She’s Gotta Have it, but She Can’t Have it All

On the surface, Spike Lee appears to deliver a revolutionary protagonist in his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) is not only outspoken, intelligent, and artistically provocative, she’s brown-skinned. She isn’t even an Ashley Banks or Dionne Davenport type that intrigues the European gaze with a blackness that simultaneously appeases a European and African aesthetic. Though her eyes are hazel, Nola functions to symbolizes a purposeful blackness illuminated by enlightened artwork. Nola intentionally subscribes to a presumedly African aesthetic with her cocoa brown skin, braid extensions, and a struggle she makes beautiful with her art. 

Despite her very intentional casting and characterization, Nola Darling failed to resonate with me. Simply put, I didn’t believe her. This incredulity speaks to the series’s conception, not the acting. Nola, a character resulting from a systemized gaze, deeply contemplates every aspect of life but her sexuality. Notably, in season 2, a seemingly resonant racial conversation with a black man about art and identity leads to casual sexual encounter that lacks the critical engagement of the conversation that preceded it. Though I do not mean to prescribe sexual chastity as an end goal for black women, I do I find it odd that Nola is so unique intellectually but exudes the same sexual behavior consistent with how the media consistently depicts black people. To be blunt, how is such an artistically and intellectually curious person so sexually basic? 

I’ll return to these points later in this post.

……………

I wrote a review of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It almost two years ago. In the review, I mentioned Laura Nelson, a black woman hung over a bridge alongside her son in a public death largely erased by his story. Her murder, a spectacle and portrait of American horror, serves as a summation for black femininity.  Interestingly, the second season of She’s Gotta Have It concludes with a provocative portrait painted by Nola Darling that channels Laura Nelson. Both woman inevitably hold hands in a shared narrative; however, their overt connection ends the series where it should have began. 

Moreover, the final episode of the Netflix series revisits the query: Who owns black pain? Famed novelist Zadie Smith tackles this query in essay “Getting In and Out: Who Owns Black Pain” where she examines Jordan Peele’s film Get Out and Dana Shultz’s Open Casket portrait which recreates Emmett Till as he lay mutilated in his casket. In examining these examples, Zadie Smith inquires who, if anyone, has a right to black pain? Her argument meditates heavily on an identity she labels “biracial” and even intertwines her children who she references as historically “quadroons.” Her prose, though eloquent and resounding, like the final episode of Spike Lee’s Netflix series, illustrates the peristent query-conflicts surrounding representation, authority, and black pain. 

Smith’s essay, addressing the peculiar pain that follows deriving from rape, evokes a common contemplation regarding what is means to be biracial. But, who is to articulate the pain of the woman forced to look into the face of a child who resembled her oppressor? I pose these questions to preface the following: It is hard if not impossible to take the contemplation of black pain seriously from someone who has made the oppressor her husband.  Smith does not own black pain because she does not hone black pain; rather, Smith re-creates a specific black female pain in her conjugal choice. I say this not to reprimand Smith or castigate her choices, but to underscore that re-presentation remains a central yet under-discussed discourse with regards to black identity, the black experience, and black pain. Smith re-presents black pain in a contractual sexuality, as does She Gotta Have It through protagonist Nola Darling.

While Lee is not married to the man in a conventional sense, his “art” delineates an espousal to western ideals. Lee is unable to divorce western ideals due to an overt inability to acknoweldge their influence on him as director/creator. Specifically, Lee creates black characters whose sexuality and sexual behavior reflects a systemic trauma. Sexualized physically and mentally, black sexuality is not to be taken lightly. Black sexuality constitutes a performance that though seemingly rooted in pleasure, remains anchored in black pain. 

