It’s Not ‘Us’ it’s Them: Jordan Peele’s Us and the Social Reproduction of the Invisible Man (Spoilers)

In its contemporary context, blackness assumes a violent coupling. Filmaker Jordan Peele (Get Out) tackles this coupling in both a literal and figerative sense with his latest release Us. Peele depicts humans as “coupled” by a being who mirrors their exteriority. In challenging the presumed singularity of identity, the coupled being obscures reality, simultanously inciting the following query: Are humans replaceable? 

Well, according to the film’s doppelgängers, who wear red jumpsuits accessorised by gold scissors, the answer is yes. Viewers meet Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) as a child who goes to a mirror house and encounters a girl who looks exactly like her. After this encounter, Adelaide is never the same, and later viewers learn that Adelaide is never the same because she and her doppelganger switched places on that faithful day.  Though Adelaide’s parents noticed a difference in their child, this difference, viewers learn, with therapy, could be negotiated. In no time, Adelaide resumes the nurture of her parents and becomes the girl they raised. 

The original, for lack of a better word, Adelaide grows up to lead an uprising where the different or the othered, kill their counterparts. Us features a battle between those who reside behind the mirror—at society’s peripheral, and those who look into the mirror and reside at the center. Peele never makes it clear who or what these beings are. The sole reference to identity the film gives is Red’s proclamaition that they too are “Americans.”

Red (or Adelaide depending on your perception), to ensure that her initial plan remains in motion, eventually kills the girl whose place she took years. Her son is the only one who knows her secret, a connection she hints at with the early line “stick with me kid and I’ll keep you safe.” Here, Adelaide foreshadows the choice her son will eventually have towards the end of the movie, to share or remain silent. Red/Adelaine’s offspring is also coupled, as he encompasses both the center and the peripheral. Thus, the secret is a gateway to his understanding of self, a gift obscured from the realities of his sister and father.

The film as a whole exhibits a coupling distinct from what it delineates in part. Peele couples black actors with their American counterparts. Specifically, the media exhibits black bodies by way of representation, but the exhibited blackness remains superficial.

For example, though Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o, who occupy the film’s lead roles, encompass a physical blackness in their melanin-dominant appearance, both play roles that could easily be played by white actors. Black actors in race-less roles, marks what the western world calls progress; however, this colorblind casting depicts the violent seizure of power from black people. Colorblind casting extracts black personhood from the black body. Specifically, colorblind roles attempt to circumvent the presumed problem of race. Race in this context also functions superficially; as color is a part, not the whole, of racism. Yet, Peele’s film attempts to showcase those often eliminated from lead roles because of their complexion in a role where their complexion is merely a coicidence. Us eliminates race in a world build on this falsified concept made real in the systemic disenfranchisement it continues to afford black people.

Thus, US makes “us,” or the black person, invisible by casting melanin dominate actors as coupled with an American identity that has never truly been theirs.

US and Social Reproduction of the Invisible [Wo]Man

Though I do not think it was intentional, Peele presents a diasporic discourse with Us. Particularly, the coupled identities that dominate the film illustrate the black individual as coupled by a collective identity. The envy dynamic present between Adeline and Red illustrates the envy many blacks within the diaspora have towards the black displaced in America, or what I will call the “invisible man.” The phrasing “invisible man” alludes to the Ellison novel where a nameless protagonist struggles to see himself in a world built on his invisibility. My use of “man” does not cite gender but references “human.” This invisible man remains largely invisible to his diasporic brethren who often view him or her as a “favored child” in the disillusion of black disruption. Us, in its depiction of black persons as the invisible man, depict the coupling of the black body and personhood as crippled by disallusion.

By the film’s end, Adeline loses her life because her diasporic doppelganger (Red, who eventually becomes Adeline) wishes to be her; so, Red assumes Adeline’s space and takes her place. This is very much the reality for black people throughout America who have witnessed the perils of racism and prejudice, perils strategically aggravated by immigration. Buried by the fantasy that is American idealism, the invisible man remains invisible to many of their diasporic brethren who are often unable see to past this veiled reality. Instead, this invisible man becomes a hyper-site for a social reproduction that affords white hegemony its violent stagnancy.

In Us, Adeline encompasses the “invisible man” ideal that her counterpart seeks to socially reproduce. Red sees the space Adeline occupies as a bridge to a better life. She (Red) deems her position in American’s peripheral as inferior to the central placement of her doppelganger (Adeline). This notion is particularly complicated by Peele’s colorblind roles, where the black actor remains in the periphery despite seemingly central placement.

Nevertheless, I digress.

Red believes that she is more derseving of the space Adeline occupies and thus would occupy said space “better.” This is often the ideology many Africans in America face with our diasporic brethren who become “model minorities” in seeking to occupy the American space “better” than their kidnapped kinfolk. America, for the being of black form, is a site of physical and mental abduction perpetuated by the continued pressure to assimilate. This assimilation, despite its societal perception, does not mark achievement but cultural compromise. Thus, it is Red’s desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that drives her sadistic and physically violent attempt to take-over an exclusive space. It is this desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that makes the mentally enslaved black predisposed to attack those who look like them and not their true oppressors. As long as the oppressed see themselves as the enemy, the narrative remains focused on the oppressors. Thus, Red/Adeline and her diasporic counterpart cannot co-exist because then the narrative runs the risk of becoming “us,” and within this global paradigm of white supremacy, it must always be about “them.” 

Peele’s colorblind casting alludes to the Duboisian notion of double consciousness in his depiciton of the black person is physically split into two selves. So while viewers physically see black actors, the main role remains reserved for white cultural hegemony. What I mean here is that viewers see black actors but are forced to engage with the white space these black actors wish to occupy rather than the black actors themselves. It is the desire for American-ness, or to exist beyond blackness, that makes Us’s viewing experience a visual engagement with the invisible man. Specifically, with “Us,” black viewers witness what will become of them if espoused to an American identity. The film functions as a visual illustration of the “black American” or “African-American” concept that the abducted Africans in America must detach from as a rudimentary step in our collective liberation. 

Buried under the American fantasy and entombed by the fiction of progress, there is no “us.” This fact is perhaps best illustrated when Red kills another black women to aid in a white plight to assume a space.

It is Red’s desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that drives her sadistic and physically violent attempt to take-over an exclusive space. It is this desire to socially reproduce the invisible man that makes the mentally enslaved black predisposed to attack those who look like them and not their true oppressors. As long as the oppressed see themselves as the enemy, the narrative remains focused on the oppressors. Red/Adeline and her diasporic counterpart cannot co-exist because then the narrative runs the risk of becoming “us,” and within this global paradigm of white supremacy, it must always be about “them.” 

The singularity Red seeks and attains ensures that there is no “us,” if there ever was an “us.” Her actions represents the inevitable end for a group who remains disrupted. As a product of a festered disruption, the black collective, in part remains what they made of “us.” The black representation seen on-screen and throughout politics, education, and every other field, is not us and has never been us. It’s them.

Conclusively, as evidenced by his latest film venture, Jordan Peele also fails to represent us; rather, he remains vested in “them.”

Black Power ❤

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The Third Killing of Sam Cooke: Thoughts on Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

There are some things in life that are simply once in a lifetime experiences. Sam Cooke the singer is a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who loves music. Sam Cooke the activist and black nationalist is a black treasure lost in the media mutilation of his body and legacy. The Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke seeks to place singer, songwriter Sam Cooke in a contemporary context of “Black Lives Matter” by highlighting Cooke as a political activist. While clearly the efforts of white producers who seek to steer contemporary fervor stealthily in their favor, the documentary scores in implementing black celebrities and black scholars to tell the untold story of a man who was not just a singer or songwriter but a legend.

