Beheading Ms. Badu: The Vulture Article and Undeserved Backlash

Revered Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu made headlines on the fourth Wednesday in 2018 for comments made during an interview with a white Jewish interviewer for Vulture magazine. As per usual, her remarks were taken out of context, Badu placed on a scaffold and be-headed in a social media paradigm that seeks to cast blacks as villains and not victims in the contemporary dialogue about race. 10-erykah-badu.w710.h473.2x

During the interview, David Marchese asks Badu a series of queries that illustrates him as unfamiliar with her catalogue as he is with the context that births her music. Badu, an obviously intelligent person and elevated creative thinker, paints herself as a seasoned optimist which allows her to “see the good in people.” Being the risqué individual that she is, Badu states that she can see the good in Hitler. The interviewer becomes overtly defensive and the following exchange took place:

I saw something good in Hitler.
Come again?


Yeah, I did. Hitler was a wonderful painter.
No, he wasn’t! And even if he was, what would his skill as a painter have to do with any “good” in him?
Okay, he was a terrible painter. Poor thing. He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, Mars
Badu’s daughter with enigmatic rapper Jay Electronica. She also has another daughter, Puma, with the West Coast rapper the D.O.C.
, I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that. I guess it’s just the Pisces in me.
I’m perfectly willing to accept that you might be operating on a higher moral plane than I am, but I think going down the route of “Hitler was a child once too” is maybe turning the idea of empathy into an empty abstraction. 
Maybe so. It doesn’t test my limits — I can see this clearly. I don’t care if the whole group says something, I’m going to be honest. I know I don’t have the most popular opinion sometimes.
But don’t you think that someone as evil as Hitler, who did what he did, has forfeited the right to other people’s empathy?
Why can’t I say what I’m saying? Because he did such terrible things?
Well, yes. But it’s also disheartening to hear you say that at a time, like now, when racism and anti-Semitism are so much in the air. Why would you want to risk putting fuel on that fire?
You asked me a question. I could’ve chosen not to answer. I don’t walk around thinking about Hitler or Louis Farrakhan. But I understand what you’re saying: “Why would you want to risk fueling hateful thinking?” I have a platform, and I would never want to hurt people. I would never do that. I would never even imagine doing that. I would never even want a group of white men who believe that the Confederate flag is worth saving to feel bad. That’s not how I operate.
I appreciate that. But I really struggle with the idea of how much we’re supposed to make an effort to understand or have empathy for people who have dangerously backwards or hateful thinking. You want to take the moral high ground, but sometimes that also feels the same as ceding territory. 


Hitler, The Great Painter? 

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The most conflicting component of Badu’s interview stems from her optimistic perspective of the late dictator. Specifically, Badu states that Hitler was a great painter, a direct reference to the Hitler paintings that sold for a high price. I agree that Hitler was a great painter–although in a vastly different context. His acts of evil, functioned to paint whites as victims— to paint a portrait of remembrance whereas victims of the African Holocaust are painted in a collective amnesia that depicts them as potential Hitlers in seeking to possess the pride withheld from them for centuries.  Hitler illustrates white evil as ubiquitous and universal, some evils being ethereal–its most sadistic cruelty–cast onto the peoples of African descent–occurring for what seems like an eternity.

It is interesting though that, Marchese is not so much denouncing Hitler and his deeds as he is berating Badu for a praise she never articulated. Though violent, this exchange exposes Marchese as having an obvious chip on his shoulder in his interaction with Badu.

Those of the black collective can certainly relate to encountering a person who believes themselves to be white, who bears negative feelings towards them for no obvious reason. As a woman whose attire is always an homage to the past, and an obvious student of observation and contemplation, Badu possesses a form that threatens the veiled white supremacist. Whites are most comfortable with blacks who are happily ignorant and fearful and/or in awe of white people and white acceptance. Marchese’s exchange with Badu illustrates a white person’s desperate attempt to denounce black intelligence with a fictive bigotry. To mask his own feelings of inaquedacy by trying to paint Badu as he is, small minded, prejudice, and unworthy of his position .

How does it feel to be a problem? 

My main issue with this exchange is the white male privilege that violently belies the black 98a95e52female form as problematic and not the individualism, ethnocentricity and unprofessionalism of the white male interviewer. As beings of black form subjected to centuries of systemic abuse, physical mutilation, and scientific experimentation, many blacks have adopted a form of optimism as a means to cope. If it were not for this optimism, Badu would probably not have been able to stay afloat in the industy, or have a discussion with someone who benefits from the disenfranchisement of her past and present collective. It is also rather ironic that the interviewer berates Badu for her “empathy,” but offers none to a victim of the same system that afforded him his job. The two moments that prove most violent in the delineated exchange are:

A: But don’t you think that someone as evil as Hitler, who did what he did, has forfeited the right to other people’s empathy?

This is an issue because it’s a leading question. As a woman nearing fifty, Badu needs no help organizing her ideas and as a black woman, Badu has no obligation to mollify the emotions of a white man. Especially a white man, who instead of empathizing with what America did (and continues to do) to abducted Africans, maintains veiled role in their contemporary crucification for allegations of doing what continues to be done to those of the black collective.

B. Well, yes. But it’s also disheartening to hear you say that at a time, like now, when racism and anti-Semitism are so much in the air. Why would you want to risk putting fuel on that fire?

“At a time like now?” When has racism not been pervasive?

This statement illustrates Marchese as  bearing a privileged oblivion to which racism is erykah-badu-e1448850177478-1merely an attribute of the contemporary climate, not a lifetime component in the lives of truly abdicated people.

This is not to say that the Jewish Holocaust was not horrible. It was horrible, and as a being of black form–I know all too well the evils of whites.  But  the African Holocaust never ended and that descendants of those stripped of their name and culture continues to cripple present strides of black advancement. So yes Marchese has historically suffered, but Jewish people, like countless other “ethnic” white factions that have suffered at the hands of white supremacy, are also given an opportunity to practice this very supremacy (which most have actively participated in) onto those issued an inescapable “othering.” Thus, while some may offer sympathy for the once “othered”  despite their rise to oppressor, I decline.  And to the skeptic suggesting that I am making a comparison, I want to clarify that I am not. I am saying that there is no comparison.

I am also stating that despite the implication, and backlash that suggests the opposite, Erykah cannot be racist–as this feat is an impossible one for anyone of African descent. Prejudice is a common attribute nurtured globallyl, but racism is far beyond name calling and hurt feelings–but a label solely extended to those who possess the power to persecute.

Additionally, Marchese’s actions illustrate the following violent passive-aggressive Joe-Budden-Warrant-895x1024.jpgbehaviors:

Separating the black woman from the black man.

In the following, the interviewer references an interview Badu had with a black man and cites sexism in what he considered an insulting caricature the black male allegedly casted of the singer:

I was listening to the interview you did recently with Joe Budden, and he brought up the recurring cartoonish image of you as this sort of quasi-mystical sorceress who’s always playing mind games with rappers.
The Erykah Badu legend
.
Is it frustrating to have that kind of legend follow you around? It seems pretty clearly rooted in a kind of sexism. 
I take advantage of it. It’s a good thing if people think I’m supposed to be some mystical creature that controls people’s minds.

Here, Marcheese attempts to paint himself as some kind of ally, identifying issues plaguing “minorities,” which in his  defensiveness over what he perceived as anti-Semitism he sees himself a part of too. In this instance, he referenced Joe Budden, who, as a member of the black collective shares the same struggle as Badu, as sexist. This performance is one of racism, where the master imbues the Willie Lynch Letter’s directions to separate blacks. To experience sexism is a privilege. Beings of black female form do not get the privilege of experiences sexism, what we experience is a form of racist-sexist oppression where we are masculinized, yet expected to support whites in their persistent persecution of black men.

The efforts of division have also birthed the wrath that engulfs the backlash 141208121102-bill-cosby-super-169.jpgfollowing Badu’s comments regarding actor, comedian, humanitarian,  Bill Cosby. Particularly, when asked about Bill Cosby, Badu does not give the expected polarized response. She was expected to berate Bill Cosby and contribute to the white media’s attempt to sully the legacy of someone who has done so much for black people. Badu says,

“I love Bill Cosby, and I love what he’s done for the world.”

Badu delivers these sentiments in a humanist context, even going as far to say that bearing the same skin as a victim does not dictate her loyalty, a sentiment overlooked by the white media seeking to sacrifice a black woman in a desperate attempt to simultaneously attract more gazes to the article and sympathy for a global oppressor.

