I am working on a paper titled, "How Beyonce and Capitalism Undermined
R&B's Ability to Normalize Black Love."
The title may change to Beyonce Incorporated, as that is more focused
and more appropriate for academia.
My professor wants me to l shift my focus to the media's investment in, what I have
called, the Beyonce Beauty Aesthetic, light skinned, size 4/6, curvy, blond hair.
I am not interested in just talking about the media, I am interested in how
Beyonce is a tool for maintaining US hegemony and the ways in which
she normalizes really fucked up, patriarchal, Black heterosexual relationships.
I am fascinated by a light skinned, middle class Black woman
from the Houston suburbs who sings about needing a soldier, who
she could upgrade, so that he can put a ring on it, and if he likes her he
can put her in his video phone.
Conversely, why is a woman worth tens of millions of dollars singing
about needing a baller?
I'm intrigued by this binary of success that allows one Black woman at a time
to be a megastar, with the general prerequisite being that she is lightskinned
and talented, and while all the rest remain pretty marginalized.
Kelis. Amel.Tiombe.Georgia Ann Muldrow.Algebra. Aaries.Goapele, Solange etc.
Estelle,Chrisette, Erykah may get some mainstream play, but for the most
part they are regulated to the VH1 Soul channel and its requisite circuit.
Mary may get some pop play.
By and large Billboard-wise Alicia and Mariah are presented to us
as Black Pop R&B stars. (Did I miss anyone? I may have, and I sure you
all will let me know in the comments.)
Both are light skinned. Both keep their sizes in a 4-6-8 range.
In trying to figure out how to frame this paper, I called Moya and asked for her
She suggested that I read Summers piece about how Beyonce is simply
just doing her job.
Summer makes the argument that Beyonce is doing her job, singing,
dancing, shimming and making work out music and that to expect
her to expect her to do anything else is implicitly naive.
Her job is to be a diva, and she most certainly does it well.
While, I agree that she most certainly is doing a job, my job is to show
how her efficiency is related to both the larger project of maintaining
white supremacist patriarchal capitalism and how the songs normalize
some really patriarchal, and implicitly violent Black heterosexual relationships.
How did I get to Beyonce from Sarah Palin?
I was talking with another professor about politics and Sarah
I mentioned that my issue with my generation is that they are far too focused
on Sarah Palin and not on the people who are willing to vote for her in 2012.
That calling those folks stupid will not discourage them, and that it may,
in fact, embolden them.
She responded saying that there needs to be both a focus on Palin and a focus
on the people who support her. Her rationale was that some people, because
of their platform, influence and power, need to be made to shut up, because the
things that they say are harmful and can cause other groups of people to do
harm. She used Rwandan genocide as an example.
She made it clear that we need to see Palin as a willing participant in her
It was at that moment that I had a better idea of how to frame Beyonce.
My homie Jess said that I should lay out the facts and then make my
argument, given the fact that multiple arguments can be made on the
I now understand that the argument section has to be simultaneously on the
Beyonce and the culture that she influences and create's.
Culture is US hegemony's goon.
Culture does hegemony's day to day dirty work.
It was then that I realized that when I write this paper, that I will not
write about Beyonce per se, but about the power that she has, and
the harm that is done when Black women dating hustlers is normalized.
All people need love. Hustlers too.
Women of all races have dealt with people who operate in the underground
economy. I get that.
However, this must be reconciled with the fact that the most popular Black pop
singer in the world is continually singing abou needing a baller, and perpetually
valuing men for what they can give.
If Black men are only worth what they can give, then they must be worth very little,
as they are woefully under or unemployed. There are nearly1 million of them in prison mainly
for non violent drug offense, largely selling small amounts of crack or other drugs.
In a country where 1 in 15 Black men is incarcerated this is a problem.
Black and white women are going to jail at unprecedented rates too.
Human beings deserve to be loved regardless of how much cake they have.
Folks want Jay Z to rap about being married.
Jay Z will not rap about being married to Beyonce because young
White men, other non Black people and perhaps some Black folks,
do not want to hear about it.
