During my college years I was huge fan of R &B crooner Trey Songz. I have shamelessly sang along to his lyrics in Atlantic City, Roseland and Madison Square Garden. My perception of actress Keke Palmer is also favorable. Palmer earned a place in my heart after embodying a positive portrayal of black girls as Akeelah in Akeelah and The Bee. My sentiments towards Palmer have always been sisterly and I admire her ability to convey confidence and objectivity where many women wear their envy.
Before I start this piece, let me say that I know my perspective will be an unpopular one. I know that because Keke Palmer stands at the intersectionality of race and gender like myself, I am expected to “side” with her. However, as said on numerous posts, I am black first. It is from a position of blackness that I compose my perspective.
A little background…
Early this week, actress Keke Palmer outed singer Trey Songz for placing her in a video without her permission. Palmer’s accusations hit the internet via video, in which she accused Songz of “taking advantage of her” while under the influence and implementing sexual coercion to harbor her participation in a video for song “Pick Up the Phone.” Although not stated directly, Keke implies that what she experienced was a form of rape, equating this scenario to the coercion many young women face on college campuses. Palmer also criticizes Songz’s request to deal with the situation in private. I agree that this situation should have been handled in private for the following reasons:
I. The presented scenario paints both Palmer and Songz in an unflattering light.
The scene portrayed in Palmer’s footage from the party she willingly attended mirrors the ambiance portrayed in the video for song “Pick Up the Phone”—scantily clad women, marijuana, alcohol and suggestive behavior. Having gone away to college, I am VERY familiar with this kind of atmosphere and the expectations that accompany said ambiance. In fact, my friends and I exited our first college party after the environment proved too suggestive for our liking. This statement does not suggest that women do not reserve the right to drink or attend parties. I do however think that western parties operate under a pretense of male superiority, thus should be regarded with reservation. Men often treat women who attend these events in a manner vastly different that if encountered at a Panera or a campus library.At parties, male partygoers often blatantly ask disinterested female partygoers “why you are here?” if she proves offended by their sexually aggressive advances. These comments appear genuine in referencing the mindset expected given the environment. Women attend events like these for a mirage of reasons, however female presence in said environment assumes an interest in suggestive behavior and male attention.Furthermore, by attending the party, drinking and socializing, Palmer seems at most compliant and at least unbothered by said ambiance as this environment would unlikely suit a non-drinker or a wallflower.
While this article does not function to critique how anyone has their fun, you probably would not be a library if you did not know how to read, nor would you be in a butcher shop if you did not eat meat. Location harbors expectations that may or may not be true, but exist nonetheless.
Although the “smoke, drink and party” lifestyle accompanies many celebrities or people in general, this dynamic functions differently for those of African descent. Blacks who drink, smoke and act suggestively as part of their fun, perform in the caricatured imaging that hovers over blackness in our implied hyper sexuality, ignorance and laziness. As a result, black women face virtually no protection in said environments as the protection afforded to their white female counterparts is seldom. Case in reference is the recent Brock Turner case where a young white woman attended a fraternity party and was sexually assaulted. The attack was caught on video, but only earned the assailant three months. Although the judge stated that Brock incurred the sentence because he did not “pose a threat to anyone,” the slap on the wrist unveils the dismissive attitude that accompanies the inebriated female partygoer. As seen in the Vanderbilt case, only if the assailant is black does sexual assault on white female partygoers become a punishable act.
II. There are a number of things that should have bothered Keke and an unapproved cameo is not one of them.
In her video, Keke references being in song “Pick Up the Phone” without batting an eyelash. The lyric that references Keke reads as follows:
“I palm her p*ssy like Keke, like Keke, like Keke.”
This lyric is vulgar play on the singer’s last name “Palmer,” yet its failure to warrant a complaint or even a comment from Keke raises an eyebrow. The sexual coercion Palmer references in her reaction video seems anticipatory given this sexually charged lyric. To not see this comment as problematic makes me wonder why the reported behavior is a problem but this lyric is not. It also seems that inviting Palmer to a party for a video where she is referenced warrants a cameo. The more I look into the facts surrounding these accusations, the more this “feud” seems a staged effort to drive the video views from its current 200,000+ views closer to the million mark. Or, that Palmer’s management deemed her friendships with Songz and other R&B singers like August Alsina as detrimental to her image, and her accusations are just damage control.
3. This fuels the ever-persistent image of the black man as a sexual predator.
In accusing Trey Songz of implementing sexual coercion in her inebriated state, Palmer paints Songz as a stereotypical sexual predator or rapist. Angela Davis speaks to the black male rapist in Women, Race and Class with the following:
The myth of the Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whoever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justifications Davis 173).
In lieu of the violence that murders blacks in both traditional and contemporary settings, painting the black man as a predator justifies any violent act taken to his body. To white America, Trey Songz operates interchangeably with slain teens Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Thus, painting Songs as a sexual predator validates Martin and Brown’s murders, suggesting eliminating the black male body is essential to maintain safety. Furthermore, in striving to exist under the protection afforded to white female sexuality, Palmer’s accusations work to foment the traditional cause for rape laws. Davis outlines the traditional cause for rape laws with the following:
In The United States and other capitalistic countries, rape laws as a rule were framed originally for the protection of men of the upper classes, who daughters might be assaulted.
Davis goes on to say what the media accurately relays to us, “… the rape charge has been indiscriminately aimed at Black men, the guilty and innocent alike ” (Davis 172). So, Palmer’s accusations paint black males as a figure that the western world needs protection from. Perhaps more problematic, the Palmer/ Songz dynamic demonstrates blacks as commonly placed against one another fueling a lack of unity that ultimately strengthens white supremacy. As long as we deflect enemy status onto one another, the perils of white supremacy remain buried in the subconscious of black understanding.
What Palmer and Songs both seem to overlook is that they, as visible black bodies, take on a role much bigger than themselves. Their actions reflect the black collective, and function to either challenge or acquiesce to images afforded to us by western society. This incident seems a testament to the underserving power of the black celebrity, or those who garner fame and fortune for personfying white perception simultaneously twisting the knife of oppressive imaging onto their respective collective.