Sunday, August 30, 2020

Our Shining Black Prince

Of all of the chaos and havoc that we're processing during this pandemic, Chadwick Boseman's death is  incomprehensible. How is he just gone?

I didn't think I would have any additional words, at least none as eloquent and exquisitely beautiful as what was written on his social media account. I was struck by the word immeasurable and how more than any other adjective that I might consider, that remains the word that I will use when I think of him and the deep well of his talent. Immeasurable.

I found out about his death while I was driving home. I had just hosted a program that included a segment about the Black Panther Party, its origins, and the significance of that symbol. Of course, the character Boseman brought to life bears some slight resemblance to that political movement, but perhaps now we should consider whether it was more than coincidental that Stan Lee found inspiration from that same image. We should contemplate whether Boseman's transition at this moment is some kind of omen...or perhaps something else. It should be noted that his death occurred on Jackie Robinson Day (celebrated in August this year because of the pandemic) and that was the character that introduced us to his brilliance.

Before I delve into this notion that God is trying to tell us something, I must explain why this hurts so much. It hits after nearly six months of watching Death relentlessly claim our beloveds with no sufficient protocols for honoring their lives. It happens at the end of a horrendous week that began with another police-involved shooting, compounded by a mid-week hurricane, while in the background we watched (or purposely did not watch) that convention of sycophants blame our rage on grievances they refuse to acknowledge. Then late on Friday night, we learn of the unexpected death of our hero, our brother, our son, our friend. Our King.

If he is now gone, what hope is left? If he could move us to such grief, someone we only knew from the roles he portrayed on screen, then perhaps all is not lost?

I saw Black Panther once. I lucked up and got a chance to see it in NYC in a crowded theater at 10am, surrounded by young men who had probably already seen it a dozen times. Because it was not during the premier week, I missed all of the pageantry of seeing it with folks who had waited their entire lives to see a Black superhero onscreen. I've had more chances to see his other big films, including Marshall which, when it came out, made me wonder whether this brother was a little too serious about being the go-to respectable Black man (just a shade different than being the magical Negro). Even his portrayal of  James Brown had that whiff, because biopics are built around those who are larger than life. 

But what else was he supposed to do...he was a star. I know he had a working actor's career before he took on Jackie Robinson in 2013, and I'm pretty sure that he was stellar in every one of those supporting roles. But he was a star, and that is something that was discovered and nurtured in him by Black acting royalty, Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington when he was in college. Had he come out of Julliard or Yale, perhaps that kind of recognition would not seem as unlikely, but he came from Howard University where the road to mainstream success was less assured. Still, he ascended to the top where his light shone immeasurably.

There is an astronomical phenomenon when a star explodes called a supernova, so in this instance that is the analogy that answers my entreaty to God: what are You trying to tell us in taking Boseman at this point in his short, but brilliant career? How is it, Lord, that this vibrant young man with all of these beautiful gifts would die of a cancer that isn't supposed to kill people under the age of 50? How can we keep the faith that we will survive this pandemic, in spite of every indication that this world does not care about our collective demise, that though we are beautiful and brilliant, we still die too young? 

The black panther symbolizes the resilience, perseverance, determination, and strength of a people that fight against the odds. It makes its appearance as the emblem of a political movement in Alabama's Black Belt that started in the aftermath of the voting rights marches in 1965 (this was the topic of my program on Friday night). When cornered, the panther pounces and fights. The gun-toting Black Panther Party for Self Defense garners popular attention around the same time that Stan Lee introduces his African superhero in the Fantastic Four comics. The evolution of the character, its history, and how that all come together for the film make for a fascinating read.

That Boseman will forever be T'Challa (because we will not stand for him to be recast) means that his story is now written into that narrative. To know that Boseman suffered to share his gift speaks to his character, but it also gives us hope. His heath challenges symbolize the racism we face--subtle then aggressive, and ultimately fatal if it is unresponsive to treatment. Yet, like a panther he did not back down; he pounced and created the beautiful body of work that we celebrate in the wake of his passing. Therefore, we must not back down either. So few of us ever get to inspire or touch as many people just by doing our job. Fewer still get to choose the conditions under which we produce our greatest work. If we are still here, then we have work to do, beauty to create. We must pounce.

Yet though our brother Chadwick is gone from this world, his marvelous light is not gone. It has been transformed. This world could not contain, nor dim, nor nor stifle that glorious incandescence. Our Black Panther lives in us now, so sleep well in Wakanda, forever.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Higher Learning

Several years ago, I taught a course called the History of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the first class I was hired to teach, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my brief adjunct professor career. This class always attracted a multiracial and diverse group of students with respect to age, life experience, and ideology. It was also offered face to face, which allowed me to facilitate spirited class discussions. 

I believe it was my third time teaching this particular course that I had this one student, a white man ("John") whose wife was an educator in the Baltimore County public schools. He was a regular contributor to class, and over the course of the semester, he shared various anecdotes about his wife and her experiences. One of the common themes had been how she had begun teaching in the city, but recently she had chosen to transition to the county system. Because the campus was located about 10 miles outside of Baltimore, many of the other students hailed from either the city or the county as well.