Realistically, aside from the stamp of time that has claimed many close to Cooke, like his family who have since transitioned, the documentary deviates little from previous documentaries on the singer. Though the documentary references the death of Cooke’s son Vincent, the film remains largely focused on Cooke the businessman and activist rather than the personal elements of his life. This focus makes the comment about Cooke’s “womanizing” from a white female former colleague appear deservingly crass.. Her comment also reeks of an upset that sounds reminiscent of a woman scorned, but I digress.

The documentary tackles black conspiracy in a manner that appeases the white gaze. The featured black scholars and celebrities bring integrity to the project and the black archive with their commentary on the following.

Black Brotherhood

The brotherhood with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jim Brown, a colloboration Jim Brown (featured in the documentary), called “defying second class citizenship.” Brown also delivered the most resonating line in the film, stating that “hit records didn’t do it for him like touchdowns didn’t do it for us.” Brown’s line renders a poignant denouncing of the symbolism too often used tp attain black satisfaction.

II. Posthumous Releases
Sam Cooke’s live concert at the Harlem Square (1963), not released until 1985 because it was deemed “too black” and “too soulful” for universal circulation

“A Change Gonna Come” was also not released until after Cooke’s death.
This reminds the masses that in addition to what we wear, what we hear is systemically influenced to impair our ability to fight back. To release Cooke’s mergence of soul and activism after his tragic and bizarre death is to change its functionality. After Cooke’s death, the music serves as a warning of what consequences blackness imbues, yet to those who know and love Cooke’s craft, the song and album capture the immortal status of the black archive.

III. Sam, The Black Nationalist Businessman

Sam the Businessman:


The documentary also makes a significant comparison between sharecropping and the music industry. Money, fame and material continues to obscure the oppression that remains aligned with the music industry.
Sam didn’t wish to be a sharecropping singer, he wished to own the crop.

Sam desired economic and creative ownership over his talent. Thus, he was not only affiliated with black nationalism but espoused to its praxis.

IV. The power of black influence


The film notes that Sam Cooke, unlike most of the singers of that time, refused to conk his hair. Rather, Cooke donned a natural look that inspired many to go natural. He would go on to inspire feelings of black empowerment in others throughout his career, something that would eventually lead to his untimely death at 33.

V: Just Another N*gga

One of the most significant aspects of the documentary was the revelation that Cooke’s death was initially not investigated because he was thought to be “just another n*gga killed in Watts.” As delineated by history, Cooke’s murder would never receive an extensive investigation because the details that surrounded his murder painted him in America’s image of the black man.

VI. Once in a Lifetime Voice
The most touching component of the documentary was watching those who loved and admired Cooke listen to Cooke’s once in a lifetime voice, that though physically silenced, continues to sing the notes of the black experience from the grave.

The Critique

The beauty the black scholars and black celebrities bring to this documentary, however, does not negate the reality that no documentary can do this for us. By “this” I speak to a black quest for truth. Yes, in placing Cooke in a contemporary context, the documentary reveals information previously stated but not attached to the singer’s legacy. However, there is still a lot that remains unsaid. To laud this documentary as presenting the whole truth is to issue Cooke a third death.

This documentary puts forth information surrounding Cooke’s murder like a good suspense film. Remastered leaves audiences intrigued and with good talking points for superficial engagement with a serious topic. Simply put, Remastered barely scratches the surface of what lies beneath this tragedy.

Sam Cooke’s battered and bruised body tells a vastly different narrative than the tabloids– a narrative not even a seemingly radical documentary will tackle. The documentary, while it does feature footage from Cooke’s funeral, does not give readers a close view of Sam’s beaten face. The parallel between Cooke and Emmett Till is made early in the documentary but retires to the back of viewer memory by the time the film revisits Cooke’s murder. The murder of black people does not just happen to the individual, it continues to happen to all of us. These mutilated bodies, as heartbreaking as it is to see, remains necessary in affording a portrait of oppression. These images showcase what racism looks like upon the canvas of the black body. This omission is a means to ensure that the white audience remains comfortable with the conflict of race, which is inherently racist.

The black community has never believed Sam Cooke died how the media said he died. This documentary appears to be for those who did. Cooke’s death delineates the normalized mistruths that sew together the displaced African’s experience in America. If the Sam Cooke story does not inspire one to adopt the praxis of black nationalism fearlessly, or to question every component of “truth,” then his legacy remains tragically reduced.

Cooke is an archive of what celebrity should mean and the fear that enables it to function as it does. He remains a testimony to the high price paid for not only desiring to stand upright as a black man, but seeking to create and own a platform to empower the black creative .

Mr. Cooke, may you rest in the peace you strove to give your people in life.

You’re still the best Cooke in town.

Black Power ❤

The Honorary Oppressed: White Media and Intersectional Agency Starring Jussie Smollett

What I find both fascinating and terrifying about contemporary culture is its use of intersectionality with regard to blackness. For clarity, I use the term “intersectionality” to represent the literal intersections such as ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation to which blackness is juxtaposed.

Intersectional agents function as what I will call the honorary oppressed orrecytaylor those who assume less than a cisgender white male, but more than a member of the black collective. The honorary oppressed are far more acknowledged in the white media and have quickly become the necessary companion to black abjection. We’ve seen this with Recy Taylor who despite being a black woman savagely gang-raped by white men in the 1940s, posthumously became the face of a “woman’s” movement.

Similarly, a few years ago, amidst the tragic shooting at a gay night club, the media reported that the assailant “freed the blacks.” This seemingly innocuous detail highlights the deliberate steps taken to make black people appear a privileged minority compared to the honorary oppressed. The contemporary climate employs intersectionality in a sinister plot to deceive the world to believe that black injustice is a thing of the past. To the deceived eye, Empire star Jussie Smollet’s highly publicized brawl appears to actualize black terrorism. Smollet’s attack however,  as portrayed by the media, illustrates modern mastery in the art of deception.

intersectionalitypostThe deception of white hegemony employs intersectional agents to seemingly represent the under-represented. In reality, these agents represent the paradigm of white supremacy and nothing more. Thus, the issue with figures like Jussie Smollet is that they imply a linearity between antithetical modes of suffering. Smollet as intersectional agent makes it so that gay whites and non-black persons of color can attest to a shared struggle with the black collective. This struggle is thereby detached from historic examples like Jesse Washington and Claude Neale and contemporary examples like Trayvon Martin and even Chikesia Clemons, often simply referenced as the “black woman” involved in a struggle at the Waffle House. Washington, Neale, Martin, and Clemons illustrate those exteriorized by white supremacy because of their blackness, an incomparable experience reduced in alignment with intersectionality.

In reality, the media only appears to care about Jussie for two reasons. First, Tupacbecause he’s famous and secondly, and most importantly, Jussie is an intersectional agent. Smollet proclaimed his intersectionality by referring to himself as the “gay Tupac” at a performance following his attack. I assume this self-proclaimed status references Smollet’s merging of “activism” and celebrity status. However, this proclamation does more than depict Smollet as resuming Tupac’s legacy. With this proclamation, Smollet intersectionalizes Tupac. This intersectionalizing of an outspoken black male celebrity, also seen in the recent movie The Hate You Give (but that’s another post), proves that Tupac’s posthumous presence must be dismembered in order to prove worthy of contemporary consumption.

