Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Politically Incorrect

Comedian Bill Maher used to host a show called Politically Incorrect back in the 90s that used to air on late night television. Given his tendency to speak without a filter, he said something that got him kicked off the network. Then he moved over to HBO in 2003 where he has been hosting a very similarly-themed show called Real Time, since but without much supervision. I was a fan of the original show, even though he typically brought together random combinations of guests, some whose views I found repugnant. But the point was to engage in open dialogue and to be provocative, and at the height of its popularity, everyone went on that show including my former boss. The Hub and I even attended a live taping of the show, which was very interesting to watch as one guest in particular stopped yelling at another one just as the show cut to commercial, then resumed his tirade once the cameras started rolling again without skipping a beat.

When Maher first made the transition to HBO, we didn't have cable, then we didn't have HBO so we didn't see the show for years. But Keith Olbermann filled the void with his brand of snarky and hysterical political commentary, as did Jon Stewart with his comedic take on the news. When we finally got HBO around the time that the Kid arrived, I caught the show every now and then, but my tolerance for him wasn't as it once was. I'm sure that had a lot to do with confirmation bias or my realization that Maher wasn't all that funny anymore. 

Looking back at Maher's impact on late night television, it is fair to give him credit for having been a  pioneer of in-your-face commentary. He and guys like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Olbermann and Stewart all built their audience around holding no punches while engagin in public discourse. O'Reilly's bit was giving the impression that he was just a simple guy with strongly held opinions; Olbermann was big on giving long-winded soliloquies; and Coulter would flip her hair, cross her legs and just unload one of her signature mean girl rants. Stewart was a kinder, gentler version of Maher, as he used his humor to disarm right before unleashing a stealth attack. Like Stewart, Maher's show aired on Comedy Central initially, so his format was that of a late night comedian hosting Crossfire (the show that Stewart killed with shrewd kindness). Maher wasn't an expert on policy, just a funny guy with strong opinions, but given the times (the Clinton years), almost anyone could call themselves a pundit and get away with it.

In recent years, his schtick hasn't changed, but my tolerance for his brand of confrontational discourse has waned in the aftermath of the Trumpocalypse. Prominent politicos, professors, journalists, and comedians still go on his show to debate the issues, much like a Sunday morning talk show framed with profanity laced monologues. Additionally, his show has become a safe space for controversial figures like Megyn Jesus-is-white-and-Santa-too Kelly, alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and most recently, Sharon Osborne, formerly of the CBS daytime show The Talk.  

I don't have any specific feelings about Osborne because I never watched her reality show and rarely tuned in to watch The Talk. So I don't have any knowledge about her other than what I've observed in the past few weeks since the Meghan Markle interview with Oprah. I have seen the clips of her exchange with her co-host, Sheryl Underwood. I also saw a tweet Osborne sent in defense of her friend Piers Morgan, and I tweeted back (something I do when people say ridiculous things), but like most people, my feelings about what happened are based a lot on my experience in similar situations.

I think it is unfortunate that she left the show in that manner. I have definite opinions about how she treated Underwood and think she deserved some of the backlash she received. Yet, I am also very aware that women face harsher consequences than men in similar situations. Piers Morgan, her partner in all of this, didn't lose his job for what he said, given that he has spent months and months and months of relentlessly bashing the Duchess--I believe he lost his job for being a cowardly lion. And I am convinced that had he not gotten so emotional and stormed off, he would still be on air bashing Markle for whatever protocol lapses she committed by not attending Prince Phillip's funeral.

I don't know how Osborne can claim to have been blindsided on a show called The Talk, where it would seem logical that the interview with the Oprah (and reactions to it) would be the hot topic. It aired on their network, so once it was clear that one of the bombshell revelations had to deal with race:

Osborne stood up for her friend, whom she felt was being unfairly attacked for his opinion. She was right that he got paid for his opinion, which he never shied from offering. Alex Beresford also gave an opinion, and perhaps one point of contention is whether anyone cared what the weather man had to say, but we'll come back to that. Once Osborne felt that she was being unfairly attacked, she resorted to the tactic of weaponizing her tears to silence one of her co-hosts. Whether one finds that offensive is subjective, but it isn't as if it hasn't been done in the past without condemnation when it was good for ratings. As outrageous as that exchange was, it is clear that Osborne's departure wasn't really just about one nasty on-air tiff, but a lot of built up nonsense that someone in the front office decided they could do without. I mean, this is the same show that kept Julie Chen on air while her husband, Les Moonves, was harassing women in his office and sabotaging Janet Jackson's career. That CBS is now taking a such a hard line against workplace harassment is laughable. 