One of the students in class, a Black woman ("Erica") often took issue with John's reflections about inner city Baltimore. She was a single parent, so she took his observations of her beloved city personally. Also, I just think John irritated her, so they got into debates on a regular basis. For example, one typical exchange about the difference between the City and County students and parents centered on his assertion that one set of parents cared more about education than the others. Erica countered that she worked a full-time job and went to school, so there were limitations on her time. Her ultimate goal was to secure a better job with more flexibility to spend more time with her children, so he could just as easily be judging her as he did those other parents. 

They went back and forth about it, with him making several qualifications that his critique was not about her but about apathetic parents. How do you know they don't care, Erica asked, and John cited how the kids dressed for school, often in expensive sneakers and designer outfits. Erica: If they come to school with clean clothes, how does that translate into not caring? John: Well, if they cared more about education, wouldn't it be better to spend that money on computers and books instead of clothes? Erica: How does judging how they spend their money on clothes prove that they don't care? John: I think that money could be put to better use. And on it went.

Eventually, I would intervene to move the class along, but it was definitely an interesting exchange (and yes, I enjoyed it). Once after class, a few of the students questioned why I gave them so much class time for debate, and I responded that it was important for people to hear different arguments. I told them that it was always useful to hear how someone frames their disagreements and how important it was to listen. From my point of view, the source of their disagreement was based on perceptions and assumptions that both of them were making about each other. One student, an older Black man ("Steve"), swore I was wrong, and that I was giving a racist an opportunity to air his views. 

On the last day of class, John offered some more controversial opinions about Black leadership. Specifically, he asked why more Blacks were not followers of General Colin Powell, whom he felt was a better spokesperson than someone like Sean Combs. At that point, Erica should have spoken up to challenge him; instead she kept taking notes. So Steve, who had begun to in to spar with John in the past couple of classes asked who said Combs was as a Black leader. John explained his perception was based on Combs' involvement in the Vote or Die Campaign and how Combs' status as a hip hop artist influenced how his wife's students thought. Then Steve stunned everyone when he responded, well see that's part of the problem with white folks, you want to pick our leaders for us. We didn't ask for your opinion, nor why you vote for racists like Bush... I pulled a Chris Tucker and jumped in to diffuse the situation. As this was the last class, I used that moment to stumble through a closing argument about the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement and how different tactics and leaders still sought a similar goal. On the way out, John thanked me for such an engaging class while Erica, Steve and a few other students lingered. I got nervous when they approached me, but they complimented me on my diplomacy. And in wise older Black man fashion, Steve told me that he still thought John was a racist, but in letting him talk, it had made the class more interesting. It had inspired the others to do more studying not just to learn the material for class, but to be better prepared to argue with John.

I thought about that class this week, but my intent in writing about it had been to highlight that exchange from the last day of class about Colin Powell and Sean Combs--that Black people choose our leaders, not white people. And I had planned an entire lecture on the subject beginning with Booker T. Washington to Barack Obama (very similar to what I said in class that night). Then as I was recalling the incident, I had a chance to reflect on the entire experience of that semester and how it illuminates some of what we are witnessing now.

First, I thought about Erica, the hard-working single mother who stood up to John's assumptions. As soon as she realized that John didn't know any more than she did, she challenged him at every turn. What did he know about the students in Baltimore City and their parents? Nothing first-hand, so how was he so sure that the parents were apathetic? Who was he to make pronouncements that were at best, based on superficial criteria that had very little bearing on the issue? She made up her mind that John would not underestimate her.

And then I thought about Steve. Like every Black man who has lived long enough, his opinions had been formed by life experiences that someone like John could never imagine. He had little use for John because he had dealt with folks like him, well-meaning white folks who thought they could relate to Black people, but only on their terms. Steve knew the pitfalls of appeasement and respectability. And as the father-figure in the class, he would stand up for Erica as needed.

Poor John. He meant evidenced by his enrollment in this class, right?

But before I go there, allow let me address my role in this. In hindsight, I probably gave John a lot more space than I should have for fear of being accused of bias. At the time, I thought it was valuable to hear his perspective, and I stand by that. This was a college class, and academic discourse often demands that we consider opinions that diverge. My job was not to protect them, but to expose and engage them, and as a result, many of them became better students.

So back to John, who is the reason why I revisited this--I heard something from a commentator on television that made me think back to my experiences with that class. I'm pretty sure his opinions were set, but he was just as engaged as the others. And unlike Steve, I give John credit for showing up and challenging the class to confront divergent points of view. I'd like to believe his eyes were opened to biases he didn't realize he held, and maybe the three of them became friends and continue to debate over coffee a few times a year...

