My father and I were scheduled to see Miss Aretha Franklin this past March on her birthday. The concert was abruptly cancelled, my father’s funds returned to his bank account. This alarmed us in a way we did not articulate. Instead we remained hopeful that in a few months we would be able to see the Queen again.
Our last time being in the same room with Miss Franklin was a few years ago at the New Jersey Performing Arts center. She came out in a white dress with a boa around her arms. She surprised fans by performing “Oh Me Oh My, I am a Fool for You,” an oldie but goodie that moved many to scream in excitement, and others to tears. The highlight of the evening for me was Miss Franklin’s performance of “You make me feel,” her voice mirroring the original vocals that made the song the staple itbecame. Seeing Aretha Franklin in concert solidifies her presence as a once in a lifetime talent that was able to withstand a changing world with unchanging talent.
Experiencing Franklin’s talent alongside my father who’s lifetime spans the duration of her career, I was able to transcend time and hold hands across generations with kinfolk who lived to see today, and those confined to the memory of tomorrow. Perhaps that is the measure of true talent is the ability to unite a people persistently divided by our white oppressors. Aretha Franklin not only united me with my father, but united many millennials and post millennials with their forefathers and foremothers in a manner that only a queen can. She is the Queen of Soul, simply because her talent bore a key to the souls of black folk. Specifically, her life proved a lesson of love, and her love proved a path to life for so many within the black collective.
Franklin’s embodiment of life prompted my initial disbelief in the news of Aretha Franklin’s fatal illness that surfaced earlier this week. The media had been similarly cruel in predicting Harry Belafonte’s death, so I perceived this as yet another means of the white media to prematurely bury the black body for profit. I still say they got it wrong. The queen is not dead. The truly influential never die, simply because they cannot. Songbirds never die. Even long after their physical departure, the wind still echoes with the song of a songbird, as their influence is eternal. Aretha’s tool of influence was a voice, a voice that in over sixty years of recording has granted her immortality.
But even immortality does not ease the stinging realization of what Franklin’s death truly means for the black collective. Aretha Franklin’s transition not only marks the end of an era, it marks the now physical invisibility of that which will never happen again. There will never be another Aretha Franklin. Despite the sacrifice and contribution of the black musicians who endured exploitation and mutilation via the white media,the talent of artists like Aretha Franklin has birthed a talentless era. Gone are the days when one’s natural gifts provides healing to the masses. Gone are the days where talent has more precedence than scandal.
As a millennial, Aretha symbolizes what has largely escaped my generation, and what many millenials will never experience in person.This is not to gaze at the past with an unhealthy nostalgia, but to encapsulate the magnitude of loss in the physical loss of our greats. Aretha Franklin, like many artists of the Soul Era, symbolizes everything an oppressive society tried to take from us—pride, poise, and the natural gifts manifested from a black past onto present bodies. In the talent of our foremothers and forefathers, be it singing, writing, arranging, dancing, science, math, astronomy or what have you, are elements of who we were before we were displaced. Through their majestic attributes, our ancestors, foremothers and forefathers embody a freedom largely forgotten by the mental enslavement that persists. Aretha Franklin’s voice in particular, paints an auditory illustration of the heaven Africa was before her physical and systemic rape, not the heaven out white oppressors created for us.
May the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, rest in the same peace and power she will afford her people forever.
A songbird never dies, she only flies. Black Power ❤
In commemorating a milestone birthday gifted to me earlier this year, my most elaborate gifts were to the person I was five years ago. The girl who wore make-up, the girl who loved Beyonce. The current me, a black nationalist, received no gifts of the pan africanist sort, or ones that scratched her itch of intellectual curiosity. I say this not be ungrateful, but to note that transitions towards blackness are rarely embraced verbally, but even more seldom in action.
The old me received two enviable seats to watch Beyonce and Jay Z perform together on the second leg of their On The Run Tour. The evening proved a battle with traffic and the weather, namely a two hour stand off whereme, my friend, and over 82,000 others sought refuge as we waiting out the storm.
Then Bey and Jay—labeled “The Queen and The Gangster” took the stage, their hands as espoused just as much to one another as to the bounds of white supremacy. Though physically black, their union illustrates black love as it manifests behind the veil of the white gaze. Black bodies obscured by wealth and fame so that they are actually no longer even human–brown shells of fantasy used to birth and support consumers who seek a seat at the table, or better yet center stage on the auction block called the Black A-list.
Beyonce and Jay Z, caricatures of blackness, market this image to victims of white supremacy as entertainment. The stereotypes, the noose around our neck, becomes what makes us smile as we are asphyxiated to the likings of our oppressors.
Watching the concert, I could not help but not feel as though The Carters have the joint tour that Bobby and Whitney should have had over two decades ago. Whitney and Bobby of course were not out of this world in the way that Jay and Bey are—it was just Whitney who catapulted to the lonely place at the bottom of a white supremacist mountaintop—a mountaintop that is nothing more than a veiled cliff. Bobby and Whitney illustrated the imbalance white supremacy puts on black love—that the black woman is purposely allowed to walk in doors for the sheer purpose of those same doors slamming in the face of the black men that follow.
Reality series Being Bobby Brown was a means for the same system thatpersistently sets the black family up for failure, to benefit— a means for white supremacists to sell umbrellas in the storm they created. Contrarily, for Jay and Bey, the profit for the 10+ years of their relationship is togetherness—their unity is good for their brand in the same way thatdiscordance was the key to Bobby and Whitney’s brand.
So as beautiful as Beyonce sang, as gorgeous as she looked (minus the inauthentic hair and color), and as lovely as it is to see a black man love a black woman and vice versa, I cannot help but feel as if we as a collective were being played—literally. That our hopes and dreams of overcoming and arriving, have been sold to our collective as albums, and concert tickets.
That both the black and love were ejected from “black love,”making their performance
lack love like a literal lash from the past. I cant help but feel, as I swayed in the stands, and sang along to the soundtrack of my enslaved past, that I willingly tied myself to a tree and danced to the sound of my tearing skin.
My affinity for Beyonce the artist has largely been diluted. I can no longer be passive in her terroristic standpoint. She is whatthis world wants me to be—jezebel-like with faux blonde hair— a black woman who leads black women into the burning house of white feminism and tells them that their charred body is flawless. Simply put, I cannot love a figure who exists to ensure my collective self-hate.
Nevertheless, reflecting on the Beyonce concert affords me a new perspective in assessing the tour’s title. A black man and woman as “on the run” is literally a personification of what it means to be black anywhere on the globe. As beings of black form, we remain on the run from various manifestations of white supremacy. In considering Beyoncé and Jay-Z respectively, the black body remains on the run from a media who thrives in our subjugation and separation of self.
At the height of their fame, Bey and Jay function to illustrate what we as a people should wish to be—highly paid employees of our oppressors. To all those who protest my assertions, despite what the media perpetuates, Jay Z and Beyoncé are manufactured and employed by the white media. Jay and Bey would not only fail to exist in a pro-black, or black centered society—they would serve no purpose. Realizing this is only enabled in running away from the aesthetic and ideology afforded by this concert, and toward the freedom not mentioned in “his” story or amidst his territory.
A week or so after the concert, a melanated colleague approached me with a query manufactured by our shared oppressors. His query was in reference to Beyoncé’s recent pairing with Vogue magazine. Specifically, Beyoncé’s decision to ditch hair extensions and makeup was to him revolutionary and deserving of praise. To him Bey was pushing back against a standard. To me however, Beyonce provides a diverse way to reinforce a standard she helped to create. It is also worth mentioning that Bey’s hair remains its unnatural hue, her espousal to white supremacy itemized in the wedding band of blonde locs. His commentary, alongside the thousands of spell bound fans who viewed Beyoncé worldwide on her most recent On The Run II tour, expose a reality perhaps I was reluctant to believe. A reality that so many of the black collective, from various walks of life, are waiting on a fair-skinned, blonde-haired black Woman to save the black collective from an illness she continues to spread in song, action, and image. Yonce though, whether on the cover of Vogue, or headlining a sold out tour, not only reflects what the black collective needs saving from, but she who also needs saving from a suffocating caricature revered for its conspicuous ability to keep the black collective “crazy in love” with a melanated representative of white supremacy.
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, an innovated theory of society as a hyper-site for ridicule and conformity is nothing short of fascinating. A product of magical realism, the film employs protagonist Cassius Green— a melanated black body who attempts to negotiate the western subject by way of capitalistic ambitions as resulting in a literal black dehumanization that turns the black body into a human/animal hybrid exploited for labor. A societal object, running towards capital, casts the black body into a fatal predictability that ultimately seizes black humanity.
The quest for visibility and purpose gradually moves from the background to the forefront throughout the film. In the film’s background is reality show “I got the Sh*t kicked knocked out of me” — a popular show where guests volunteer to various forms of public humiliation. The show is reminiscent of the show “Fear Factor,” a popular series in the early 2000s where contestants performed a myriad of acts from eating cow testicles to having rats crawl all over their bodies for two minutes. The show in its fact and fictive representations illustrates the allure of ridicule to those with a self and esteem seized by a ruthless culture that thrives on such baseness. In hindsight, the show appears a physical representation of the great lengths one will endure for their place amongst the white lights that veil the red venom of white supremacy.
Cassius Clay or Cassius Green
The film provides cause to question whether protagonist Cassius Green is named after the late Cassius Clay who preceded the body it was initially assigned to in death. While watching the film, I could not help but wonder whether Cassius Green was who Muhammad Ali would have been had he not experienced a cultural awakening? Nevertheless, it seems an oversimplification to render this film a cautionary tale of black assimilation. Rather, the film functions as a meditation of the fatality of the black follower. To follow whiteness as a black man or woman is to be lead off a cliff. To follow whiteness as a being of black form, is to imbue a predictability that makes you everything and everyone that you should not be. Cassius predictably though is one that leaves the reader questioning. His acquiescence to white supremacist culture, comes after he has already taken a step over a cliff. He is so far gone though, that he sees his step of a cliff as the step off the elevator that issues an allusive upward mobility. Cassuis’ desire to win at the white man’s game by any means necessary, attracts the negative attention from his oppressors that truss in his trust in them. Cassius exudes this trust in snorting a line of coke that will ultimately transform him. Cassius invests this white powder off a plate with s horse on it, foreshadowing the transformation that is yet to come.