B. One black person is expected to speak for other black people.

Your situation is different, but what you were saying a minute ago about how you can’t create new music unless you feel an honest compulsion to do it is making me think about how some of the most important musicians of your generation — people like Lauryn Hill, André 3000, D’Angelo — had long periods where they went silent. Do you think they felt the same way you do?

Badu issues this inappropriate and leading question a masterful responses that portrayals them all as individuals:

I don’t want to speak for those people. I know all of them, and there are individual circumstances for why each of them were quiet in different moments.

This is something most members of the black collective can admit to experiencing. Black people are commonly regarded as a single entity, detached from the thought that black people have a whole range of emotions and perspectives. Thus, the interviewer, although interviewing Erykah Badu, approaches the endeavor as if he is interviewing the every black Neo-soul artist — male and female- suggesting an insulting interchangeability between Badu, Lauryn Hill,  D’Angelo, amongst others. This is anti-black and inevitably racist, an act that exposes the interviewer as bearing the same problematic ideology he attempts to cast onto the black female bodily canvass. Erykah Badu_Photo by Samir Hussein-Samir Hussein-WireImage_Getty 886966038

Needless to stay, although I do not adopt a philosophy of conventional optimism, I support Erykah Badu. . I admire Badu as a student of life, and for being unapologetic in her revelation of self.  I admire that she spoke lovingly of a black man who the white world tried to adorn in a disgust the black collective should reserve for the white male rapist.

This vulture interview and twitter backlash depicts even seemingly progressive movements as rooted in anti blackness—seeking not to call out injustice, but to call blacks words that should be solely cached for those who believe themselves to be white.

Thus,  Badu is most remarkable in presenting in her interview responses to a racist to “call” blacks everything but majestic, with an articulate remix of perhaps her most famous lyric: you can’t use my phone.

Badu’s approach  exposes the lesson of this interview–whites can very well  maintain their negative perception of blacks as the glue to their “esteem,” but not with black bodies as a vehicle or vessel.

Furthermore, while Badu opts to see the good in everyone, I strive to see the best in black People. And black people are incomparably the best–despite the various attempts of those believed to be white, as seen in this interview, to suggest otherwise.

Black Power<3

 

 

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Amara La Negra and the Political Dilemma of Diasporic Blackness in the Americas

As a black woman displaced into the Americas, it was an interesting experience to listen

"VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The 90's Game Changers" Monday, September 18 At 9PM ET/PT
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Amara La Negra attends VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The 90s Game Changers at Paramount Studios on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for VH1/Viacom)

to Amara La Negra on the breakfast club with Angela Yee, Charlemagne, and DJ Envy. Their conversation illustrates the duality of denial and representation without actual reconciliation.

“I thought you were black until you opened your mouth”

The interview gets off to a provincial start, as DJ Envy, a black man, articulates his initial perception of Amara. He states that he thought she was a black woman until she started speaking, and revealed an obvious Spanish influenced dialect. His admission, while certainly crass, reveals that most perceive black and “latin” as mutually exclusive despite race and ethnicity as always occurring  at the same time.amara-la-negra-2-e1516654081398

 

 

 

This confusion is a deliberate method of colonialism, where the stolen siblings of mother Africa fail to recognize one another due to mythic categories and attributes created by our shared oppressor. Amara, a Miami-born black woman of Dominican ethnicity, like countless of other black bodies displaced throughout the diaspora, share the same African mother as the black bodies displaced the states centuries ago. But as illustrated in the dissonance birthed from Amara’s speech, there is a line of demarcation between what constitutes blackness and what functions as blackness.

“Exotic” Excapism

So while skin complexion is a large component of blackness, it is not the sole identifier. Amara’s dialect shapes how she is perceived, and though on first instinct she takes a place beside Lauryn Hill, Pam Grier, and others perceived as “black,” her dialect births an ambiguity that in a North American setting, allows Amara to fall into attempts implemented by oppressors to divide the race into ethnicities that function as central and displace race as peripheral.  Envy’s admission illustrates how exoticism functions as Afro-Latinas leave the nest and travel beyond the diaspora, as attributes that constituted subjugation their hometown, are symbols of difference, and thus a means to place others in the very base placement they assumed in their native country. Thus, though an overtly black woman who will undoubtedly face similar abjection in the American market as she did in the Latin market,  Amara’s speech, Diasporic displacement, in addition to her heavy investment in nationality namely her proclamation that she is “100% Latina,” function as a privilege or exoticism that fictively places her above those not given the option to choose their placement in America. la-negra-amara-image

Inadvertently, Envy’s initial comment and the comments Charlemagne would go on to make, illustrate America as a source of escapism. Where those displaced in countries where their are more of “us” and less of “them” their features are easily dismissed and demeaned in favor of the lighter skinned and the straighter haired. So while Amara outlines the problems she faced as a black artist in the Latin market, she speaks of the issue Diasporic Africans have, but seldom admit to having, towards blackness. This proves that despite the colonists attempts to convinced the colonized that “it’s different” other places in the diaspora, the plight is very much the same.

Colorism: A Problem of the Past? 

Despite the shared experience of systemic racism, Envy and Charlemagne insist that racism and colorism are matters of the past. Charlemagne evokes the age old argument where a mentally enslaved member of the black collective tosses out one or two examples that appear to challenge ideas of prejudice and racism. This very act, of course, illustrates racism. Naming one or two token black faces that exist in still very white spaces is not progress. Particularly, Charlemagne references Issa Rae and Sza, Issa Rae, who authors a series sullied in black female stereotypes, and SZA who is grammy nominated for what many are calling the “side-chick anthem,” exist in traditionally Angela_Yee_2013
white spaces as tokens of black inferiority—women who sacrificed their bodies to the entertain the oppositional gaze. Their discussion also erases the plight of Normani of Fifth Harmony, a clear standout from the group, that in her solo career will most likely be under-promoted, not due to a lack of talent, but what the world would deem an “overrepresentation of melanin.” Their consistent downplay of colorism and racism is ironically  undermined by the presence of co-host Angela Yee— a light complected woman of Asian and African ancestry who occupies a position largely unattainable for those not deemed exotic.

An Unintentional Activist

Screen-Shot-2018-01-08-at-10.34.33-AMDuring the interview, Amara La Negra is clear to state that she is not seeking to be an activist. Yes, she is vocalizing colorism as a conflict in the Afro-Latin community, but she clearly articulates that her intentions are to be Amara La Negra the artist and not Assata Shakur. The admission is a significant one, because it illustrates the desire of a black and seemingly Afro-centric body to separate itself from the militancy many associate with said image. Hearing Amara articulate herself as activist adjacent prompts me to ask” Why don the style then? As her comments reveal her 4c hair as an attribute of “Amara,” and not intentionally Africana, and certainly not a “black power” initiative.

#metoo, I’m Black

This query evokes the ever-present issue of action and image. One of the reasons why amara-la-negra-uai-720x480Assata Shakur was such a force was because she breathed blackness. Though some are not that transparent. Thus, a “woke” woman with a press, states a similar cognitively dissonant image as Amara, who embodies blackness but whose sole objective is to get the masses to look past it. This makes me wonder if her shift to the American market is an exploitive one. Namely, we are in a “black” moment. By “black moment” I mean that “blackness” is a fad. It is now cool to don natural hair and talk about “black” oppression and disenfranchisement, as long as your actions are to not provoke serious thought. Amara La Negra, though at the beginning of her career, is already performing a similar function. Her looks provoke a conversation that certainly needs to take place. However, her objectives are to foment the discussion as a means to capture the oppositional gaze—to center her peripheral presence, not to centralize blackness, but to be perceived as a white person would.

Do you think she is lighter than you?

Cardi-B-Amara-La-Negra-On-Being-Afro-Latina-800x445Cardi B is a predictable talking point for this conversation. There is a weird part of the interview where DJ Envy asks Amara La Negra to explain Cardi’s success, in her discussion of colorism. This part was interesting as it seems that Envy and Charlemegane saw the two women as interchangeable since both have Dominican roots. Envy stirs the pot by asking Amara if she felt that Cardi was “lighter than her.” To this Amara does not dignify with a response. Now, overtly Amara’s response suggests an obvious answer to Envy’s question. But, given Amara’s deliberate pseudo activism, it is apparent to the conscious gaze that if Amara could be Cardi B, in terms of eschewing dialogues of color and hair texture, and be a  “superstar” before she is black, she would.