Or, it is more likely that John and his wife continue to live in Baltimore County while Erica and her family live in the City of Baltimore, still miles apart in proximity and ideology. I wonder how the two of them have responded to the political conventions of the past two weeks, and which candidate will get their vote. I wonder if Erica could be swayed by the arguments of a Kim Klacik or if John would be impressed enough by a Kamala Harris. And what about Steve, would he stay home? Would he be motivated to vote for either candidate given the choice between a populist and a moderate?

Back to the point I was supposed to make here, which is the inherent distrust many Black people have for racial emissaries or spokesmodels. As in, we prefer to elevate leaders of our own choosing. We decide, and we can quickly determine when someone is a fraud. So if a person appears to have been selected for his/her clean appearance, articulate cadence, and willingness to parrot the talking points specifically written to communicate someone else's message, we're not falling for it. 

One of the reasons why the great Booker T. Washington has such a complicated legacy for so many of us is rooted in the speech he gave for the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. We refer to his remarks as the Atlanta Compromise because he told that audience what they wanted to hear, that Black people would be loyal and willing workers. That we would forgo equal rights even while we were being lynched and terrorized. Even though Black men had been given the right to vote 15 years earlier, it was too premature to encourage that type of civic engagement. The fact that Washington worked behind the scenes to support education and build Black businesses via the political alliances he made with wealthy white philanthropists and industrialists was great, but his words legitimized the separate but equal existence and disparities that we have yet to overcome in parts of this country more than a century later. 

So we've heard the rhetoric and the double-speak and like Steve, plenty of us have lived long enough to know better. Our leaders aren't here to appease white fears or ease white guilt. White folks can vote for whomever they want for President or to be the next American Idol, but they don't get to decide who will speak for Black people. They only started quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. after they killed him.

By the way, we love Colin Powell, but we were right to question his judgment. We never said Sean Combs was any kind of civil rights or political leader, which is why nobody with any sense is voting for Kanye West. Many of us would rather follow Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and the courageous WNBA players before we'd trust the words of Herschel Walker, Tiger Woods, Mariano Rivera, or any sports legend who values their golf membership more than Black lives.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Whites of Their Lies

Ordinarily I would not go out of my way to fact-check the numerous falsehoods and outright lies told by those whose political opinions differ from mine, but whew chile, on the first day of the Republican National Convention, I heard some whoppers. It will only get worse, as there are three more nights and so as a public service, I will offer this Busy Black Woman's opinion of what happened and what I suspect will be the continuing theme of this convention in a meme:

But allow me to rephrase my opening sentence, because not everything that is said by those with views on other political spectrum are lies. We disagree. We see problems and solutions from different perspectives. Their blues aren't like mine, et cetera, et cetera...

For me, the tone was set earlier in the day with that State Roll Call. I was unbothered by the fact that there were a handful of people of color chosen to announce their delegate commitments, but I took note of it as a nod to my prediction that there would be no overt efforts made to demonstrate diversity where there was none. And I would have ignored the entire process as background noise had it not been for the fact that the Arkansas representative invoked the name of Daisy Bates as a honored citizen of his state.

Suddenly, my ears perked up and I spent the next several hours live-tweeting the roll call for other tall tales and American fables. It just struck me as incredibly discongruous that the mostly white assortment of convention delegates would choose to highlight women and nonwhite citizens from their state, most of whom would not have been lauded as heroes during their lifetimes. Based on what we know of history, I am pretty clear that most of them would NOT have been supporters of this Regime either. For example, the DC delegate was proud to identify Frederick Douglass as a Republican, which certainly is the party to which he belonged back in 1880. But to suggest that he would have maintained that affiliation in 2020 is peak 2020 insanity.

The Roll Call got suspended twice to yield time to both Mike Pence and the DEPOTUS to address the delegates. I should have listened, but I had to clean the crap from my Kid's underwear.

When I tuned into the prime-time proceedings, it was with an eye towards hearing the remarks from Senator Tim Scott (SC) because I was genuinely curious how he would be able to stand up for this President and the chaos that has rained down on America and the world like acid rain. Since Scott was the keynoter for the evening, I choose to sit through the preliminary speeches just to get a taste of what would unfold throughout the week. And I won't bore you with details because it was all the same our-side-is-better-than-them that always goes on at these events. There were some awkward taped segments, but mostly a lot of stylized production which shows they took notes from last week. For more expert analysis and fact-checking, you can tune to your favorite cable news network.

However, I do feel the need to weigh in on some of the speeches because it isn't enough to suggest that Vernon Jones was not just exaggerating about his candidate's support for HBCUs. Or that Herschel Walker's personal relationship with the DESPOTUS doesn't mean he isn't a racist. Or how Nikki Haley clearly doesn't even believe her own spin on American racism if she can't use her first name, Nimrata. Or how Kim Klacik is hardly credible as a candidate to represent a city where she doesn't reside. Their personal affection for the White House occupant is their business, but as usual, people of color are trotted out to disprove the truth of what our eyes see and ears hear when he speaks. The disconnect here is to assume that because they found personal favor with the emperor, the rest of us are not suffering under the yoke of his oppression. 

