In this noisy cyberspace, filled with think-pieces by thinkers and morons alike, the motivation to write witty musings (if i do say so myself, if i do say so myself) about first world problems has waned. However, there is one piece that I’ve wanted to write for a while now. A piece that actually made me feel something.
I want to share my tribute to Common’s 1994 song, “I Used to Love H.E.R.” With its use of an extended metaphor, the song has often been called one of the best hip-hop songs of all time. It’s one of the first songs I remember being intellectually blown away by. Now it’s 2015, it’s 20 years later, and the song still lives in my consciousness. As a female who grew up on hip-hop, I often wondered what her love story would be like. Here is my ode to an ode. And here’s to you, Common.
I Used To Love H.I.M.
I met this boy, I was ten years old
And what I loved most, he had so much soul.
He was an Evans and I was a Huxtable
But when I met him, the connection was undeniable.
He was chill, you see, a little W.E.B, a little Booker T.
He was just lovin life. Wasn’t real worried about chedda. But he made my life betta, i fell for him hard.
Had that New York swag, I thought he was God.
Whatever I needed, he was there for me.
To sleep, he would rock me. We danced, he would wop me.
It was so cool, listening to him talk about life
I wanted to be dope like him, maybe even be his wife.
I rode through the park with him, made mixtapes with him. Sorry mama, I even lost my virginity to him.
Sitting up in my room, laying there listening to him.
I couldn’t imagine my life being complete without him.
But whatever, there was no reason we couldn’t be together forever.
It seemed natural, he was smart and I was real cleva.
I thought he was so fly. That nigga had me beguiled.
All that gold and those sweat suits, straight up New York style.
And he was so fun then, I’d be psyched when he was near.
I met him in local spots, in cyphers he made love to my ears.
My father didn’t like him. I introduced him, and dad laughed.
But I didn’t care, I was young, enthralled by the evolution of his craft.
Started seeing him around more. Heard him in basements in the dark. Summertime, he was at the pool, cookouts, the park.
He had no jumper but in arenas he played
Even went on Video Soul with Donnie Simpson rockin a high-top fade.
Then he started growing locks, talking about five percenters,
told me the black man was God, referred to me as a sista.
He showed me my history.
He wasn’t shaming me or blaming me.
He uplifted me, i felt so close to him.
After his voice in my ear, I was never the same again.
My young man went west, and I wished him well.
Cause I left for college, life went on, plus hell…
I wanted him to be great, this move could be good for him.
Like Furious Styles, he might get out there and school all of them.
His seed was spread, and yes, he got big cred. But what made me hang my head, was when he declared the Black Power vibe was dead.
He said nobody was checking for Fight the Power no more.
Instead he got into slow jams, jazz, pop hits and therefore…
He had to do what was hot, I admit it was a turn-off.
But how could I be mad at him trying to Set it Off?
I was kinda impressed. Making a nice buck. New Suzuki Truck. I could see his confidence growing. He did not give a fuck.
Look, I can’t lie, at times his shit was fly. But now The Man began dictating the how and the why. Rule #4,080: That guy lie. He told him he should be Ready to Die.
The Man said to blow up he had to be real grimy. Either that, or go fancy and make his outfits real shiny.
He was confused. He was blown. But at the end of the day… He figured this was his big chance and asked, “how much does it pay?”
They told him to sign and he did.
Got sold the Brooklyn Bridge.
Soon, the dough started to roll in. And He no longer cared what commercials he was in.
He was officially world-wide, selling me McDonald’s and Chevrolet.
When he used to be on food stamps and his ride was the “A.”
Between The Man and The Money he figured he had made it.
He put in less and less work, programmed machines to auto-create shit.
Now he partied on Rodeo Drive, $1200 jeans on, always surrounded by a crew but nobody he could lean on. Dream on.
And on the few occasions he did come back home, everything out his mouth was big pimpin, money, cash, and hoes.
See, now his thing was Thug Life, he lost himself and it showed.
He was dirty. He was drunk. He was a Bad Boy. He was crunk. Sometimes he was jiggy, I was shocked when he was Iggy.
Always talkin about how real he was, doth protesting too much.
Frankly, after Hollywood, I didnt know what he was.
Now he’s always talkin about clubs, guns and bending chicks over.
If she don’t have light skin and long hair, she got the cold shoulder.
It’s just tatts, tits, money, and hits. I can barely remember the time when he actually knew how to spit.
I thought back to how I felt, how I used to follow him blindly.