Concluding Thoughts

So what does this all mean? First, please allow me to clarify my contemplation.

I like Amara la Negra. She’s easily one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. I 02-amara-la-negra-artist-visit-dec-12-2017-billboard-1548am also  indebted to her part in orchestrating this conversation of diasporic blackness. However, as an Afro-Latina seeking to succeed in the American market—her objective functions to further objectify and oppressed the black woman displaced in America. As an American artists she becomes one of the many abducted Africans marketed as a “black heroine” who checks hispanic and not black— who become an ethnicity and not a race— leaving the black female body cheering for the wrong team.

Admittedly, it is also hard to completely empathize with Amara, because she highlights amara-la-negracolorism as an aspect of racism that remains unextinguished, yet overlooks the racism that garnered her the fame she presently enjoys. Love and Hip Hop succeeds because it foments racist perceptions of black people. Her casting on the series is not due to her sophistication, but an effort to reinforce stereotypes about black people. Her presence of the series functions to market her to a specific demographic where she, like Evelyn Lozada, becomes a representative of a race despite her heavy nationalistic investment. The issue with blacks like Amara, and there are plenty of them, is that racism is individualistic and is only cited when presenting a personal burden. Racism is a collective problem, and anyone who does not see racism as a ubiquitous conflict is not an ally in its abolishment.

On one hand, Amara highlights what happens when a black body seeks to exist beyond color in the spotlight of the oppositional gaze. On the other hand, she illustrates the significance of choice. Namely, that accepting blackness as innately intersectional and all-encompassing disables the separated siblings of the black diaspora from functioning against one another. Namely, in simply declining to celebrate our “drop-offs”–or what functions as nationalism– and denouncing traits that prove reminiscent of our master or conquest, we assume a place alongside one another, and imbue the pro-black initiative necessary to extinguish white attempts to ensure their supremacy remains stagnant. In this same breath, had Amara, like the countless others who become ammo against the African diaspora, make her pro-black ideology clear, she would not be a cast-mate on Love and Hip Hop, and she would not be on the road to main stream stardom.  amara-la-negra-love-hip-hop-miami

The embedded lesson is that the black collective must remain skeptical of white media and who they designate as black heroes and allies, because white media is inherently anti-black.  Namely, in becoming mainstream in American culture, the black body becomes not an agent of African-ness but a weapon used against black people. So when Amara quotes producers instructing her to be “more Beyonce and less Macy Gray” they are demanding the black female body don an stance that “apologies” for her blackness and becomes a solider of white supremacy. Beyonce, although a black woman, does not function as black. As a public figure she has a specific purpose, and that is to implement oppression behind the veil of entertainment. Amara, as a diasporic African with varying functionality, will function to diversify the means of oppression onto the black collective. She, like the black female bodies that came before her, will function to make the black female body feel represented to distract from the “feel” of the rope around their collective necks.

Black Power ❤

 

 

The Woman’s March, A Cinderella Tale

I woke up to the news that Fredo Santana, a rapper of the Chicago Drill scene, passed. News of his untimely death broke in the hours preceding the Woman’s March. Though trending in the early hours of Saturday morning by the time the clock struck twelve noon, news of the deceased black man had folded into oblivion replaced by the hashtags of the Women’s March taking place in various cities across the United States. The scenario,  blacks becoming invisible to ensure the centrality of whiteness, remains a recurring fate blacks experience globally. fredo-santana-hospitalized-liver-kidney-failure-01

Despite the pervasive feminist agenda that haunts the contemporary climate, Santana, a black man, is far more important to me than any Women’s March can ever be—simply because his experience is directly linked to mine and our ancestors. As a being of black female form, on any given day or moment, I have far more in common with a black man than any white or non-black “woman of color.” Though yielding their differences, the black man and black woman endure daily testimonies of displacement and systemic abuse–both subject to  a persistent undervaluing of black people in life and death.

The events of this morning prove an unintentional illustration as to why I, a black “woman,” refused to attend today’s Women’s March. To attend today’s march is to choose gender over race, and because my hue is sun-kissed— this choice is a fatal one. To march for women is similar to a march to the gallows where my collective self is fatally raised like a curtain to the headlining act of white supremacy.

Like most children during their youth, I enjoyed fairly tales. I especially enjoyed Cinderella. In the age-old tale, a poor girl becomes subject to the misfortune of an evil stepmother and wicked step-daughters after her father’s untimely death. She goes from rags to riches when she meets a wealthy prince and lives “happily ever after.” The film is overtly a “feel good” moment for the naive gaze, preparing the innocent for a lifetime of enchantment, ie material and upward mobility—attributes that do nothing to negate the affects of blackness in an anti-black climate. Therefore, Cinderella is foreshadow to those who would grow-up and be women—illustrating the various paths that affect you regardless of money, education, beauty, moral compass, or skill.

cinderella97-divas
To the black female body, the white woman is the evil stepmother, the evil step-sisters easily embodied by other non-black persons of color, that seek to convince the black female form of her inferiority to engender a pseudo superiority. These dynamic, although illustrated in a later version of the fairy tale starring singer Brandy as Cinderella and superstar Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother, fail to resonant with viewers seeking to escape reality with fictive feel good moments that mirror the very detriment of daily life.

The version of Cinderella starring Brandy and the late Whitney Houston, mirrors the current wave of feminism which appears to retell a tale of white female privilege with black faces.

The result is predictably violent—displacing black bodies in the white female work to97-cinderella-3 supremacy does virtually nothing to negate the moral of the tale. My conscious gaze views this Cinderella differently—as this attempt of assimilation—subliminally illustrates ambush. Particularly, Cinderella’s (Brandy) relationship with an Asian prince, symbolizes those “of color” as mirroring the motives of whites, namely their collaborative ambush of black communities throughout the United States, Africa and the West Indies.

The Woman’s March illustrates a similar ambush, in which the black female body— a force reduced to a bridge to which the white woman crosses to the other side of privilege—black female entry obliterated by a white-only sign perhaps even more present in its physical absence. Yes, I am asserting that in 2018 a white only sign hovers over womanhood and each and every “wave” of feminism.

8203b8aebceafde1a4311cb864bfd29d-natural-makeup-for-black-women-dark-skin-black-women-makeup.jpgAlthough ‘wave” preceded “feminism” to mark its reinvention, the only “wave” I have ever seen is the wave of a fair-weather friend.

The black woman is the fair-weather friend of feminism, called on when they a need a chair to rest on, or a cheerleader to stand in the rain and cheer while they dance in victory.

To March for woman is forget that the “women’s college” did not have the black female body in mind in their conception. To march for woman is to forget that all those that march today are not marching for Saartje Baartman, Henrietta Lacks, Ruby McCollum, Recy Taylor, Betty Jean Owens, Fanny Lou Hamer, Tawana Brawley, or any of the black female bodies across the diaspora—they are marching for the Hilary Clinton’s and Melania Trump’s, women that in their worst moment are called or perhaps even treated like b*tches, but will never endure the systemic suffocation of blackness.

To march for “woman” is to render Fredo Santana “another black rapper who died by the same thing he rapped about,” not a black man, someone’s father, son, brother, friend,  nurtured for self-destruction not self-determination. To march for women is to render “Oh, you’re mighty smart for a woman,” in the same light as “Nigger-bitch,” to deem the  Central Park jogger a victim of rape and Tawana Brawley a liar, to remember Elizabeth Smart but forget the abducted black girls in Nigeria, DC, and throughout the diaspora.

fog

I refuse to attend the Woman’s March because I, a being of black female form, am not Cinderella. There is no glass slipper, and no prince coming to whisk me away from evil–only the contemporary white man who wishes to whisk me into a legal slavery and contractual concubine. Cinderella, like feminism, is for little white girls or even non-black women of color who recruit the black female body as a sort of fairy godmother who makes their wishes come true. Cinderella_Brandy

I want to specify that I have no desire to be recognized as “woman,” or be “Cinderella”—as both present a reduction to the prodigious existence of the black female form. The black female form precedes the concept of woman, and thus is only erased in her fictive inclusion.

Furthermore, feminism does not fit me because my skin is black. My troubles are not because I am a woman, but because in the world’s eyes, I am not one.

But to those who gloat in my so-called exclusion I ask:

Why fight to be a “woman” when I am a Queen?