To be black is to be intersectional. Blackness literally lies at the interactions of races, life and death, human and animal, and man and woman. Whether gay, trans, female, disabled, or what have you, blackness remains central to global abjection. This statement is easily supported in a quick examination of each intersectional faction in acknowledgment of the attributes shared by those placed at the bottom of said faction. Black people of the LGBTQ community, Black women, physically black persons of color, and disabled blacks remain disenfranchised by their blackness.  To partner with those who may share a fraction of your experience as a black person is to acquiesce to fractional justice. Yet, for an antiblack climate, the black struggle remains too boring, too limiting, to exposing for a world more interested and committed to performing and inciting change than actualizing an alternative to white hegemony.

jussiellenHad Jussie never come out on the Ellen show (of all places), his fame would not be enough to garner him attention or empathy from the American public. Just a few years ago, amidst the early fame of Fox’s Empire, Smollet’s Empire costar Taraji P. Henson rescinded comments about her own son’s experience with racial injustice. It is likely Henson withdrew her commentary due to the pressure of maintaining an “American” enough presence to ensure that her sapphire-like status remains detached enough from consciousness to prove lucrative. Thus, had Smollet not come out as gay, pledging allegiance to Ellen and the LGBT platform, his experience of black male terrorism, like that of Taraji’s son, would be a non-topic in white media. As a non-intersectional black person Jussie’s actions would easily be attributed to “playing the race card.” His efforts would be seen as burdensome and belittled to the status of “complaint.”

Intersectionality, in addition to the increasing focus on persons of color, have jussieempirefunctioned not to expose ignored oppression but to further deter from what needs to change in order to truly disrupt the racial paradigm. Whiteness easily interacts with intersectional attributes such as gender and sexuality. Additionally, whiteness intersects with non-black persons of color as they often function as white mimic man in the acquisition of education and other superficial attributes. Thus, to showcase/highlight the oppression faced by the non-black persons of color or intersectional agents is to centralize whiteness as the alterity faced by these groups. This, of course, does not trouble the system of white supremacy enough for change. Jussie, as an intersectional agent, can occupy victim status as his intersectionality and celebrity dismember his being to ensure that the aftermath of this exposure is as empty as the symbolism imbued.

So, while Jussie’s safety as a black man in America remains a concern, this concern reflects a larger concern about black people exposed to the violence of inclusionary abjection. Situations like the Jussie Smollet scenario delineate white supremacy as continuing on its quest for immortality. This quest remains enabled by ensuring the blood of its irreversible target remains spilled. We, the black collective are this unmoving target, seduced to stand still as the “honorary” oppressed fight for their chance to join those of the majority in black oppression.

Black Power ❤

If Beale Street Could Talk, A Review 

I always desired to see a black love story on screen. Not a rom-com, or later-in-life love (though this would be nice too), but an authentic love story with young, black lovers. I know this could never be The Notebook, that though there would be a happily ever after, it would not be conventional because it couldn’t be. If Beale Street Could Talk captures this love between two young black people that though undying does not go without adversity.  BealeStreetposter

The film and book delineate the courtship of Fonny and Tish, Harlem youth who become lovers after a lifetime of a familial-like affiliation.  Their adversity manifests in the systemic forces that puppeteer the action and ideologies that inundate the film. Fonny’s female relatives, for example, detest Tish, and Fonny for that matter, due to the poison of color and class under racism’s umbrella. Additionally, the film delineates how a crooked law system that hunts black men like prey, poses a challenge to the black community at large. So while Barry Jenkins’s rendition of James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk seeks to fill the dearth of black people loving each other on the big screen, it is of great detriment to the communal service Baldwin performs with If Beale Street Could Talk, to label the conveyed narrative merely a love story between a black man and a black woman. It is the relationship between black people and a flawed justice system that anchors the film/novel.

The Good

Director Barry Jenkins succeeds where he always does—the visual. As a viewer, I always wonder how much of the visual is superficial and how much is substance. I would place Jenkins somewhere in the middle—his showcase of “black love” seemingly the muse for his career. Contrary to what Jenkins depicted in Oscar Award Winning Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk places cisgender love in its center.  Jenkins imbued extensive praise for featuring ebony-hued black stars loving one another on the big screen.  Though necessary I could not help but view this feature, of a black couple not immersed in drug or street life, as somewhat of an apology for the caricatured images that gained him his tishandfonnysnuggleOscar. In the novel, James Baldwin states the following   

“It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you” (Baldwin 42). This statement is also a summation of Jenkins efforts of a curator of the black experience. Etched in his portrayal of black love, is Jenkins attempt to prove that he loves black people. 

Jenkins illustrates this love through the focus on the “brownness” of black culture. Specifically, the color line between Tish and Fonny’s families is greatly emphasized in Baldwin’s novel. However, in the film, the actors are varying degrees of “brown” which make the insult “yellow c*nt” more figurative than literal in Jenkin’s film. Given that Jenkins’s choice employs actors who would encounter more limitations than opportunities making this change a significant stride in the right direction. As far as symbolism goes anyway…

The movie, like the novel, features the testimony of a Puerto Rican woman as the nail in Fonny’s systemized coffin. Though both the novel and the film present the Puerto Rican woman as systemized through physical and mental rape, her victimization cages a black man like an animal, depicting the person of color battle as not only incongruent to the black experience, but harmful.

The Critique 

In juxtaposing If Beale Could Street Could Talk the movie with the book it becomes tishndfonnysnuggleobvious that Barry Jenkins has a vastly different agenda than James Baldwin. This agenda is perhaps best illustrated in three distinctions from the book and the film:

  1. The Jewish Landlord 

In the film, Jenkins features a moment where a Jewish landlord remarks that he “just appreciates people who love each other.” This portrayal projects the white savior figure that has seemingly become customary in black films about race, ie Black KKKlansman (2018) and The Hate You Give (2018). In this depiction, the landlord seems fixated on Tish and Fonny as sexual beings. Yes, the reproductive factor of black love is imperative to survival, but Baldwin’s portrayal depicts the Jewish landlord as subjecting his prospective tenants to a racialized (and sexualized) gaze that counters what his deed seems to suggest. It is also remiss to not acknowledge that the landlord is, in reality, a businessman, not a good person. His actions only appear “good” because they are encased in a racialized frame. 

2. Obscured Oppression 

danielandfonnybealestreetDaniel, brilliantly played by Brian Tyree Henry, is perhaps the most compelling character in both the book and the film. Yet the film robs Daniel of his depth. Daniel, a childhood friend of Fonny, comes back into Fonny’s life after a prison sentence. Daniel is broken and traumatized, the details of his trauma left to the imagination of the viewers.

In the novel, Baldwin does not rely on the imagination of his viewers. Baldwin, through Tish’s voice, reveals that Daniel had been framed by police and raped in prison. Daniel’s sexual assault, however, does not correspond to sexual orientation—but the power vested in sexuality. The sexual violence cast against Daniel symbolically captures a mental attack of emasculation cast onto the black man through a physical act. 

I was personally disappointed by this omission, as black men and sexual assault are rarely acknowledged /discussed with regard to black men at all, specifically, cisgender males. Additionally, Daniel predates the individual and collective tragedy of Kalief Browder— a young black teen criminalized solely because of his blackness. Both fact and fictive manifestations of the black male scapegoat appear in homage to the Jesse Washingtons of the world—the projected villains of white hegemony. 

Though arguably a ripple in a larger pond, Baldwin’s depiction notes that the war against black men is not new nor evaporating in the facade of change. If Beale Could Street Could Talk exposes the war on black men as a war on the black community. Specifically, that these attacks complicate black love. Complications however, do not equate to impossibility. 