The film provides further contemplation that many of us have had over the years but a query that not enough have asked themselves let alone the world. What force lies behind those who have made a prodigious contribution to our collective? Why are some of our leaders killed but not others? Cassius, after climbing the ranks of predictability, is offered an opportunity to lead the inevitablerevolution of the oppressed man/animal hybrid. He is presented with an opportunity to be “A Man Amongst Horses,” an opportunity he has already accepted by walking through the door.This depiction illustrates the “black leader” as often the prediction of the white oppressors designed to pacify the masses with illustration not liberation.
Cassius Green, A Lost Boy in a Man’s body
Viewers meet Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) as his morning thoughts reveal a common quest of trying to turn life into meaning. Green desires to make something of himself. He desires purpose—to make a mark on the world. Sorry To Bother You illustrates that attempting to make a mark on that which you do not understand, is setting the world up to brand you with its brutality.
Essentially, Cassius Greene is the quintessential “lost” melanated body who is not on a quest for blackness, but whiteness— a quest guised as conventional success. His desire is best manifested in the starry gaze he affords the elevator that takes employees up to the “higher” level. These employees, who are essentially his co-workers, dress flashier and hold themselves with a pseudo confidence. Greene forges credentials that prove superfluous for an entry-level telemarketing job that will change his life forever. The job initially confirms his feelings of inadequacy, but oncesenior employee, Langston gives him the key—Greene opens the door to opportunity, or what he eventually learns is slavery. This key is a “white voice.” Greene’s adaptation of “the white voice”is the selling point of the movie, a point that coincides with the now cliche phrase that “anything is possible when you sound white on the phone.” The viral status of the phrase reflects the societal predilection for ideologies that articulate or maintain white as central—an ideology performed in the white voice overs that persist throughout the film.Riley challenges the ideology of the white voice by posing query as to whether it exists at all.
Through Langston, Sorry to Bother You presents whiteness as an ideology, as a wish rather than a reality. Whiteness is something that needs bodies to believe in it, to reinforce and thereby prove its existence. Every body in the film functions as a tool of whiteness, even those who seem most vested in its abolishment. All desire a piece of a white pie, they desire it in different manifestations, depicting whiteness as a pervasive disease that has affected all. Though mastering the white voice, Langston does not gain upward mobility. This lack of upward mobility is easily attributed to choice afforded by Langston’s knowledge of what lies on the other side.
Foreshadow: The Path Less Taken
Greene’s fate is eerily alluded to by a senior co-worker played by veteran actor Danny Glover. In a conversation about what it means to be a “power-caller,” Glover compartmentalizes the sales of these superstar employees as “holocaust,” words that should foreshadow the misfortune that awaits a lost Cassius, but escapes rather than admonishes him.
Langston’s words are not all that escape the film. Angst as a character, despite appearing in number of scene, remains vastly under developed. Like the man that appears in the background via photograph with a variety of expressions who appears to be Cassuis Green’s father, Glover’s character appears almost phantasmal. The black man and the Cadillac, the Cadillac a symbol of the black man’s dream—the black man’s desire to culminate what was outlined for him by his oppressors. This black male figure appears in the background of the film to personify his place in the background of society, in the backdrop of the world, in the back of the minds of their sons and daughters, their lives long forgotten by a world who rendered their birth and burial with the same indifference. Though Green finds community with his boss, a nameless black man dressed to mirror the caricature he embodies, their connection is one of sell outs. They connect as hollow shells of what could of been, but instead what was and is a white supremacy. In their quest for fictive power, they became predictable. Their predictability results in their profitable praise a profit the enslaved are paid for their subjugation.
Squeeze, the Non-Black Person of Color As Head Activist
A relationship that does carry throughout the entire movie, is the relationship between Cassius and his pseudo activist associate Squeeze. Cassius meets Squeeze shortly after starting his position, and is quickly recruited to the movement. At first Cassius is excited, excited to be a part of something, but when he is given a chance to move up the ranks, he does so. This process, though initially portrayed as positive, sets off the downward spiral in which Cassuis is unable to remove himself. Cassuis’ severance from the movement is depicted with a sort of implied scrutiny, a scrutiny undercut with the reality that Cassuis battle is unlike that of his non-black person of color coworker.
So though Squeeze both articulates and seems to act as if his struggle mirrors that of his black colleagues.Squeeze’s struggle is a single struggle, an oversimplification he extends to his followers in his protest against his boss. As a person of color without color, Squeeze can negotiate what the black body must take. His solutions therefore, are self-serving, and a means for the black body to escape the battle only they can and must take in order to ensure liberation.
What’s interesting about the dynamics portrayed in the film, is that Cassius Green represents the contemporary black men who possesses more freedom in his unemployment than his climb up the corporate ladder. The film depicts Green as seduced to want to be something else while those around him desire to be like him. This point speaks directly to Squeeze, the organizer for the employee strike. His request is for a means to live similarly to those for whom he works. Squeeze desires a seat at the table, and perceives his desires as commiserate to his black and white coworkers. A willing migrant, Squeeze wants to make good on the promise of the American Dream, a promise never made to those whose bodies afforded the commerce of western wealth. A seat at the table will not garner freedom for the black man or woman, as the very table is held up by the dismembered legs of their ancestors. Squeeze illustrates the non-black person of color as seizing black allies when convenient, and perhaps most importantly, the non-black person of color’s not so secret envy of blackness. Squeeze’s desire to be like the black man manifests in his desire for Cassuis’ romantic partner, Detroit. This desire is seen in the company who employs Detroit for her labor and Squeeze who despite seeing Detroit and Cassuis’s love for one another first hand, desires to replace Cassius. Squeeze conceals this desire from Cassius, but is quite forthcoming of his intentions with Detroit. The black female body has habitually been a form of conquest, a means for oppressors to mark their objectification of the black man.
Detroit, The Black Female Lead
Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson in her recurring role as love interest to a significantly darker skinned man, narrates what appears to be the black female experience. Detroit, intelligent and outspoke, speaks loudest in her accessories–seemingly a commentary of black female fashion as a narrative of its own. This ambiguity angers me, as my medication on Detroit appears once again to be a black woman searching for herself in a world that flourishes in this obscurity.
Though Detroit speaks of Africa’s exploitation as the muse for her her art exhibition, she does so without overt attachment. She is far more her tie-dyed hair and burnout persona, perhaps to intentionally depict the displaced African as viewed intersectionally. I personally find the racially ambiguous black woman as largely played out. In an industry with only a handful of brown skinned black men, the continual omitting of a black woman of the same hue suggests what the media perpetuates daily—the myth that blacks of a sun-kissed hue do not love one another.
Detroit, like the systemized City, is sullied by the forces of white supremacy. She appears a “free spirit” but she isn’t free at all. Her situation appears perhaps most devastating because unlike her male counterparts, she seems to understand her oppression. Her art exhibitis anchored in the systemic rape of Africa, a mutilation she emulates in her presentation of the work. During her exhibit Detroit wears a costume that depicts hands grabbing her breasts and genitals, recites a poem, and allows the audience to toss items from batteries to sheep blood at her as she recites a monologue. As bizarre as the scenario sounds, its depiction is reminiscent to the dynamic many black female superstars offer at their concerts.The sight is hard to watch, as a nearly nude black Woman stands on a platform reminiscent of an auction block, where she is ridiculed, mentally defiled, and utterly broken before monetarily consumed by her oppressors.
Detroit festers the bounds of her defilement in a reckless sexual encounter with Squeeze, the Asian activist who functions in the same circle as Cassius and those from her Oakland community, hours after her breakup with Cassius. This depiction cheapens Detroit, countering what previously functioned as intellect as a devotion to diversifying the ways in which she is exploited and mutilated. The sexual merging of black and Asian bodies could also represent the Asian conquest and exploitation of African bodies and goods.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the film is a horrified Cassius jumping in to save his beloved in her humiliating demonstration. Confronted with the physical manifestation of what he also does for a living, this scene is especially significant because it illustrates that it is often far easier to acknowledge the problematic behavior of others, than to acknowledge your own—which is a common side affect of post traumatic slave syndrome.
Green with Envy or Naivety?
It is a point of wonder whether the Greene in the protagonist’s “sir” name is representative of naivety or envy. My argument would be that his character represents a medley of the two, a naive jealousy that cripples him in fomenting a meditation on what he does not have, rather than making due with all that he does. Greene’s quest for freedom, as something handed to him by his oppressors, is not freedom at all but what the oppressive chokehold of white supremacy needs marginalized bodies to believe is freedom to ensure the black collective is never freed. Greene, like all bodies within the black collective, was born with the tools necessary to engender his liberation. It is only in the contemporary enslavement of the black body, the labor force that tells individuals that they are nothing without a job, a 401K, an expensive car, and other worthless material items, that the marginalized body displaces the purpose of their oppressors in place oftheir collective purpose.
Though named after an apologist phrase, the film is anything but apologetic in its critique of conformity and the poisonous attributes of a society that are largely normalized. The film diverges from the usual depiction of conformity as the road to success manifested in the Ivy League, 1percent, and the countries’ most revered professions. The film suggeststhat what the world projects as the light, is a darkness for dark people— a dark hole to which the melanated body loses sense of self and never emerges as human. The film is the contemplative exercise missing from contemporary pop culture, the admonishment needed to steer our kids towards self and away from the demons of conformity.