Jay can be married to the game, but he can't be married to her.
The reason why I am writing this piece for the women,
that I know of from East Oakland, California, who have gotten shot in the
face, kidnapped, stuff into trunks, have caught been caught hustling
or dealing with hustlers and are now doing dumb ignorant time or they
This morning, I woke up and while I was making coffee I remember my
patna from elementary school, Tange. In the early early nineties, Tange's
cousin got shot in Brookfield while sitting in the car with her boyfriend,
who was a hustler. The killer murdered both of them. Peep game. When I saw
Tange, she was spooked because she looked like her cousin. So when people
saw her they would say her and say, "Girl, I thought you were dead." They thought
she was her cousin because they looked similar.
People may not care, because the lives of Black women are not important
to them. Or they may think I am putting ten on two.
Their lives are important to me.
So I write.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Every scene in a movie represents a choice by the director, every
line in a book represents a choice by an author.
A significant portion of my understanding of what it means to be an artist
in New York is rooted in the PUSH era. When I visited New York in '97 to
look at colleges, I stayed a couple nights at Barnard with my friends and
was able to watch Sapphire read from the novel way back then. When I
finally moved here I would see her around the city. For me, she was a
walking, living, embodiment of a Black woman writer.
I went to see Precious Friday night and on the way, I reread the
book so that I would have proper context. I wanted to see it in
a theater made up of mostly Black people as I was concerned not
only with the film, but how the audience read it.
It was sold out in Chinatown I trooped all the way down to Georgetown,
by the water, which is pretty and reminds me of Brooklyn Heights.
The audience was approximately 60 percent Black and 40 percent
I appreciated the fact that Lee Daniels used the book as the main text
for the screenplay. I also appreciate the fact that a young Black woman was
the subject of both the book and the film.
However I wondered, like so many other people why does it take a teenaged
dark brown skinned, Black, pregnant, illterate, HIV positive, incest victim for
black womens subjectivity to make to the silver screen?
In mainstream media, are we either marked pathological beings or video vixens?
Last Monday, I asked on Twitter, whether Black women (who follow me)
would be going to see Precious. One friend had already went to see it,
and two said that they wouldn't because they "weren't trying to deal with
all that" right now. The women on Twitter said that they had gone or
would be going to see it. However they were concerned with the ways
in which White people were reacting to it. I was immediately reminded
of this notion of reflected appraisal theory which involves a person
evaluating them selves through the eyes of another.
I wondered if by being concerned about White reception to the film,
where we in fact doing that. I also thought it was interesting to ask
why White people enjoy Precious, but that we never talk about why
white teenagers enjoy rap music.
I was biased towards the movie because of Armond Whites article
(and Juell Stuart's article in Color Lines.) But I realized that Armond may
have read the film differently had he read the book recently. His critique is
that the film lacked an analysis of the structural forces that created both
Precious and her momma. And this is true. But the book lacks this as well.
Sapphire clearly alludes to it through the scenes where Precious is in the
reading and writing class, her meetings with the social worker, and her
meetings with her middle school principal. But the state of the world and
Black women and never mentioned explicitly.
If a viewer knew nothing about Black women and saw that film, they
would think that we are crazy, diseased, pathological, animals. By
not explicitly talking about the forces acting on our lives, the film
runs the risk of placing the responsibility for the conditions of their lives
exclusivly on the shoulders of the characters.
Where did Precious's momma come from? What made her like that?
The film and the book take place in 1986. There are three major sctructural
forces acting on Black people in general and Black women specifically
across the country in urban areas. The crack epidemic is at full tilt, piles
of Black bodies were the streets, there is movement to sterilize low
income Black women, and HIV, which is categorized as a both a White
gay mans and drug addicts (of all races) disease, is killing Black people
on the low.
Ironically, I last week I was also assigned to read Cathy Cohens Boundary of
Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics and the first two
chapters Cohen lays out some the structural forces impacting Precious's life
such as the failure to provide adequate HIV care to Black people.
