Revered Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu made headlines on the fourth Wednesday in 2018 for comments made during an interview with a white Jewish interviewer for Vulture magazine. As per usual, her remarks were taken out of context, Badu placed on a scaffold and be-headed in a social media paradigm that seeks to cast blacks as villains and not victims in the contemporary dialogue about race.
During the interview, David Marchese asks Badu a series of queries that illustrates him as unfamiliar with her catalogue as he is with the context that births her music. Badu, an obviously intelligent person and elevated creative thinker, paints herself as a seasoned optimist which allows her to “see the good in people.” Being the risqué individual that she is, Badu states that she can see the good in Hitler. The interviewer becomes overtly defensive and the following exchange took place:
I saw something good in Hitler.
Yeah, I did. Hitler was a wonderful painter.
No, he wasn’t! And even if he was, what would his skill as a painter have to do with any “good” in him?
Okay, he was a terrible painter. Poor thing. He had a terrible childhood. That means that when I’m looking at my daughter, Mars
Badu’s daughter with enigmatic rapper Jay Electronica. She also has another daughter, Puma, with the West Coast rapper the D.O.C.
, I could imagine her being in someone else’s home and being treated so poorly, and what that could spawn. I see things like that. I guess it’s just the Pisces in me.
I’m perfectly willing to accept that you might be operating on a higher moral plane than I am, but I think going down the route of “Hitler was a child once too” is maybe turning the idea of empathy into an empty abstraction.
Maybe so. It doesn’t test my limits — I can see this clearly. I don’t care if the whole group says something, I’m going to be honest. I know I don’t have the most popular opinion sometimes.
But don’t you think that someone as evil as Hitler, who did what he did, has forfeited the right to other people’s empathy?
Why can’t I say what I’m saying? Because he did such terrible things?
Well, yes. But it’s also disheartening to hear you say that at a time, like now, when racism and anti-Semitism are so much in the air. Why would you want to risk putting fuel on that fire?
You asked me a question. I could’ve chosen not to answer. I don’t walk around thinking about Hitler or Louis Farrakhan. But I understand what you’re saying: “Why would you want to risk fueling hateful thinking?” I have a platform, and I would never want to hurt people. I would never do that. I would never even imagine doing that. I would never even want a group of white men who believe that the Confederate flag is worth saving to feel bad. That’s not how I operate.
I appreciate that. But I really struggle with the idea of how much we’re supposed to make an effort to understand or have empathy for people who have dangerously backwards or hateful thinking. You want to take the moral high ground, but sometimes that also feels the same as ceding territory.
Hitler, The Great Painter?
The most conflicting component of Badu’s interview stems from her optimistic perspective of the late dictator. Specifically, Badu states that Hitler was a great painter, a direct reference to the Hitler paintings that sold for a high price. I agree that Hitler was a great painter–although in a vastly different context. His acts of evil, functioned to paint whites as victims— to paint a portrait of remembrance whereas victims of the African Holocaust are painted in a collective amnesia that depicts them as potential Hitlers in seeking to possess the pride withheld from them for centuries. Hitler illustrates white evil as ubiquitous and universal, some evils being ethereal–its most sadistic cruelty–cast onto the peoples of African descent–occurring for what seems like an eternity.
It is interesting though that, Marchese is not so much denouncing Hitler and his deeds as he is berating Badu for a praise she never articulated. Though violent, this exchange exposes Marchese as having an obvious chip on his shoulder in his interaction with Badu.
Those of the black collective can certainly relate to encountering a person who believes themselves to be white, who bears negative feelings towards them for no obvious reason. As a woman whose attire is always an homage to the past, and an obvious student of observation and contemplation, Badu possesses a form that threatens the veiled white supremacist. Whites are most comfortable with blacks who are happily ignorant and fearful and/or in awe of white people and white acceptance. Marchese’s exchange with Badu illustrates a white person’s desperate attempt to denounce black intelligence with a fictive bigotry. To mask his own feelings of inaquedacy by trying to paint Badu as he is, small minded, prejudice, and unworthy of his position .
How does it feel to be a problem?
My main issue with this exchange is the white male privilege that violently belies the black female form as problematic and not the individualism, ethnocentricity and unprofessionalism of the white male interviewer. As beings of black form subjected to centuries of systemic abuse, physical mutilation, and scientific experimentation, many blacks have adopted a form of optimism as a means to cope. If it were not for this optimism, Badu would probably not have been able to stay afloat in the industy, or have a discussion with someone who benefits from the disenfranchisement of her past and present collective. It is also rather ironic that the interviewer berates Badu for her “empathy,” but offers none to a victim of the same system that afforded him his job. The two moments that prove most violent in the delineated exchange are:
A: But don’t you think that someone as evil as Hitler, who did what he did, has forfeited the right to other people’s empathy?
This is an issue because it’s a leading question. As a woman nearing fifty, Badu needs no help organizing her ideas and as a black woman, Badu has no obligation to mollify the emotions of a white man. Especially a white man, who instead of empathizing with what America did (and continues to do) to abducted Africans, maintains veiled role in their contemporary crucification for allegations of doing what continues to be done to those of the black collective.