Osborne should absolutely be mad about that. Yet, I refuse to give Osborne any tissues to dab away her tears. She's a big girl and sometimes we have to suffer the consequences for our bullshit. She was given a pass because people tend to like British snark, but she didn't expect immediate pushback by two Black women who understood all too well how damaging Morgan's unrelenting attacks towards Markle have been. Elaine Welteroth and Underwood called her out for defending him, and in turn, she struck back with the emergency parachute of claiming victimhood in a situation where it wasn't warranted. And it backfired.

Here's the deal Sharon, you can cry about being called a racist, which is an accusation that gets tossed around a lot (and unnecessarily so) especially on Twitter, but as someone who has been accused of the same thing, it isn't as if you are wearing a permanent scarlet letter R. It does sting at first, but it is a lot like having your name scribbled on the stall of a dirty gas station bathroom. What loser actually takes the time to jot down the information and then follows through to call to see if you are easy? It is a trending topic until the next viral video, not a daily deluge of some guy calling you a phony for every little thing you've done for the last five years...

So yes, let's hone in on whom you were defending. Piers Morgan. Truly a stand up guy, a pillar of journalistic integrity... He has the absolute right to hate on the Duchess, for whatever sick reason he has as a married man for feeling some kind of way about a married woman whom he once met for drinks. Did she use him? For what exactly, since she met Prince Harry later that night (and it isn't as if he introduced them). She's just not into you dude, and that is exactly what Alex Beresford, the weather guy, said in exasperation after sitting through another one of Morgan's tirades. And in response to being called out for his creepiness, Morgan tore off his mic and stomped off because he felt he was being unfairly criticized (ironic, huh), as if it was perfectly normal to hold a grudge for five years and expect that maybe a few folks were tired of hearing about it.

You were not defending the Queen, Sharon, you were defending your asshole friend and two of your colleagues were not having it. You can be his friend, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to. And when you are friends with an asshole it suggests that you are unbothered by his assholiness. That doesn't make you an asshole like him, but your tolerance of him does impair your ability to understand why others might find him unbearable. Others aren't swayed by your arguments that he isn't all that bad, so either you are blind or you possess some asshole qualities. It isn't a generalization to notice that assholes tend to befriend each other.

Now, I find it interesting that you don't take issue with Morgan being a bully, but you feel compelled to argue that his unnatural obsession with trashing the Duchess and other people of color who have called him out does not stem from some form of prejudice or bias. Because to take notice of the commonalities shared by his various targets is racist, not that he chose to denigrate those specific people for whatever twisted reason. And in response to your demand for receipts, you're mad when Underwood opens her purse...

Since you didn't want to hear it from her, have someone to read this to you so that you can feel educated on how Welteroth, Underwood, Beresford, Oprah, Jameela Jamil, Adeel Amini, and the rest of us see racist (and sexist) undertones in the behavior of Piers Morgan. For balance, let's remember the British tabloid press, that relative who questioned the baby's skin color, and the decisions made by the Royal establishment, all of which led Markle say to hell with this princess shit, I'm going home to my Mama! We saw how quickly the backlash began and understood Markle's plight with every unflattering headline that was published. We know about being the sole person of color in certain spaces and how conspicuous it can be. We know how exhausting it is to be so hyper aware of our otherness that we try to fit in as best we can, even when the effort is futile. We understand that our comfort is not their concern.

Our hyper awareness of ourselves isn't always matched by the others. They will reason that by not being more careful, they aren't treating us any differently, and isn't that what we want--not to be singled out? Why should the others feel self-conscious about what to say in our presence, so why not question how dark the baby will be? Why not compare the backgrounds of the future Queen and the American Duchess, and wonder aloud whether Markle came from some sketchy gang-ravaged neighborhood like the ones we've seen in the movies (don't all American Blacks live in those kind of neighborhoods)? Why not take notice that the Duchess has her own sense of style that is bolder than what we are used to seeing from the Royals, so doesn't that make her appear audacious, haughty, and slightly rebellious? Who then, is this uppity Black woman, this rogue who has infiltrated our stodgy Royal family? 

Off with her head!

None of those questions conjure the virulent racism of the kind that involves burning crosses, separate water fountains, and ugly names, but that doesn't mean that those microaggressions can't pile up to weigh her down. It isn't racist to suggest that the former actress can go back to work to earn her keep, but that hasn't been the precedent for anyone else who marries into the Firm. It isn't racist to interview her attention-whore Daddy if her Mama won't talk, but it seems rather convenient that his opportunism isn't being denounced. It isn't racist to constantly pit the Duchess against the future Queen, the American wildflower to the English rose. It isn't racist to dislike Markle if you honestly think she is a manipulative or dishonest person, but just remember that she didn't try to sell access to her ex-husband, she hasn't been accused of having sex with minors, nor is she reportedly canoodling with a lady-in-waiting.