Perhaps the most resonant depiction of the film is the nameless character played by Omari Hardwick. Green meets this character in his rise from entry-level to higher-level executive, a character whose voice and name is oppressed in the system to which he has sold his soul. We hear Hardwick’s actual voice moments before Green takes the substance that ultimately turns his body into what his mind has already become—an animal. Hardwick’s character represents what becomes of the assimilatory black body, it becomes dismembered, erased in a violent consummation of anti blackness where the once black body is not only not black, but completely void. Hardwick’s character is a necessary character as he embodies what so many within the black collective see far too often in those who are presumed to have made it— at the expense of exchanging self for status.
In short, the film illustrates that the essential component to freeing black bodies from capitalism is acknowledgement that the black body is in fact capital. Green was capital the minute he measured himself by the white man’s measuring tape—long before he even considered a telemarketing job. May this be a lesson to all of us, the dangers of merging our double sight into the single vision of white supremacy.
Amidst the contemporary climate of inclusionary activism emerges seasoned director Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman. Based on a book of the same title by protagonist Ron Stallworth, the book and movie entertain via depicting black entry in a white space. This activity occurs multiple times at once throughout the film, the most notable being protagonist Ron Stallworth staging his intervening of the kkk, while also infiltrating the soliders of white supremacy—the Police department.
John David Washington does a brilliant job as Ron Stallworth, a man manufactured for the use by his oppressors, almost too brilliant. It is perhaps easy to label Stallworth as a man caught between his “blackness” and assimilatory whiteness, but this is what most viewers want to believe. Stallworth is not caught between his blackness and assimilatory whiteness, assimilation is what Stallworth has been bred to believe is freedom and that is what he seeks. Stallworth’s ambitions are somewhat troubled in his encounter with a beautiful black woman who is on a journey towards blackness. His infatuation with her is similar to James Weldon Johnson’s reflection of Booker T. Washington at the end of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Both infatuations are the result of mediating on “what could have been.” Both bear a predisposition towards pro-blackness as a choice of doom, that it does not appear or function as beautiful as Patrice, the black student union president, or Booker T. Washington makes it look.Therefore, both illustrate an alternative ending to a fate their counterparts tried desperately to avoid.
Assimilatory whiteness speaks to alternative attributes of melanated beings developed and performed with the intention of diluting physical blackness. Assimilatory whiteness emerges from a normalized fear, and is an effort to mollify said fear by subconsciously performing as expected. Though bearing the “black is beautiful” image of the 1970s with a full natural and sideburns, Stallworth has the American superpower of a transcendent voice. His voice, dichotomous to the his physical appearance, becomes the key that opens doors to thresholds withheld from the average being of black form. Thought the film seems a meditation of moving beyond the voice, or the voice as a tool against those whom it emulates, the undercurrent of its depiction in the film, is that the white voice is a gateway to change. Specifically, that merging “white” with “black,” or the colorless to the colored is the most concrete path to change.
The issue with this illustration is that the black body remains displaced with the burden of change. In this contemporary climate of pseudo change, the black body remains burdened with the social responsibility to change what they did not great, to fight through forgiveness, to join forces with our oppressors in hopes of being oppressed under more “gentle” circumstances. This is what I call inclusionary activism, which despite the phrasing, is not activism at all. Inclusionary activism,is a seemingly revolutionary project that mollifies wrestling with the ugly and uncomfortable by holding hands with the ugly and uncomfortable. The film rides the fence between two sides, making it not too much of anything, and therefore baby steps forward countered by two giant steps backwards in the liberation of black thought and image.
Black Power v. White Power: Fence Riding
Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the film is the juxtaposing of “black power” with “white power.”Namely, the black student union of Colorado Springs and the white demonstrations of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. The juxtaposition implies a similarity. Particularly, this juxtaposition suggests that saying “black power” is synonymous with “white power”. This could not be more untrue. Black power is rooted in a nationalism that wishes to grant blacks their own, and white power is rooted in seeking to own black people through oppression. ]
The film also features David Duke as saying that he does not “hate” blacks, but wants blacks to “be with their own.” As conveyed, this ideology suggests a similarity between the black and white power groups. Duke’s words however do not convey the truth, but rather what white supremacists tell themselves. The infiltration of Ron Stallworth into Kwame Ture’s attendance at the black student union, is an imperative depiction. On one hand, it illustrates the intention of black entry into white spaces. Black entry into white spaces has absolutely nothing to do with anti-racist ideologies, but everything to do with diversifying the ways in which racism is practiced. In recruiting blacks desperate for visibility and the white man’s commerce, comes the Step’n Fetchit’s and Clarence Thomas’s of the world, seen commonly in black officers and police chiefs used to convey racist messages or even execute racist behavior. It is also seen in schools where black bodies are employed to instruct the next generation of students to acquiesce to the subjugation designed for them. In short, black inclusion does not illustrate whites as allies in post-racial America, but blacks as allies in a wound worsened by infection veiled as infiltration.
This depiction also illustrates what the movie appears to work against “That anything is possible with the right white man.” Stallworth states this line almost ironically when articulating his plans to infiltrate the KKK to the police chief. The irony wears off in the reality that this very scenario illustrates these very words. Stallworth’s plan ends with Stallworth being taken for the black man he is—unprotected by the fickle veil of a badge and blue clothing. This scene proves a platform for the emergence of the white savior figure, embodied by Phillip, or “flip.” This emergence illustrates that you can do right when the man beside you is white, making the initial utterance of this statement not ironic but an ideology that anchors the film.
With the ally ship of white men, Stallworth is able to have a “crooked” cop arrested and exposes the deadly ways the KKK. This depiction is central in proving the pervasive ideology of the “good” white, the “anti-trump” white person. A stance weakened by the reality that it is easy to be “good” when your gestures do nothing to negotiate your superior societal position. By this I mean that although the actions of Stallworth’s coworkers appear good, what is not so good is that the white man is still literally calling the shots. The white man is still very much still the fate-decider, he remains a manifestation of god, with the token black man as a manifestation of Jesus—the “chosen one” nailed to the cross for the good if his people. So as much as many want this film to push again the very forces that continue to oppress us as a people, Blackkklansman is the lastest product of a black man who is allowed to “win” in a white world because he is a Ron Stallworth of Hollywood. Lee is the chosen one who humanizes the white man in function and implication—allowing the white man to play god in a fate that seems to favor his “chosen” black subjugate.
The white savior is a persistent image throughout the film, perhaps most persistently aligned with Phillip or “Flip,” who provides a body to the white voice created by creation Ron Stallworth. Phillip’s nickname “Flip,” though seemingly synonymous with his “passing” as WASP, actualizes the fence rides that consumes the film. The film’s fence riding is perhaps best illustrated by its guest of honor, Harry Belafonte who recalls the horrifying murder and torture of Jesse Washington. Now, my critique is not of Mr. Belafonte the individual, because I acknowledge that Mr. Belafonte has done more for the black collective than I have. I will say that Belafonte embodies the fence-riding illustrated by this film. My commentary meditates on the dichotomous reality of Belafonte, a man who was walked beside the greats of black thought and action, yet dedicatedly espoused to white women for over sixty years. Belafonte’s marital selection seems eerily aligned to the other distinction between he and the other black men involved in civil rights—the fact that he saw 91 and most did not live to see past 40.
Feminism: A One-Woman Show
The White Woman is a singular entity, a single entity the film depicts in excess. A small man with penis envy, Felix’s plus side wife symbolizes the excess that he seeks. Felix speaks and treats his wife like a child, an action that functions deliberately to display Felix’s constructed masculinity. Connie, wife of KKK member Felix, has all the bearings of a southern mistress. Her accent is deep, her home quintessential American middle class. She makes the home, but she also makes the deadly ambitions of her prejudice husband a reality. When Felix decides to target the black female leaders of the Black student union, it is the white woman who executes his plan. As she journeys to plant a bomb at Patrice’s home, Connie sees Patrice as not a “Woman” but as black– reflective of how the black women is seen throughout the global paradigm of white supremaycy. This depiction of white femininity as merely executing the ambitions of white male patriarchs, and inevitably anchored in race not gender, is an imperative lesson to the black viewer.
Another Sad Depiction of Black femininity
Actress Lauren Harriet plays Patrice, her portrayal yet another embodiment of the fair-skinned love interest. This depiction is also another representation of the biracial female body as the face of the black female narrative. This reoccurring action makes this casting neither coincidence or circumstantial, but custom. Though the paper bag test is commonly referred to as an occurrence of the past, the paper bag remains a standard for black female beauty. Specifically, as depicted in the acceptable beauty of Patrice’s thick features paired with her lighter skin, the paper bag test remains the determining force in whether full lips and African bone structure is attractive enough to warrant visibility.
Patrice’s feature in the film bears an eerie connection to the juxtaposition of black bodies with ancient European art/depictions—common occurrences that allude to the resurrection of the enlightenment period. The enlightenment period is the perfume white nationalists, liberals, and conservatives places over the truth of the black dehumanization of that period—a dehumanization that still persists. This image functions as aesthetical elevation in the violent shadows of the platform in which it earns visibility.
So is John David Washington exceptionally pleasant to look at and watch excel at a craft mastered by many who will never make the big screen? Yes. But this film, an all lives matter depiction marked as black progressive, is yet another notch on the belt of white supremacy who continues to foment new and improved ways to compromise the minds of the colored. Ironically, the film speaks of and to the power of a Jewish media, and it is this same influence that inspires the juxtaposition of the black struggle with the Jewish struggle. The film paints the portrait that “we are all oppressed” and “racism is killing us all.”Racism however is not killing us all, those who compose the North American majority continue to benefit from racism. Even this film, that could have been blacker in content and execution remains overwhelmingly saturated in white presence.