Rest in peace to Fredo Santana, and the countless other black bodies who transitioned in the first weeks of this new year. May you find comfort and inspiration in the arms of our ancestors.

Black Power ❤

Proud Mary, A Review: The Strong Black Woman as Superhero/ Assassin Medley

Proud Mary (2018) is a tale of emancipation well carried by Taraji P. Henson (Mary), Billy Brown (Tom), and Danny Glover (Benny), but poorly written and developed by the non-black males behind the scenes. Mary (Taraji P. Henson) a long time affiliate of Benny (Danny Glover), works to free herself from the chains of a life she no longer desires— at least on the surface. Named for the famed Ike and Turner song, Proud Mary reflects a fetishizing of the black female form reminiscent of pm-featurethe blaxploitation era.

Released in 1969, Tina Turner’s performance of Proud Mary resurrected the animalistic prototype of the black female form displaced onto Saartje Bartmaan during the 1700s. In performance, the song proud Mary depicts what viewers see in blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier), where f22722652adddadd20058a0346adf28a--tina-turner-beautiful-black-womenthe black female form displays a heightened sexuality intertwined with an underscored masculinity mirroring the perception of the enslaved black Woman.

Though not revealing her body, Henson’s resurrection of the proud Mary form resumes the paradoxical displacement of a masculine hyper-sexuality onto the black female form.

A Fetishized Form

Before I go on any further in my review, please allow me to state that my qualms are not
with any of the black actors, at least in terms of their performance. My issue is with the seemingly complimentary image that purports very damaging behavior.

My comparison between Proud Mary and the black female superhero of the 1970s is easily disputed by claims that Mary is not hyper-sexualized— and overtly she is not. There is no sex scene, no shower scene or even a kiss. In fact, the biggest romance in the film is the maternal bond between Mary and Danny. Though refreshing, I can not help but wonder if this omitted  love scene stems from an anxiety in depicting black love in a contemporary climate inundated with interracial love, or a desire to somehow a-sexualize a black female who spends most the movie with a phallus in hand.Foxy-Brown-film-images-c022e211-a537-47ff-bad2-f6b6fcf6a94

Nevertheless, Mary’s espousal to a big black gun, simultaneously masculinizes and sexualizes the black female form.
Particularly, the immaculate gun-slinging displayed by Mary in this film proves eerily similar to Idris Elba’s performance in The Dark Tower, where his coital relationship with his gun bring about change. Mary’s gun-slinging overtly sexualizes Henson simultaneously masculinizing her. Particularly, the precise phallic handling that dominates the film paints the black female form as not a lady with a gun but a female with a supplemental phallus. Thus, the film’s depiction of the strong black woman, seemingly occurs at the expense of blurring the gender line between the black male and female form, prompting viewers to question whether the black female form is less than a man but more than a woman–or vice versa.

 Emasculation +Elimination= Strength

The strong black woman image is a pervasive image throughout both the film and proudmarythroughout the global perception of the black female form. Proud Mary, the strong black woman that anchors the film, is literally a super woman. Yet, true to the treatment of the black female form, she is underestimated.  Proud Mary as an underestimated entity is depicted in Benny’s inability to conceive Mary as going against his commands. Her loyalty is also taken for granted—illustrated in Benny and Tom’s assumption that there is nothing Mary would rather do with her life than fulfill their personal and professionals needs. The black female form as an underestimated being whose loyalty is taken for granted, gives way for a central component of Proud Mary’s embodiment of the strong black woman caricature–the elimination and/or emasculation of the black man.

In accordance with the strong black woman caricature, the film depicts Mary as not needing a man, but being needed by men. 62022762.cms

This film illustrates the necessity of the black female to the black familial unit, and to the mission of the black man. This essentiality of the black female form to the black family and the black mission is not false or negative. The depiction however is quite negative.The portrayal in a film directed and produced by non-black males, illustrates the black man—Benny (Danny Glover) and Tom (Billy Brown)— as desiring to possess the black female form— a sentiment that mirrors the oppositional perception and use of of black bodies against one another.

Viewers see Mary emasculate Tom in refusing his desire to make their romantic past present— a refusal that ultimately results in Tom’s elimination. In the film’s final scene, Mary has murdered her surrogate father Benny, and their entire team. Tom has taken Danny hostage, and Mary has come to collect her surrogate son. She attempts to do so without harming Tom. But once Mary walks away without looking back, a distressed Tom shoots at Mary. She of course shoots back, but wounding Tom is not enough. She walks a few feet over to an ailing Tom and shoots Tom at point blank range. In a movie full of murder, I found this image to be the most hurtful. The hurt lies in the implication that liberation for the strong black woman comes solely in murdering the black man.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that although I use the term “black” to describe the characters—their is no mention of race. There is also a noticeable dearth of white

Taraji P Henson
Mary (Taraji P. Henson) stalks her prey in the kitchen of the Kozlov mansion in Screen Gems’ PROUD MARY.

women— aside from a single white female sales clerk in a high-end department store.

Both occurrences are hardly coincidental and work together to depict a central component of the film. Despite Taraji’s starring role in the film and embodiment of the strong black woman caricature—her function is to embody “woman—“ the black actors employed to capitalize on the black consumer. Just as Pequita Burgess–a black woman– was the face of Bill O’Reilly’s “downfall” Taraji is the face of the oppositional gaze’s attempt of modernity in depicting a black “feminist” figure as a step away from the overt racism that pollutes our contemporary climate. The conscious gaze knows that it is racism that purports strong images of black women either in close proximity to whiteness, or at the expense of the emasculated (via absence or action) black male. Moreover, it appears that Mary exists as a “woman” figure that must break away from blackness, blackness as embodied through black males Benny and Tom, in order to consummate her journey to woman. Mary- a woman who ran away from the bad, only to be found by the worse, seeks to free herself from “blackness” via her supplementary phallus to emerge as woman.

Mother Mary or Virgin Mary

The love affair that carries the film is the love between Mary and Danny. After tailing486829_m1513852624 Danny and taking him in after he collapses on a Boston street, the two organically fall into a mother and son role. It is this maternal role that seemingly is the cherry on Mary’s attempt to emerge as woman, simultaneously evoking the central maternal image in the Christian Bible. Specifically, the name Mary evokes the biblical mother of Christ who conceives the savior of humanity immaculately. Mary, (Henson) performs a similar function in emerging as mother to a child she did not conventionally conceive. The placement of “proud” in front of “mary” functions to depict the black mother Mary as possessing one of the seven sins–pride. This evokes a similar image to eve and the apple, the black woman depicted as possessing the pride that sullies humanity with her sin and thwarts her journey to “woman.”

Stop. Don’t Shoot.

Screen-Shot-2017-07-20-at-11.20.37-AMBefore I conclude this piece, I wish to share that this film had me at the edge of my seat for an unlikely reason. I spent the bulk of the film hoping that Danny (Jahi Di’allo Winston) did not get shot. Danny is easily comparable to Trayvon Martin, or even a Tamir Rice who were murdered at or around Danny’s age in the film—their transitions induced by gunshot wounds. Though “saved” by black mother Mary, Danny’s spared life almost suckers viewers into enjoying a mediocre movie more because although inundated with death–the movie spares the child.  The spared black male child is especially resonant given the inhumane amount of young black bodies the black collective has had to bury over the last four hundred years. This bothered me as it seems a ploy of the non-black writer and directors to exploit the contemporary gaze fixated on the fiction that racism is an isolated ideology–whereas if there was no racism this movie and the caricatures that cloud it, would not exist.  Furthermore, the spared black child makes viewers more inclined to develop an underserving predilection for the non-black movie producers and writers for not disrupting a route to escapism with reality–unveiling the film as a means of escapism, not a means to exhale. Proud-Mary-8

 

Honorable Mentions

  • The film depicts Danny as submissive and respectful with whites, but more comfortable and even disrespectful to blacks. Given that the film is written and produced by non-blacks, this portrayal illustrates that what may seem like a casual means to interact between kinfolk are very much studied behaviors by groups wishing to oppress us.
  • Also, the film depicts whites as callous and emotionless regarding their wrongdoing, but depict blacks as possessing more feeling. Though some may argue that Benny becomes indignant towards Mary’s pending departure because he is hurt, his actions mirror what becomes of blacks who seek to encompass whiteness—they essentially become the white man. Tom, in the emotion he wears on his face for Mary, has not consummated the level of white mimicry as his father—he is still able to love and feel. This display is in accordance with Dr. Bobby Wright’s “The Racial Psychopath Essays” where he delineates whites as innate racial psychopaths.