Nor was it racist of Markle to share her truth with the Oprah, given that for years, people have gone on her show to garner sympathy for whatever drama is going on in their lives (recall Sarah Fergusen). No one can elicit sympathy like Auntie O, and before her tragic death, even the late Princess Diana was allegedly scheduled to appear on the couch. If the Queen herself could give an interview with anyone before she died, don't you think it would be with Oprah?

Therefore Miss Sharon, you too could have chosen to sit down with Oprah (or Gayle King) to rehab your image after this debacle with The Talk, with the added optics of proving that you aren't racist (which I am not implying), but you chose to sit down with Bill Maher instead. A man who still seems pissed about having gotten his first show cancelled almost 20 years ago. No one goes on Real Talk to apologize or to atone for their sins or to repair a damaged persona--they go there to defiantly lean in to the impression that they are a shitty human being.

You didn't even listen to what Underwood was trying to tell you. You were so incensed at the perceived implication that you were a racist that you didn't hear her say several times that you weren't the racist, that you were her friend, and that her issue was with Morgan's statements. Every time we try to have these hard conversations about race, this is how they end. Somebody snatches off their mic and storms off the set. Somebody starts to cry wolf. Somebody cites their right of free speech and decries cancel culture. Somebody writes new laws to criminalize giving away bottled water on Election Day. Somebody writes a shitty letter and threatens to take his money and his daughter elsewhere. Somebody issues a terse denial and then Grandmother has to separate them at their Grandfather's funeral.

You amplify your preception of your hurt feelings and never deal with the blood that is gushing from my head.

I'm not denying that it hurts to be accused of something you geniunely cannot see as wrong, but that doesn't mean the accusation is false. It means that you don't understand what I am saying. So when you demand to be educated, Sharon, then that means you must stop talking. Stop defending yourself and just listen. LISTEN. Ask how to help, if that is the appropriate course of action. Respect my position in the same way you expect your point of view to have validity. We may not agree at the end of the conversation, but at least everyone will feel heard, which is how we begin to heal.

If your response to an uncomfortable confrontation is to go on Bill Maher's show and then dig in, well, then you've made a revealing choice. I won't make any declarative pronouncements, because you said what you said...but now I get to see things how I see them. Political incorrectness isn't real talk, it is bullying. It is toxic, unexamined ignorance. And it explains why you and Piers Morgan are such good friends.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Scent of Entitlement

One of the Hub's favorite films is Scent of a Woman (1992), the Al Pacino film that finally earned him an Oscar and introduced us to the prodigious talents of a young Philip Seymour Hoffman (with respect to Chris O'Donnell). If he catches it at the beginning, he is likely to watch it all the way through, which is a full two hours plus, so I am generally relieved when he stumbles upon it midway or close to the end. 

After sitting through umpteen viewings, I have come to understand a lot of the film's appeal and hidden brilliance. I won't mine too much of that here, but it is one of those classic examinations of a working class kid thrust into the ruthless environment of an elite old money private school. It is precisely the kind of underdog story that speaks to someone like the Hub, who in spite of making it into an Ivy League college and into a good government job, he still harbors the bitterness of having once been a lot like Charlie, the protagonist. He hasn't told me any horrific stories, but I can see why he resents the fictional, yet very real world of rich assholes who never face consequences for screwing over people they never have to notice. Because their narrow world only has room for a handful of scholarship kids. 

Yeah, I read the letter. And I've got a lot to say in response to Mr. Andrew Gutmann and his tone deaf white privilege manifesto. I honestly think his wife Karen wrote this, but you know, chivalry and shit, so I will go on and allow Colonel Slade to express how the Hub would probably respond.

Now picking up that mic from where it was last dropped, allow me to disclose that unlike the Hub, I come to this with some insider knowledge as the alumna of an all-girls high school. Not nearly as elite as The Brearley School, yet I feel confident enough to address Mr. Gutmann as an alumna of two private women's institutions on the merits of these environments. And since he and I are roughly the same age, it is possible he's still pissed I got that seat at Tulane that he felt someone more deserving should have filled, so the chip he has on his shoulder is just as defiant and stubborn as the Hub's. There is a lot to unpack, so let's start with his utter lack of self awareness.