The good and bad guys are white. The film is three dimensional solely in its portrayal of white people, which depicts its black authorship as seemingly irretrievably vested in whiteness. There is a moment in the film where Stallworth asks his Jewish coworker why he has “not bought into this?” specifically referencing their infiltration of an organization that poses harm to them both.The truth is Phillip does not have to buy into his otherness, because he is still white in a white supremacist nation. Phillip can “flip” (his nickname in the film) because he is white. The black body too can flip through assimilatory whiteness, but they are dismembered in the process. Particularly, blacks who adopt an assimilatory whiteness do so at the expense of owning their body, which is what viewers see in both Ron Stallworth and director Spike Lee.
Lee, like Stallworth, seems to believe in the process of change from the inside. There actions of infiltration or entry into spaces that remain dominated by whites, appear an attempt of nuanced activism—inclusionary activism. Inclusionary activism– a symptom of post traumatic slave disorder were the mentally enslaved convince themselves (and others) that their assimilatory actions are a means to liberate their people. Inclusionary activism, as depicted by Stallworth and Lee, always results in the oversimplification or erasure of the black struggle.
To this many will deem my articulation as wrassling with the oppression olympics. The violent phrasing “the oppression olympics” implies the belief that blacks are the sole sufferers of the west. This is of course not true. What is true is that no other group has endured or continues to endure the level of oppression as black people. You not oppressed if ownership and nationalism are accompanied in an unadulterated perception of self. Blacks are handed self in the form of a caricature, and antagonized in their pursuit of ownership and togetherness. As illustrated in the film’s depiction of police infiltration of black events, black unity actualizes the biggest fear of this nation. The unity of other minority groups, or non-black persons of color does not pose a threat to a nation that awards them what they will deprive from blacks to ensurea stagnant oppression to those of the black collective.
One of the most persistent ways the black body remains oppressed is through hyper-sexuality, a common theme in Spike Lee’s depictions of black bodies. To put things bluntly, Lee seems a prisoner of the caricatured male gaze in many of his projects. This project is a tad different, as the solely sexualized body is Phillip, a Jewish man who in his infiltration of the KKK, is asked to show his genitals as a means to prove his Arian lineage. It is interesting and an oversimplification of the black male experience, in a narrative that is supposed to be of a black man, that it is a Jewish man whose penis functions as “other.” Yes, in the same film where the horror story of a tortured, castrated and murdered Jesse Washington is revisited, it is Jewish genital practices that are actively bothered under the gaze of a black direction. This insulting portrayal is perhaps a warm up for the image Lee leaves readers with—the face of Heather Heyer, a white woman killed in the Charlotteville Riots last year. As a being of black form, it hurts to see this image as the final unspoken words of a film supposedly of melanin creation. The pain stems from the illustration of yet another black body as a bridge in which the white collective crosses to a fictive superiority, a fictive superiority made real through black sacrifice of self.
Though overly a page in the chapter of “black lives matter,” the film is easily an “all lives matter” film. Black Klansman is merely anti-Trump propaganda functioning to keep Donald Trump, and every other white man central in a white supremacist world. The final moments of the film exhibit “what I wish I would do,” which includes telling off whites but does not include black ownership or reconciling black twoness. Instead Stallworth seeks to continue living a split life. Viewers witness a similar action in director Spike Lee who offers viewers flashes of consciousness negated by a need to depict equity of struggle where there is none. Nevertheless, the film in execution appears an apology for the pervasiveness of black suffering, so much so, that it must be aligned with other, and lesser form of oppression.
Almost six years ago, a twenty-four year old African displaced in New York, jumped on a plane and moved to California for graduate school. She sat nervously at a departmental orientation, listening to professors introduce themselves. Afterwards, she walked alone on campus giving herself an unofficial tour. While acquainting herself with what would become her home for two years, she encountered a smooth, caramel-skinned professor with honey eyes reminiscent of her grandmother back in New York. This professor, like the twenty-something student, was also a black woman.
“Hi” the professor said with a head nod.
At that moment she felt that things would be okay, but perhaps more importantly she felt “seen.”
The “she” in the story, was of course me, and the black female professor who gifted me this unofficial welcome, was Dr. Ajuan Mance.The same sight that comforted and guided me all those years ago, anchors Dr. Mance’s project: 1001 Black Men.
1001 Black Men, took the tenured professor six and a half years to complete. Her project is a phenomenal feat as an artist, but also as a member of the black collective.
Dr. Ajuan Mance’s 1001 Black Men project, captures black man through the gaze of a black woman. The result is colorful, in hue, perspective, angle, and expression. The images succeed in capturing the story a face tells, the featured faces and their stories appearing quite familiar in the shared experience they speak in their features. The lines on their spaces speak of lives lived in a fierceness that is vulnerable, salient, and
A quick look on Dr.Mance’s 8rock site, presents visitors with “quick links” as a guide to her prodigious project. Mance plays homage to black male elders, the suited black man, the “around the way” men of the black community, the “Afro-Geek,” and the black man in New York City. The pictures display a variety of colors, surpassing the black and brown hues typically assigned to the black race. The colors seemingly represent the diverse auras and energies encased in the black male body— depicting a diversity too often denied to the black collective as a whole.
In his eyes there was both the hope he would never have to confront other people’s hatred of Black men and the fear of what might happen if he did.
He didn’t see any of our glances, though; he was staring straight ahead, focused on whatever music device he was holding in his hands.
Every Black man I see in a hoodie looks like a hero to me.
...in certainly parts of the country, church clothes and nightclub clothes look pretty much the same.
I loved the way his wonderfully curly head of hair seemed to suggestion both awareness of and indulgence in the pleasure of embracing exactly who you are.
Though the bulk of Dr. Mance’s project is dedicated to her diasporic brothers, she does add a personal touch to the project. Dr. Mance’s 1,001 image is that of her father.
Despite the collection being a product of Mance’s gaze, Mance’s physical absence is perhaps anticipated in the project’s title. Mance’s concluding image, one of her scholarly and socially decorated father, alters this truth in perhaps the most poignant moment in the collection. Our stories start long before we are born. As these stories are essentially our faces, Mance offers readers a collective self-portrait in drawing her dad.
For anyone who has seen the four of us together–me, my parents and my brother–it should come as no surprise that I’ve spent the last 6.5 years exploring a single line of creative inquiry. The only real surprise is that I decided to stop at only 1001.
Mance’s parents, educated and cultured, ignited a love of the arts in their children. The extraordinary results of their parenting illustrates that despite whether one employs pedagogy as profession,”teacher” is one of the most significant hats a parent wears.
Though presented as prose, the captions beneath these portraits read like poetry. Perhaps the most resonant of all is the following:
No matter what my imagination brings me, in terms of future projects, I will miss the way this series has changed the way I look and myself and my place in the world, in my city, and in my Black community.
As you scroll through the many faces Dr. Mance encountered during the six and a half years of her project, I encourage you to contemplate the faces that you’ve encountered during your lifetime. What colors do you shade the sketches of your mind? What lines do you draw?
Through the creative contemplation of 1001 Black Men, Dr. Mance illuminates the diversity of intellect. Specifically, that the intellectually curious are inevitably artists who draw, shade, and display portraits painted with words, illustrations, and actions.
May the brazen beauty of Dr. Mance’s project inspire us to see the best in ourselves and one another.
Check out her online sketchbook here, and Etsy store here.
“The first historical and thematic survey of African American women’s poetry, this book examines the key developments that have shaped the growing body of poems by and about Black women over the nearly 125 years since the end of slavery and Reconstruction, as it offers incisive readings of individual works by important poets such as Alice B. Neal, Maggie Pogue Johnson, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, and many others.” (taken from Amazon.com)
In a workshop designed to prepare instructors for an upcoming fall course, I listened to a number of white instructors speak highly of Wes Moore’s best-selling book The Other Wes Moore. Each word spoken felt like a dagger to my flesh, as African adjacent instructors violently delineated the benefits of teaching black authors to a group of incoming black instructors.
This was the first hint of the problematic ideologies that encompassed the text.
For me, The Other Wes Moore delineates what it means to bean average person of African descent. Wes dreams of making it in a white man’s world are not unique, yet it is the pseudo consummation of this feat that continues to make headlines in the white media. Moore’s text functions as what I call a silencer text. Wes Moore’s text functions as a means to pacify the black collective, to fill us with what functions as hope, but what is not hope at all. This pseudo hope comes in the cliche suggestion that blacks must “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, an ideology that assumes the presence of boots. The result of this ideology is a hopelessness, where black readers learn to love the noose around their neck.
The Distinction: Author and Architect
The “other” Wes Moore exposes in title the violence of intra-racial othering. This othering is not only present in title, but is a constant throughout the text. “Other,” though seemingly a means to distinguish two men with the same name, labels each Wes Moore by their proximity to the Western success. The author, is not the “other” Wes Moore despite the stories of hardship that compose the narrative. Therefore the author assumes central placement, and retires his physically incarcerated brother to the margins as “other.”
To avoid performing the same careless act, this post will distinguish between the two Wes Moores as the architect and the author. Wes Moore the author speaks to the voice of this narrative.Wes the architect speaks to a black man that sought to make a house for himself, a house that collapsed and bursts into flames. The flames though did not consume him, but they do compose a large part of this text.
II. Not His Brother’s Keeper
One of the most disconcerting components of this book is the disbelief Wes Moore the author regards Wes Moore the architect. The author critiques Wes for not taking “responsibility”for what the author believed were his crimes. Moore’s conviction reveals him as believing in the same justice system that legalized the enslavement of his people.
Moore, the author reserves his sympathy for oppressors wounded in the line of white supremacist duties. To be clear, I am not saying oppressors are not deserving of sympathy. I am articulating that to demand saidsympathy of the oppressed is an act of violence. Likewise, to preoccupy oneself with sympathy for their master, as member of the oppressed group, is to demonstrate the impact of a blow.