3. Fonny’s Father 

Another distinction between the movie and the film is the ending. The film leaves tishandfonnystareviewers with a portrait of the black family violently severed by the injustice of the law. Viewers learn that Fonny takes a plea and he is to love Tish and his son with the tight grip of the penetentirary system around his neck like a noose. The film’s ending, like Daniel’s obscured abuse, ensures the audience a comfort level that allows them to see some components of black life but not to be disturbed by it. This is the bold line of demarcation that separates Jenkins from Baldwin. Baldwin writes in a manner to scorch his reader into a discomfort that mimics the black experience. Baldwin seeks to capture the black world in a coarse realism that renders over concern with reader comfort a casualty of the colonized. Jenkins, on the other hand, seeks to create American films starring predominately black casts. tishandfonnybealestreet

So while Jenkins ends his movie so that the viewer, not necessarily the protagonists, can see the light at the end of the tunnel, Baldwin’s novel ends so that the reader sees the darkness and light at one time.

Baldwin paints a vivid picture of what becomes of Fonny, how his deterioration from within a jail cell becomes a certainty when his case’s sole witness refuses to recant her story. The news pushes Fonny’s father over the edge and he is found dead in his vehicle.  The ending, though unexpected, depicts clarity in hindsight. Fonny, though hated and targeted by White America was deeply loved by his father. This depiction is a significant one as America frequently portrays black youth as unloved by their own to deflect from the hate experienced in America. The unloved black youth is perhaps most persistently perpetuated by white America’s fixation and perpetuation of the fatherless black child.  Baldwin counters this portrayal in the most heart wrenching and soul-stirring depiction of a father’s love and obligation to his son. This paternal love crippled in the violent blow of being unable to or the inability of a father’s to protect his offspring, drives Fonny’s father to his death in the same way Fonny’s lovebealestreetumbrella for Tish and their unborn incites their desire to survive. This portrayal is as beautiful as it is necessary, depicting black love as encompassing many forms that yield a similar function. 

The intertwining of life and death proves true to a Baldwin form most pronounced in 1955 work Notes of a Native Son. Here, I reference Baldwin’s frequent linking of death with life, suggesting that the simultaneous occurrence of life and death are intrinsically linked with black life. This contention in mind, Baldwin’s writings capture both his life and death—but its film adaptation mark the death of a black male prototype whose race superscedes sexuality. So while Jenkins garners praise for depicting black love on the big screen, his efforts illustrate the abridged and neutered version of Baldwin’s pursuit of justice through literature.  

Black Power ❤

Who’s in it for B?: B. Smith, Black Women, and America’s Normalized Contempt

The most profound of black male leaders were advocates for black women. Men like Malcolm X and Thomas Sankara come to mind, their praxis and words providing enlightenment and inspiration to the black collective thoroughly vested in admiration and reverie for a lineage and legacy birthed from and anchored in the black female body. Though it has been decades since Malcolm X spoke the poignant words “the black woman is the most disrespected person in the United States” his words remain a truth lost in an environment of performative reformation. Perhaps the most imperative component of Malcolm X’s statement is that he describes the black woman as a “person,” an assertion contested repeatedly by a media and world infested by a white hegemonic ideology. 

This notion of black dehumanization is best illustrates in the news— a consistent source of anti-black propaganda. The Washington Post recently featured a story on B. Smith, a former model and lifestyle brand, who in 2013, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The story, though employing B. Smith’s body and celebrity for traction, was not about her. No, the story revealed that Smith’s husband Dan Gasby, referenced as “struggling” with her illness, had not only taken a girlfriend but that this girlfriend had moved into B. Smith’s estate. His girlfriend? A middle-aged white woman. 

“News” or Racist Propaganda? 

bsmithandsidechick

The story sparked a lukewarm outrage, some were mad because of Gatsby’s decision to go public, others disappointed that an “esteemed” publication such as the Washington Post would even run this story.

No news, aside from the few black publications that remain, maintain reputable status as accurately and impartially presenting black news. Thus, the post is doing what all forms of media do—reduce the black body to a spectacle ensuring the black body proves lucrative. The story is both enraging and heartbreaking, depicting a black woman buried alive in a racial paradigm that thrives in her disrespect. Additionally,  this story exposes B. Smith as a casualty in a much larger war against black women. Specifically, this story depicts the disrespected black woman as a spectacle rendered entertainment in a normalized evil.

Truthfully, Gasby, his child, and his girlfriend should be imprisoned for abusing a disabled woman and charged with robbery for allocating her money to fund said abuse. But because their actions are in accordance with the pervasive anti-blackness of white hegemony, B.Smith is not an abused woman, but an entertainer worthy of gossip not serious or legal contemplation. 

bsmithandfilfthymaleIt is imperative to note that one need not be a good person to employ ethics in this situation. Gasby took a vow that read “in sickness and his health.” Thus, if not rooted in love, he was contractually bound to Smith “til death.” Contrary to the information Gasby provided in several interviews surrounding his decision,  B. Smith is not dead, “gone” or dead. His wife, in her illness, created a stage for Gasby to make good on a promise he made years ago. Her illness presented an opportunity for him to take care of her, as her talent, beauty, and charisma took care of him for decades. 

Married while Black

Marriage is different for black people. This partnership must ensure that the parties who enter into it not only mean what they say but that they realize the necessity of exchanging these vows. For the African adjacent, if their spouse fails them the legal system and the racist paradigm of white supremacy ensures that they can not only survive but thrive. For the African in America, this vow must represent shared values and an unconditional communal love equipped with responsibility, not the fleeting praxis and often pseudo-sentiments of western romance. 

bsmithwedding.pngGasby never married Smith, he married her money. Money is also the reason why he is currently still legally married, though in a romantic relationship with another woman. It is likely like Smith’s sudden illness made it impossible to amend their “contract.” Before she was ill, there was most likely a marital clause that makes it so that if he walks away from their marriage, he walks away from a good portion of her fortune. Gasby, who has seemingly employed his wife’s fortune as bridge into negropean status, wishes to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to keep his stake in his wife’s fortune, though he clearly no longer wants his wife.

This is more than just a case of infidelity, which, if I may add, is no light matter. As Christina Sharpe notes in monumental text In the Wake: On Being and Blackness, “care” is an essential remedy in uniting the severed pieces of the black diaspora. The core she speaks of is not conditional because it cannot be. Thus, vows of partnership are especially important to those of the diaspora as it provides a gateway to community.

The abuse factor is guised by the infidelity that is associated with black men in a violent caricature and ingrained belief that suffering is simply a way of life for the black woman who opts to be in a relationship with a black man.  This behavior is not regarded as abuse simply because B. Smith is a black woman. As a black woman, B. Smith’s abuse is not only  normalized but necessary.

Gasby’s logic, speaks to the plantation politics that continue to shape how black people are viewed globally. Just as the value of a slave depreciated with age and their growing inability to function to the economic or sexual benefit of their masters, the black body imbues a similar perception when they can no longer fulfill the selfish needs of those around them. White hegemony teaches the colonized mind that their own bodies are disposable. Gasby substantiates this contention, as B. Smith was not only replaceable in his eyes, but replaced at her own expense.    bsmithbook

A Gentrified Love 

There is an additional layer to this ordeal. The scenario proves emblematic of how the invasion of black space imbues black erasure. Gasby’s girlfriend’s invasion of B.Smith’s home represents white invasion of black communities— an act both welcomed and celebrated by blacks, like Gasby, seeking validation from their oppressors.

bsmithgazeWhat I find particularly disturbing about this feature and even its caption, is the emphasis on what B.Smith’s illness is “doing to” Gasby. The reporter and Gasby’s daughter note Gasby’s frustration, but no verbal articulation is afforded to what B. Smith must be going through in her illness. Her voice is silenced by those who do not love nor care for her.

This situation begs the question: who stands up for B. Smith? Who stands up for black women everywhere?