Concluding Thoughtsmaxresdefault

Conclusively, Proud Mary starring Hollywood veteran Taraji P. Henson, does for film what Scandal’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) did for television—place the black female body in a role typically reserved for white men.

Though surfacely filling a void in Black female representation on the big screen, Proud Mary reinforces negative controlling images that continue to surround and drown the black female body in perspectives that function to substantiate black female disenfranchisement.

So while seemingly an ode to black female physical and mental strength, Proud Mary subversively sexualizes the black female form, proving that objectivity from the oppositional gaze is simply not feasible in a world to which her subjugation remains a necessity.

Black Power ❤

 

SZA’s “The Weekend” Video: The Good, The Bad, and The Upset

SZA’s “The Weekend” is a sensual track bearing the same content overlooked in the pristine vocals of the late Whitney Houston in “Saving All my Love” (1985). A contemporary rendition of the ode to the other-woman, SZA resurrects the seemingly long lost sound of rhythm and blues. The Weekend’s popularity proves that popular music does not have to be soul-less, but requiring a displacement of black souls in one of  many degrading caricatures. In this particular song, the black female assumes the sza-weekend-videocaricature of the female hyper-sexual counter-part to a misogynist.

Though, to the listener seeking substance, the topic of the song proves a backdrop to soothing vocals and the sound of actual instruments and not a technologically-produced melody. Yet the presence of hyper-sexuality and black female devaluement as present in the song’s lyrics, exposes the cost of black visibility as deeming the black female body the literal weekend, or understudy of not just the music industry, but the world.

The silver lining to this video comes in the black female form as gaze and c_scale-f_auto-w_706-v1513960140-this-song-is-sick-media-image-sza-the-weekend-video-1513960140847-pngsubject. So while an eventual feast of the oppositional gaze, “The Weekend” marks a combative initiative the media bound black body can take to ensure that the video rendition of our music is not a showcase not a sacrifice.  Yet despite the feat of sisterhood shaping the black female form in white media, the SZA video debuted to a sour reception.

This sour reception does not resent the display of SZA’s body in what some would deem revealing outfits, but resent that SZA did not use the video to embody “the weekend” or displace the black female body as “the other woman.” Given the song references what the contemporary climate calls the side-chick, it is beneficial to the black female image that SZA not play this role in a video. The video, as is, also spares the black male the demonized hyper-sexuality aligned with the side-chick image—an ever-pervasive image in the white media.

insecure-molly-dro-hbo-reelydope-2
I, like many,  stumbled into SZA’s musical catalogue after her numerous features on Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure. Although not featured on the series, SZA’s “The Weekend” proves the soundtrack to Insecure’s supporting character Molly (Yvonne Orji) who embodies “the weekend” in her affair with a married man. This portrayal, although a negative reflection of black male-female relationships and black male-female sexuality—failed to receive the outrage dispelled onto the SZA video.

While disappointing, this reaction is anything but surprising.

The upset featured in the video seems to stem from the desire to see black bodies in a negative caricature that has become typical in black representation in the white media. Negative portrayals of black bodies have not only become standard but a means of enjoyment.

In The Racial Psychopath and Other Essays, Dr. Bobby Wright sites black suffering as a

sza
A still from SZA’s video for “The Weekend.”

way of life, a point that substantiates why negativity remains a veiled joy for the black collective. Namely, it is not that these images truly bring joy to blacks, but that it grants stagnancy to an anticipated suffering (in varying degrees) associated with the black experience.

Thus, it is a mental espousal to the degrading and demeaning that prevents many from enjoying the plurality of a black female beauty embodied in the Solange directed SZA video.

sza-the-weekend-videoAccurately featured in the video, the black female form is natural, untouched, and graceful. Her placement alongside grungy images, deftly personifying the rose that grew from concrete–a too often forgotten mantra of the black female narrative.

Furthermore, despite debuting to a caustic reception, SZA’s video for “The Weekend” succeeds in depicting the black female form as central and not only spotlight- worthy, but a spotlight in and of herself.

P.S.: If I would have directed the video, SZA would have been dressed like a Kemetian Queen. The referenced man would have been married to the movement and sleeping with success–SZA would have personified both “the movement” and “success–” illustrating the same black woman as the wife and girlfriend, the main-chick and side-chick, because black love can and does exist. And not just on the weekdays…

Black Power ❤

 

Coolest “Monkey” in the Jungle or King of The World? The H&M Ad as a Call to Action for Affirmative Black Economics

hm-slammed-for-racism-over-coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-hoodie-300x300

H&M recently made headlines for a derogatory image that featured a young black boy in a green hoodie that read:

The coolest monkey in the jungle.

This degrading image depicts how the world views the black body simultaneously proving reminiscent of the 2011 Soho billboard that featured a black child in asserting
the black female womb as “the most dangerous place for an African-American.” The use of the African minor in both instances illustrates a sadistic assault on our collective–an assault that births the sullied perspective that shapes black life long before conception.

Actualizing “The Coolest Monkey in The Jungle” 

The featured child evokes Benga, a black youth featured in what is now known as the Bronx Zoo. In Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington delineates Benga, a sun-kissed African youth of a small stature, distinctive teeth and ears, as featured alongside “Dinah, a 940lrs_fe677a134cd4fa5gorilla, and an orangutan called Dohung” (Washington). Washington referenced Benga as playing a major role in what she calls “scientific racism.” To juxtapose Benga to the small black child featured in H&M’s ad, exposes scientific racism as ever-present in media, but more so unveils media as a science that inevitably intertwines racial ideas to ensure that whites feel good and blacks feel badly in visually consuming these images. The result is the worse kind of violence, the one that does not happen with the hands, or mouth—but one that sears through the eyes and tears through the soul, irretrievably burning the flesh.

This type of assault culminates temporary visibility in a contemporary climate—an assault that prompts temperate upset but fails to disrupt the capital that thrives in black consumerism.
This wound festered via the world white web, imbued increased agitation in a Steve Harvey clip  many consumers aligned with the H&M featured image. In the clip, Harvey makes light of selling out for the “right” price–proclaiming that he would be “the best monkey they ever seen” for four million dollars. The audience can be heard laughing as Harvey begins to imitates a monkey for what I am sure is far less than four million.  Pardon me, but I fail to find the humor in selling out. Perhaps the most violent part of this portrayal is Harvey stating  that “ black people would be so embarrassed.”

This clip in execution and content was extremely embarrassing, illustrating the context to which violent images like the one seen with this young black child function permissibly. It also illustrates that while limited to white letters on a green shirt in the H&M image, white media actualizes “the coolest monkey in the jungle” in melanated folk like Steppin’ Fetchit, Steve Harvey, Martin Lawrence, Terry Crews, Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry, The Wayans, Omarosa, Tiffany Haddish and other “skinfolk” who willingly strive to be “the coolest monkey in the jungle” in reducing themselves to caricatures for a coin.

The jungle is of course the white media– a modern circus that displays the exploited black body as beast to stroke the white ego at the expense of black collective integrity.

“The coolest monkey in the jungle” spits in the face of the black ancestors and elders who made the ultimate sacrifice to transition the black body off the auction block, an auction block so many willingly mount to make a dollar. A dollar being not a widow of opportunity but a piece of paper that embodies a value solely dictated by the  white collective.

Examining “the coolest monkey in the jungle” as actualized in other facets of media, begs the question as to whether folk are as upset about the H&M image as they are about other demeaning representations of the same negativity?

Furthermore, in examining black bodies that assume placement as monkeys in white media, this issue then is not so much being called a monkey, or a n*gger, but being treated as one. So whether wearing a shirt with a derogatory statement, hypnotized into mistaking labels for liberation, or appearing simple or belligerent for a check, the black body remains imprisoned in the contemporary circus called media. This circus easily becomes a means to substantiate treating blacks like monkeys and n*ggers in substantiating why local businesses check receipts, demand their black consumers order from behind an bullet-proof glass, or follow blacks around the store.