She’s Gotta Have It, illustrates multiple black woman attempting to hone a sexualized pain: Nola as an artist, Clorinda as a young professional, and Mekka as a budding businesswoman. All the black women featured on the series have a dissonant relationship to sexuality. Clorinda, who sleeps with an older man who is also a leading force in gentrifying Brooklyn, realizes her sexual commerce actualizes professional and personal bankruptcy. Clorinda’s sexual performance delineates a black woman attempting to see herself on the other side of oppression. What happens, of course, is that she engenders a cold reminder that she is perhaps worse off then those in her collective. Clorida’s false belief that her position beside white men under the covers detaches her from societal oppression, deals a hard blow when she realizes her systemized subjugation is not only outside of her window but in her bed.

In season one, viewers witness Mekka opt for butt injections to enhance her occupational performance. The result proves catastrophic as Mekka’s injections fester her physical and psychological disfigurement. This depiction re-presents the black female mutilation that follows systemically induced pursuits to acquire what the black woman naturally possesses.

Nola depicts this shared pursuit in her portrait, where she paints herself as hanging by her braid extensions. These braids re-present the black female body and black female personhood as lynched by the beauty industry and on a larger scale, American culture. The hair industry, an industry built on black female emulation, strips the black woman of her beauty and creates black pain. She’s Gotta Have It re-creates said pain and re-presents she who is systemically raped. Re-presentation though, is not freedom; rather, representation functions as a re-manifestation of white hegemony.

Nola’s re-manifestation ruffles feathers in illustrating a pain Mekka views as private. Nola’s portrait resonates with Mekka because their pain is a shared pain; both women, however, individualize a collective pain. This indiviualized scope becomes obvious in Nola’s use of the word “my.” Individualized pain or trauma is a privelege, a shared pain mainfested seperately marks a systemic and cyclical disenfranchisement. Similarly, Mekka’s trauma marks a detachment from other black women who don’t share her physical scars. Mekka’s words illustrate that she fails to see her physical condition as reflecting a scarred mental state. Black people actualize the wounds of a colonized past physicality personified by our last names and our English proficiency. So when Mekka asks Nola why why she chose to sexualize black female pain, this query, while valid, separates the part from the whole. Black pain is inherently sexualized just as sexuality inherently connects to trauma. Re-presentation, as depicted through Nola and Mekka’s discussion, fails the black collective time and time again, because it dismembers a collective pain into a digestible form fit for entertainment. 

To own black pain is to “present” black pain. To present is to endure decoloniation and seek to solve, not to re-present what the oppressed already know to be true. Re-presentation dominates She’s Gotta Have It. Nola represents Laura Nelson and all the other faceless black women subject to the horror their blackness imbues; she does not, however, progress this narrative. If anything, Nola’s characterization proves that though Nelson’s body was eventually cut down, she still phantasmocially sways in the wind; the disdain to black feminity a public sight consummated by re-presentation.

Nola, re-presentats a particular kind of black female pain that follows a cognitively free protagonist who performs a traumatized sexuality that functions as libratory. This trauma is perhaps best illustrated through Nola as a home wrecker to a black family; here, Lee re-presents a pervasive image that follows the black woman in her contemporary casting. The black woman of course is not a homewrecker but she who derives from a home wrecked by the very systemic issues to which her continual re-presentation places her on the wrong side.  

What is perhaps most interesting about re-presentation as it appears in the series, is that it underscores Lee’s selective imagination. Particularly, Lee re-presents an idealized relationship between blacks and Puerto Ricans. This is an obvious play to insure the series appears “inclusive;” however, as a black woman born and raised in New York City,  I have never felt a kinship with the Latinx community that did not attempt to exist on denigrating the black collective at large. This though, is not the point. The point is that Lee presents an idealized diasporic relationship between black people throughout the diaspora, but fails to imagine, or “present” a black woman as detached from systemized forces he overwrights to unite the displaced Africans in New York City and Puerto Rico. Or, and admittedly this is likely the truth, does Nola Darling embody this attempt to “present” the rebellious being of black female form in a contemporary frame?