The truth is black men and black women do. This story functions to deflect from the reality that there are black men and black women who have dedicated their lives to their collective. These people though, seldom make headlines and rarely spark the deserving conversation. Thus, this post is not to police a black man, because Gasby is not a black man. He is an imposter that we as a community must be sure not to claim in our strive to for pro-blackness in an anti-black world.

B. Smith, we love you and you’re a Queen always.  👑

Black Power ❤ 

Dropping the One-Drop rule

In a black studies course taught by an anti-black African adjacent “professor,” I, along with, my classmates were encouraged to adopt the one-drop rule.

“She is black,” he said with an authority not vested in him. cardib.png

The “she” he was referencing was none other than Cardi B.

Now, to him, an Indian man on a stride toward whiteness, Cardi B. and others of African descent, are black. This distinction does not reference the prodigious state of the black diaspora, but to delineate a line in the sand between his “model minority” status and those of African descent.

How the One Dropped Rule was “Dropped” Upon Us

blackmodelThe one drop rule is of western origin and functions to separate whites from those deemed “other.”

The rule also functions to separate non-black persons of color from “blacks.”

Therefore, the one-drop rule services the African-adjacent not the African person.

For the black person displaced Africa it is imperative to approach the one-drop rule with caution; this “Drop” does not indicate diaspora but indicates division.

In other countries there are numerous racial categories, however, the same fact remains the same–whites, or those with lighter skin, experience superior treatment to those with darker skin. Thus, though overtly enforced in the United States, the one-drop rule remains intact globally where varying degrees of black blood determine one’s quality of life and representation.

Cyntonia Brown and What it Means to Cosign the One-drop Rule as a Black Woman 

To cosign to the one-drop rule as a black woman is to accept black representation by those who enjoy the privilege of an exoticized blackness. Specifically, it is to accept Yara Shahidi, Zoe Saldana, Zendaya, or even Shailene Woodley as representatives of a black femininity erased in adopting the one-drop rule. The one drop rule enables invisibility in creating a wide spectrum for our oppressors to choose from with regard to black representation. This spectrum evokes the same hierarchy that foments black oppression cbphoto.pngand inevitably puts those with darker skin at the bottom.  So to adopt the one drop rule is to cosign the continued oppression of black people– to appropriate our experience and deem our own bodies not worthy to represent our own narratives.

Case in point: Cyntoia Brown, a recent symbol of criminal justice. Brown, a fair-skinned, long-haired woman, possesses the attributes often seen on the big and small screen as lead actrss in a black series, sitcom, or romantic comedy. Though incarcerated because she is black, Brown personifies the aesthetic or the “kind” of young black woman that is “not supposed to be in prison.”It took Alice Johnson’s status as grandmother to initiate what is now unfolding for Brown.

The idea that some people deserve incarceration, crippling poverty, and societal invisibility remain largely vested in color. Specifically, what I mean here is that the one-drop makes it so that the one-drop of black blood subjects the mixed race individual to mirror the misfortune that often befalls his or her darker counterparts but also services as the faction of  his or her darker counterparts that doesn’t quite deserve the detriment of “darkness.” The one-drop rule incites the masses to celebrate Cyntoia and forget about the less marketable girl/woman left to rot in the system that flourishes in her disenfranchisement.

Color does not Constitute Blackness: Redefining Blackness 

frediwashington.pngI do want to say that my assertions do not speak to the Fredi Washingtons of the world who irrefutably adopt their blackness to detriment of assimilatory motives.

In the same breath, folk like Tom Legend, Tom Lemon, or even Jay-Z, are also not black, as they are merely agents for their oppressors.

White ideology employs black puppets like Lemon and Jay-Z who though function under the physiognomy of blackness, function to ensure the stagnancy of white hegemony.

In this same breath, I know that many brethren on the continent of Africa consider the sbADA, or the African displaced in America as inherently “mixed,” or “colored.” While this certainly is true for many ADA’s, the one drop rule is not reciprocal. One drop of white blood does not make you white, and to deem what happened centuries prior without consent relevant in defining blackness, is to place an underserving emphasis on whiteness

White hegemony proclaims blackness as skin color—a series of behaviors— a degenerate lifestyle— all of which substantiate racist claims of black inferiority. White hegemony also states one-drop of black blood makes you black in the same breath that hegemonic forces implement the out of sight out of mind rule with regards to the white blood running through the veins of black people.Thus, it is imperative that we as a community compose a definition and understanding of black identity beyond the confines of the western imagination.

whoamiI often revisit the mis-teachings of my so-called professor and access his behavior as mimicking that of a global colonizer. His words imposed the idea that being of African descent, not one’s allegiance to black culture, or what one has done for black people, constitutes blackness. Basically, that one is black because they aren’t white. This ideology is a simple solution for a problem festered over centuries into a complexity beyond words.

In re-defining blackness, it is a necessity to acknowledge the line of demarcation between who is tossed in with black people when convenient (census and applications reflect this)  and those who irrevocably function as black and expand from there.

It is not to say that color is not important but that melanin does not connotate blackness in singularity. In other words, having melanin does not make you black necessarily but in order to be black, you must have melanin.

Thus, to redefine blackness is not deny diasporic blackness or to incite divide, but to exist in our bodies, in our blackness, our way.

Black Power ❤

 

 

The Faux Revolution: Foe to the Black Collective

“Symbolism is the death of progress.” 

In battle, it is imperative—- not convenient or even strategic—to know your opponent. The contemporary climate obscures the enemy in a masterful attempt to control the masses.

We live in a world where it’s simpler to prove everything that isn’t true and increasingly difficult to justify everything that is. Western culture has tried to present the illusion of progress by twisting the perception of truth.  bc627a50b6b48e71a5b9805ae9ec4577--black-girls-rock-black-girl-magic

Altering the perception of truth, the oppressor appears as ally, and perhaps most violently,  perpetuates the revolution as having already taken place. White supremacists guised as liberals have orchestrated both the race war and the race revolution. This is perhaps best illustrated by Colin Kaepernick. After careful examination, I contend that Kaepernick was hired by the NFL to perpetuate a revolution anticipated and staged by the NFL amidst mounting racial tensions. I believe the NFL staged this pseudo revolution to get in front of what could have happened in its place. The same can be said of BLM, another organization that mimics a black revolutionary past but implements symbolism not action. This post delineates other attempt at a similar evil. 

I. R. Kelly Documentary Rrkellyblackjacket

As delineated on a previous post, R.Kelly’s media lynching serves to distract black people from the true sexual predator. The black man is not the enemy. But watching the news, this is the projected image. Malcolm X once said, “if you’re not careful, white supremacy will have you loving your enemy and hating the oppressed.” This is exactly what the media aims to do in its portrayal of the R. Kelly scandal. 

II. Regina King wins a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress

Regina King’s recent “victory” at the golden globes, is yet another coin in the bucket or symbolism passing as progress. From Sterling Brown to Michelle Obama, the western world is relentless in its selection of black bodies to represent the glory of assimilation. King’s award is to create a false line of demarcation between the whites in the white house and the whites of the Golden Globes. This performance seduces many to reginakingforget the back door that blacks previously had to enter to attend awards like these–if we were to attend at all. Subsequently, any applause, tears, or feelings of pride that arise within the black collective in response to this empty symbolism, grants entry to a subjugated assimilation via back door. 

III. Cyntoia Brown gains Clemency 

This is yet another act of symbolism that surfaces to provide the illusion of change. 

2018 highlighted clemency for Alice Johnson and Cyntoia Brown, black women “freed” from what was an improper consequence to begin with. The symbolism that accompanies their clemency does nothing to repair a flawed justice system that continues to terrorize black people. In celebrating said symbolism, members of the black collective ignore the reality that these actions are highly individualistic and mean virtually nothing with regard freedom and black franchisement. These cases illustrate white supremacists as symbolically giving back what they’ve taken to which the cyntoiabrownamasses applaud in a colonized daze.