Mr. Guttman, you live in New York City, one of these most expensive places to live in this country. I am going to make several assumptions here, beginning with the apartment building with a doorman and never having had to take the subway anywhere at any point in your life. You probably know my very good friends, the Kittredges (yes, the Six Degrees of Separation Kittredges), which means you don't actually know any Black people other than the ones you resented in law/grad school. You are aware of Black celebrities with wealth, but you aren't impressed (really you aren't). And any other random Black person you encounter who might be working in your building or somewhere in your neighborhood is the good kind that would never get arrested for the various petty crimes that result in choke holds on the freshly swept sidewalk in front of your local Whole Foods.

Yes, you live in the most diverse city, yet you don't actually know any Black people well enough to declare that our struggles are imaginary. You don't see systematic racism because you falsely believe that good people like your Dad who voted for Ed Koch, got along well with the Blacks as long as they stayed in the outer boroughs or in Harlem. When you voted for Obama and later for Bill DeBlasio (and his Black wife), you convinced yourself that racism no longer exists because if they can ascend to the heights of political power, then there are no excuses for the rest of us. Any self-determined Black person can escape the imaginary confines of the ghettos that were built to contain us--just as long as not too  many of them try to infiltrate your daughter's school. 

Because you pay good money to send her to school with the children of Chelsea Clinton and Tina Fey, so you have every right to demand that the standards be kept such that only the most deserving Black girls get admitted, like Blue Ivy Carter or Olympia Ohanian. And why should there be Black faculty if the support staff is diverse enough?

So by all means, withdraw your daughter from Brearley and spend your hard earned money at some other exclusive private school upstate where there will be even less talk of diversity and inclusiveness, which relieves you from the agony of participating in International Day or Black History Month. You can rest assured that at her new school, she will get to read Gone With the Wind with no redactions or disclaimers. And you won't have to worry about mispronouncing anyone's name or saying something politically incorrect or accommodating anyone's unfamiliar religious observances. You can breathe easier knowing that your daughter and her new friends won't have to see color or talk about race anymore.

Because that is what Martin Luther King wanted. And you know this because you've heard that "I Have A Dream" portion of the March on Washington address enough times to recite it from memory. You know that when King said that people should not be judged by their skin color, he knew that the world would magically hear his words and begin to regard Black lives as equal to their own. Thus, by insisting on making bold declarations such as Black Lives Matter in response to injustice, we are dishonoring the wishes of a man who was killed while defending the labor demands of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. Protestors who carried these signs, by the way:

But do go on about dreams and all of that colorblind reverse racism fluff that allows you to sleep at night.

You worked hard. Your father worked hard, as did his father and all of the men before that. The fact that there were laws and policies that enabled your forefathers to succeed while those same laws kept hardworking Black and Latinx folks in ghettos and in low-paying jobs without benefits or the means to build generational wealth is not systematic racism, but the luck of the draw, survival of the fittest. The real racism comes from succumbing to these inequities, because acknowledging how redlining, employment discrimination, educational inequality, voter dilution, criminal injustice, intentional environmental neglect, and all of these other systemic ills are just excuses. Tools of the incompetent. Monuments of nothingness. Used by those who seldom amount to anything. Isn't that right? So let's not dwell on the negative aspects of history and policies that are "prima facie evidence of...white supremacy and oppression", because to do so is "Marxist, anti-family," as well as "misguided, divisive, counterproductive[,] and cancerous."

Currently, alumnae from my now-defunct all-girls high school are planning a last gathering to honor the building that housed our old school, which is scheduled to get demolished this summer. Mind you, the school closed thirty years ago and the building had been in use as a public middle school for the bulk of that time. But now all of a sudden, there is this emotional outpouring of nostalgia for a useless, abandoned building. I would love to know how many of these alumnae have "pledged everlasting loyalty" to our successor institution in these last 30 years... And yes, I have a lot of mixed feelings about all of this rosy retrospection, as if everything was rainbows and unicorns. That may accurately describe the experience for a particular demographic of alumnae but definitely not for all of us. So perhaps I am triggered by Mr. Gutmann's whiny manifesto because similar concerns were expressed as our incoming classes increasingly reflected the diversity and inclusiveness of a community that was changing demographically. Lowered admissions standards. Too much change, not enough respect for tradition. Once that balance tipped in favor of the daughters of Black federal government workers instead of the daughters of ethnic white Catholic military veterans, the school closed...while others that hiked their tuition have thrived.