Deserving the Black Dollar

The contemporary manifestation of the exploited black body is a socially reproduced image of our past that evokes the troublesome `political juxtaposition between black beings and animals–and a poisonous image produced by H&M to garner attention in creating controversy to drive sales. Namely, while there are those who will never (or pretend not to) patronize H&M because of this overtly racist image, there are plenty that will shop at 20c15514-ae14-4c4a-bfd6-13002b158dbd-large16x9_AP818744441960H&M just because they featured this anti-black image.
While an insult to the black collective, this advertisement proves symbolically profitable to whites. Thus, the advertisement proves why whites should patronize H&M, and illustrates why H&M, like all businesses anchored in achieving a capitalistic advantage at the expense of furthering black economical disenfranchisement, does not deserve the black dollar.

In the same breath, the issue with the revelation of H&M’s prejudice is that it resulting outrage is ephemeral. Like Dove and Nivea, H&M reserves a place alongside the recently ousted white franchise that function as isolated incidents of single white businesses that do not deserve black support. These incidents are of course not isolated, but smoke that signals a flame of racism and prejudice that remains ubiquitous despite contemporary culture’s attempt, amidst literal bullets flying towards black bodies, that racism is an individual not a collective problem.

From Consumership to Change

Blacks have enough consumer power to, at the very least, produce chance. Yes, it is far harder for blacks to start businesses due to our economical disenfranchisement and systemic suffocation. But this disenfranchisement does not stop many of us from overindulging in luxuries that transform“ours” to  “theirs.” I say this not to admonish, or castigate—as I too have been guilty of overindulging and over prioritizing materialism in my not-so-distant past. This is not to say that blacks can not and should not have “nice” things, but that blackness and economic integrity is that “nice” thing we deserve as a collective.

For this reason, H&M, one of many companies who creates products from third-world slavery to exploit economic slaves of the systemically disenfranchised, will probably never face the scrutiny and boycott it deserves. Brands that have become staples in a consumer culture are praised for their toxicity and production of addicts, called shoppers, who believe products of high value are worth more than virtue.

NBA superstar Lebron James used his platform and influence to restore black virtue in shifting a negative image into one bearing a  0108-lebron-james-king-of-the-world-getty-4positive message. James posted an edited version of the image  where the Green sweatshirt reads “king of world.” This was a powerful image that I would like to take a step further. It is one thing to speak of being royalty, and there is another thing to act like it. So I ask you: Would a king or queen trust just anyone to place diamonds in their crown? 

No.

Thus, if we truly are royalty, we must exercise discretion to whom we let drape our temples and crowns.

We as a collective can get mad at these images, or allow them to serve as an inside tip to what most (if not all) of these non-black producers think of the black consumer they exploit. Simply put, would you rather patronize someone who sees and treats you as a monkey or a king?

Furthermore, if we, the black collective are going to be mad, let us be mad at ourselves for expecting of other factions what we we owe to ourselves.

Here is a modest list of black owned companies to support instead of those who fail to see us as human.

MasterMindzMarket

Philadelphia Printworks

Public School 

Beastmode Apparel 

HGC Apparel

Simply Cecily  

Brave Chick

Sweet Knowledge Clothing

Hstry

Black Power ❤

 

Why OWN’s Checked Inn Checks all of Boxes in Positive Black Portrayal

Typically, black portrayal in white media proves a medley of stereotypes. From the welfare mother, to the jezebel, the mammy, the buck, tom, sapphire, and tragic mulatto, the black body remains confined to the caricatured imprisonment of the oppositional gaze.

OWN’s new series Checked Inn strikes a new chord in black representation. The series focuses on black power couple Monique Greenwood, Glenn Pogue, and their daughter Glynn, as they operate Akwaaba–a bed and breakfast named for the Swahili word meaning “welcome.”  Greenwood, a former editor and chief for Essence magazine, left corporate America to pursue her dream of operating a bed and breakfast.  590880cd140000e409a9d027

The business started in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, with the purchase of a Brooklyn mansion and has now expanded to four additional locations in DC, Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New Orleans. Having stayed at the Brooklyn location numerous times, I can attest to Greenwood’s masterful eye and ability to espouse hospitality and elegance. The product of a black couple married for almost thirty years, their business, like their show, is a personification of black excellence.

Here are a list of positive portrayals from the show:

  1. The portrait of black women donning their natural hair dos: Monique  
    Greenwood the black woman who owns and operates Akwaaba, dons a natural hairdo. This illustrates that assimilation dissolves when you work for yourself. I also appreciate seeking the numerous black women featured on the series, from the staff to the guests, also donning natural hairdos.
  2. Personifying a Black Business that “looks” black: One of the most valid critiques of black business is their dedication to seeming “universal.” Thus, It is heartwarming to see that Greenwood employs an all black staff. Greenwood illustrates the premise of black business, not only to place money in the black community, but to employ black people.     
  3. Positive Portrayal of Black Men: From  kind and gentle Akwaaba owner Glenn Pogue, to Chef Shawn, to the male husbands who come to Akwaaba to reconnect with their wives, Checked Inn features a mass  black male portrayal that counters the negative portrayal seen throughout the media. In a world where black men are portrayed as habitual cheaters, innately violent, vulgar, and insensitive, it is a pleasant surprise to see black men portrayed as they are—royal.

 

4. The Various portraits of black love: Owned by former Essence editor and chief, Monique Greenwood, Akwaaba a bed and breakfast proves a platform for a weddings, couple reconnection, girlfriend getaways, and solo escapes. The series features all of the above, but it is especially resonant in its pleasant portrait of black couples.

Viewers witness a couple who recently lost their teenaged son suddenly, find comfort in their community following their unimaginable loss. This image is powerful because it lacks the presence of a white savior, instead proving that blacks can be their own hero.

I would negligent to not point out that the black savior borders a resurrection of the “mammy’ figure in one episode where Greenwood plays advisor to a non-black couple engaged for eleven years. Given that black businesses post integration will entertain non-black clientele, the choice to feature this on a series seemingly centered on black entrepreneurship, illustrates the issue with black presence on a white media.

Nevertheless, this criticism is a reflection of the transition from real to reel, and not of the empire Greenwood and Pogue have built. In the same breath,  while it is certainly a joy to see the positive images that compose Greenwood’s daily life featured on television, the true praise goes to Greenwood for making this portrait of black excellence a reality long before making it to reality television.

….

Akwaaba– while a beautiful property with mouthwatering breakfast and a charming Jacuzzis– is most resonant as a black business owned by a black family not seeking economic capital, but the sentimental capital in bringing joy to others and creating a space for black people.

Cheers to a second season and many more years of weddings, vacation stays, girl’s weekends, and couple reconnections!

Which Akwaaba will you stay in, in 2018?

Black Power! ❤

Who’s Family? A Black Perspective on Jay-Z’s Family Feud Video

Two common ingredients in contemporary media that aims for modernity are:

  1. overwhelming presence of the female body from various racial and ethnic  background, and
  2. talk of unity

Jay Z’s most recent music video for the song “Family Feud” contains both.jay-z-family-feud-zoom

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.

blue-ivy-makes-her-acting-debut-in-jay-z_s-e28098family-feud_-video-amp_-fans-are-freaking-ftrSpecifically, 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.

beyonceThe 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 H6PCz3ZO.jpgassert 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.

Family-Feud-Video-tableThe 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 Fmaily-Feud-700x525.pngintellectual 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 BeyonceBlueIvyJayZvideo 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 videoFamily 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.

 

 

Black Oppression: In Living Color

A college friend reached out to me over the recent New York City snowstorm to vent about the new Bruno Mars and Cardi B video. His concern was that the video, starring two racially ambiguous stars, sullied a prevalent portion of black culture–gateway sitcom In Living Color. His assertions are definitively astute– marking a troubling pattern seen in white and racially ambiguous entertainers who appropriate what blacks made great, to further their brand and fester the wound of white supremacy. in-living-color

I’ll be honest with you, In Living Color was not good for the black collective. The show, like most media platforms, proved a means for blacks to become spectators and gawk at their own disenfranchisement. It also birthed The Wayans, a family that would resurrect caricatures of blackness that function to beat the black mind into mental subjugation years after the physical chains had been cut. Television, like music, sports, etc are deliberate means of escapism, serving a similar function to drugs in issuing the systemically disenfranchised a temperate high jlo-then-nowthey seek to recreate with each additional use. In Living Color, also placed Bronx born Latina Jennifer Lopez in the spotlight, who like Cardi B and Bruno Mars, gained fame and fortune for her proximity to blackness, but maintained prominence and versatility because she was not black.