The illusion of change functions so well because truthfully most do not desire change. To desire a changed world, is to welcome a change of self. Though many would adamantly disagree, most have subconsciously acquired to its ways and see white supremacy as something to be accepted, and black retaliation, whether verbal or physical, as a “complaint” that must cease.  

cyntoiabrownbAs long as we remain consumers of white propaganda and wait for the revolution to be televised by our oppressors, symbolism will continue to thwart progress. Symbolism reflects a fixation on the external that compromises the internal state of the oppressed. 

It is truly a scary time right now. The world has convinced many within the black collective that they are cured of a disease that continues to kill us physically, mentally, and spiritually. The severe tone of Dr. Francis Cress Wesling’s The Isis Papers not only makes more sense in this current environment but appears an imperative means to communicate a message so many would grudgingly listen to let alone accept.

We are at war. We are being attacked. One’s blissful state of ignorance or a cavalier disregard for the collective is not a personal choice but a fatal one. 

The revolution has yet to occur, but where will you be when it arrives?

Black Power ❤

Nappily Ever After, An Assimilatory Tale

Pegged as a bildungsroman or a rom-com gone wrong, Nappily Ever After marks the latest of inclusionary narratives that afford black actors a check and the black collective the illusion of progress. The Netflix rom-com appears to include the black woman into the fairy tale genre. What happens, of course, is that black characters remain anchored in European caricatures.

NEA tells the partial story of Violet Jones, a beautiful ad executive relentlessly pursuing nappilyeveraftercroppedhaiewestern standards of personal validation in  beauty and romance. After her boyfriend fails to propose, Violet shaves her head and embarks on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Well, this is  what the film would have viewers believe has taken place by the time the credits roll. In fact, little to no self-discovery actually takes place. What Violet does discover by the film’s end is a new way to exist in a white supremacist system in a black female body.

Violet’s western influence offsets her espousal to the western concept of woman as well, a concept consummated in what she desires most—marriage. Though Violet seemingly comes full circle by the film’s end, what the film never articulates is that Violet sought marriage to assert her worth to the world. The film ignores that for the black woman this worth is less about asserting their value as women and more about asserting themselves as women.

The same praxis of oversimplification and oversight dominates much of the reviews surrounding the film. NEA exposes white publications as putting their black writers to the task of acknowledging a film white writers simply cannot tackle without unveiling their own racism and ignorance. These black writers are a lot like Violet in their espousal to western influence and desire to occupy hegemonic space with a pseudo-revolutionary flare that possesses just enough seasoning to fulfill their employers’ diversity initiative. These reviews acknowledge the film’s shallow portrayal but fail to pose the necessary critical queries to move blackness beyond superficiality.

neapurpledresslogoNevertheless, the premise of the film is a provocative one lost in Netflix’s demands for black portrayal. These demands are of course that blackness remains incidental and not central enough to deter white viewership. Netflix, like every other white platform, proceeds with the objective to ensure whites remain entertained by those who enable their privilege.

Thus, the film illuminates a general issue in representing the black body. Aligned with a shallow portrayal that aligns the black person with superficial anecdotes to detail their systemic influence, the film’s characters approach depth in what escapes the casual viewer. For example, viewers get a glimpse into Violet’s childhood in an opening scene where her pressed hair reverts to the amusement of her white playmates. This single scene functions as the film’s core despite providing little context. What this scene does is  project Violet as raised in vanity and not amidst the violence of white supremacy. This is, of course, deliberate, as to layer the black person is to expose the non-physical violence of white influence.

Can Nappy ever be Happy?

The film’s espousal to western influence is also evident in the film’s title, “Nappily Ever After.” Though I acknowledge that many within the black collective now claim “nappy,” the term reflects a European gaze on black hair. Black hair isn’t nappy, its hair. So in order to attain the ending the film’s title references, it is essential to move past this crippling western gaze that consistently douses black portrayal in various manifestations of anti-blackness. To place “nappy” in the film’s title reveals that the objective is not to move blacks from the western gaze, but cast black bodies on a visual plantation that manifests on the big and small screen.

Men In Black

Though pegged as condescending by some viewers, Will is the most enlightened character in the film. Viewers first meet Will when he is confidently praising the natural beauty of a black woman reluctant to accept this truth. His attraction to Violent grows after she shaves her hair as her hairless state reflects his ambitions for the black female collective.

nappilyeverafterclintIn fact, all the enlightenment in the film comes from black men. After Violent shaves her head, it is her father that refutes the idea that this was something that she “did on a whim.” This is one of the film’s few redeeming moments but it operates without development. Interestingly, the two black men who prove a bridge to heightened consciousness though utterly lonesome throughout the film.

Richard Jones, Violet’s father, recently left her mother and his career to pursue a career as a print model. His new career gains him a list of female admirers but a series of scornful looks from his estranged wife. Will, on the other hand, is espoused to the black female experience both professionally and personally as a single father to daughter Zoie and professionally as a salon owner inherited from his mother. Though both men seem to “get the girl” by the end of the film, the film’s portrayal of the good black man espoused to the background is ironically pushed to the film’s background. This discourse connects to another fact the movie glosses over: your hair affects who you attract.

In Violet’s case, both men she attracts are highly feminized in their portrayal. Violet, with long, straight hair attracts a vain Clint, who though a doctor, proves to be unapologetically shallow. Specifically, he complains that Violet is too perfect, but demands this perfection upon their reunion. Perfect, a term used throughout the film means “whiteness.” Clint’s vanity depicts him as highly effeminate, as does Will’s espousal to conventionally feminine rolls as a mom and dad, gardener, and his profession—a hairdresser.

neawillandvioletViolet with a shaved head or short new growth, attracts Will, a rugged black man who has dedicated his life to a natural black aesthetic. Will’s mission to change the world “one head at a time,” reconciles the false linearity between unprocessed hair and unprocessed mind—illustrating his plight to heal the soul of a lost queen through her crown.

Will’s character possesses a sort of gender hybridity that in analysis proves revolutionary. Specifically, Will depicts an espousal between the black man and woman, depicting racial evolution as transcending western gender constructs in necessity.

However, under the conventional umbrella of gender, under which this film operates, making this depiction another attempt to portray the black man as effeminate.

The Diabolical Black Female Dame

Though seemingly a narrative about black female liberation, the depicts its enlightened black male as birthed from black female scorn. This praxis counters the film as an ally to black feminity and exposes the film as stealthy assassinating black female character. After Violet shaves her head, her father remarks that he knows what she’s going through “probably better than anyone.”  Mr. Jones, who goes from insurance to modeling, and Violet who goes from long-haired to bald—appeared as victims of Mrs. Jones. Similarly, Will, though enlightened, functions as a victim of the black woman who left both him and his daughter. This depiction though buried in the film’s background, depicts the black woman as diabolical and the catalyst for black pain. This is, of course, a false notion that is most poisonous in its attack on the black subconscious. 

Waiting to Exhale Part II?

Violent’s head shaving mirrors what viewers witnessed in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to nappilyeverafterblondeExhale. The scene to which I refer is where Bernadette cuts her long-thick mane into a short, sleek cut after her husband leaves her for a white woman. Like Violet, Bernadette assisted her significant other on his rise to the top. Both women chop their locks in response to the disappointment engendered in their dealings with black men. This depiction portrays black men and women as inharmonious. Additionally, given that both disappointments occur with regard to marriage–there is a violent implication that black women are incompatible with marriage. This hair removal process also implies that whether vows are broken or taken, the black man will fail the black woman and ultimately prompt her to shed her vanity. Vanity, of course, composes the core of western femininity; thus, the black woman’s detachment from conventional beauty is not about beauty at all. Rather, this depiction subtly proclaims the black female as less than a woman in her involvement with black men. Conclusively, the parallel between the film adaptation of Terry McMillan and Trisha Thomas’s books reveals that the black woman is still very much waiting to exhale.

