai and Doc, so please consider becoming a supporter through our crowdfunding page on Patreon! You can make a monthly pledge (as little as a dollar a month) towards the work we do here.

Big thanks to fruitcakes Jessica Musselwhite and Erin Fitzgerald (host of Crescent Hill Radio’s Keep Hearing Voices) for being our first official patrons!

We’ll see you on the airwaves next week, and at the Kentuckiana Pride Parade on Friday, June 19th. Look for #TeamStrangeFruit in a red convertible, and be sure to wave and blow us a kiss!

Bonus Fruit: The Return of Janet Jackson?

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A battle of the generations broke out when, on a recent episode, we talked about Janet Jackson’s upcoming album and tour!

Flyy Sexuality TV‘s Kendra Elise Anderson called said the singer was all washed up, scandalizing Jaison, and our other guest, actor Billy Flood. We thought we were going to have to get out the smelling salts.

This funny segment didn’t make the final cut of the show, but we couldn’t resist sharing it as a slice of bonus fruit! What do you think, Fruitcakes?

More info on the album & tour here.

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Racism in Queer Spaces; Caitlyn Jenner’s Role in Trans Visibility

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djsyimonePerforming as DJ Syimone, Victoria Syimone Taylor spends a lot of time in gay and gay-friendly bars. She joins us this week to talk about racism in queer spaces – including a recent incident in a local bar, and the community’s response.

Taylor was celebrating her birthday in a crowded local bar when a patron got angry about where her bag was. He repeatedly called her the n-word. She says she felt victimized for a second time when some people in the community minimized her experience, and encouraged her not to make a fuss about the incident. Taylor describes “being pulled into a corner and then being told by certain people, ‘Just ignore that. […] Don’t let that bother you.'”

Taylor says she was shocked, in the moment, and didn’t know how to respond. “It happened so fast. I couldn’t even process it,” she says. “It’s like being in a movie.”

She also says the issue is bigger than just her recent experience. “We know this goes on at every gay bar, anywhere.” She hopes that by telling her story, she’ll encourage more people to have difficult but necessary conversations about race. “I need people to understand that they need to really dig deep within themselves and understand how to approach race. How to talk about it. How to not be uncomfortable with it.”

Our own Jaison and Kaila share similar experiences with being called the n-word in spaces they believed to be safe for them, as queer people.

And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, her Vanity Fair photo shoot, and the role she plays in the trans movement and in trans visibility.

Strange Fruit: News Roundup

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guestsIt’s a full serving of Juicy Fruit! Dr. Story is in Florence, presenting at the Black Portraiture{s} II Conference, so actor Billy Flood, and Kendra Elise Anderson from Flyy Sexuality TV join us in the studio this week.

We kick things off by talking about the unwritten rules of good manners in black spaces. A woman was stabbed in the eye with a fork after eating the last rib at a Muncie, IN Memorial Day barbecue – and while we don’t cookout violence, there are certain things you simply don’t do.

And “mini buns” are a hot new craze recently seen on the Marc Jacobs runway, though they may look familiar to anyone who knows what bantu knots are.

Circumcision of baby boys was once a given, but is more controversial now, as it’s seen as increasingly unnecessary for health. We talk about the mom who skipped town with her 4 year old rather than have him undergo court-mandated circumcision.

Kendrick-Lamar-Rolling-Stone-March-2015-CoverAnd Kendrick Lamar was on the cover of Rolling Stone, getting his hair cornrowed by a light-skinned model. Is she white? And does it matter if she is, given his outspokenness about colorism? Our guests talk it out, and share some of their experiences of being light skinned in both white and black spaces.

Portland Poetry Series to Feature LGBTQ Poets in June

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The Portland Poetry Series will focus on LGBTQ poets at their June event, in honor of Pride Month. Co-producer Eli Keel joins us this week, along with poet and writer Adriena Dame, who will read at the event. The series happens in the Tim Faulkner Gallery, once a month, and has been going strong since last December.

While there’s always a strong LGBTQ presence at the event, Keel says that this time, it will be more intentional than incidental. “We decided for Pride Month we wanted to really focus in on that, and not have it just be a thing that happened as we reached out to the poets that we know and love.”

We asked Adriena Dame whether her intersecting identities influence her work. She said that coming out changed her writing in ways she didn’t expect. “I thought, ok well that just means that people will know that I’m queer,” she remembers. But suddenly her poems and stories were populated with lesbians, bisexual, and transgender characters. “They became all of those other dynamics of an entire population that I sort of neglected in my writing, prior to coming out.”

Keel says the series wants to shake up old ideas of how poetry readings are structured, and even who poets are. (“They’re not just old white guys,” he says).

This installment of the Portland Poetry Series is on June 8th at 7:30, and will have three or four open mic slots in addition to the featured readers – so get there when the doors open at 7 if you want to put your name in the hat! The event is free.

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about the biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas, and try to imagine how the media coverage would have been different had black urban gangs opened fire on each other in a public place.

The bikers involved were largely white and middle aged, with the oldest being in his mid-60s. “Where are the headlines for that?” Jai wonders. “Where are the people asking what’s wrong with middle aged and elderly white America, that y’all need to ride around on motorcycles and shoot each other with AK-47s?”