B. Well, yes. But it’s also disheartening to hear you say that at a time, like now, when racism and anti-Semitism are so much in the air. Why would you want to risk putting fuel on that fire?
“At a time like now?” When has racism not been pervasive?
This statement illustrates Marchese as bearing a privileged oblivion to which racism is merely an attribute of the contemporary climate, not a lifetime component in the lives of truly abdicated people.
This is not to say that the Jewish Holocaust was not horrible. It was horrible, and as a being of black form–I know all too well the evils of whites. But the African Holocaust never ended and that descendants of those stripped of their name and culture continues to cripple present strides of black advancement. So yes Marchese has historically suffered, but Jewish people, like countless other “ethnic” white factions that have suffered at the hands of white supremacy, are also given an opportunity to practice this very supremacy (which most have actively participated in) onto those issued an inescapable “othering.” Thus, while some may offer sympathy for the once “othered” despite their rise to oppressor, I decline. And to the skeptic suggesting that I am making a comparison, I want to clarify that I am not. I am saying that there is no comparison.
I am also stating that despite the implication, and backlash that suggests the opposite, Erykah cannot be racist–as this feat is an impossible one for anyone of African descent. Prejudice is a common attribute nurtured globallyl, but racism is far beyond name calling and hurt feelings–but a label solely extended to those who possess the power to persecute.
Additionally, Marchese’s actions illustrate the following violent passive-aggressive behaviors:
Separating the black woman from the black man.
In the following, the interviewer references an interview Badu had with a black man and cites sexism in what he considered an insulting caricature the black male allegedly casted of the singer:
I was listening to the interview you did recently with Joe Budden, and he brought up the recurring cartoonish image of you as this sort of quasi-mystical sorceress who’s always playing mind games with rappers.
The Erykah Badu legend
Is it frustrating to have that kind of legend follow you around? It seems pretty clearly rooted in a kind of sexism.
I take advantage of it. It’s a good thing if people think I’m supposed to be some mystical creature that controls people’s minds.
Here, Marcheese attempts to paint himself as some kind of ally, identifying issues plaguing “minorities,” which in his defensiveness over what he perceived as anti-Semitism he sees himself a part of too. In this instance, he referenced Joe Budden, who, as a member of the black collective shares the same struggle as Badu, as sexist. This performance is one of racism, where the master imbues the Willie Lynch Letter’s directions to separate blacks. To experience sexism is a privilege. Beings of black female form do not get the privilege of experiences sexism, what we experience is a form of racist-sexist oppression where we are masculinized, yet expected to support whites in their persistent persecution of black men.
The efforts of division have also birthed the wrath that engulfs the backlash following Badu’s comments regarding actor, comedian, humanitarian, Bill Cosby. Particularly, when asked about Bill Cosby, Badu does not give the expected polarized response. She was expected to berate Bill Cosby and contribute to the white media’s attempt to sully the legacy of someone who has done so much for black people. Badu says,
“I love Bill Cosby, and I love what he’s done for the world.”
Badu delivers these sentiments in a humanist context, even going as far to say that bearing the same skin as a victim does not dictate her loyalty, a sentiment overlooked by the white media seeking to sacrifice a black woman in a desperate attempt to simultaneously attract more gazes to the article and sympathy for a global oppressor.
B. One black person is expected to speak for other black people.
Your situation is different, but what you were saying a minute ago about how you can’t create new music unless you feel an honest compulsion to do it is making me think about how some of the most important musicians of your generation — people like Lauryn Hill, André 3000, D’Angelo — had long periods where they went silent. Do you think they felt the same way you do?
Badu issues this inappropriate and leading question a masterful responses that portrayals them all as individuals:
I don’t want to speak for those people. I know all of them, and there are individual circumstances for why each of them were quiet in different moments.
This is something most members of the black collective can admit to experiencing. Black people are commonly regarded as a single entity, detached from the thought that black people have a whole range of emotions and perspectives. Thus, the interviewer, although interviewing Erykah Badu, approaches the endeavor as if he is interviewing the every black Neo-soul artist — male and female- suggesting an insulting interchangeability between Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, amongst others. This is anti-black and inevitably racist, an act that exposes the interviewer as bearing the same problematic ideology he attempts to cast onto the black female bodily canvass.
Needless to stay, although I do not adopt a philosophy of conventional optimism, I support Erykah Badu. . I admire Badu as a student of life, and for being unapologetic in her revelation of self. I admire that she spoke lovingly of a black man who the white world tried to adorn in a disgust the black collective should reserve for the white male rapist.
This vulture interview and twitter backlash depicts even seemingly progressive movements as rooted in anti blackness—seeking not to call out injustice, but to call blacks words that should be solely cached for those who believe themselves to be white.
Thus, Badu is most remarkable in presenting in her interview responses to a racist to “call” blacks everything but majestic, with an articulate remix of perhaps her most famous lyric: you can’t use my phone.
Badu’s approach exposes the lesson of this interview–whites can very well maintain their negative perception of blacks as the glue to their “esteem,” but not with black bodies as a vehicle or vessel.
Furthermore, while Badu opts to see the good in everyone, I strive to see the best in black People. And black people are incomparably the best–despite the various attempts of those believed to be white, as seen in this interview, to suggest otherwise.