Now, I return to Smith’s query: who owns black pain? Though the answers remain numerous, re-presentation surrenders ownership to he or she who gazes. Nevertheless, as Laura Nelson showed us 1911, black pain is not a pubic matter to interpret; black pain interprets a global demon strengthened in the re-presentations of its power. 

Re-presentation casts the being of black female form as she who “gotta have it,” whether “it” is sex, power, or color-induced consequences. Futhermore, as long as these re-manifestations of the chains that shackle us remain the voice of a shared struggle, “she” will never have anything it all. 

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Maternalizing The Sexualized Black Body

Black female sexuality remains at the core of caricatured black female identity. Scandal’s Olivia Pope, the DC fixer by day and white male concubine at night, is easily the prototype for the black female roles that followed. Her hyper-sexuality quenched the western drought of the black female whore veiled in attributes like education, conventional success, and a costly wardrobe which appear overtly progressive. Pope’s hyper-sexuality mirrors the hyper-sexuality of the jezebel controlling image seen in Hallelujah (1929) and Carmen (1954), which both imply that African blood breeds an untamable sexuality.

Black female hyper-sexuality remains a means to “spice up” dull storylines at the expense of objectifying the black female body. An interesting twist of this portrayal is that this hyper-sexuality has evolved to anchor it’s portrayal at the root. Specifically, a recent evolution of this hyper sexuality depicts the mothers of the sexually sullied protagonists as sexual deviants.

rs_560x415-131105153119-1024.khandi-alexander-scandal-kerry.110513ABC’s Scandal originated this image, in depicting lead protagonist Olivia Pope’s mother Maya as not only a global assassin, but a philanderer. This not only added layers to Olivia’s parental foundation, but an additional dimension to the hyper- sexualized black female body.

Popular series Being Mary Jane and Greenleaf, birthed from the success of Scandal, also depict black female hyper-sexuality in mother-daughter relationships that anchor the series.

On season one of Greenleaf, Pastor Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge) sleeps with an engaged Noah. Although chastised by her mother, viewers learn that Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield) also had an affair with a married man, as a married woman.  Greenleaf is of course written and produced by Craig Wright—a white man, who greenleaf-logo-2560x1440orchestrates a predominately black cast to perform in  caricatured images validated by sitcoms written and produced by black people.

Side bar. I often find myself wondering if Greenleaf creator joined a black church and created this series from the gossip—or is just a student of Tyler Perry. Probably the latter. Many will argue that the black collective is more interesting in its hidden truths and drama, but it’s not that the black collective has more secrets than its oppressive counterpart, but that the interworking of the white collective is far too wicked for prime-time television. The curators of the white media want blacks to catch the cold of white induced inferiority, not the spirit of self-determination.

600x600bb-85Being Mary Jane, intensifies its depiction of the hyper sexual black woman in revealing that Mary Jane’s mother (Margaret Avery)  Helen Patterson’s hyper sexuality resulted in the creation of her eldest son Patrick, who she stealthily raised as her husband Paul Patterson’s son. This depiction portrays the black woman as destructive to her own conjugal sanctity in presenting questionable paternity to offspring that provide a visual to  her indiscretions. Thus, the implication becomes the message conveyed in a Soho billboard painted around fie years ago  which read:

“the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

article-1360125-0D564F14000005DC-265_306x423The billboard insultingly suggests that black females cause more harm to their children prior to birth than the world that awaits  black children. A world that hands them cyclical disenfranchisement, who torches four little girls in a church, or who murders black children who went to the store for a snack.

Yes, the soho billboard referenced black female abortions, but this media portrayal suggests that abortions are favorable in eschewing the identity crisis that awaits the product of black female sexuality. This portrayal of course displaces the idea of a severed black identity, onto the black female, and not the rightful assailant.

The billboard should read, that the most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb of white supremacy, as it is this womb that predetermines the oppressed state of black bodies. The sexualized black female body is a prevalent facet of this oppressed state.