Wes Moore, the author does nor believe Wes Moore’s claims of innocence due to his preoccupation with western truth. Wes Moore the author states that the “only” victim, is the cop shot dead during the robbery. To the author, Wes Moore the architect is guilty and the brother of a murderer. To the author, Wes Moore the architect and his brother are criminals, not victims of the most prodigious crime in this earth’s existence. Moore’s decision to include this disbelief in the book illustrates Wes’s desire to distance himself from Moore the architect, an act that stealthily reveals that Moore believes in a racist justice system more than he believes in his collective self.
Moore is also consistently ethnic in his text. Moore’s ethnocentrism exposes the author as
not only seeking to distance himself from the “other” Wes Moore, but from “other” black people. In his text, he states the following:
All chores had to be done before we even thought about going outside to play. If we heard any gunfire or, as my grandmother called it, “foolishness,” outside, we were to immediately return home, no matter when it was. These were not Bronx rules, these were West Indian rules. And my grandparents figured if these rules had helped their children successfully navigate the world, they would work on their grandkids too.
These rules seem pretty contingent with the majority of black house-holds, regardless of ethnicity. As a displaced people, one does not have to be highly conscious to be well aware that blackness becomes even more danger laden once the sun sets–as darkness can obscure a the presence of our oppressors. Blacks who roam the street or who are out late, commonly do so out of defiance. Yet, Moore’s statement implies that non-migrant parents allow their children to roam the streets–painting a picture highly similar (if not identical) to the caricatured black body conjured by western creation.
The author’s distinction between migrant and non-migrant blacks, implies that his Jamaican mother and Caribbean grandparents who raised him are what saved him from the fate that met Wes the architect. With this, Moore presents himself as the model minority, which again comes back to choice. Those who raised Wes chose to be in the United States, a choice made for the architect and his family.
III. A Father’s Place
Fatherhood is a core theme of the text, and presented as r crossroads for the two Wes Moores. Wes Moore the author, lost his father when he was three. Wes Moore the architect had a father that was not in his life. Though noted as a point of difference , there is a similarity between the two Wes Moores. Both men illustrate trickle down trauma as a constant in black life. The author delineates the his father’s botched hospital visit, where a fatally ill black man was sent home without diagnosis but with accusations of exaggerated symptoms.
A few hours later he was dead.
Moore revisits this traumatic moment during the first few pages of the text and its retelling leaves a lasting feeling of despair.A careless mistake cost a wife her husband, and a son his father. The same racial science that dismissed black illness ultimately strips the author of his father. This very science also strips Wes the architect of what should have been his paternal bond.
IV. Malcolm X
The author’s effort to distance himself from the black who colors outside the lines is
perhaps most evident in his distinction between The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Colin Powell’s memoir. Moore writes:
The canon of black autobiography sensibly includes scores of books about resistance to the American system. For instance, reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X—a book that begins and ends in the madness and pathology of America’s racial obsessions—is a rite of passage for young black men. Malcolm never stopped pursuing truth and the right course, based on the best information he had at any given moment. His response to the world he confronted in the middle of the twentieth century was profound and deeply felt, but he didn’t speak to my experience as well as Colin Powell did.
The term “cannon of black autobiography” is bothersome, as it suggests a formalized space that has yet to be created. The small amount of recognized black texts are too often the product of white invention and reflect white-friendly versions of the black narrative. However, this is the least of the evils present in this excerpt. Just as seen in the distinction between the author and the “other” Wes Moore, the author distinguishes between the hopeful black narrative and the “other” black narrative. Wes Moore states that Powell’s text resonanted so deeply with him, because he and Powell want the same thing “ a fair shot.” Essentially, what Powell and Moore desire is to be dark-skinned white men, or negropeans. They desire to be one with the white world, whereas Malcolm X wanted his own, and most significantly (and fatally) sought to inspire the black collective to want this as well. Malcolm X and Colin Powell illustrate the difference between being melanated and being black. Blackness desires its own, melanated desires inclusion. The inclusion coveted by the melanated is seemingly only fictively consummated in denying any affiliation with the black man or woman.
V. The Road to Rhodes “Scholarship”
In the same chord of the author’s detachment from The Autobiography of Malcom X,
comes the most troublesome moment in the entire text. Moore details the process of learning about, applying and embarking on his Rhodes scholarship. A process he correlates to Colin Powell:
Although I didn’t really understand it at the time, like Colin Powell, he was telling me that our blood soaked and atrocity littered past was important but that the future did not have to be its slave, Even a legacy as ugly as that of Cecil Rhodes—a nineteenth century imperialist, white supremacist, and rapacious businessman—could be turned around and used by a person like me, someone Cecil Rhodes would’ve undoubtedly despised, to change the world that Rhodes and ppl like him had left for us.
This was very disturbing to read. Moore’s words prove synonymous to the collective amnesia that surrounds Africans who celebrate holidays and covet materialism made possible by the blood of their ancestors. Upon reading this, it became evident that Moore was writing for a white audience. Moore like the late Frederick Douglass, wrote specifically for the white reader. Though unlike Douglass, Moore is not trying to get in the mind of his oppressors to free the oppressed, Moore presents his tactics like an initiation process. Moore’s efforts are to put his white audience at ease as he assumes a seat at their table. Moore is not trying to start a revolution of pro-blackness, but solicits the black body as part of an anti-black army.
V. Telling Secrets
Another thing that deeply troubled me about this text, was the amount of information
provided about the ins and outs of communal drug trafficking. Perhaps of a different caliber than other troublesome behavior exuded in the text, Moore divulges a lot of information pertaining to the “street life.”
Moore speaks to the dynamics of the street and outlines the roles of the drug circuit. Given that this text was quite obviously written for a while audience, it is highly problematic that these roles were made available to thoseincapable of understanding the extremities of black plight in the global system of white supremacy. Whites, and non-black persons of color, capitalize on what their research presents as the issues within the black community. Thus, the information presents a means to our oppressors to possible fester the wound of white supremacy.
Though this post may suggest the contrary, there are strokes of greatness present in the book. To be completely candid, these phases of greatness are consummated solely in Wes the architect’s story. Wes the architect’s story proved far more resonant to me than the author’s. I even found myself wanting to know more about Tony Moore, Wes the architect’s older brother, convicted of murder given a life sentence at and after birth, fulfilled in the thirty-eight years of his life. Moore’s talk of himself seemed boastful at times, and in a culture where pseudo esteem is pervasive, The Moore brothers offer a rare humility. Most importantly, The Moore brothers prove superior candidates for a pro-blackness, a stance Moore spends a large amount of his text backing away from.
Most black people have the juxtaposition Wes Moore references in his book, in their own
families, or circle of childhood friends. A close look at a black family or circle of friends, will reveal men/women who are the same age, but live vastly different lives. The difference, as illustrated in the two Wes Moores, is only superficial.Specifically, both Wes Moores depict identical ambitions. The two Wes Moore’s both sought to “make it” as black men in a white world, which is whatturned them both intovariants of contemporary enslavement. Though Wes Moore the author implies that he is the lucky one, I vehemently disagree. Moore the architect proves luckiest because his imprisonment in global hegemony is much more direct. The author however, falsely believes in freedom as given, and “takes” what he sees as opportunity.
In totality, The Other Wes Moore speaks to the shine of tokenism. Wes Moore is the revered token, who authors the book not only to gloat of the perks of being a societal wallflower, but to recruit others to the materialism of tokenism. Tokens appear seen, but are utterly invisible simply because they present a colorless blackness.
The text presents a misplaced ideology of choice. Specifically, the author suggests that single moments presented crossroads for both Wes Moores, ignoring the very pressing reality that much of black life is predetermined as a meansto ensure the stagnancy of white supremacy. The bodily and monetarily rape of our ancestors yielded a slew of white privileges that continues to influence black disenfranchisement, a wound festered in beliefs of being “chosen”, or individualist beliefs that one chose “right.” This becomes a bridge for Wes Moore, the author and his narrative of exceptionalism.
In conclusion, I am glad I read this book. Its praise outlines America’s wish for the black man (and woman) to be a mimic man—a Colin Powell, Henry Louis Gates, or Clarence Thomas—men who personify the apple of the white man’s eye. But while white religion states that it is eve who bit the poisonous apple that spoiled humanity, for the black collective, this deed is enacted by people like Wes Moore.
My name is Michael, stage name Calvin Michaels. I’m originally from Spanaway,
Washington and currently work in youth development as the director of a community center in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m also a magazine contributor, freelance screen-writer, stand-up comedian, vlogger, podcast host, and artist/music producer.
So I’ll ask you this question, like my Pan—Africanist professor Dr. Wright asked me: When did you know you were black? Was there a moment/experience/year that brought you into your black identity?
Growing up I’ve always been aware that I was black. However I didn’t recognize that my plight and experience as black individual in the United States would differ from other groups of people until I was in my early years of elementary.
That’s when I began to notice differences in how my family and I did things in comparison to my neighbors and other kids at school. I couldn’t go to any of the nearby barbershops because they didn’t know how cut my hair. Instead we’d have to drive 15 minutes to Lakewood or Tacoma in order to find a place for a decent haircut.
Being raised in an area like Spanaway served as a revelation that anytime I stepped out of the house I was unconsciously representing my race since there was such a small black population at the time. When I entered any public space I was usually in the minority. This included my experience in the classroom, the grocery store and in my neighborhood. I was never in a classroom with more than 3 or 4 black students until I started middle school. Some people may question why is that such a big deal? However in reality it’s important to remember that race is also centered in the realm of one’s cultural identity, and it’s essential to be saturated in an environment with people you can relate to based on experiences and identity. The only time I was in a space where the majority of the people in the room could identify with my experience was church, the barbershop, and the lunch table at school.