Just as Lopez’s assets would be disregarded if she were black, Bruno’s sound would be deemed cliche and generic if he were a black man, Cardi’s “personality,” deemed “charming” and “real” by most consumers would easily be rendered gauche and aligned with the “welfare queen” caricature if she were a black woman. Perhaps most importantly, neither Bruno Mars or Cardi would garner mainstream appeal if black. If black, the perception of their celebrated attributes would circumscribe their appeal,  if not negate their opportunity for visibility all-together.
DSpHInQU8AAT2a5The irony of it all is that Bruno Mars and Cardi B exist in “living color.” They have “color” in the sense that they are not white, but they are not colored with what the white world still regards as the detriment of blackness. Although deviants of what author Alice Walker called the “black black woman” stolen from the shores of Africa, Bruno and Cardi stand on this illusive black black woman in their distant past  to assume a position above blacks but below whites.

Cardi literally stands on Nicki Minaj’s back as an obvious duplicate of Minaj’s caricature. nicki-minaj-why-lil-kim-not-surprised-stole-her-look-again-ftrCardi B’s resurrection from reality television to the top of popular culture illustrates that the Nicki Minaj image was never intended for the black female body. She illustrates that Nicki Minaj was a test, a test expected to fail. In her conventional success, Minaj now serves a doorstopper to allow the entry of non-black versions of a caricature first seen with lil’ kim, but gradually lightened over the decade that separates the pop/hip-hold meld attempted with Kim and perfected with Minaj. This is not to say that Minaj is in any way better than Kim, but that her lighter skin, finer features and crossover sound assumes a space Kim could not quite master with her brown skin, full features and conventionally “hard” lyrics. Just as Kim became a mark that Minaj was designed to exceed, Nicki now  exists as a mark that the racially ambiguous Minaj must exceed.

nicki-minaj-iggy-azalea-top-40-splitIggy’s ability to appropriate Nicki’s look, but not her personality could not quite carry the torch of appropriation terrorism. In short, Iggy was largely unlikeable and overtly unrealistic. Yes, Nicki sometimes resembles a candy land character, but she is easily the girl next door, or bad-girl turned good.. Blacks historically mastered code switching as a means of survival,  as a black female caricature, Iggy’s investors could pay for her assets but could not buy this survival technique.

Cardi, however, a Nicki clone, lighter and seemingly more embedded in the “hood”- cardi-b-instagram-4-1504612974-view-1functions as a deliberate means to imply that their are non-black people who incur a “blacker” existence than black people. Cardi B, a former stripper who had to choose whether to eat or strive for an education, functions to declare Hispanics as the new black. Despite her voluntary presence in the United States, the white media functions to illustrate Cardi B, as they do the LBGT community, those of Mexican ancestry and those of Muslim faith– as bearing a subjugation far worse that any black person– deeming the reference groups  more worthy of central placement than black bodies.

This of course is a smokescreen for the reality that the white media is far more comfortable with non-black persons of color than blacks, as their voluntary presence in the blood-stained North American continent, proves a symbolic profit to those who built bridges with the bones of the dead and signed checks in the blood of the murdered and defiled.  For it is far easier to celebrate the conventional “greatness” of those who proved victorious in conjunction with America, rather than those who rose in spite of its evils.
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For many exhausted with the 808 sound of contemporary music, it is hard not to like Bruno Mars. It’s hard not to like his doo-wop soul sound that is a reminiscent of a young Frankie Lymon and men who used to sing on trains and street corners. But Frankie Lymon and all the other soul singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke who died prematurely and suspiciously, died to make room for Bruno Mars. So while Cardi B exists to illustrate the black experience as detached from black people, Bruno Mars functions as a brown version of Robin Thicke or Justin Timberlake—seeking to illustrate the “soul” or the “black sound” as detached from black people.

Furthermore, images like these depict a reality many are still unwilling to accept– that we as a collective remain under attack. Cardi B, Bruno Mars amongst numerous other racially ambiguous acts forced down the collective throats of black people, illustrate acts and tools of mentacide, or “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a person’s or group’s mind”  as gradually becoming darker and darker, unveiling our most lethal adversaries as literally “in living color.”

Black Power ❤

Netflix Series She Gotta Have It: A Black Female Perspective

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On the anniversary of the Native American Holocaust, popular film director Spike Lee debuted the series version of his 1986 film She Gotta Have It. Deviating from the black and white coloring that encased the original feature, Spike Lee reflects his contemporary gaze in living color.  Casting a black female lead who is a Hershey chocolate, deviates from the norm of the racially ambiguous lead who has fair skin, light eyes and and or “long” hair, Lee resumes the contemporary narrative seen in series Scandal, Being Mary Jane,  and How to Get Away with Murder that assert brown is  the “new” black.  She Gotta Have It introduces viewers to a twenty-seven year old Nola Darling, an aspiring artist based in Fort Greene Building. Viewers quickly meet Nola’s allison_on_she_s_gotta_have_it_netflix_ringer.0three loves, Jamie, the well-to-do married man who deviates from the privilege of his porcelain skin wife to the black magic sexuality of Nola Darling, Darling also sees Grier, a  fair-skinned offspring of a black panther father and French mother. Grier is a playboy with numerous lovers, but drawn to Nola’s indifference to monogamy. Mars, the offspring of a Black dad and Puerto Rican mother (played by a Puerto Rican actor), is the most theatrical and youthful of all Nola’s lovers. What he lacks in finances he makes for in spirit, and a promise of masculinity he can’t quote own. All suitors offer something different to Nola, but lack a completeness to contest her free-spirited nature. The only one of Nola’s sex partners that  prompts a desire for more is her lesbian lover Opal, who while fun, intelligent, beautiful and responsible (she is a single mom as well), is turned off by Nola’s  flakiness–the same trait that foments desire from her male love interests.  mars_spikelee

The series does little to deviate from the caricatured black female image where the black women is vilified and limited to a body sexualized by the oppositional gaze. Given that the series derives from the gaze of a black man, She Gotta Have It resumes the hurt experienced by the conscious gaze that expected more but received less from those subject to the same abjection as the characters they both romanticize and reduce to the master’s tools.

quote-the-most-disrespected-person-in-america-is-the-black-woman-the-most-unprotected-person-malcolm-x-89-59-64This review details the enjoyable parts of the series, and why it fails to evolve the
image of who the late Malcolm X called ” the most disrespected person in America” –the black woman.

What works about She Gotta Have It 


The homage to black musicians with a full plug

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The series features a plethora of black music which precedes a full feature of the album artwork. The Song “Melanin” played during episode “#LBD” was a personal favorite.

 

 

 

The placement of a brown-skinned leading lady 

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She’s Gotta Have It

Homage to black leaders past. I personally felt chills and shed a few tears when shown James Baldwin, and Malcolm X’s (and the late Betty Shabazz’s) grave.

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Things that Troubled Me….

The brown skinned black woman who tries to own her narrative through sexual liberation

shes-gotta-have-it-netflixSeen in Scandal protagonist Olivia Pope, Being Mary Jane’s Mary Jane, How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating and most recently Issa Rae’s Insecure, contemporary culture appears fixated on reasserting the black female body in a Carrie Bradshaw-esque image incompatible with the complexities of black femininity. She Gotta Have It, resumes this contemporary attempt to offset the black female body to womanhood to which she violently fails to consummate in reasons beyond the scope of a series seeking to entertain not enlighten the world with black female complexity.

The placement of sex at the center of the black female narrative not only hyper sexualizes the black female body, but implies that sex is an identifying feature of black female identity. She Gotta Have It protagonist, Nola— a talented artist, treats her body as a paintbrush, using her sexuality as a means to own her canvass. Her attempt to objectify her male lovers, as illustrated in the “Three headed prince” portrait that phallically places her three lovers besides one another, offsets a prominent lesson. The lesson is that a black male or female cannot objectify one another without objectifying themselves. Namely, the part reflects the whole– inevitably and indefinitely.

As an artist, or someone of suggested depth, it is a preoccupation with black female sexuality that makes black bodily objectification the core component of a series that shallowly depicts the black female as one-dimensional.

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She’s Gotta Have It

Nola buying a $500+ dress from an overtly racist establishment

The episode entitled #LBD, features series protagonist Nola Darling seeking an external means to yield an internal makeover. The premise is a troubling as it sounds, yet eerily accurate to the materialism, or retail therapy so many within the oppressed faction seek to ease systemic wounds that feel self-inflicted. The depiction of Nola’s route to the obtain material to mend internal wounds is also troublingly accurate.