And for all of the warm fuzzies those speakers offered, there was the appearance of the McCloskeys, the Missouri couple who brandished guns from the lawn of their Versailles-style palace while BLM protestors marched through their neighborhood. Mind you, the marchers went past their house, not through it and not a rosebush was trampled, but because gun-toting white folks feared a mob of Black kids armed with cell phone cameras, they are victims. They got rewarded with a prime-time audience to validate their entitled whines about good suburban homes being devalued by an invasion of poor peasants.

Some things never change. Good Black and Latinx people who know how to behave are more than welcome to work in the big house among the master's fine things, as long as they remember their place. As long as they shut up and sing or play ball; as long as they speak from the script that was written for them; as long as they denounce where they came from; and as long as it is profitable for them to denigrate the rest of us in the fields as trash. I have always wondered if they earn any extra for accusing us of mental enslavement while they are driving the buggy or cleaning the kitchen.

I'm not calling names, but I am calling it as I see it. We're called thugs and Marxists for demanding justice in the streets when a Black man is paralyzed by bullets to the back for breaking up a fight. No one will mention Jacob Blake during this blow job of a convention, just as no one will mention Herman Cain, one of their own who joined the growing number of COVID casualties this Regime has shrugged off as within the acceptable range of death. They've invited Daniel Cameron to address the convention, the Kentucky Attorney General who won't take action against the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Their respect for Indigenous people extends to invoking the name of Sitting Bull while gloating about shooting off fireworks at Mt. Rushmore on land that was stolen. Oh, and they've invited the kid who smirked in the face of the indigenous veteran at the Lincoln Memorial, so there's that.

This is why we're not buying the snake oil from Mr. It Is What It Is. People of color know all about false promises via glass beads, 40 acres and a mule, the Trail of Tears, separate but equal, and #BeBest. I can't speak for anyone else, but nah...

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Identity Political

I was recently reading some analysis about the two political parties regarding 'optics'--how one party's clamor to showcase diversity is the very turn-off for some members of the other party who would prefer not to engage in identity politics. You know, the All Lives Matter folks who get triggered at the mention of the word black in any context other than fancy dresses and eyeliner.

Briefly, I thought about their discomfort as I rejoiced during Sen. Kamala Harris' acceptance speech. As you might already know from the name of this blog, I don't have any issues with being Black, living while Black, consorting and living amongst my fellow Blacks, nor do I worry myself about how others perceive my unapologetic Blackness. I don't exactly get why that is so offensive or abhorrent, but I also don't get a lot of things like treating dogs like children or Taylor Swift fans older than 30. Life is like that sometimes.

But now that we're all set to make history (regardless of the election outcome), I guess it is time for us to have the talk. The Dear Colorblind White People talk...

Let's start with the low-hanging fruit, which is everybody's favorite MLK quote from the 1963 March on Washington, which was delivered 57 years ago this week. We know how much y'all LOVE that speech and that line, and how it serves as a guiding principle for people who gloat of their lack of prejudice. I know, you're just out here living King's dream, judging people on the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

And I'm glad that you took those words to heart, but perhaps you took it too literally. There are times when you can and should make decisions on the basis of skin color. Let's start with your definitions of nude and flesh-tone, or the notion that there are certain colors that are universally flattering. Having emojis available in a range of skin colors is a good thing. And as cute as it seems to suggest that everyone should be treated the same, as if we were all Because nobody is purple.

The fallacy of colorblindness is its default to whiteness. You can afford not to see color if you exist in a dominant space where decisions have always been made for your benefit. You can choose colorblindness as a justification for all of your implicit biases. You don't have to notice that every person who gets hired looks like you or that they went to the same schools or that they grew up in a certain part of town. You don't have to consider anyone else's experiences if you can safely assume that yours are typical. And even when you make space for others, you can choose how much or how little counts. This is why we call that white privilege, in case you were wondering.

So what I fully expect to see next week is akin to spending the day binge-watching the early days of TV Land, back when it was non-stop Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith, Leave It To Beaver, Bewitched, Ozzie and Harriet, and Wyatt Earp, with Archie Bunker as the prime time highlight. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with these old shows, but when it comes to inclusion or post-60s progressiveness, the only shows y'all remember are Julia and That Girl

The homogeneity of that worldview is one that insists on American exceptionalism at the expense of the truth. It excuses hypocrisy and operates in the universe of alternative facts. It celebrates the gallantry of a Lost Cause and justifies certain forms of exploitation as opportunities. It refuses to admit wrong-doing, choosing not to dwell on the negative. It insists on assimilation and diluting one's culture for palatability. It chafes at being inconvenienced, even for the common good.

It says that to be a real American, your dream is to live in a home that resembles this: 

With a family that looks like this:

And a religion that definitely preaches this:

There is room for some deviations from these images. You can live on a farm.