Which brings me to Shaniya Davis. I hope when reading about the lives of
this little girl and her mother that we think about the structural forces that
impacted a mothers willingness to sell her daughter into prostitution.
I told Jonzey two weeks ago that we are undergoing a paradigm shift.
That the conditions will continue to worsen until we collectively do
something about it.
The murder of Derrion Albert, the raping of the teenager outside of that high
school in Richmond, the Fort Hood killings a couple of weeks ago and
now the prositition and murder of Shaniya Davis are all connected in that
they reveal aspects about the status and detoriotion of our collective humanity.
Back to Precious. The the main structural weakness in the movie
ispresent in the book which is that there is no explicit conversation
about the forces acting on these womens lives.
The film also has another structural weakness. The music video montage
scenes are exist with the specific intent of iliciting laughter from the audience,
which in fact is what happened. These were the consistent scenes in the film
where folks laughed at Precious. These scenes were not in the book and I
would imagine Daniels inserted them to add some lightness to an otherwise
intense film. However, in doing so, he drowned out the subtle transformation
that Precious went through. Its like he went Hype Williams with The Color
Purple, in those scenes.
The subtle transformation is what is special about the book. We have
all had subtle transformation. They don't happen overnight. They happen,
little by little, day by day, month by month, and "suddenly" we are a new person.
Precious started out pregnant, and illterate, by the end of the book, she was
able to articulate that she was raped by her father, she questioned that fact that
the state wanted her to do workfare rather than continue her education,
she also articulated that she loved herself, her children and that she wanted an
education, and she moved out of her momma's house.
In the film Precious "walks off into the sunset" with both of her children. Jonzey
points out that the reality is that this young woman is HIV postive, will
die soon and that these children will be orphans. As Jonzey said, is
it possible that Black woman director would have dealt with that differntly?
Perhaps. Its hard to say given the fact that the book ended with scene where
Precious has left her momma's house and is in a shelter, playing with and
mothering her son.
You see the movie, what did you think?
What does creating a Black women's Bollywood look like?
We clearly have the money, we simply need the will, strategy and
fortitude to tell our own stories?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
On a fluke a few of weeks ago, I picked up a dvd about the
Black Panthers and the student and employee strike at SF
State that created the first Black Studies department in the country.
It was in watching this video that realized that both crack and hip hop
politically underdeveloped young people. Much of this statement comes
out of my reading two or three books a week along with five or
six articles last month, while simultaneously watching the fall out
from Sasha Frere Jones's post about the end of hip hop and a post
about rap critics. Blog posts, long blog posts take a lot of work. At least
coherent ones do.
Reading and writing is labor and I am thinking about to which
ends, those of us who are in our twenties and thirties, are reading
While watching the responses percolate, I wondered what would happen
if we invested the same time in rap blogs in making politics to address our lives?
What is our investment in a music that has made it clear that it doesn't
give a fuck out us in a time where we live in an unsustainable world?
For the folks who say that hip hop is related to a political project, I would say,
place a link in the comment section. By political I mean a group of
people organizing to serve a communally determined group agenda.
This doesn't mean that it hasn't served as a conscious raising tool,
in the past, but Post Chronic or even Post Blueprint, the music has
ceased being for itself and currently exists for Black respect and White dollars.
Given that this is the case, what does this mean for Black people
and what does it mean for Black music?
To the extent that this applies globally, remains to be seen.
Chuck D has argued extensively that young people globally have
used rap music as tool to make sense of their position is society.
Based a couple of documentaries that I have seen about hip hop
in Cuba and North Africa, to a certain extent this is true.
Given the impact of AID's, mass incarceration and the systemic
undereducation of Black, White and Latino students, what are the
ways in which that the music, at least since The Chronic, has helped
us make sense of our world?
I come from the Leroi Jones school of Black music, which looks at
Black music both as it relates to our history in this country, and as being
representative of a particular point in time in this country.