Now he’s all 2.0. Following him just monetizes me.
But I’m still ride or die, not just cause i should be or due to some misplaced loyalty.
I just thought one day he would wake up and see. Maybe Remember that time when he used to love me.
But, like Janay Rice, Ima take him back hopin some new shit will drop.
Fondly remembering my boom box, my FUBU Top, that Black Cop and how it don’t stop.
I recently had a very bad break up. It was with a woman. OK, it was with several women.
The women of R & B to be exact.
What happened to all of those amazing women who scored the soundtrack of my life? My Sheroes. And what happened to artists like them?
For example, I was a die hard fan of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. These were two whose music was so honest and so relatable. They expressed the good and bad of life and love in such a real way.
Jill’s lyrics were like poetry, life set to music. You had been where she had been, thought what she had thought. She said the things you were feeling and thinking and wondering. Sometimes she was strong where you were weak. She presented a woman who had figured it out and put it to music.
And Erykah, she was invincible. She faced life head on and laid out its complexities in a way we all could relate to. She was no angel, nor were we. She was smart. She was a woman who knew the power of her mind and wasn’t afraid to speak it. She had the courage to be herself in a world of cookie-cutter clones. She was daring, she was street, she was this unique spirit that seduced a generation of young quirky women and taught them that being clever was hot.
Most of us didn’t have it as rough as Mary J, and couldn’t relate to Beyonce’s freakishly good looks. And that’s precisely why female artists like this were important. Jill and Erykah and India and Latifah and TLC looked like us, they sounded like us, their lives sounded like ours. They made natural hair cool again. They took young female angst, and made it beautiful and funky.
And now it’s 2013, and I wonder where have all the R & B sheroes gone off to? Who is now scoring the lives of our young women?
I think of the young women growing up in R & B today. There are few artists that address the wide possibilities for the lives of our young ladies. Today, unless a young girl’s dreams relate to becoming a “star,” generically “making money,” having sex, going to a club, or getting hers before she gets got— her dreams are generally unrepresented in pop culture. Too many of them are conned into believing those are the only options they have for their lives.
Think about it, who can an 18-year old listen to today, that will make them feel like they can do anything? Like the possibilities for her life are endless? Who tells them that a man leaving her to raise a baby alone is not some rite of passage we all must inevitably go through? (I swear, it’s not!). Who lets them know that a fantastic relationship with someone who loves you is absolutely achievable? That you can have a great life without ever once popping your booty for a cell phone camera? That busting the windows out of the car is never an acceptable form of conflict resolution? Of all those female artists on the Billboard charts, who can a young women listen to in those moments when she’s feeling fat or ugly or rejected?
We are desperately missing the diversity among popular female artists that once made us all excited about our particular place in the world. We need the weirdos and lesbians and hippies and divas and ho-types all coexisting in a world where we actually have options about who we identify with, who moves us.
Yes, this is a very broad generalization. Absolutely, there are some great songs out there and great artists. Of course Ledisi is awesome and Janelle Monae is fantastically weird–but too often, these exceptions aren’t the ones shaping our young people at the time of their lives when music is most influential. Artists like those aren’t played 30 times a day on Radio Dumb One.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think there is no place for the edgy and fucked up Rihanna or Prostitute Barbie, Nicki Minaj. I just fear, that’s all we ever get anymore.
If you listen to the radio for one hour you would never know that we all don’t aspire to have baby daddy drama, rough sex or butt implants. (OK maybe rough sex, occasionally). And wouldn’t it be so nice to see our individual uniqueness and weirdness and fabulousness and eccentricities played out in song? For those are the things that make each of us special.
But perhaps these days, its just too much to ask. Let’s face it–Rihanna’s a mess, Mariah Carey is creepy now, and Keyshia Coles is always yelling at you. OK sure, Beyonce is wholesome, but she’s also creepy-perfect and rich and if I see her in that body suit one more time I’m gonna scream. Plus, it’s extraordinary that a woman who has gleaned her success from a largely young female audience would release a song called “Bow Down Bitches.” I now choose to bow out. When Beyonce resorts to a hook telling bitches to bow down, the Endtimes can’t be far behind.
Meh. I don’t know. I just long for a day when I could choose to listen to freaky bad songs, harmless nonsense songs, sad love songs or profoundly inspiring songs. I’m afraid our girls today just don’t have much of a choice. Mess and sex as far as the eye can see. And knowing how broadly music shapes our popular culture, its a little scary.