Of course this is an exaggeration. But I dare you to watch that other convention with any expectation of seeing the kind of old school Benetton diversity on display. It's going to be all Ralph Lauren, Yacht Club, Wrangler jeans, and cowboy boots. And that's okay, but please do us a favor and not insist that your America has evolved much from this:

For this too is America, just a few years removed from the black and white idyllic past you miss. And while you will twist and bend yourselves in all kinds of shapes to pretend that is no longer the reality, the fact is, some of you were proud to parade through the streets demanding hair cuts. But then had the audacity to take offense against folks demanding not to be killed in police custody.

I fully expect that the RNC convention this week will go out of its way not to showcase diversity, just to make the opposite point. Who needs a cup full of brown sugar when a nice sprinkle will do? And what's wrong with refined sugar anyway? Why do we need agave, cane sugar, and all that other stuff if sugar is sugar? People are people. Conservative people just have different ideas.

By the way, conservative might not be a racial category, a foreign language spoken by the help, violent religious fanaticism practiced by people in the desert...but it is a label. It is an identifier, so the sticking point isn't identity politics inasmuch as it is dealing with the adjectives and hyphens that are more tolerable than others. Blue Lives Matter even though nobody is born blue. Build the wall to keep out immigrants from shit-hole countries although no one else is dying to get here, especially not now. Evangelical Christianity is under persecution when we say Happy Holidays. Masks infringe on your liberty but the Confederate flag is just cloth...

But please, no pandering or virtue signaling.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Kamala! Kamala! Kamala!

I first wrote about Kamala Harris back in 2019 when she announced her candidacy for President. I was all in then, so there is NO QUESTION that I am all in now. As a matter of fact, I can barely contain my excitement. I know that this isn't the same as being the nominee at the top of the ticket, but this is pretty damn close. Like super, paper thin close enough. And it's a big effing deal.

I was on a Zoom call when the news was announced. The two other participants had a subdued, almost resigned reaction, and it took a minute for me to fully register what I had been expecting would be the choice all along. It wasn't a surprise, and now I'm convinced that I would have been more shocked if she had not been named. Still, as it sinks in, I am ecstatic!

I am also...hopeful. For the first time since that November morning in 2016 when I woke up full of excitement, put on a pantsuit, dressed my baby girl in a matching outfit, and we ventured out to take my parents to vote. And honestly, that isn't the most accurate word to describe what I felt that day. I was overly confident, smug even, that my daughter would have her formative years shaped by two historic Presidents. I even captured the significance of what I thought would be a glass-shattering day in this video.

So I shouldn't be this giddy. I should be more cautious, but I can't help it. This announcement feels like that other glee-filled day in 2008 when the junior Senator from Illinois shocked the world and won the Iowa Caucus. Before that upset, I had been the lone true believer in my orbit. My Dad had been ridin' with Biden and my Mom was Team Hillary. The Hub was doubtful, but I was all in and after Iowa, it was full steam ahead for me. So with this announcement, I feel a renewed sense of hope that morning is about to break in America.

To be honest, this feeling began the other day as I was watching the last episode of the Henry Louis Gates PBS documentary African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. As I am still working on a tribute to John Lewis and working on several other projects, it was good motivation until it hit a spate of historical events from the recent past that tanked my mood. Between the Los Angeles Riots and the images from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I got depressed reflecting on how this pandemic was just another reminder that Black people are always catching hell.

Then Obama's smiling face appeared on-screen and brought with it the reminder of all the hope we felt back when he was a candidate for President. Suddenly, my spirit lifted and I felt a sense of reassurance that there is light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. I might be reading too much into this announcement, but let's just say that my enthusiasm for old Uncle Joe just shot through the stratosphere.

We were in Chicago the day that Joe Biden was named as Barack Obama's running mate, and I recall being relieved that he had made a solid choice. It wasn't a game-changer because we all knew Biden was a safe bet. He would do no harm, and he would sure up the doubters that Obama would have the advise and counsel of an elder statesman to keep things on course. Inasmuch as Harris offers the inverse--the advise and counsel of a young turk to keep the elder statesman relevant and in touch, she too, is a safe bet, progressive enough but sufficiently moderate to do no harm.

I know that isn't the revolution that some of us wanted, but the battle before us is about survival. We are facing the iceberg, and come November, we will either crash into it or we will just miss it. There are not enough life boats for everyone, and the rich will not make room for the rest of us and will gladly watch us all freeze to death or drown. Faced with a deadly pandemic, domestic racial unrest, economic uncertainty, hostility from enemy regimes, disgruntled international allies, and the prospect of four more years of this bullshit...I'm voting not to hit the iceberg. The revolution can start once we're in calmer waters.

A year ago, I was hoping for a different ticket. It was just about this point when Harris' star had begun to fade after a particularly nasty broadside delivered to her by Tulsi Gabbard. I was all ready to mount up, but I maintained some hope that if Harris' flag fell, there were other women waiting to charge ahead. I began to have dreams of a Warren-Harris ticket and imagined how fiercely we would respond if need be.