Mother Daughter

Perhaps the most disappointing component of the film is the underdeveloped lynnsanaa.pngmother-daughter relationship between Violet and Mrs. Jones. Although viewers learn from Violent’s aunt that Mrs. Jones’s mother did not straighten Mrs. Jones’s hair out of exasperation, this does little to alleviate her from the role of this film’s villain. NEA portrays Mrs. Jones as unrelentlessly superficial and preoccupied with what others think. Mrs. Jones as irretrievably vain throughout the film rather than indoctrinated with an ideology chosen for her by the systemic forces that dictate her path.

This is also what viewers witness with waiting to exhale with Savannah’s relationship with her meddling mother. Savannah’s mom pushes her daughter into the arms of a married man because, in her mother’s eyes, to be with a married man is better than being alone. Similarly, Mrs. Jones pushes her daughter into a life of western perfection to ensure that she receives the best of the white world. What both women fail to realize is their espousal to western standards sets both them and their children up for failure. Western standards are for western women, not women westernized by colonialism. The issue I have with both portrayals is that they attempt to Americanize the displaced African. Most portrayals of black women in popular culture are of “women” who happen to be black. This is perhaps most obvious in Violet’s relationship with Clint, where they both observe a Negropean lifestyle—or are black people living a western/white lifestyle. Thus, Clint’s desire for Violet to straighten her hair at their engagement party illustrates that his proposal was not for Violet to marry him, but for them both to marry western standards/ideals.

Zoie, Picaninny Caricature

When viewers first meet Zoie, she is dressed in oversized clothes, her hair tossled with zoe.pngspeech and knowledge way beyond her years. Though a beautiful young girl, her image is reminiscent of the picaninny caricature which depicts the black child as unkempt to reflection the discordance of black upbringing.  Viewers soon learn that Zoie is motherless and her appearance reflects a single-dad household. Her appearance seems Mitch-matched to a male hairdresser and gardener who takes pride in natural beauty but struggles to do his daughter’s hair until the film’s ending.

As viewers learn more about Zoe, it becomes obvious that her appearance reflects that of a young girl who has accepted her “unprettiness,” not that of a young girl who exists beyond vanity. This also appears mitch-matched, that a precocious black girl groomed by a father espoused to natural beauty would be only superficially confident.

Zoe reflects what happens to little girls in deficient of a female role model. This portrayal ignores the communal reality that no black girl or boy is ever truly mother or fatherless. Again, the movie showcases the detriment of single-parent households, overlooking the power of the black community.

A Processed Mind

The last scene in the film when Violet pitches Will’s natural care line to a businessman neaclosecutwho sells to the unnatural woman, functions almost as an apology to the black female viewer. This scene seems to state that after a visual discourse on a black woman’s journey to natural “it doesn’t matter how you wear your hair.” It of course does matter how one wears their hair, as whites and non black persons of color accumulate generational wealth in capitalizing off this implanted insecurity.

The film’s ending also delineates what lies at the core of all black female hair styling—money. When asked why sell a product that seems to “undercut” what they already sell, Violet says, “Women can wear weaves if they want to, they can straighten their hair… its a choice.” Choice is an interesting word choice. If the film does nothing, it depicts the marketing world as a tool of white supremacy that makes choices for its targeted consumer. Whether the black woman wears her hair natural, straight, dyed, or opts to purchase a weave or wig, she is a target of a white world who wishes to capitalize on her consumerism. Even as an ad executive, Violet is a consumer—depicting that the core of colonialism is being a product of consumption while being collectively consumed. So while the oppressor’s eating of the other remains a topic of contention, the film illustrates the other’s conception of its collective corpse under the guise of representation.

Closing Thoughts

NEA is a nuanced assimilatory narrative that appears to embrace blackness but neasanaaactualizes black exploitation. To be completely honest, this film seems about fifteen to twenty years late. The epidemic of wigs and weaves that dominate much of black female styling today makes the straightening of natural hair a far lesser evil, if not nearly obsolete.

neapinkdress NEA portrays black women and hair straightening as dimensionally. Violet and her mother’s relationship remains solely vested in superficiality and her natural best friend remains restricted to the film’s background. The portrayal attempted in this film would greatly benefit from a layered portrayal of black beauty that encompasses the reality that many black women wore braids as children and straightened their hair as a right of passage. Hair straightening in the black community often occurs with the cognitive dissonance of “adulthood” or “practicality” that personifies a stealth alignment American beauty standards. In another breath, I do look at films or social commentary that challenge black behavior with the query: why are there are little to no films/novels about white women and tanning, dying, limp plumping,  or hair straightening? Or better yet, why are white and “mixed race” women who for centuries were praised for their distance from black aesthetics now praised for paying for the curves many black women are born with?  I ask these questions not to compare the black female and white woman experience, but to note that much of western society critiques black women for behaviors performed in a cult-like fashion by our oppressors who though functionally beautiful are on a quest to have what the black woman is born with. The crooked path of white and non-black woman to possess black beauty remains an untold story, because the myth of black female insecurity or “ugliness,” is necessary to uphold western ideology.

Nevertheless,  NEA, though a dissonant display of black female consciousness, does not tackle the complexities that veil the black pursuit of beauty as encompassing a functional ugliness. Instead, its portrayal is as vain and shallow as its characters. Whites and other non-black persons of color are able to extract symbolic profit from a film that implies black female insecurity and ignores the reality that beauty world remains anchored in the white woman’s quest for color. Black audiences feel “Seen” through a visual narrative that consummates victory in showing viewers what mediocre storytelling and direction cannot incite viewers to feel.

Black Power ❤

“Slave Play” An Appropriate Title for an​ Oh so Wrong Production…

There are only two things the black collective needs to know about Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play. The first is that all of its show dates are sold out. The second is that it has a number of rave reviews from white publications and white platforms. Both illustrate that this play cannot possibly be good for the black collective.

Though praised for its nuanced approach to the slave narrative, this play is what the black collective has seen many times before. 

When interviewed about his project, Jeremey O. Harris uses the word “American” slaveplayjeremyseveral times. Though he performatively acknowledges his blackness, it is clear that Harris seeks to occupy an American space. He acknowledges a childhood inundated with white spaces where he came into his identity via binary opposition. Slave Play, where Harris fails to centralize black characters, mirrors this identity crisis. Instead, Harris focuses on interracial relationships where the black character emerges as the binary opposite to their non-black mate. This focus exposes a detached and derogatory portrayal consistent with the playwright’s many, and conflicting selves.slaveplaytwerk

Slave Play illustrates linearity between the slavery of the antebellum south and the present. The premise, however, is not where the play goes wrong. Rather, the execution marks its tragic downfall. It is impossible to separate interracial unions from the mental enslavement birthed from physical bondage; though somehow its contemporary manifestations depict this praxis as a sign of the revolution that has yet to arrive. Slave Play depicts a similar feat; it functions as a sign of revolutionary fervor but is a figment of assimilatory art. Specifically, Harris’s display of interracial unions beg the issue of consent and appear to assert a colonized desire “othered” bodies have for their master. 

This contention takes form in the contemporary depiction of a white man with a black woman, where the black woman asks to be called a “nasty negress” during intercourse. The request implies that blacks look upon their past with lust; their contemporary placement allowing them to consent to what their ancestors merely had to endure to get through the day. 