Yeah, Mr. Gutmann. Someone had to say it. Someone had to speak up against the tyranny of committing to being actively anti-racist as opposed to just pretending to being colorblind. Someone had to remind us that exclusive schools like Brearley weren't founded to promote racial equality or social justice. The actresses and socialites that number among its distinguished alumnae aren't charged with seeking to change the world inasmuch as they do make it look stylish.

If I have been restrained in blasting Mr. Gutmann's lack of self-awareness, that is an acknowledgement that I am tossing pebbles from inside my own messy glass house. My parents sent me to private school for the same reasons most parents choose to bypass perfectly good public school options. And I am willing to call them out for doing so because as a parent myself, I understand the pros and cons of making that choice. One of those cons is the illusion that private schools offer a more academically rigorous curriculum. In hindsight, it only looked like my high school education was superior because my parents were paying for it, but once I arrived at Spelman there were no distinguishable differences between the public and private school students. Of course, that is my own anecdotal experience, not definitive or universal truth.

Therefore, another con is the assumption that private school kids have earned access to some exclusive world of wonder that others do not deserve to enjoy. As if being able to afford certain amenities isn't just another purchase or an acquisition. Private school is akin to buying a first-class ticket as opposed to an economy class ticket. Mr. Gutmann's investment in his daughter's education isn't about how smart she is, rather it is a glorified insurance policy that she will have access to an exclusive sorority of privilege that becomes less so the more Brearley embraces diversity.

Thus when a kid like Charlie Simms, who depends on scholarships and work study to afford tuition at schools like Baird tries to fit in and not rock the boat, it doesn't matter because everybody knows his status and they make it a point to remind him that he is different. When kids like Jamal Wallace are admitted to prep schools like Mailor-Callow on athletic scholarships, they are expected to shut up and dribble, not befriend reclusive writers or charm the alumni President's daughter. When punks like Will Hunting are discovered to be undercover geniuses, we hope that they don't squander the opportunity to be something greater. When independent women like Katherine Watson challenge the conventional wisdom that educated women deserve the opportunity to pursue the same career choices as their male counterparts, we know that Ruth Bader Ginsberg would concur. When immigrants like Alexander Hamilton vow not to throw away his shot, somewhere Aaron Burr is keeping a list and polishing his revolver...

So spare us the bullshit about merit when you know this is all about money and the predictable backlash against challenges to a status quo that has been harmful to more students of color than you care to admit. 

This is where I can offer the perspective that Mr. Gutmann didn't reference in his letter. You see, I can speak to my own pain and confusion as a young girl in a high school where psychological damage was done by so-called colorblindness and race neutrality. It was traumatic for me as a freshman to have no recourse in situations where I was accused of cheating or academic dishonesty or told that I was not as smart as my peers because I was twelve and unfocused. The first person to notice my potential and challenge those assertions was my 11th grade science teacher, Ms. P, ironically an alumna herself and the only Black teacher at the school. She saw Spelman as a possibility for me and helped make it a reality when others were not all that convinced or concerned where I went to college.

I also took time to read the other open letter about academic indoctrination, and for now, I will pledge to revisit that topic in a subsequent piece when I can devote more time to addressing how ironic it is for some white people to believe that their internal feelings about race speak for everyone, including those who aren't in the room to contribute. It is a lot like watching those very special episodes of 80s era sitcoms. 

I need to wrap this up so that I can get my daughter, whom I'm pretty sure could earn a spot at Brearley if I could afford it, from Kindergarten. Because unless the entrance exam requires her to understand the quadratic formula at the age of six, I think she can hold her own with the daughters of actors and socialites. Of course I believe she is brilliant and bold and beautiful, and I want her to have as many advantages and opportunities that I did not have when I was her age. So like my own parents, I am willing to unapologetically pay for her to access those spaces because I understand how the world works. However, it is utterly amazing to me that as soon as some people get uncomfortable about having to consider a worldview that doesn't center on them, whew, the big words and hurt feelings and the tears come, followed by the threat of packing up their toys.

Just like Colonel Slade, I'm just getting warmed up. I've got a lot more to say in part two when we deconstruct Sharon Osborne and how cancel culture isn't really a thing...

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Ain't Nobody Coming to See Mr. Biggs

Easter Sunday night we were treated to one of the best Verzuz battles to date, and I am saying that although I know that there are a few that I intentionally skipped (which many of you declared to be the best to date). But I am going to declare and decree that the showdown between the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind, and Fire was definitely, without question, not up for discussion or debate, THEE G.O.A.T!

And I am saying that in spite of Steve Harvey doing the extra most in trying to act like this really was a reunion of his silly little High Tops from his eponymous sitcom. If someone hadn't told him to set down to let the professionals handle their business, he was this close to singing a verse of Break Me Off A Piece, because that is just how lit he was in the midst of all that collective greatness on stage.