If I could recall the first significant experience where I recognized my black identity would be the target of other people’s aggressions would have been in middle school. One of the students who wrote for the school newspaper published an article about how he hated rap music. I had no problem with him not liking the genre but the issue was more so that the article was written as an indirect attack on black people as a collective. The article had nothing to do with the actual music or art form but more so the people who he believed were the exclusive listeners of the genre. It was literally a full page of anti-black rhetoric, generalizations, and stereotypes. It made me question the individual who wrote it, the advisor who allowed the article to be published and the staff who felt there wasn’t a need to address the article with the outraged students and parents. The worst part was that the individual who wrote the article was at one time a good friend of mine in elementary. However by middle school we no longer associated with each other. I noticed that in middle school everyone’s social circles began to change. The innocence of early adolescence had phased out and now everyone preferred to surround themselves with
those they could relate to culturally.
And then of course there was my driving while black experience that took place when I was 17. Long story short I fit the description of someone in the area the police were looking for. I was met with 6 squad cars, a dog, a Taser gun pointed in my face, having to sit on the side of the road cuffed in the rain for two hours, and then the humiliation of connecting with many eyes from the commuters in the passing cars.
How did attending a HBCU impact your life, and journey as a black man?
Howard University was the best thing that could have ever happened to me at the time and it was a much needed experience. I can’t imagine the kind of person I would be today had I not attended an HBCU. I was given 4 years to exist and saturate myself in a utopia of black excellence, discipline, and empowerment. Life is pretty much a collection of puzzle pieces that you’re trying to sort out and put together over time. Howard helped me to find those end pieces. This allowed me to create a foundation and center myself.
Image courtesy of howard.edu
Many of the lessons I’ve learned while attending Howard University are still aligning things for me today. HBCU’s are an experience of many extremes that push you past your limits, both good and bad, but needed. I came in thinking I knew everything and quickly learned that I foolishly knew very little. I discovered that literally every person on campus could do any and everything I could while doing it better. It forced me to get over myself, work smarter, become analytical, and work on my craft. The faculty pushes you. They set really high standards and there is an expectation for to surpass them. Settling for mediocrity isn’t an option, and recognizing that you will always have to be 6 or 7 steps ahead of the game is a must. Those lessons have helped me to be very successful in my current career and other endeavors. As a black man, Howard University gave me purpose.
What inspired you to begin vlogging?
I started vlogging in the fall of 2010. I had just finished undergrad at Howard University
and was in the process of trying to kick start my career. I had already launched my YouTube channel years earlier to promote my stand-up comedy and choreography. While watching the news I saw a story about a woman named Bethany Storro. Bethany had reported that she’d been attacked in Vancouver, Washington by a black woman who threw acid on her face. The picture of her burned face was plastered all over the news as her story circulated in the headlines for days. It even triggered an area-wide manhunt for the attacker. Later on it was discovered that Bethany made the entire story up and actually mutilated herself by throwing acid on her own face. I remember thinking what must it must have been like to be a black woman in Vancouver Washington (a city of about 160,000 where black women make up roughly only 1.4% of the population) during that manhunt. The entire ordeal really got under my skin and I needed an outlet to express my outrage and concern. I spontaneously decided to upload a video sharing my thoughts. I remember sitting at the kitchen counter with my webcam, pushing record, and just talking until I felt that I made my point. It was euphoric and felt like a release.
I didn’t realize that my energy was rooted in years of witnessing the many atrocities that happen to black people as a collective.
From that moment on I continued to vlog and grow my channel. It’s been a crazy experience because my channel has just now started to gain traction after years of putting out content. No subject is off limits and the channel consists of content centered on current world affairs, pop culture, history, Pan-Africanism, life, and humorous events.
If you had to describe the (vlogging) experience in three words, what would be your choices and why?
Concerning, therapeutic, and amusing.
Vlogging is a unique experience because you never know how people are going to receive your content. When I initially started I used to give so many disclaimers because I wanted to please everyone and keep everybody comfortable. Over time I learned that people are going to be reckless either way so I might as well be direct and transparent, especially when covering heavier subject matter. What’s concerning about vlogging is discovering that so many people live in a world that is very different from the one I experience. It makes me question how every mind on the planet operates. I could literally post a video of a toddler being excited to open a gift and somehow there will still be a person who doesn’t like the content and write an entire dissertation in the comments section about why the video was problematic. When it comes to social issues you will quickly discover that even if you pull out an encyclopedia of facts and additional visual evidence to make an argument you will still fail at getting through to someone who is set in their ways and would rather bask in the abyss of their ignorance. That’s what makes vlogging concerning because there are so many people who operate in that same manner. The heavier the subject matter the nastier the comments get. And then I always wonder how many of those individuals are school teachers, public service workers, ministers, doctors, and non-profit employees. The good thing is that I have a pretty good sense of humor. So nothing ever cuts me too deep.
However on the flipside vlogging is very therapeutic and amusing. It’s a great way to release what I’ve been sitting on. I’ve actually met some really great people from vlogging and it has opened many doors. People have asked to use some of my content for lectures and presentations. I have some really awesome subscribers as well. Some who have been there for the entire journey. They’ll send messages asking for advice, or just sending encouragement my way. It’s cool when someone sends a message and says “Hey I used your video on Standardized Testing, for my research project and got an A.” It makes me want to stay on top of things and be consistent. I also like to make people laugh so I enjoy uploading lighter videos and content that makes people feel good. And now that I have a decent sized following my channel is a great way for me to also promote my music and my podcast, and well as other projects.
You recently released your first album. Congrats! What inspired the project?
Thank you! I love music, and I’ve always enjoyed making it. The original plan was to come out with an EP around 2013/2014 but life happened and I ended up creating a web series. So when I got the itch to do music again I went for it. But I wanted to do it on my own terms and with 100% creative freedom. I spent 6 months saving so I could build my own recording studio and once I taught myself how to use Protools I went to work. I worked on the project from October 2016-July 2017 crafting all the music, writing all the songs, and recording all the vocals. The first 3 or 4 months was more so me playing around with different ideas and from February to July my project started coming together. I wanted to incorporate many different sounds; R&B, hip hop, jazz, electronica, house, go-go, new jack swing, the Minneapolis sound, dancehall, pop, and 70’s funk. I wanted it to take people on a journey. I don’t really think a lot of acts focus on putting out full albums anymore. Albums are getting shorter and shorter and I think it chips away at the artistry. I’m actually in the process of creating the follow up album and hoping to release it in the fall.
What inspired the name Symphonic Euphoria?
The album has a lot of musicality, layered vocals, and temperatures so that inspired the word symphonic. And because I think the album is very upbeat and sincere, euphoria was the perfect word to use. The project was initially going to be called “Project Nostalgia” since there is a heavy influence from acts like Patrice Rushen, Prince, Michael Jackson, The Emotions, Brand New Heavies, Aaliyah, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Tevin Campbell, Nas, Mos Def, TLC, and Toni Braxton. But I didn’t’ think the name stuck out in a way that complimented the album cover.
My personal favorites are “Charades” and “Get Down.” I also found the “Family Values” interlude hilarious and touching. What are your favorites? Were there any songs that were particularly enjoyable or challenging to create?
I really like the music arrangements on “Euphoria” and the build-up on “To You And More”.
But my favorite song on the album is “Breathe”. It was a song I actually wrote to myself.
It has a more simple production in comparison to the other songs on the album but it really solidifies and completes the album. There were plans to do a video for that song and “Get Down”. Maybe I’ll revisit that idea once I finish this new project and promote both albums at the same time. I also like the funky arrangements for the verses on “The Edge”. “Get Down” was probably the most fun track to record. I couldn’t stand still while I was recording it so I had to do a million takes, fortunately the song didn’t require too much in the realm of singing so it all worked out.
The most difficult song to record was “Pops”. The song has so much going on in terms of production and I was trying to sing on top of all of it. The same can be said with the songs “Fast Lane” and “High Tide”. I’ve learned that it’s better to mute most of the music aside from the drums and maybe the baseline or lead synth/piano when recording the vocals so you’re not competing with music. “Pops” was initially going to be a ballad but I wanted to do something more upbeat since the content of the song was already sad. The song was influenced by Chance the Rapper’s “Good Ass Intro” and Janet Jackson’s “Empty”. There was actually a chorus written for the song but I pulled it and let music carry the song. The song would have ended up being too crowded.
How does creativity correspond/influence/affect your experience as a black man?
I believe creativity and working on my passions have helped me to stay centered and balanced in this crazy world. There was a time period around 2011/2012 where I was just going to work, coming home to watch TV, and hanging out. It was cool, but I didn’t quite feel that I was investing in myself and I honestly had no vision for the following years. I was going with the motions and it quickly got old. It also didn’t help that around this time my perception of the world was changing, especially after watching George Zimmerman get
away with murdering Trayvon Martin and half the world celebrating.
I think it’s easy to become unhappy in life if you haven’t found your purpose and don’t feed enough into your passions. I’ve been hit by many blows including being unemployed for a year and half, being rejected from grad/film school 5 times, my father transition, my mother having cancer, and one of the kids I worked with passing away from a brain tumor. Using my creativity to educate, influence, and entertain has served as a great remedy to the negative things that happen around me. I also try and use those darker moments as a life lesson to prepare me for what other blows my come in the future.
Whenever something doesn’t go the way I hoped it would go I’m usually fine because I have 20 other things lined up that I’m excited about. This is where that lesson about always being 6 or 7 steps ahead of the game kicks in. However it’s also important to address those hardships head on and not just hide being your passions as a blinding remedy.
I know you have dedicated your post-college life to community outreach. Thanks so much for your work! What are rewards and challenges of this experience?