Three month's ago, Rafi said that rap music use to be the street talking
to the street. In commenting on the ways in which Nike used Cube's
Today is a Good Day for a skateboarding commercial he writes,
It’s just another example of hip-hop’s transformation to lifestyleRhythm and Blues affirms Black humanity, modern rap music affirms
marketing tool and its astonishing disconnect from the reality it
used to represent....Three years ago I saw a big hip-hop show in
New York City just days after Sean Bell’s murder. The city was
buzzing with rage and confusion everywhere except inside the
show where the incident wasn’t even mentioned. I said back then
that there was “a time when rap was supposed to speak to and
speak for the streets”. But shows like that Rock the Bells performance
and ads like this one from Nike show how far we’ve come from that.
The acts and songs of that era are being used to market to aging
hip-hop fans like myself but it is all sound and no fury.
This doesn't mean that Rhythm and Blues was all warm and fuzzy as
Black humanity encompasses both the aspects that we are proud of
our collective darkside as well.
Birkhold thinks that this is really crude statement, and criticizes me for
saying so. Yes it is crude. But I stand by it, because Black music
has changed from a being for itself to being for others. Rafi's comment
is an illustrations of this.
This isn't a conscious vs. thug dichotomy. My argument is a little more
nuanced than that. Cube, Dre, Too Short, were dudes, street or not,
talking to the street. Peep the VH1 NWA documentary, The Worlds Most
Dangerous Group. Popular gangster rappers wanted to make some money
but they were trying to become corporations themselves. That wasn't an option,
so it wasn't a goal.
I mentioned the content of this piece to Birkhold shortly after I wrote it and
he disagreed with my statement that rap use to exist for itself, and is now being
for others (thuggin' for cash),
His issue was with the fact that rap has always been, for the most part,
about Black men performing Black male, machismo, fantasy. Being for others.
Cold Crush brothers, Funky Four Plus One, Africa Bambaata were either on some
party shit, some machismo steez, or some super Black masculinity. He tried
to say that Cube was from the suburbs, but he's from South Central, according
to Wikipedia. However he did attend Phoenix Institute of Technology in the
fall of 1987, and studied Architectural Drafting. Chuck D, Russel and I believe,
Run DMC were middle class cats from Long Island and Queens respectively.
In rap, Black men have always been performing some other 'ish and I
agree with that.
However, I responded that, while it very well may be true that early rappers
were performing a macho, fantasy, partying, Black masculinity,
the scale, risk and harm in the1970's and 80's isn't analogous to
1990's and 2000's.
The fact that Byron Hurt made a movie, Barack and Curtis, about Black
masculinity comparing 50 to President Obama is indicative of this.
Currently, rap music is conflated with Blackness. As a result some Black
children who are not from the 'hood feel compelled to perform thuggery in
order to be accepted. After all the sacrifices their parents have made,
pursuing higher education, moving to the suburbs, working the corporate
gig, the children want to be exactly what their parents have been sheltering
them from, a thug. The pervasiveness of rap music in 1990's and 2000's
plays a big role in making this possible.
The notion of acceptance and assimilation is an important one. In fact, much
of the homophobia that we observe in both American culture and in Black culture
stems from the resentment that a gay man or lesbian woman
has the audacity and courage to walk around being who they want to be,
not who others expect them to be. We have been socialized to resent the
courage to be queer. We are angry because they refuse to fit into the box that
society has created for them, and we are uncertain of how to get ourselves
out if it.
Back to Huey. Watching the documentary on The Panthers, the irony of fact
that Huey Newton was murdered in a dope deal gone bad on the streets of
West Oakland isn't lost on me.
In listening to Eldridge speak in the documentary, it became to clear that
while I was familiar with his open and aggressive misogyny, as he famously
stated that he practiced raping Black women, as preparation for raping he
white women. He was also charismatic, extremely handsome and in some
ways the clip of his speech reminded me of many of the rappers that I
grew up listening to.
All these cats accomplished a lot in their twenties and their thirties.
What are we doing?
How can our generation build a movement when we can't even be honest
with ourselves about where we are?
There has been very little analysis about the ways in which Black communities
have been impacted by 20 years of the war on drugs. There has also been
very little analysis of the ways in which crack wiped out the last vestiges of
60's and 70's era Black resistance.