Not that I blame him. That match up was legendary, even though both groups are down to the remaining few still living. The spirit of Maurice White and several long gone Isleys blessed us with the kind of show that we will still be talking about years from now. We will remember that it was the second Easter Sunday we spent on lockdown (well, some of us), and how we initially wondered if this really was a fair match-up or was it just our nostalgia. What I thought would be a nice diversion to help calm some of my anxieties for the big week ahead turned out to be the music event of the year. Nevermind that some of us needed to be on our computers early Monday morning for work. Or that for those of us on the East Coast, that joint kept us up well past our bedtime. We're not as young as we think we are, especially if you could sing along to most of the songs.

So it pains me to offer this ginormous BUT in contradiction to my earlier declaration. That joint was fire, BUT the appearance of Mr. Biggs nearly ruined it for me. 

Yeah, I said it. Perhaps it was the reminder of what can happen if a family gathering lasts a little too long. Somebody had a little too much brown liquor, said a little too much by bringing up some ancient sore point of contention that causes cards getting thrown, insults being hurled, names getting called, and threats being made. The party then comes to an abrupt end, with one set of folks cussing and fussing on the way to their cars, while the other folks are still in the house waiting for them mofos to leave. Later  when your Mama is emptying ashtrays, and picking up cards and broken glass, she mutters that damn Mr. Biggs is why we can't have nice things.

Uncle Ron. He's the one with four ex-wives, an untold number of children, and who still drives a Cadillac. He's the one who brings the Hennessy and his own deck of cards. Attached to every song is a memory of some woman in some city, and we enjoy hearing it all, even if half of what he says is suspect. He is that dude who has genuinely lived 9 whole lives, so he has seen it all. His alter ego is Mr. Biggs, that mofo who owes your Daddy $4000 for some trouble he got into a few years ago, but your Dad won't ask for his money because Biggs has repaid him in other intangible ways. He often shows up unannounced and uninvited because of the shit he started the last time y'all all got together.

To be clear, the rest of your uncles are also colorful characters. Uncle Verdine comes with much drama and flamboyance, but will cut anybody who says something about it. Uncle Phil can't hit those high notes like he used to and he knows it, but let him clear his throat and try anyway. Uncle Ralph the righteous church deacon, is always on time and always mediating disputes. Uncle Ernie, the baby Isley, is a creative genius who will definitely shoot if someone pisses him off. Uncle Steve isn't really your uncle, but you call him that out of respect. Cousin Derrick (D-Nice) is allowed to hang with them as long as he don't try to get cute and play that hippy hop that Uncle Steve don't like. Your other cousins are there too, Kasseam (Swizz Beatz) and Timbaland, because they organized the entire event and posted it on Instagram.

There is always love for Uncle Ron. In spite of his shenanigans, he is Da Man. He didn't come to play as evidenced by that costume change that the other Uncles were not expecting. That's why Uncle Phil looked salty and was furiously texting his people, why didn't anybody tell me? I got closets full of dashikis I can still wear, dammit! Uncle Ralph was unphased, and Uncle Verdine doesn't do costume changes. Meanwhile, Uncle Ron was just grinning and thinking, y'all thought I was doing the most with that coat...

Here is my issue with Mr. Biggs--he is Stripe, the Gremlin that unleashed havoc on the world because somebody fed him after midnight. Mr. Biggs was the creation of one Robert Kelly, the creepy disgraced cousin that we cannot re-invite to the family functions because he ain't right. Mr. Biggs is abusive, controlling, and a misogynist (go on back an revisit those old videos). He is a pimp, and in 2021, nothing is sadder than a mean, delusional dirty old man.

This isn't about respectability, but it is about respect for women as people and not accessories or possessions. The women who were cooing over Uncle Ron's 79 year old ass and fantasizing about him crooning those classic Isley Brother love songs directly to them. The women who would have brought him a plate, refreshed his drinks without being asked, and who would have made sure he got home safely. The women that take care of his business, his children, and grandchildren. The women, like Mama, who clean up after his shit. Those women do not deserve that Mr. Biggs machismo. Those women would not be caught creeping like those young girls he had no business messing with anyway. And those young girls kept stepping out because Mr. Biggs was an old fool too full of himself to make better choices.