The reward of working in the community is that not only are you helping other people but
you’re learning in the process. You’re introduced to lessons that will help you grow over time. I think many people go into the non-profit world thinking they’re God’s gift to man and that the people they are serving can’t exist without their help. When in reality they were just fine before you showed up with all your “great hope”. The reward comes once you step outside of your ego and just listen. Listen to the concerns and the needs. Listen to the voices of the people and listen for solutions and opportunities. It took me a good year to figure that out and once I understood that reality the cards just all fell into place.
The reward is seeing the impact and seeds planted blossom into something great. After being in my positon for 7 years I’ve watch the community I work with really flourish. They’re like family and I honestly got to live a second childhood and grow up with the population I serve. It’s exciting to watch kids light up the minute they get of the school bus and you’re the first face they see. I enjoy going to the high school graduations. It’s refreshing to see the same kids I used to be one step from strangling go off to the college of their choice. You end up being a part of that community. There’s never a dull moment and each day is different from the previous day. I didn’t initially plan to stay so long but I’ve honestly enjoyed myself. I blinked and 7 years went by. But there are challenges.
Within my organization my center has been ranked number 1 in the country out of 4,000 for two years straight. And this is where the challenges kick in, because now all eyes are on me and people want me and my team to keep up the momentum. The mission can sometimes gets lost in the accolades. Sometimes I’ll get emails about opportunities that have nothing to do with bettering the community but more so serve as photo op opportunities for individuals not invested in the community. There are often people running for office who will try and use my center to help push their campaign and then when you look at their platform half of their objectives indirectly disenfranchise the population I work with. It forces me to be very protective. Financing is also a challenge because our existence stands on the shoulders of donors and grantors. The political climate of the country affects our existence. Witnessing cuts to programs like HUD and SNAP always cause me to be concerned about the people I work with. In addition gentrification is inching closer, block by block.
What is the most recent book you read and what did you get from it?
I also finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. His work resonates with me, because his approach at analyzing his experiences through the lens of a young black man learning to matriculate through society in black skin at times mirrors my experience growing up. His book also shows me that we as a collective are a hurt people. Not only do we have to deal with the setbacks and the hardships that have been arranged for us but we somehow have to keep our sanity at the same time and successfully journey through society and surpass the expectations set for us with literally no resources or support. And if we fail, society tells us that it is 100% our fault and uses our failures as an opportunity to limit and close additional doors that weren’t really open in the first place.
I know you turn thirty next month! What is the most resonant lesson that your twenties have taught you?
I’m not in control of anything, but I can control how I respond to the situations that surround me. Once I learned that life is going to do what it wants and my reality will always be spontaneous things became easier. 20-24 were very difficult because I had life mapped out and reality said “not so fast we’re going to do something different”. I was taken on a serious roller coaster ride. I used to compare myself to others and rate my success based on the accomplishments of others. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different and that success has a multitude of layers, elements, and definitions. We often want what others have. But we don’t want everything they have, just the good stuff. The baggage and other hardship they deal with behind closed doors we like to pretend don’t exist, and it’s just us who have problems. I’ve also learned that what you put in to the universe always comes back. I’ve learned to celebrate the successes of my peers and
embrace my setbacks as an opportunity to go in a new direction or change my approach and hit the refresh button.
Lastly, what does it mean to be a black man, according to you?!
To me, being a black man means to recognize that you are gifted, important, and needed. You also have a responsibility to take care of yourself and your community. Your journey will be one of challenges but challenges that will make you equipped to deal with anything. Eyes will be on you all the time so it’s wiser to be a leader than a foolish follower. Being a black man means to be assertive while being supportive of those around you. Being a black man means respecting black women, respecting black women, and RESPECTING BLACK WOMEN! Being a black man means that you serve as one half of the demographic that crafts the culture, moral compass, and heart of the world. You influence many including the ones who wish for your demise. An enriched heritage paved your lane and it’s up to you to continue paving that lane for the future generations. Leave a lasting legacy.
As a testament to the power of an HBCU to season black creativity with culture, and engendering the desire to give back to communities that house the next generation- Calvin Michael illustrates that you can do it all, and still be you!
So this post marks the first of my “The Soulz of Black Folk: Re-defining Celebrity” series. This summer, I will feature a few carefully selected members of the black collective that demonstrate an espousal to uplifting the black collective. Everyday, countless bodies across the diaspora contribute to black upliftment in big ways deemed small by a world that denies our personhood by focusing on the negatives and not the positive.The Whispers of Womanist is proud to feature Kelley, a beautiful black woman who uses poetry as a means to inspire, uplift, and educate. She is brave, creative, and trailblazing. She is a black woman.
So I’ll ask you this question, like my Pan—Africanist professor Dr. Wright asked me: When did you know you were black? Was there a moment/experience/year that brought you into your black identity?
I think I realized I was Black early in elementary. My family moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and I, being Black, went from the norm/majority (amongst Black and brown kids with a mixed race teacher), to the minority with mostly white classmates and teachers. The white children I interacted with were just different in appearance, especially with clothing, hygiene, and hairstyles. They had a lot of questions. The white kids were a bit freer. Pretty fearless. Anytime I took that behavior home, I was reminded that I was different and certain things would never be allowed.
What inspired your blog name black/Burgundy?
I got black|burgundy from the lyrics of D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar.” I really wanted a title that represented our spectrum but also made people use their imagination.
What inspired you to begin blogging?
An ex-lover said I had a lot to say and he thought people would listen (read). He bought me a laptop and the blog was on and crackin’.
What is your favorite poem that you wrote?
I think Fear of Drownin might be my favorite. It’s very real/relatable to me. It defines how amazingly life-changing love can be if your heart is open.
What is your favorite poem by another poet?
I really can’t say. There is SO MUCH good stuff out there.
What are three poems or poets that you think every black person should be acquainted with?
Maya Angelou, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Warsan Shire
What does poetry do for you as an author? What do you hope your work does for other people?
Poetry is a release. You don’t have to make complete sentences or use correct punctuation or structure to get your point across. It’s freeing.
I hope my poetry helps people heal-lift their spirit a bit. Even if it’s just with a laugh.
You post very uplifting videos, and art that depict strong images of black love. This is certainly hopeful to women like myself who value black love on an individual and collective level.I was quite impressed with the comments you made on a post about marriage, black love, and monogamy. What factors do you think hinder black love, and how can we overcome? Also, what are your thoughts on monogamy? Should we arrange marriages, allow for multiple marriages to strengthen our community?
Thank you. That means a lot coming from you, sis. I think we’re just transferring pain-pain to our lovers, pain to our children, pain to our friends and other relatives. We are not recognizing toxic relationships (even with self) because they are sometimes all we see and we think it’s normal. We need to know that love feels good! Love is freeing! We need to know that and be more loving to ourselves and loving toward one another – show each other how to view ourselves as loving and lovable vessels. We need to see that Black love in all its forms is powerful and natural and necessary. Again, it starts from within.
I personally love monogamy. It’s what works for me. I understand why polyamory works for others. Marriage is cool, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think that if we are all honest with what we need from our partner(s), we would be in a better place. People want to practice monogamy and polygamy for the wrong reasons. Again, we have to be honest with ourselves, look within and really take account of what works, what kind of relationships make us feel free and which feel like chokeholds. But it is hard to be honest with others when you don’t know who you are or what a healthy relationship looks like.
What are your thoughts on black feminism and the #metoo movement?
Black Feminism is like an oxymoron. And we’ve been shouting #metoo since forever, right. I believe these trends are just increasing the wedge between Black men and Black women. I hate that we are stiiiiiiiiill trying to force ourselves into these white spaces at our own expense.
There is a negative stigma that hovers over black women and our relationships with one another. You had a really great post about this topic. I’d love to hear you talk about why these relationships are important. What can we do as black women to foster loving, positive relationships between one another?
Thank you! I think that unless we’re on a field or court, we need to stop competing with each other. We need to actively listen. We need to walk away from toxic friendships if we can’t pull a sister up. We need to stop gossiping and pointing fingers. We need to be so busy loving ourselves and each other that that negative behavior becomes obsolete. Strong bonds with women who love, challenge and reflect you creates a beautiful image for our littles and other sisters to mirror. It creates a village that constantly pours into you. It is a great feeling when someone gets you because they are you.
You mentioned in a comment a while back that you shaved your head!! What inspired this decision? What significance do you see hair bearing on black female identity and.or personhood? I’m really excited for your thoughts on this!
I did shave my head last summer! Partly because it was growing unevenly but mostly because I’d never rocked my hair that way. The timing was perfect because I needed to close a chapter with someone as well. It was therapeutic for me.
Hair holds so much weight for Black women; you can tell a lot about her by the way she chooses to wear hers.
You quote the late and great Malcolm X in your “about me” as you reference the black woman as “the most disrespected person in America.” Can you shed light on a subtle way that black women are disrespected? What can we do as a community to combat this disrespect?
We are viewed and treated as superhuman and subhuman at the same damn time; take all this pain, abuse, disrespect, racism, rejection, lies, hate and invisibility with a smile while still tending to everyone else. Again, we have to get our self-love levels up up up and show people how to treat us. Of course if our men or kids or outsiders see us calling ourselves and our sisters bitches, thots and hoes, they’re not going to think any better of us. We need to know when to say no, when to take a break, when to ask for help and when to walk away without looking back. We need to learn that softness and vulnerability is stronger than any I-got-this facade. And, of course, we need to be there for our sisters and allow them to be human.
Given the contemporary climate, which mirrors a past of identical evil, what are your hopes for our people in the Afro-future?
I hope to see more Black love in the Afro-future! It is my absolute favorite thing to see a Black man and Black woman together in a loving union. It’s a great sight to see a Black man in the park running after his grandkids. I love seeing a group of young Black creatives meeting at a coffee shop. We are so necessary in the existence of each other and I hope more of us will wake up to that truth.
Lastly, what does it mean to be a black woman, according to you?!