What does it mean that 30 years later our young people and many older
people are more concerned with whether the music is dead than with
whether neighborhoods that birthed the music will survive over the next ten
years given the impact of globalized gentrification of 'hoods in the US and
around the world?
Have you been to Biggies old block lately?
How was the FBI able to eliminate the Black Panthers but unable to contain
The Crips and The Bloods?
If Black peoples contribution to this country has been music and free labor,
what does it mean when our music is a lifestyle marketing device, and that
Black men are systemically under and unemployed?
Thank you for reading this. Clearly, I am trying to work some thangs out.
In proofreading this piece it has become clear how Sociology of the Self
is teaching me how to look at the person and society simultaneously.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Last Thursday, while I was doing a presentation on Academic Capitalism
in class, 600 students, mostly Black, conducted a march protesting
the firing of the associate provost of equity and diversity, Dr. Cordell Black.
In addition to this, not only are the departments and offices serving
marginalized folks facing merger, but The Classics and The Chemical
and Life Sciences andComputer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences
are as well.
The question for me is who is cutting, what is the unstated
and stated rationale behind it and to what extent is this process
It was only slightly ironic that this erupted on the day in which
I did this presentation.
I have found myself in the middle of struggle and in creating a democratic
process. There appears to be a desire on behalf of my campuses
administration to scalpel out the Negros and the "low earning" programs.
I suspect that there is a desire to raise the profile of the school, by
reducing the number of Black students enrolled in the University. There
is a connection between US News and world report ranking and SAT and
GPA's of students.
Been there, done that, seen it coming a mile away. This process is both
scary and liberating.
Scary because a friend saw a facebook comment about academic
capitalism and sent me a message saying that I may want to reword
my comment because employers lurk on face book. Its liberating
because I feel that I am an active participant in changing the world in real time.
The way that I keep my mind right, if I have to go to zero, again, and I am forced
to leave school I will move back upstate and waitress or move to Vegas and waitress.
It is hard to keep the fear of repercussions in check.
But my only option is to walk timidly, and I didn't survive the crack epidemic,
law school and now grad school to walk timid. I am a child of God.
This process is forcing me to respect people who have done this work before.
I was hella smug about the pride march in DC because I didn't see
sufficient evidence that the white gay movement did substantial base
building with the LGBTQ movement of color in California and nationally,
to be having ANOTHER march.
Now that I am in the middle of doing base building, I am far more
humbled. If I am learning anything about basebuilding, it is that you never
know what you will learn, who will be useful. I am learning that I just have to
be honest, let people know what I am doing, and that folks will either join or
I am learning to start small. Small is good, because small is how everything
starts. It's hard. It continually means meeting people where they are. I have to
meet with people, send emails to folks I don't know and do know
check my ego at the door, listen, wait for emails, disagree with folks. Stay
continually TRYING to meet with people, ask questions and continually check
the desire to be bossy.
I am an old head. I sent and email to a professor saying that "I don't march"
but I want to be useful, not just complaining on the sidelines waiting for someone
to advocate for me. However, it seems like young folks seem to want to march
and meet with the administration.
She responded saying,
What does a march achieve and are those necessary goals at this point? For example, media attention, shame as a persuasive line of argumentation, personal release of anger etc. Is a march an effective strategy in relation to the nature of the administration? Is the march the beginning and the end of political activity? What other types of activity should immediately be on the table to supplement the march.I was relieved when I read her words, because she articulated my
In other words I think that this is important because it politicizes the
student population, it shows the admin. that students are alert, it can
potentially build alliances through media attention. If it fizzles out without
any additional work e.g. teach in, petitions etc. then it becomes easy for the administration to wait it out. So it's not everything but its also not nothing.
I am more interested in seeing how power is laid out how, how has this process
has worked in the past, who has resisted this kind of thing successfully, and what
are peoples frame of reference?
We all have a stake in how this plays out. The University is a microcosm
Thoughts? You been apart of a struggle before? Any suggestions or kind words will be appreciated.