So as iconic as Mr. Biggs thought he was, that isn't how Ronald Isley deserves to be remembered. As Uncle Verdine said, a true match-up of back and forth battling could take up to ten hours, given that there are 110+ years of combined material between them. The Isleys are bona fide music icons, so this notion that R. Kelly reintroduced them to a new generation of fans is over-stated. I would argue that the Isley collaboration worked more to Kelly's benefit. Our Boomer parents raised us on the Quiet Storm and Saturday morning oldies, where the Isleys remain in steady rotation. And then we turned around and heavily sampled their music in 90s era hip hop, which our younger Millennial cousins heard on a regular basis. So when Uncle Ron said that he was singing baby-making music, he was...but them babies is grown with grandkids now. 

And there shall be no sleeping on the Elements, who pretty much created their own musical lane that is beyond what anybody else can ever attain. Their music transcends category. They branched out and did all kinds of different things over the years, but they were always grounded (Earth), spiritual (Wind), and passionate (Fire). We all have some great moment of joy connected to an EWF song. As Uncle Steve reminded us, every HBCU band has In the Stone in their repertoire. Three dudes carry on the legacy of the musical genius that was Maurice White, whom they respect so much that unlike other groups that replace the members that die or quit, they are content to perform as backup in his memory. That is a different kind of devotion right there.

When these Verzuz duels began last year, it was a novel concept to pit two producers or artists/groups against each other as entertainment during this never-ending pandemic lockdown. Radio deejays have been doing these virtual match-ups for years, but it was something new to have the artists themselves on hand to select the songs for battle. It was great to hear their stories and to see their interactions, which have been mutual love and respect. The backdrop of the pandemic has been a necessary, yet bittersweet reminder that we may never get to see some of these legends live in concert again. This has been an entire year of our lives and theirs, with no guarantees of what the future holds. Who would have thought that Mary Wilson of the Supremes would suddenly be gone, or that Tina Turner would feel the need to offer such an emotional farewell documentary? So while Teddy Riley was absolutely doing the most last year during his first attempt at battling Babyface, in hindsight, we now know how vital these opportunities have been for all of us.

For instance when Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle were teamed up last fall, all of our jokes about which Auntie makes the best mac and cheese or potato salad missed the point. They FED us, and then brought Dionne Warwick out with her special lemon cake that nobody can make like hers. Do you hear me--that wasn't even some exclusive awards show with tributes and highlights, just a regular Sunday dinner table full of blessings set with love...for free! Ron and Ernie Isley said we fittin to wear these new Easter suits, and no, I'm not shaving (smart move, seeing how y'all been sizing him up). Uncle Phil didn't say a word for two weeks because he was saving his voice. Uncle Verdine got his touch-up done early on Easter Saturday, got it expertly wrapped, and then spent the rest of the day deciding on the accessories to wear with his ensemble. Steve Harvey got so hungover he won't be back on the air until Wednesday...

Oh yeah, my point was to reassure Uncle Ron that we love him. Please let that Mr. Biggs nonsense go because everything else you did was already on the level of legendary. The Beatles remade your song. We remember how you had to let Michael Bolton's stringy hair ass know not to steal from them Isley Brothers. Creepy Cousin Robert is not welcome around here no more, so let him use that shtick in jail. Ain't nobody coming to see Mr. Biggs!

We're coming to see good, feed-your-soul music. We're coming to see the kind of dream show that we would gladly have paid good government stimulus money on because that was epic! It was beautiful to see the Elements sing with the Isleys as if this was one of those family reunions where both sides of the family finally came together to celebrate after so many years. The only thing that would have made that battle more perfect would have been a special appearance by a couple of Aunties, such as Deniece Williams or the remaining Emotions (just dreaming out load). Nah, I'm good with what we got, which was damn near perfect.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Old Town Road to Hell

Look, I am not going to take up too much of your time, but can we settle this Lil Nas X thing real quick so that I can go back to Busy Black Momming (planning the Kid's 6th Birthday Party)? Because Old Town Road is staying on the party playlist...

I saw Montero. I wrote a Facebook post about Montero which I subsequently edited to clarify that while I was definitely clutching my pearls (like any respectable Busy Black Church Lady would), I was not condemning him for making Montero. Because I got the message, especially as a life-long hat-wearing Busy Black Church Lady who grew up recognizing the hypocrisy of inconsistent and morally selective Christian doctrine. Therefore, I won't take up too much of your time by providing my laundry list of examples. And before you point out how it might be ironic that I am now in that minority of regular church-going Believers, I assure you that is because I have lived long enough to understand why the old folks admonished us to get to know Jesus for ourselves. As such, I have determined that my friend Jesus probably would not approve of Call Me By My Name, but as someone who overturned tables and cursed folks out in the Temple...He ain't casting stones.

