Two common ingredients in contemporary media that aims for modernity are:
- overwhelming presence of the female body from various racial and ethnic background, and
- talk of unity
Jay Z’s most recent music video for the song “Family Feud” contains both.
The video– a theatrical (and costly) representation of a divided family seeking unity through external faith, intertwines skits of a grown Blue Ivy (Susan Kelechi Watson) leading a table of women discussing the “new” world, and a disgruntled man (Michael B. Jordan) upset by the sexual prowess of woman (Thandie Newton). While it is always nice to see blacks work for other blacks, these images seduce the superficial gaze into a state of fictive enlightenment. Namely, the video serves as shallow feminist activism to those desiring change in name not actuality. Yet, the fatal flaw of the video is not its superficiality, but its inclusiveness.
Specifically, a Blue Ivy, whose sweet face and adorable Afro-puff is easily the sole redeeming quality of the video, references America as a “family.” Thus, the family that Jay-Z references in the song quickly becomes far larger than his own party of five. Expanding the individual for the collective is normally an admirable act–but in this case strips Jay-Z and his family of their status as black–deeming them Americans instead.
The articulation of the first black family of hip hop as “American” is a means to consummate a pseudo unity. As white-designated representatives of the “black experience,” the Carters function as a means to both illustrate and orchestrate the black sentiment. This video in particular tells the black collective that “America is a family.” Furthermore, this video is most violent in seeking to mentally induce a pacified state of unity in the black collective that strips them of their blackness.
The issue with this unity is of course that it does not exist, but also that for blacks to seek to evolve beyond blackness is to induce the erasure for black people and pave a path for the racially ambiguous and trans-racial whites to assume the space where blackness once was.
For blacks, whose labor and dehumanization enabled the white family structure while systemic racism dismantled the black family, this video proves an oversimplified effort to hold hands with those who benefit from our past and present subjugation. In short, the video ignores crucial components that constitute blackness for a pseudo revolutionary image that combats Trump an individual, not a symbol of white supremacy. America is indeed a family, but blacks do not attend the reunion as guests, but as entertainment, or the help. Blacks are still not treated as Americans in 2018, so forget not being a part of family we aren’t even Americans. As proven by the 13th Amendment, black humanity is “renewable liberty.”
How can blacks be family, if legality deems our humanity conditional? To this, some will assert that humanity does not have much bearing on the concept of family. Well let us humor this claim and consider the non-humans that are “like family.” Although humans, blacks are not even “like the dog” as no white would murder a dog they way they murdered Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown or any of the other black bodies killed in a deliberate exercise of white dominance. No dog could die under the mysterious circumstances of Sandra Bland without igniting upset in the white community. The conscious community can never forget the outpour of support for Harambe in contrast to the victim-blaming that always followed the murders of black children, parents, siblings, friends, and loved ones.
To believe that blacks are family is to believe in the myth of the present as far removed from the past. I suppose money, or position will make folk believe that racism is an inconvenience of the poor or an ugliness of the unmotivated. Money, position, and material will have the mentally enslaved believe that they are in the house with whites, where they are really on the field singing and dancing while picking cotton.
The video also suggests, with a table of ethnically diverse women, that a dissolvement of white male patriarchy, or usurping the Trump-like figure, is a gateway to change. The irony in this portrayal is that every woman at that table from Mindy Kaling to Rashida Jones and Niece Nash, are seeking to consummate a journey to whiteness. Thus, the table does not mark a usurping of white male tyranny. No, this image symbolizes a replacement of white male tyranny with a female supremacy personified by white and non-white female bodies consummating a symbolic whiteness in acquiring the “woman” title. What’s perhaps most interesting about this depiction of non-whites having a “seat” at the table, is Janet Mock, a trans woman, as seated at said table–as the women she sits beside are also trans-patriarchs. As a female, this depiction begs the question:
What good is a “seat at the table” is everyone sitting at the table is a slave to the same system?
The video functions to illustrate black youth as fed proper nutrients to blossom into intellectual giants–this is false. Blue will undoubtedly occupy a position at the head of a table, but not because of proper brain food, but because of her parents, and her predisposition to the veiled subjection of the black celebrity. The table, although undoubtedly featured as a form of empowerment, depicts the stagnancy of nepotism, and the social reproduction of the same ideologies that plague our present state. Perhaps what makes this image particularly disturbing is its illustration of a seat as the table as victorious to the next generation. In projecting success as a seat at a table one occupied by white men (the video captures women re-writing the constitution), is to offset a journey where the black body seeks to dominate spaces established in the exclusion and torment of their ancestors. To encourage employment and not ownership, and to discourage a creation of new spaces, titles, and documents by black people in the best interest of their own people.
Nevertheless, many who consume the poison of popular culture like water will praise this video as “wake” work, our collective sleepwalks into a new year, indirectly working to “make America great again” by coddling white supremacy in wishing to take the place of the white man, rather than take him (and her) out of the place they maintain above the black collective.
“Nobody Wins when the family feuds”–Jay-Z
So while the phrase “nobody wins when the family feuds” anchors the short film, the video illustrates that blacks cannot think of themselves as family or even a friend to those who eat us for breakfast, and seek to mentally dehydrate the black collective with popular features such as this one. In reality, blacks can not win when they fail to feud over what the white family continues to do to the black body.
In closing, Jay-Z’s video “Family Feud,” features an abundance of black clothing and melanated people, yet blackness is a happenstance in a visual upholding the same values that deem (in traditional and contemporary settings) blacks property. Bluntly, there can and will be no advancement if this video functions as “wake” work
Black Power <3.