We shan't mourn over what should have been. Instead, we will survey the landscape, regroup, and fight like hell to win the next battle. And the next battle is about making sure there is something to fight for a year from now. 

I've already said my peace about the 'issues' some of y'all have expressed about her, from her racial heritage to her chosen career path to her white husband. NONE OF THAT will impact my vote. Her Daddy came from the same diaspora that gave us Bob Marley and Colin Powell, so she's Black. She chose the career path that was most likely to position her for this moment. Her husband put a ring on it and stands at the ready to take anybody out who comes for his wife. So what else you got?

You want to debate ideological purity when the other side has mortgaged their houses, yachts, family farms, firstborn grandchildren, and their very souls to support a twice divorced philanderer, grifter, racist, and wannabe dictator all to control the next Supreme Court pick? They are willing to expose your children to a deadly virus that will kill your parents while this President, Scott Baio, and the My Pillow Guy play golf at his country club. They've got the lifeboats.

You want to debate the outcomes of policy decisions that were made before you were born? If you were alive in the 1980s, then perhaps you forgot what it was like to live through crime waves. Maybe you need to talk to your parents about why your family really moved to the suburbs. Hindsight in the year 2020 needs to be more than just an indictment of how politicians responded to social ills without an examination how those of us in the Black middle class responded...

We don't have the time for that kind of navel-gazing. We have only 80 days to get your play cousins registered to vote and to figure out how to get our parents absentee and mail-in ballots. A lot can happen in that time as we've learned from this pandemic, but we don't need to waste any of it fighting with ashy fools when the real fight is against the racist/sexist fools. Let's get out there to do the work that will steer this ship away from that iceberg.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

WAP: Women Are Powerful

All weekend the buzz on Beyonce's internet was the music video for WAP, the highly stylized duet released by rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. And I don't have much to add to the chatter since I am way too old to attempt a split anymore...

I have NOTHING to say about this video or this song that will change anyone's opinion, so this is purely a vent about some of the nonsense I have read on social media. I am not here to take sides in debates over respectability. There is no point in making those arguments if there are white men in elected office who would publicly refer to an accomplished Black woman who could become the next Vice President as an Aunt Jemima. So if your expectation is that I will join the chorus of pearl-clutchers who are appalled by the video, you might want to skip this.

However, I am not going to refer to it as an artistic masterpiece either. If I never hear the song again, I will survive. I definitely will not be caught drunk twerking to this, not even if Joe Biden wins in a landslide and that causes Donald Trump to literally explode into a million pieces that get immediately scattered to the wind and washed away to Antarctica. I mean, I would be that deliriously happy, just not that limber.

Instead, I want to respond to the rhetorical question I saw posed in one of my Facebook groups about women's sexual expression. Some dude wanted to know if anyone from Spelman regretted the decision to make a big deal out of Nelly's Tip Drill video if twenty years later, WAP doesn't offend us in quite the same manner. Weren't the women in his video similarly as empowered as Cardi and Meg? And was it worth the pain and suffering to deprive our Morehouse brothers of a chance to see the great rap stylings of Nelly? (Yeah, that last sentence was totally my interpretation of what he really meant.)

First of all, that incident did not happen twenty years ago. It was 16 years ago because dammit I am not that old! However, I remember it well because I was the President of the local alumnae chapter, and we were very proud of the stance taken by our younger sisters at the time. I was not a Nelly fan at the time, nor have I become one in the years since, so as far as I was concerned then and even now, it was no big loss for him not to come to our campus. It was the students who decided that as a condition of his visit, he would have to be held accountable for the explicitness of the imagery in his video. They were willing to proceed with the purpose of the event, which was to host a bone marrow drive to highlight the need for more Black donors, particularly since his sister was in need of such a donation. It was then his choice to cancel the drive because he didn't feel that he needed to submit to that kind of scrutiny.

Choices were made. Consequences followed. Ain't nobody talking about Nelly these days, so there really isn't a need to revisit that incident as some kind of life-altering regret.

As for the clumsy comparison of a woman's behind being used as a credit card swipe to Kylie Jenner's unnecessary cameo? Why is one depiction choice while the other depiction is exploitation? If that was in fact a serious question, then I will provide a serious answer: because we say so.

Women decide. And not the Aunt Pittypats of the world who are scandalized by white shoes worn after Labor Day. WE as in the women who decided that winter white would be a thing because some rules are just stupid. WE decide.

We called Nelly out because he assumed that he didn't have to explain himself to a bunch of college students whose campus he wanted to use as a backdrop for a photo opportunity. Folks who don't give a damn about women are really good at finding ways to exploit us by making it look like they are doing us the favor by being charitable. The first sign of disingenuousness is the invocation of having a daughter (or a mother, wife, sister, or a sainted Big Mama) as evidence of his respect for women. The second sign is the loud, incredulous response to being called out, which usually includes a few targeted insults, typically delivered as fake compliments. And then there is the non-apology because if you were offended at being called a bitch, that certainly wasn't the intention...