When I watched Lil Nas X slide that fireman's/stripper pole down yonder, my eyes popped out for a moment. When the serpent licked his crotch in the Garden, my hand went over my mouth as I audibly gasped. When I read that he also released a pair of limited edition sneakers with a drop of blood in the sole, I laughed out loud because even satanic same gender loving sex sells!

Yes, it was provocative, but that was exactly the point. He posted a bunch of explanatory tweets and allegedly apologized, but then he also promised his followers a 12-pack pair of Hanes socks if his song went to number one, so who knows when he's being sincere or when he's trolling? Because let's be honest, he is popular, so he's just doing what every other marginally talented performer in the past has done, which is ride this gimmick until he can't no more.

Folks are actually out here on Blue Ivy's internet complaining about the bad example he's setting for their children. Ummm, he ain't nobody's Daddy (as far as we know). We've done this before with other artists who have made the transition from the Mickey Mouse Club to hot young thang. The easiest examples to cite are Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, and yes, y'all lost your minds over their embrace of their sexuality too, but you got over it. When New Edition broke up and there was Bell Biv Devoe singing Do Me Baby on one side and Bobby Brown Humping Around on the other, we just kept on dancing. Brandy sang about how she Wanna Be Down and Usher released an entire album of Confessions admitting to his f*ck boi tendencies. Back in my day, Madonna burst onto the scene singing Like A Virgin and there were a lot of comparisons to Cyndi Lauper who just wanted to have fun (without specifying what fun really was in the middle of the night). Michael Jackson was hanging out at Studio 54 and singing about a groupie named Billie Jean whom he denied impregnating. Are we forgetting this?

The only difference I see is that Lil Nas X is gay, but I don't recall he was ever in the closet, so his orientation has never been a secret. It isn't like Elton John where folks had the nerve to be full blown shocked despite numerous hints and clues over the years. Lil Nas just saved you the trouble of speculation, except for the meaning of Panini, which I might be taking too literally. This is just his version of Control. A typical coming-of-age Miley astride a wrecking ball naked or Britney dancing with a snake level stunt. He's legal and twerking a CGI version of himself as the devil. Shrug.

No, it doesn't offend me that he used to perform for kids, even appearing on Sesame Street. So did Lin-Manuel Miranda before he did Hamilton (and none of these kids listen to the clean version of that soundtrack or the mix-tape). A bunch of artists have gone on Sesame Street and adapted their songs for that audience, and when they returned to their adult fan base and switched things back, y'all knew how to apply the appropriate parental filters. How is this different?

Isn't this why Tipper Gore advocated for warning labels on music before her not really ex-husband invented the internet? So that you would listen/watch before exposing your children to possibly objectionable content. If it is a hit dance song, there is probably is a clean version via Kidz Bop, Just Dance, or Radio Disney or you can just avoid it altogether. That is one of your fundamental, inalienable rights as a parent. To pre-view and decide that Katy Perry running around after Elmo in a low-cut skating outfit is too much, while Nick Jonas serenading polygon shapes seductively is perfectly fine.

You get to make those decisions. Remember how you used to watch soap operas with Grandma and she would send you to another room during a sex scene? Or when your Dad ignored the film rating because he thought that a movie with Richard Pryor and a bunch of kids would be okay? Or how you got into trouble because you called that 976 number you saw posted on a telephone pole and got an earful (and didn't know that it cost money per minute, so you got in trouble twice)? Well, you are the parent now. This is part of your job, and with all of these tools that our parents did not have access to, I am confused why y'all seem so unprepared and inept at this.

And do not make the excuse that things are much worse now than they were when we were kids. They aren't. We saw plenty of inappropriate, homoerotic stuff that in hindsight went way over our heads like pro-wrestling or an episode of He-Man. You are worried about near-apocalyptic imagery but never raised an eyebrow when the bad guys had their faces melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least now you have social media to warn you in advance of what you might otherwise have inadvertently seen or heard.

Please tell me you aren't more horrified by a stylized three minute music video fantasy than the actual real-life horror of watching a 9 minute video of a man being killed on camera. 

That's all I need to say. Even if I did miss the real meaning of Old Time Road, it is actually comical to me that people are this upset (because the Kidz Bop version is much worse). Your grandparents were tripping on acid when they first heard Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or really blazed when listening to Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin (yep, that's the real title). Y'all expected Lil Nas X, the neon rhinestone S&M cowboy to be ambiguous and safe like Sam Smith. In the year 2021, what in the RuPaul's Drag Race kind of foolishness is that?

PS: Y'all know how to Google, so that's why I'm not linking to Montero.