We also talk about what Emmett Till (and his mother Mamie) meant to America and the Civil Rights movement. Till’s murder will be the subject of a movie that’s currently in development. Chaz Ebert will produce the film, which is based on the book “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.”

And R.I.P. “dancery.” This week, Mary J. Blige revealed that the lyrics to her beloved dance floor masterpiece “Family Affair” might not be what we thought!

LMPD Gets Body Cams; “Sidewinders” Play Deconstructs Gender; Syphilis on Rise Among Gay Men

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Once nearly eradicated in the United States, syphilis is back on the rise – mostly among gay and bisexual men. Rates reached an all-time low in 2000, and of the roughly 6,000 cases, only around 7% were among gay men; it was a concern almost exclusively for straight people. But better treatments for HIV lead to complacency about safe sex, perhaps especially among younger men who didn’t witness the AIDS crisis of the 1980s first-hand.

Now, men who have sex with men (known in medical research as MSMs) account for a full 91% of all national cases. And those nationwide numbers are reflected at home. In Louisville, rates jumped from 13.2 per 100,000 residents in 2009 to 27.7 in 100,000 – well above the national average of 18. Statewide, reported syphilis infections have almost doubled since 2009.

To help explain why this is happening, and what can help, we talk this week with Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, Deputy Director of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Dr. Humbaugh explains how exactly the disease is transmitted, and how you can protect yourself and your partners.

Syphilis is treated with penicillin, and responds well to treatment – but you have to know you have it. Check the end of this post for list of testing places is below (some are free or have sliding-scale fees).

Also this week, we talk to playwright and friend-to-the-show Basil Kreimendahl, whose absurdist play “Sidewinders” runs in Louisville through May 23rd, produced by Looking for Lilith Theatre Company. Kreimendahl says she set the play on a frontier in the American West to evoke a lawless place where people made their own rules – much like people are making their own rules today about gender identity.

“It’s just sort of about being a human being, and about naming things,” she says. “You know there’s a lot of power in naming things and having a name for who and what you are, and it sort of explores, what if there isn’t a word for what you are that fits perfectly? How does that affect you?”

“Sidewinders” runs through May 23rd at OPEN.  The May 22nd performance will be followed by a talkback panel on gender identity, moderated by our own Jaison Gardner. (Full Disclosure: Our producer Laura Ellis is in the cast, and joins us in this segment to talk about her character and work on the play)

In our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about First Lady Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at Tuskegee University in which she described how the public’s perception of her as First Lady was colored by race and racism. Remember the “terrorist fist jab?” The New Yorker cover showing her with an afro and machine gun? “Obama’s baby mama?” FLOTUS name-checked them all, and talked about the doubts they raised in her mind.

“I had a lot of sleepless nights,” she said, “worrying about what people thought of me, wondering if I might be hurting my husband’s chances of winning his election, fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom.”

Obama also laid out the can’t-win situation black women face today, especially in the public eye. “Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” The whole speech is worth a read (transcript here).

And the LMPD is rolled out their plan to put body cameras on their officers this week. WFPL’s Jacob Ryan joins us with the details.

 

STD Testing Sites 

Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (Specialty Clinic)

7201 Outer Loop Suite 232

(502) 574-6699

Park DuValle Community Health Center

3015 Wilson Avenue

(502) 774-4401

Family Health Centers (Portland)

2215 Portland Avenue, Louisville, KY 40212

(502) 774-8631

Family Health Centers (East Broadway)

834 East Broadway, Louisville, KY 40204

(502) 583-1981

Family Health Centers (Fairdale)

1000 Neighborhood Place, Louisville, KY 40118

(502) 361-2381

Family Health Centers (Iroquois)

4100 Taylor Boulevard, Louisville, KY 40215

(502) 366-4747

Family Health Centers (Southwest)

9702 Stonestreet Road, Building 1, Suite 220, Louisville, KY 40272

(502) 995-5051

 

Strange Fruit: Funding Feminist Art in Kentucky; @HonestToddler’s Mom on the Messiness of Motherhood

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toddlers are aholesIt’s Mother’s Day, and we’re celebrating by talking with Bunmi Laditan, mother of three, and creator of the @HonestToddler twitter account.

Laditan has a new book out called Toddlers are A-Holes (It’s Not Your Fault). “It’s for the parent of the toddler who, their kid is waking up at 3am and wandering the halls like Phantom of the Opera,” she says. “The parent who needs to laugh so they don’t cry.”

We also check in this week with Sharon LaRue, executive director of Kentucky Foundation for Women. They’re celebrating 30 years of promoting positive social change by supporting feminist art. Over the past three decades, they’ve awarded $9 million in 1,800 grants to women artists.

“Each of us can think about an art piece that has changed history,” Sharon says. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Picasso’s Guernica, Dorothea Lang’s photos… there’s something that stopped what we were doing, and we said we’re gonna do something differently. So I think that that’s the power of art, is that it gets us to think differently.”

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about the media’s use of soft language, like “officer-involved shooting,” and how it affects public perception. We also briefly comment on the Bruce Jenner interview, and respond to the lawsuit that was filed against us (and all gay people), by one Sylvia Driskell of Nebraska.

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