Being a Black woman is being soft and strong, loving and tough. Being a Black woman is being the most resilient being on this planet. Being a Black woman means being so very worthy of love, admiration, respect, patience and peace.
Toni Morrison is a phenomenal writer. Her writing grabs the reader by the ears and makes them hear the heart beat of the characters she creates in their minds. What she provokes is not reading, but a way to see with. words.
All the great writers, from Gertrude Dorsey Brown, to Wallace Thurmanto James Baldwin—perform a similar function with their writing. Yet, a common complaint about the black writer is one of grammar. A quick look on Goodreads, Amazon, or any other hegemonic platform, features countless comments that condemn black authors for their imperfect writing. An anti black agent conventionally referenced as a college professor, boasted of correcting the flawed grammar of Wallace Thurman. This feckless comment capitalizes on Thurman’s general obscurity, and begs an ignorance to the fact that the late Wallace Thurman, though a novelist, was also an editor.From consistent criticism on black speech that ignores the imposition English marks on the black tongue, to the formalized ridicule of the black college student for writing deemed inferior to the institution of “higher” learning,it is no secret that “higher” translates to “whiter.”
Inferiority by Ink
The general labeling of the black body as linguistically inferior is an anticipated complaint of our oppressors. The consequences are variant, as even the black body has internalized this poisonous perspective of their collective and upon occupying positions of pseudo authority, perform the policing that hindered their youthful dreams of writing.
Being a student nearly all my life, I am quite familiar with the white suprematist wrath on black writing. Youth coerces the black body to afford teachers a trust that many did not, and will never earn. Many blacks trust that our teachers wish to make us better, not cast us in the image of institutionalized defeat. I was rather shocked to see that many of the ambiguously hostile commentary of my academic past and present was reflected in the commentary one of my articles posted on platform Lipstick Alley. In hindsight, I know that I probably should not have clicked the link, however, considering that LSA is supposedly a platform of black voices, my vestment in black perspective led me off a cliff.
These comments, in chorus, articulate an expectation for me to write white.
The Ink Can Be Black, but You Can’t: Writing as Weaponry
By write white I speak specifically to the not so silent demand that I, a black woman, abide by the very grammar and mechanical rules that has articulated my collective inferiority for centuries. My writing is to demonstrate mastery of the very technicalities that legalized the niggerization of my people.
Though actualized as issues with grammar and mechanics, these formalities functions to veil an anxiety. Now here is where the conventional arguments of this sort speak to an anxiety of black intellect. Intellect however is a problem, but it is not the problem. The black collective is not at a shortage of intellect—whether developed or underdeveloped. We are at a shortage of confidence. Accusations of grammar and mechanic deficiency functions to attack black confidence–to seduce the exercising of black talent to become what Langston Hughs labeled “ a dream deferred.”
To write white means to be a parrot of white supremacy. Instead, I prefer to write with soul.
Now, most black writers who function at the mainstream level to demonstrate mastery of oppressive grammar rules. This mastery though makes writing conventionally good-but it is not enough to make any writing great. Great writing is done from the soul. Great writing is an espousal of past and present, of body and mind, of feeling and sight.
The superficial criticism of black writers for failing to adhere to the oppressive standards of grammar and mechanics, ironically marks outstanding writing. The writing made these scorned feel an emotion that they perceive as incongruent to the climate of white supremacy. Yet instead of investigating these feelings, they clutch the ways of white supremacy and cast the same denigration they experience daily onto their kinfolk.
In “Da State of Pidgin Address”, Lee A. Tonouchi, makes a bold declaration of pride in his regional and ethnic dialect, pidgin. His essay articulates a non-negotiable espousal to pidgin, as pidgin represents everything the academy wants to pull out of him. Most resonantly, is perhaps his proclamation of writing letters of recommendations in this language. Now Tonouchi is not a black man, and his arguments are hardly unique. Plenty of black men and women have also refused to code-switch, but have not been granted the prestige and agility Tonouchi, as a non-black person of color, receives by default. As a non-black person of color, the choice to speak in a language other than English is in fact a privilege. The decision to speak in this language is seen as a choice, not an ability to acquire or perfect the language. Ethnic whites and non-black persons of color are never as ridiculed or undermined for their use of English language as black people. In America, no black person’s use of the English language is ever enough. Even those demonstrating an unprecedented mastery of a coerced language with a severed tongue, are demeaned and treated as language degenerates.
I have no interest in mastering my oppressors language, and have no interest in inspiring others to do so. For too long, my use of the English languagehas functioned as a weapon against my personhood. This of course is two fold. On one hand, this language symbolized a an tongue cut and draped like a flag over African identity. On the other hand, this language has consistently functioned to personify my alignment with beasts, and general ineptitude. Moreso, playing into these beliefs allows the English language to foment my individual and collective dehumanization.
I am posting this piece because it is something I wish I would have read a decade ago, when the dreams of an undergraduate girl were uprooted by the university. So for the black boy, girl, man or woman who has felt the sting of superficial criticism—keep writing.
The most recent Nas album is easily superior to the albums that debuted on or around its release. Though often lauded for a stream of consciousness that elevates discussions of women, money and material, Nas still very much meditates on these things. On the album we hear his raspy flow boast of the caliber of his crushes “my worst batch kills off your best cutie” and of how whites haunted his early mansions. Yet, nevertheless Nas’ lyrical talent and cognitive depth is evident.
A King From Queens?
On “Not for Radio” he presents fans with a number of facts they will not encounter in the history books or a college classroom. On “Cops Shot the kid” Nas lyrically tackles the legal war against black bodies, over an infectious beat that espouses a past sound with a persistent problem. On “everything” he counters greed with a stream of consciousness about what fame and money, and living beyond perception and the demands of western culture. And on the “simple things” he leaves reader with the album’s most poignant song ending where he exhibits a the selflessness of a parent. Nas turns a compliment he received into a wish for his children, “ I just want my kids to have the same peace I’m blessed with.”Peace being a common dream most parents have for their children.
There is great beauty on Nas’s album, and as an educator and student of life, I have an appreciation for his attempt to feed the contemporary need for “feel” music. The season has seemingly arrived for a content he has always provided. Content that depicts the Nason record as exhibiting a desire for purpose not popularity.
In acknowledging Nas’ album as fire, it is essentially that his feet are held to the fire. What I reference here is the Nas off record. Off record, Nas’ intellectual depth seems phantasmal as his actions depict him as manifesting the very evils he seems to confront in his music.
Cultural Appropriator + Cultural Icon
A common occurrence in our contemporary climate, is the alignment of revered black figures with cultural appropriators. Perhaps the most notable reference to this deed is Kanye West. West’s contentious recording “All Falls Down” and “Jesus Walks” to name a few, separated him from the slew of mainstream rappers who veered away from analyzing their black experience to sell records. When he choose to settle down, he did so with cultural appropriator Kim Kardashian, This espousal not only gave Kardashian two black daughters of which she can live vicariously through, but entry into doorways held open by the stardom and creativity of West, ie The Vogue Cover. Most violently, West functions as Kim’s binary opposite. His behavior and comments paint her as a white savior, and not the horizontal heiress she is.
So when Kanye West stated that “slavery is a choice”, he speaks from the perspective of a slave who has chosen his own fate. The bodies stolen off the shores of Africa may have been enslaved, but many of them were never slaves. Mainstream hip hip makes slaves of its listeners and artists who are veiled consumers of white capitalism. They do not “produce” anything but the contents of white supremacist imagination.
Nas too is aligned with cultural appropriator called “restauranteur” John Seymour. Seymour co-owns the restaurant Sweet Chick— known for its chicken and waffles. Chicken and waffles was of course a dish invented by Wells of Harlem, a dish that combines northern and southern cuisine. A symbol of black displacement, chicken and waffles is more than food, it is symbol of blacks making something out of the nothing western culture tried to make of our bodies through centuries of disenfranchisement, For a white man to use this dish as a means to make a profit is one thing, to do so under the consignment of a black man is fatal. On “Adam and Eve” Nas speaks of purchasing the land plowed by his ancestors. Yet, his involvement with Sweet Chik, which has provided yet another means for white oppressors to functions as executives, speaks to seeking to co-own a plantation with your oppressor.
Unlike his oppressor, Nas is not robbing his laborers of wealth. Rather, this venture has proved a gateway to creating more white collar jobs for his oppressors. I say this not to attack Nas the man, but to critique Nas the artist and image. Though this post is largely engaged with Nas, and his most recent project, my goal is not to make a collective issue singular. Nas and the “conscious” rapper need to be approached with the same grain of salt as their mumble rap contenders, both issuing diverse approaches to a similar poison.
Confusion: Salt in the Wound
The placement of cultural appropriators alongside cosigningblack bodies confuses an already confused demographic. To the confused, the cosigning black body seems to truly have a vestment in the black collective. This placement is a functional act of deceptions designed to burn a candle of consumerism on both ends. By this I mean that Nas and his fanbase both function as consumers, as both illustrate those who are trying to “win” at white society rather than exist in a black world they would have to create.
Nas’ latest album is a testament to mainstream rap, hip hop, or the latter, as a performative act designed to steer the black collective into a form of sleepwalking, where we eventually walk off the cliff.Mainstream hip hip or rap, oversimplifies the black experience, it sensationalizes our struggle for white profit and white enjoyment. The caricatures of our conflict, deem the black experience a means for whites to play dress up with our detriment, while the confused dance, fornicate, and smoke to the soundtrack of our systemic asphyxiation.
Though I am not quite sure one can listen without hearing the message consciously or subconsciously embedded in toxic tunes, I encourage those who listen to any seemingly conscious artist, with complete understanding that they listen to the inaudible voice that tells blacks that the closest we’ll ever get to freedom is beside a white man, or woman.
May the many black faces that admire the systemically engineered image of the conscious rapper look at what they do, rather than listen to what they say.