Thus, depicting the black female matriarch as possessing a sexuality too bestial for marriage illustrates hyper- sexuality as a genetic mutation. The mother’s infidelity is visibly placed outside the scope of the black female protagonist—eliminating “learned behavior” as an explanation for this shared mother/daughter trait. grace-and-lady-mae

The result is that the black female viewer becomes incited to question herself and not the power structure that foments this hyper-sexual caricature. Namely, these portrayals induce the black female body to see herself and her collective as hyper-sexual, rather than hyper-sexualized— a mistake that allows white supremacy to prevail on networks black in name and affiliation only.

While  I do critique the analysis offered on the series, I do commend Being Mary Jane for offering an analysis of the black experience written by  black people. This reality makes the series far more appreciated and redeemable than series like Greenleaf who appropriate said narrative. With this said, the series still functions to layer black female behavior without acknowledging the very prevalent outside influences.

It is this carelessness and sheer oblivion that douses our collective identity for the sole benefit of our oppressors. Furthermore, while it may be tempting to clutch one’s pearls and bask in the drama of prim- time television, it is imperative that we as a collective realize that our fictive portrayals yield factual iniquity.

Black Power ❤

Why Beyonce Had to Have Twins: Black Female Hyper-Sexuality, Hyper-Fertility, and Sexual Objectification

Black female hyper sexuality, a product of global racial conception, remains at the forefront of black female identity.

From the welfare mother whose sexuality births what the world labels bastards– babies derived from the hyper sexual loins of black male and female lust, to the black pop star oozing with a hyper sexuality that drips dollars for her white oppressors, sexuality follows the presumed “black magic” of the black female body believed to induce the detriment that befalls her.

Fertility remains one of the most central means to illustrate black female sexuality—although seldom articulated as problematic. The black female celebrity who functions to represent a portrait or symbol of black female sexuality, illustrates black female hyper- fertility in later-in-life pregnancies and multiple births.

The Diva, Othering, and Multiple Births  3D8B59CE00000578-4272442-What_we_re_used_to_Normally_the_47_year_old_has_sunkissed_gams_H-m-28_1488393568728

Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and now Beyonce– three of the world’s top-selling and most esteemed pop stars– share long prominent careers, lightened tresses, African ancestry, and multiple births. These births aid the contemporary diva in maintaining relevance, but also to consummate a hyper- sexuality that anchors their careers.

mariah-carey-600x600Admittedly, Lopez and Carey are hardly black women, but both have distant African origins as descendants from the slaves harbored in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. So while they are not black women, Carey and Lopez still fall under the “other” labeling, a labeling reflected in their sexualized images. Namely, Carey and Lopez mirror their hyper sexualized ancestors sampled by European men on slave voyages, and thus join Beyonce in assembling an essential portrait of “othered” sexuality  to a global racist gaze.

Collaboratively, the three women assemble this portrait through birthing fraternal twins, as a testament to the racist caricature of black female sexuality.

Unlike Beyonce, Carey and Lopez, have been affiliated with numerous men in a series of high profile relationships over the years. The many men of Lopez and Carey fuel the hyper sexual image portrayed in their revealing and form-fitting clothing. Thus their multiple births function to consummate their labeling at “other,” despite seemingly achieving their woman label in worldwide exposure and monumental wealth. mariah-carey-2000

A pillar of black female identity, Beyonce Knowles possesses an ethereal image of the intersectional woman emerged in the glamour of wealth and a feminine beauty– attributes typically separated from black female identity. Beyonce’s full lips, full hips, honey blonde locks, and round backside, usurped Lopez as the blonde-haired, round booty “other,” and has yet to relinquish the throne. Despite bearing the gift of singing, dancing, and stage presence, Beyonce’s career is rooted in her carefully constructed sexuality. Beyonce’s voluptuous figure, suggestive dance moves, revealing costumes, long full mane, and soulful sound culminates her sexuality, painting her as possessing unearthly talent, conventional beauty, while exuding the assumed sexuality of an African woman. Beyonce, like the late Saartje Baartman, is a black female body granted visibility to entertain the white gaze with a portrait of other. Esteemed scholar bell hooks discusses this “otherness” with the following: Venus Hottentot