Consent remains a fickle topic of discussion. To this, I wish to assert that Harris oversimplifies the relationship between consent and agency.

Issues of agency remain largely unresolved by those of the black collective that have yet to emancipate their minds from the teachings of white supremacy. Thus, what I contest here is not the portrayal of black agency, but Harris’s underdeveloped and violent portrayal of said agency.

The issue with this Harris’s play is that it obscures the line of demarcation between the two with regard to the black body. Harris depicts the black woman as looking upon her own body andslaveplay personhood with the gaze of a southern slavemaster and not the very descendant of this slavemaster as sharing the gaze of his forefather. This depiction is problematic because racism made it impossible for any black person to consent to relations with a white person during physical slavery. Arguably, contemporary manifestations reflect a similar duress. However,  Harris represents said duress as consent. This portrayal assigns accountability to black agency an accountability that Harris does not extend to his white characters. This portrayal affords comfort to his white audience.

This violent revisionist history is to the benefit of the ever-present oppressor seeking to gain symbolic profit for a perpetuating the myth that slavery was “not so bad after all”. 

For this reason, Harris’s alignment with an enslaved woman twerking to Rihanna is not anachronistic as delineated by several reviews. Black women in culture maintain identical placement to their ancestors displaced on plantations. The issue here is that Harris encourages his viewers to laugh at the lie of progress. 

What is also ignored here is that the entire play is a twerk for the white gaze. Harris, checking all the boxes of twenty-first-century diversity, is a tool of his master seduced to think that this play is a masterpiece and not a public lynching. Harris’s mutilated psyche is what the play essentially displays- a display that allows a predominately white audience to bask in a gruesome depiction of their abducted power.  So while many viewers note that white discomfort lies at the core of the play’s production music does not compose the soundtrack of the play, but the sound of a fading heartbeat. 

slaveplayjhHarris’s play functions in a new wave of art by black people that appears to confront issues it distastefully circumvents. These projects, which terrorize the black narrative with distorted truths, hold hands with one another in their commitment to caricaturing the black narrative for white entertainment. Our experience is not entertainment, yet as long as our skin folk continues to act like Jeremy O. Harris, our bodies will continue to be for sale. 

Nevertheless, the art is not in the play or even the actors. The art is the “artful” depiction of empathy in Slave Play’s production and reception. So while I do not discourage anyone from signing the petition to end this play, I moreso underscore the query as to why we expect anything different from our oppressors? 

So rather than encouraging the “anti” attitude, I encourage those of the black communityslaveplayviolin to seek black productions for and by us. Most importantly, I encourage those of the black collective to write and produce the next pages of our narrative. 

Harris’s attempt to portray the black narrative delineates potential as merely unwielded power. Harris is a beautiful black man, whose potential is thwarted in an abducted identity projected as a nuanced blackness. Harris is a man traumatized by white supremacy, the very  forces that convince him that his work is genius. If anything, this play falsely portrays white supremacy as genius as this play conveys a portrait of white power painted from four hundred years of trauma labeled art.

Black Power ❤

The Black Man is The Devil Part II: The “R” is Rapist is for Racism, not R. Kelly

The western world’s attack on the black man remains ever-present in a society that preaches of change. The change, of course, speaks to a change in approach as the players in the global game of white hegemony remain stagnant. 

From Kevin Hart, to Dwight Howard to R.Kelly, the black male remains a persistent target of a piercing white gaze that perpetuates racism in the (not so)  silent declaration of the black man as the devil. R. Kelly’s public lynching has a unique prominence as it highlights the systemic disregard for the black man and the black women. simultaneously  rkellyvictims

In a conversation about the R.Kelly documentary that recently aired on Lifetime, a colleague mentioned that “there is too much smoke for there not to be a fire.” This comment instantly reminded me of Ida B. Wells’s Southern Horrors where she exposes the whiteness of “smoke” as indicative of its correspondence to white supremacy. The book documents acts of white terror to which the destruction of the black body precedes a butchering of black identity. Wells delineates a number of black bodies accused and persecuted for crimes they never committed depicting the true horror that is his story.  Contemporary culture reveals a similar landscape to which black men of varying placement in western society remain persecuted to perpetuate black bodies as the face of crimes continually cast against them. 

I want to say here that my intention for writing this piece is not to defend R. Kelly the individual. My efforts are to expose that for any member of the black collective to cheer for R. Kelly’s demise or incarceration is to cheer to your own consequence. 

The jails are filled with those plagued by white supremacy and run by those who should have inherited their ancestor’s life sentences. 

rkellyblackjacketR.Kelly’s case mirrors what the world witnessed with the late, great Michael Jackson. In Kelly’s instance, the players are all black. Michael Jackson’s public persecution exposed his rise to global superstardom as a hoisting onto the branch where he would eventually hang for the world to see. Jackson’s persecution targeted his white fanbase by employing the one tool that would rob him of his fair-weather fans—white children. 

Jackson, like so many of the black men delineated in Wells’s book, endured consequence for his caricature as a black man. Specifically, the accusations cast against him functioned with a belief that preceded the formal charges. Even when the world screamed and shouted as Jackson danced across the stage, the belief that he was a hyper-sexual black man capable of the sins their ancestors continues to cast upon black bodies without consequence lay dormant. With R. Kelly, white supremacists employ black bodies to execute a white agenda. These black faces that speak out about what functions as black male terrorism, function to implement black faces to manifest what the white world continues to perpetuate about black male sexual degeneracy. This agenda is guised under the pervasive falsity that the black man, not the white media, is the devil that must be extinguished. 

Blacks, in siding with the white media attack against R. Kelly are made to believe that they are on the right side of justice. This belief omits the query as to why Bill Cosby is in jail, why Lifetime aired “Surviving R. Kelly” and Harvey Weinstein and others like him remain unscathed, and relegated to the forgotten sins of yesterday.  

These efforts are not anti-R.Kelly, but anti-black. Media attacks as seen in Jackson and R. Kelly, amongst others, ensure that blacks remain the face of crime, notably, sexual assault—crimes that white men and women continue to perform without acknowledgement or penalty. Jails are full of black “rapists” while those who have and continue to rape our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, teachers, among others maintain the freedom and power to cage us. 

Black women, contemporary racism resumes the technique of separating us from our rkellyfiltermen. Please allow me to remind you that while the black man remains the face of “rapist,” the white woman, remains the race of “race victim” while we remain abducted, bought and sold by those who gloat in freeing blacks from the hypersexual black male beast. To believe or perpetuate the black man as “beast” is to believe and perpetuate the white woman as “beauty”—to condemn our husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons of the very hypersexuality that birthed us as a people.

The white world does not care about black women and our sexual integrity. Accusations that surrounded R. Kelly in the late 1990s and the early 2000s went virtually under-discussed because his alleged victims were black women. This is, of course, problematic, but reflective of the systemic forces that enable our demise regardless of the assailant.

It is of great significance to note that black disenfranchisement is not a desire. As the late Dr. Amos Wilson noted, black disenfranchisement is a necessity. It is necessary that blacks live in a world without care, and it is necessary that we as a collective never forget that our division and espousal to the poisonous ways of white supremacy remains necessary for the control exuded over our collective. 

The white world, specifically, the white media has never cared about black people. We as a collective are never fed information that stimulates our mind or challenges us to assume our full potential. Thus, it is crucial to note that the media exposure of R. Kelly is to the benefit of white supremacy not to uplift the black collective. The white world only cares about white people and maintaining white supremacy.

In closing, while the white world does not care about the sheer falsity of projecting the black man as the devil, the white world does not care about casting the black collective as soldiers in their own genocide so that they may label our demise suicide. 

Black Power ❤