Isn't that right, Ted Yoho?

Yes, there is a difference when the song is written and performed by women. Cardi, Meg, and Co are making the artistic choices. The women are in charge and that is the difference between choice and exploitation. Sure, there are provocative images in that video that stretch boundaries and blur lines...

So let's address that too. Yes, I am referring to the more explicit video for Blurred Lines (not this one, but the other version), the song Robin Thicke and Pharrell released in 2013. With every man fully clothed in the video while the women prance around naked, yeah, I'm calling that exploitation with a capital E. My choice to use that word is supported by the description offered by model Emily Ratajkowski, who appeared in both versions. 

Sure, it was her choice to take that job, and I'm not upset at the women who choose to appear in these videos. What offends me is the gaslighting that accompanies their performance. It is obvious that the men aren't engaging with these women as anything other than props. Swiping a credit card in a woman's behind is not suggestive flirtation. A credit card reader is an inanimate object. So even if they consented to being objectified, that doesn't mean any woman deserves to be treated that way. Alternatively, in the women's videos, men are ancillary but rarely dehumanized. If anything, because the camera is tightly focused on exaggerated parts of the women's anatomy, it reverses the power dynamic.

Does my defense of these women mean that I want my daughter to emulate them? Yes, and allow me to parse that out like this: I want my daughter to make her own choices and then to deal with the consequences. I will defend her right to choose, even when I disagree and dislike the result. No, I wouldn't want my daughter to dance in any of these music videos, but that is my preference. Instead of judging me, would you want your sons to emulate the disrespect these men show the women in their videos? Are those the type of young men you are raising?

We admonish young women to take responsibility for how they are treated, but never hold young men accountable for their actions unless they are criminal. If you can find the time to sit down to write an opinion piece about leggings, then surely you can find the time to teach your sons how to respect women. You can teach your sons that no, a woman's body is not a race track for his toy cars and that isn't the kind of man you want him to be. You can tell your son that if he respects women, then he won't dehumanize a woman he disagrees with by referring to her as a female dog, nor will he half apologize for that insult by suggesting that it is her fault for being offended. And you will teach him not to hide behind his love for you as a defense for his bad behavior.

Am I misinterpreting the outrage here? Women with sexual agency aren't as respectable as Marilyn Monroe with her skirt flying over her head or with her breasts popping out of her evening gown? Or am I right that the real discomfort comes whenever women take charge of shaping their own public personas. That a woman who declares what she wants and what she likes is vulgar...

But let's go back to where this started, which is the video. I have my issues with it, particularly the sample that refers to there being 'whores in this house' because that does offend my sensibilities. I do not appreciate that implication. And no, I will not be showing this to my daughter as some kind of teaching tool. I don't care for this brand of hip hop, and I agree that as a mother, it is a challenge to see images like this when trying to raise a girl to accept her body as beautifully and wonderfully made. 

However, I will model for her the image of a strong, confident, accomplished, and sexy woman, just as my Mother was to me. I will set boundaries and expectations, but I will also encourage her independence. I will teach her that when women are in control of our own bodies, our minds, and how we present ourselves to the world, We Are Powerful. WAP!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Just Some Good Ole Boys

For someone who did not watch The Dukes of Hazzard as a child, I sure do recall a lot of details about that show. First, I vividly remember the theme song and the opening sequence. I remember that there were two Duke  boys (Bo and Luke), an Uncle Jesse, a cousin named Daisy, some dude named Cooter, a sheriff named Roscoe, and this guy --->

Secondly, my Dad absolutely forbade us to watch this show in his house, so the only way I ever came to vaguely recall any of those characters was from watching it at my grandmother's house. There were no such restrictions on us over there, so the third thing I remember was that the show came on Friday nights after The Incredible Hulk. And the reason why this seemingly random memory resurfaced was because a TV pundit referred to the current White House occupant as a plantation owner. And honest to goodness, of all the images to pop into my head upon that very apt description, my mind settled on Boss Hogg...
Not an actual fictional slave owner mind you. So not Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave; not Leonardo DiCaprio from Django; or hell, not even Mike Brady (Robert Reed from the original Roots). 

In response, I was going to tweet a gif, but my Kid cried out in some untimely non-urgent five year old distress, so the moment passed. Days later, someone posted this article about a small town mayor in Luray, VA who made an offensive quip about Joe Biden's potential running mate. After I posted this response on the Facebook page, I was primed to move onto something else, but again my subconscious brought forth images of Boss Hogg. This time, I imagined him standing on a makeshift platform surrounded by crooked minions as he mocked the absurdity of a Black woman as Vice President. Then I had an epiphany, and thus, the fourth reason why this imagery came to mind--how in some rather ridiculous alternative reality, that show is a perfect metaphor for current times.