She is there to entertain guests with the naked image of Otherness. They are not to look at her as a whole human being. They are to notice only certain parts. Objectified in a manner similar to that of black female slaves who stood on auction blocks while owners and overseers describe their important, salable parts, the black women whose naked bodies were displayed for whites at social functions had no presence. They were reduced to mere spectacle. Little is known of their lives or motivations. Their body parts were offered as evidence to support racist notions that black people were more akin to animals. (page 62)

Baartman is the historical equivalent of the contemporary black female pop icon— objectified and dismembered by an intrusive gaze. Baartman’s sexuality, substantiated her systemic objectification and ultimate death, just as the primal connotation of black female sexuality validates perceiving and treating black women like animals. Not given the chance to breed in a life cut short, Baartman reproduced in the physical organs and limbs that remained above ground long after her death to prove her inhumane status. The hyper-fertility of the black female celebrity functions similarly, seemingly providing evidence for her presumed inferiority during and after her life. In other words, hyper- fertility functions to depict the black female as possessing a sexuality that causes her to breed in multiples like animals.

Beyonce: Barren or “Black Magic”  article-2031269-0D9D13CF00000578-79_468x683

The news of Beyonce’s first pregnancy—despite the announcement occurring in a dramatic and news-making way, caused many to speculate Knowles’ ability to carry a child. Many felt as if her stomach was prosthetic and that the she and husband— rapper, and entrepreneur, Jay- Z hired a surrogate to have their child. I suppose the time between Knowles’ marriage and conception was far too long for most. While these speculations may seem menial, rumors of infertility stain the hyper sexual image of the black female body. The hyper sexual body, caricatured by the white gaze,  must breed in order to solidify the value of her stock. Thus, whispers of Beyonce’s infertility threatened the western ideology of the black woman, essential in composing the binary opposite of white womanhood.

In verbalizing her fertility struggles, Knowles surfaces as an everywoman. In her emergence from these struggles, however, Beyonce surfaces as hyper fertile– a superwoman bearing the fertility wish of countless women throughout the globe—twins.

151831-beyonce-knowlesFertility troubles aligned Knowles with the seasoned white women ever-present on adoption sites and adoption lists around the globe, seeking to obtain what they are unable to attain naturally— a child. This is not to say that black women do not struggle with fertility, but that the maintain myths of black female hyper-sexuality this page is one torn out of a fictive black female narrative. Thus, Beyonce’s emergence from these struggles resumes the narrative of the hyper-sexual black female and places her in line with the presumed “black magic” hyper-sexuality of her indigenous origins.

The same black magic that catapulted Beyonce into the global superstardom, is the same black magic white men and women historically labeled lethal to their conjugal sanctity. It is this same hyper sexual imaging that functions to depict the hyper sexual woman of African ancestry as a sexual beast who breeds like an animal. Yes there are famous white actresses such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Angelina Jolie, who have twins. Their births however have been linked to, or following surrogacy. Parker had twins via surrogate, and Jolie gave birth to twins after adopting three children and therefore serving as their surrogate mother. Also, much of Jolie’s allure comes from her full lips, which historically bore correspondence to the fullness of the African woman and her able womb, encased in a fertility exaggerated in a global racist gaze. Thus, Jolie’s proximity to blackness via physical attributes works to substantiate an innate and animalistic black female hyper- sexuality depicted through hyper-fertility.

While  a testament to their remarkability, the hyper fertile woman of African ancestry does not exist to bolster positive imaging to blacks, but to further the “othering” of the dark race in a subversive manner. bell hooks argues,

“Certainly from the standpoint of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy the hope is that desires for the “primitive” or fantasies about the Other can be continually exploited, and that such exploitation will occur in a manner that rein scribes and maintains the status quo.” (22)

The narrative of the black woman as hyper sexual is a direct reflection of her enslaved role, where black female worth was rooted in her ability to reproduce. Similarly, a central component to the sexualized popular stone cast along the Hollywood plantation is the black woman’s ability to prove the black magic fictively aligned with her African genitals.