Nola sets out to buy a dress to showcase her external beauty and internal confidence, at a small boutique. In the boutique, Nola and her friend Clo encounter an overtly racist white woman who hovers over her two black clients from their entry, to trying on the clothes, to check out. The white female sales clerk does not even attempt to veil her  prejudice, a prejudice which fails to deter Nola from spending over five hundred dollars with a small business who thinks more of a stray dog than of her as a black woman.

Scenarios like these continue to frequent the black narrative, where the black female body seeks to overcome subjugation by succumbing to it. So whether the black celebrity combats an under-estimated self-worth by buying the most expensive item in the store, or the black resident in a black neighborhood who patronizes non-blacks business despite experiencing condescending or antagonistic behavior, these actions illustrate an internalized inferiority often reduced to “choosing your battles.”

The Black Dress, The Emasculator

Interestingly, the little black dress proves an emasculating tool for all three suitors. Jamie, places his blazer over the dress to avoid excess attention, Mars cowers in a confrontation that emerges because of the dress, and Grier abrasively tries to freeze the moment in time with his camera. Thus, the dress functions to display the great lengths the internally damaged black female body will go to showcase its exteriorized black female form, and how their male counterparts simply cannot endure its awful beauty.

The othered woman as the other woman

The series also resumes the hyper sexual narrative seen in Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating, and Mary Jane Paul where the beautiful, ambitious, and seemingly sexually liberated black female form is a mistress to a married man. This recurring theme exposes Scandal’s Pope as opening the door not for the black female body, but the black female body as a conventional whore, resuming her presumed plantation placement as literally and figuratively beneath her master’s bed.

The Price of Prostitution

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She’s Gotta Have It

One of the most disturbing components of the series is when Nola sounds off on lover Jamie, after his $10,000 purchase does not come fruition. Now, admittedly Nola is under a tremendous amount of pressure at this point. I am particularly referencing the pressure of having to pay rent in New York City, despite splurging on a $500+ dress without batting an eyelash. However, things come crashing down when Jaime’s purchase of Nola’s self portrait leaves Nola short on her rent. Despite the cringeworthy feeling that comes with Jaime putting and paying a price for Nola’s portrait of herself, which seems eerily like an auction block purchase, this depiction exposed Nola as a co-dependant being. Moreover, while the series seemingly portrays Nola as autonomous to her sexual partners and sexuality as a whole, all it takes is a single scene for Nola to seem disturbingly similar to a prostitute throwing a fit over lack of payment. Yes, the money is for her “work,” but given the symbolism of the work being “her,” Nola’s fit appears upset over a man’s failure to pay for her, namely to monetarily compensate for the use of her body.

I choose the “me” in “you”

Nola and Opal. She Gotta Have It, the Netflix series

In the film, Nola chooses Jaime when he sheds his nice exterior and becomes as romantically callous as she was in the film’s beginning. Although surfacely oppositional from the series, both the film and movie  convey a similar message in their endings. The series ends with Nola’s three lovers leaving one at a time. She then responds to the doorbell sounded by lesbian lover, Opal. In both films Nola chooses herself, in a veiled manifestation of lovers who mirror her in action or form. In the film, Nola desires monogamy with Jamie, when he becomes like her and is unwilling to be what she desires. In the series, Nola seemingly chooses her lesbian lover Opal—her only lover that shares the black female form she spends the entirety of the film seeking to define.

Fake Booties

Shes-Gotta-Have-It-Episode-9-Chyna-Layne.jpgI seemed rather disruptive to include body distortion in the contemporary black female narrative without a critical context to decipher its pervasiveness. Specifically, the series showcases Shemeeka Epps, Nola’s friend who desires a fuller derriere. Shemeeka, an exotic dancer, resorts to a a backdoor operation to attain butt injections which produce her desired result, at an almost fatal cost. In a moment that seems more comical than critical, Shemeeka’s injections liquefy when she lands too roughly on her behind during her set at the strip club. Now, my critique is not to say that black women do not face body issues, but as a black female who navigates the real world applied to fictive characters in this series, there appears to be far more emphasis on hair than body—negative body image, as substantiated by statics is far more aligned with white than black femininity. If the series did decide to tackle bodily insecurities birthed from media pressures, a proper context is needed to eschew cruelty and evoke a critical engagement of the subject. Thus, to include this page in a narrative about the black female form, produces a narrative noticeably absent in the abundant displays of white femininity, despite the physically enhanced white women that dominate popular culture from Kylie Jenner and her surgically enhanced sisters to the array of white females who have altered their noses, breasts, stomachs and backsides to maintain their fictive placement at the top of the aesthetical pyramid.

Spike Lee’s PR alter ego

shes-gotta-have-it-marsI won’t go into this extensively, but for anyone who has seen the movie She Gotta Have It, there is a noticeable gap in casting in which Spike Lee’s role of Mars is now played by a Puerto Rican actor who refers to himself as a “half-n*gga” in the series. My comment certainly does not function as a means to critique Lee’s restricted presence to behind the camera, but the disturbing reality that this seemingly innocuous casting call illustrates how roles for blacks are easily occupied by racially ambiguous bodies. To see such overt anti-blackness take place in a so-called black series, is especially troubling, and calls to question this project and its composition as a whole.

Cognitive Dissonant Depiction

malcom-xBefore I conclude this article, I wish to draw your attention to the cognitive dissonance, that proves a recurring feature in the series. In the first episode a portrait of Malcolm becomes a topic of conversation between Nola and Mars which shifts from the legendary leader to the Spike Lee file— distorting the image of one of the most prominent black leaders with a caricature. This scene alludes to narcissus, exposing director Spike Lee as fatally indulging in his own reflection that results in the murder of a legacy integral to black esteem and consciousness. The fatality  is two fold, as it simultaneously sullies Lee’s credibility- his intentions, and gaze  unveiled as self-indulgent, narcissistic and therefore not be trusted.

This portrait of Malcolm X is also present in the film’s final screen behind Nola’s “loving bed” in a cognitive dissonant act that dominates contemporary series starring black people. In Scandal, the cognitive dissonance comes in the form of music where songs and artists prominent during their time become distorted features on a soundtrack to an anti-black series. In She Gotta Have It, the cognitive dissonance is perhaps even more symbolically violent. Juxtaposing a prominent figure of black nationalism, or black independence with a physically black figure sullied in a white supremacist dependency is both inaccurate and insulting. Thus, even if the series were not inundated with troublesome images, this image would be enough to sour the series in its singularity.

Neo-Liberal Darling

In a recent interview, renowned scholar Cornell West referenced neoliberalism and the shes-gotta-have-it-trailer
recurring selection of black bodies to execute their agenda. West assertion deeming Ta-nehisi Coates the current “neoliberalism darling,” prompted me to think of Spike Lee’s Nola Darling.

Centered in her de-centered societal structure, Nola and the hyper sexualized black female form seen in Olivia Pope (Scandal), Mary Jane (Being Mary Jane), and Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder) are all darlings of neoliberalism—providing comfort to those dependent on black female exclusion from womanhood and festered societal abjection. Their neo-liberal status overtly seems liberal in their overt visibility, yet series like She Gotta HaveLynching_of_Laura_Nelson-Laura-387x640 It illustrates the casual ability to “see” the black female form as a violent form of invisibility where the black female remains engulfed in distortion. With with regard to the seen black body, my mind shifts to a photo taken of Sara Nelson’s murder, which captures her lifeless black female body hanging off a branch blowing gracefully in the wind—she too is physically seen, but utterly invisible in the face of injustice-an injustice manifested and furthered in this seemingly innocuous Netflix series.

She Gotta Have What? 

27ed15c14bfd232d53036f4321a7edf983e62ad7She Gotta Have It–in title and depiction–showcases the black female form as needing sex and as a figure of race and sex abjection it does. Sex is the pervasive means to other the black female body–to place sexuality where her non-black counterparts place femininity, piety, chastity, submissiveness and domesticity. What she “gotta have”is a strong sense of self cultivated in encompassing a conscious collective gaze that rejects the individualism evoked in Spike Lee’s project. Thus, what she–the black female form “gotta have” is not presented in this series and is utterly absent from a world established and maintained on her abjection.

The white world needs images like these to foment their heightened sense of self and ensure what we as a collective “Gotta have,” we never receive. So to any black person watching this series or any other seemingly black series and drawn to laughter, know that for every smile and chuckle you give–the white collective always laughs last and hardest.

Black Power ❤