Of course, Donald Trump is Boss Hogg, just as he manages to embody several other cartoon villains from popular culture (and I have written pieces on several): Yosemite Sam (pronounced Yō·'sim‧i‧tee, by the way) from the classic Looney Tunes; Montana Max from Tiny Toon Adventures; the Joker from the first Tim Burton Batman movie; Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future movies; Kreese, the evil sensei from the original Karate Kid franchise; and Governor Ratcliffe from Disney's Pocahontas. However, before we deconstruct the accuracy of this latest caricature, let's focus on the other characters and how they represent the perpetual nostalgia America has for the South, even at its most outlandish and absurd.

Those Duke Boys
I don't remember why they were always in trouble with the law since the day they were born...but isn't it convenient how good looking white boys can do almost anything and get away with it? Were they petty thieves, gamblers, heart-breakers, or moonshiners? They certainly were never referred to as thugs, so in the hypocrisy we have come to expect from our fellow Americans, everyone hoped they would get away with whatever shenanigans crimes they committed.

Uncle Jesse
An old moonshiner garners the kind of empathy that an old playa never would. My best guess is that he was just like those young Dukes in his prime. He probably went to jail a few times too, but nothing so serious as to condemn him to a life behind bars. No, his career in crime long over, he's just the harmless enabler, nowhere near as dangerous as the Black man deemed ineligible for parole and currently rotting away in a Louisiana prison for a botched hedge clipper robbery.

Daisy Duke
If only women were more content to saunter around in cut off shorts, kitten heels, and bikinis instead of trying to run for President. What happened to the good old days when men set the parameters of acceptable sexuality and women knew their place was to serve as hood ornaments instead of serving WAP...
Roscoe P. Coltrane
The sheriff wasn't technically the law inasmuch as he was the Man and because y'all loved those good ole Duke boys, your demands for Law and Order didn't apply to them. And despite the fact that Coltrane and his deputy (Enos, the dipstick) were the equivalent of Barney Phife and Goober Pyle, their jobs would have remained secure unless they killed one of those Duke boys in an illegal choke hold.

I haven't thought of an appropriate analogy for him yet, but I know he's the guy that fixed the car. And that he also served in Congress with the guy who portrayed Gopher (same era, different show) which seems all mixed up and crazy when you really think about it.
The General Lee
The car emblazoned with the emblem that fueled my Dad's ire, was the real star of the show. That car represents everything that is both great and terrible about America--looks good, performs fantastical feats, but always needs repair (and if you think about it, you will get the symbolism).

Boss Hogg
Again, this is not based on my knowledge or recollection, but Jefferson Davis Hogg was the "boss" in Hazzard County, which was both a political position and an economic one. He despised the Duke boys and manipulated the law to go after them. But with an inept sheriff and local sentiment on their side, he never caught them. But he was rich, so that was enough to keep this nonsense on the air for seven seasons and a movie remake.
Let's just hope this current incarnation of the show gets cancelled in November.

Of course, the drawback to this analogy is that it doesn't quite follow, because I'm pretty sure that Boss Hogg wasn't a plantation owner in 1979. Among other things, I don't think there were any Black or Latinx people in Hazzard County as it was probably one of those sundown towns. Even if my Dad hadn't been so adamant against us watching it, I cannot imagine being a regular fan of a show in the 80s about a jumping car that didn't include dynamite and Mr. T. And since I was not a regular viewer, I didn't recall that there were two deputies (I only remembered one, Enos the dipstick); that there was a second set of Duke boys because of a contract dispute; or that there was a Saturday morning cartoon spin-off. I had zero interest in seeing the 2005 movie, so if you were/are a die hard fan who wants to fight because you disagree with my analysis, you got this. 
Ironically, the nostalgia for this show and everything it represents is so in line with pandemic/racism denial in 2020. It is the same as being offended by the proposed name change for the Washington football team--despite being told that the original name is offensive, some of y'all insist that your offense over being offensive is more offensive than offending the offended. Yep, I said what I said.

As far as I'm concerned, if you can stand to watch a full episode (or a two hour movie) of this crap, have at it. I'm sure there is some obscure Black intellectual who would be willing to offer a disclaimer to help ease your conscience if need be. But those good old days of naming everybody after Jefferson Davis, marginalizing women as eye candy or hired help, and allowing joy-riding white boys free reign over everything are coming to an end. Whatever sad racist/sexist insults you have left to hurl in frustration, whatever pathetic last gasps of hegemony you seek to exert, whatever hare-brained suppression tactics you intend to unleash, 
Nothing good came of Boss Hogg's machinations, as nothing good comes from allowing a fool to control the reigns of power, no matter how rich he is. Nothing good ever springs from the single-minded pursuit of absolute power. Nothing good results from having two or three different sets of rules and expectations for similarly situated people. Those Duke boys should have been held to some level of accountability for their roguery. And if ever there was a movement to defund the police of Hazzard County, that might not be such a bad idea.
And for what it's worth, having a Black woman as Vice President is no more ludicrous than electing a guy named Cooter to Congress.