The Later in Life Pregnancy

The hyper-sexual black female image is also festered in the later-in-life pregnancies of Janet Jackson and F:PHOTOMediaFactory ActionsRequests DropBox46495#sunshine sachsDSC_5366v2-2.jpgHalle Berry. Jackson, a global icon and the youngest Jackson child, is a testament to black female hyper fertility as the tenth (ninth living) child of a black woman. As one of the top-selling and most revered black female artists of all time with a career spanning three decades—Jackson’s hyper-sexuality is not typically displayed in her dance moves, which are more orchestrated than sensual, but in her lyrics and explicit performances. Namely, Jackson is known for strapping a male concert goer to a moving board where she sexually teases him for the entire three minutes of a song. She’s racy, unapologetically sexy, and possesses a soft feminine voice even well into her middle aged years—but up until last year, Ms. Jackson was not a mother.

Although there are rumors that Jackson abandoned her daughter with her ex husband James DeBarge, this was never confirmed, so to the world Jackson, the object of global admiration for years was childless. Beginning motherhood when the average woman has  sent her children off to college, and begins to prepare for retirement, portrays the black woman as a hyper-fertile and capable of fertility magic. Actress and beauty icon Halle Berry depicted a similar image when she became pregnant Halle Berry takes daughter Nahla for her passport photo in Beverly Hills, CAwith her son Maceo at the age of forty-seven.

The hyper- fertile black woman, while bearing the gift of reproduction also corresponds to profit garnered in her objectification. The fertile black female body  meant more field hands and concubines, which meant more babies and ultimately more money and power for white consumption. Similarly, the extensive media afforded to later- in-life pregnancies or multiple births of celebrities bearing black blood, garnered increased funds for white media outlets.

The black female, who is collectively objectified through the black, or black “ish” celebrity, is often an eager participant in the veiled objectification and dismemberment of black female identity. Most don’t see that to objectify the genitals of celebrity equivalents is to objectify their collective selves.

This disconnect is rooted in the failure of most to view pregnancy as a form of objectification. Yet, considering the  awphistorical trajectory that accompanies the black female body, cognizance of systemized objectification in all its forms is prevalent not only for advancement, but collective survival. Celebrating the multiple or later-in-life pregnancies of already sexualized figures is yet another means to reduce black women to their genitals—a systemic objectification that strips the black female body of mortal status and instead casts her as an object, a body, solely for global depletion.

Beyonce at the height of her fame, is no longer a person to the global gaze. Instead she is an entity placed in the panopticon of popular culture to be placed, prodded, and exploited as deemed necessary by her oppressors. So in celebrating her latest performance– birthing twins, the masses cast another stone in stripping the collective black female demographic of their humanness.

A subjugated and  inhumane entity, violence cast against the black female body is corroborated and deemed self defense from her primal sexuality. This violence, be it systemic like poverty, or direct like murder or rape, occurs harmoniously with the pervasiveness of black female hyper sexuality.

In summary, Beyonce, as a figure of black femininity to the global gaze, had to have twins. Bearing twins was not only a means for the Knowles-Carter dynasty to expand, but for the world to portray the fictive hyper-sexuality of the  black female body as fact.

Black female objectification is as American as apple pie, and as globally overlooked and ignored as slavery, so it is without wonder that the black female celebrity bare the height of exploited black female identity veiled by riches and fame. While the masses are slowly acknowledging the pattern of hyper-sexuality in its overt display on social media, scripted sitcoms, and reality television, it is essential that this portrayal is exposed as ubiquitous—so that the black female—through her systemic subjugation is not an accidental participant in her own defilement.