Or perhaps, I’m off-base and everything is fine. And these are just the musings of a mean old lady, longing for that elusive pastime paradise, who is now waving an angry fist, telling contemporary music to, in essence, get off her lawn.
Instead I’m Samuel. My friends called me Sammy. To me, Trayvon is lucky. Because when i was killed, no one seemed to care.
I was wearing a hoodie too that night. I was just coming from my girlfriend Lashaun’s house with my man “T.” “T” was trying to get with Lashaun’s cousin. He didn’t. She ended up texting some other dude all night. I tried to tell him he didn’t have a chance before we even got there, but he didn’t listen. But it was cool, we had a good time. Lashaun’s mother cooked some banging curry chicken.
We left about 11p and headed for the subway. We had walked about 10 minutes when some dude approached us and asked why I kept “fucking with Damon”? I didn’t even know a Damon. T looked at me but my gaze had just registered a gun in the man’s hand. I couldn’t stop looking at that gun. I finally said “I don’t even know—” And that was it. There was a crash and it all went black. Dude was wearing a hoodie too.
“T” was shot too, but he lived. He has a scar from his neck to his belly button from all the surgery. He’ll be OK. He had to get a deferral from Howard for a year but he’s going in the Fall. I didn’t want to go to Howard. It was too close to where I lived. I chose Morehouse College in Atlanta. Plus, they were giving me the most scholarship money. I would have been the first in my family to go to college. I wanted to study biology. Find a cure for cancer or something. But I’m gone now. Even though no one seemed to notice.
There were no protests, no marches, no Congressional hearings. My death barely got three paragraphs in the Washington Post. No one interviewed my mother or father. Not even the cheesy ass local news. Soledad O’Brien didn’t do a town hall about it. No one was ever arrested in my case either. But Sharpton and Jackson said nothing. No one called the Justice Department. The FBI didn’t show up.
Was it me? I’m just as dead as he is. Why wasn’t anyone outraged? I played football as a kid too. I was on the Debate Team and won the 12th grade essay contest. I wrote about growing up with a disabled dad. Why wasn’t I special too?
Sure there was crying and yelling at my funeral. Pleas from the pulpit to stop the youth violence. But once the crying stopped and everyone went home, I was just another young dead black man.
What makes Trayvon so special? Why didn’t my community rally in the streets and have Facebook campaigns and Tweet about me? Why is the death of a black man in a hoodie a travesty– unless another black man in a hoodie was the killer? Then I guess, it’s just another day.
Well, I’m Samuel. My friends called me Sammie. I was wearing a hoodie too when I was killed, and no one seemed to care.
I wish I was Trayvon. Maybe then you all would have noticed me too.
I write this, unfortunately, with a heavy heart. It is a heart filled with sadness. But I have something I want to say to, as the newspapers and TV news call them, the twenty something black males in dark clothing. I’ve heard that description from so many friends describing their attackers. It was also the description of the guy who stole my man’s car out of my driveway. So, for the first time, I want to express that I am so sick of being the victim, either directly or indirectly, of twenty something black males in dark clothing.
So this message goes out to all the twenty something black males in dark clothing, and their mamas. Look, I know its not all of you, but’s its too damn many who feel completely justified in terrorizing, assaulting and stealing from the other 90% of us around you. I’m not quite sure what your problem is. I don’t know why 13 of you are on the corner at 1pm in the afternoon.
I don’t know why you are determined to force me to look at your underwear. I don’t know why you somehow you feel as if you can take what you want. I don’t know why you feel like you can disrespect women and the elderly and those that look different from you. I don’t know why you left school because, by judging what i see on a daily basis, it certainly wasn’t to go to work.
So I want to let you know black men in your twenties with dark clothing, that I am sick of your shit. Perhaps you had no father around, perhaps your mother set no limits. Perhaps you were never held accountable for you behavior. I really don’t give a fuck. Perhaps you were your mother’s little prince who could do no wrong. But I will tell you that I am so sick of your foolishness. I am tired of your dumb black cigarettes, I am tired of you beating and robbing my neighbors and stealing my shit. I don’t care how tough your life is or rough you had it, perhaps the first step to bettering your miserable life is leaving me and my stuff the hell alone.
I can’t speak for all communities, just for my own. This is not a generalization, this is reality. Do young white men commit crimes? Of course they do. But not in my neighborhood. Not on this block. I’m talking about what I know. I long for a world where a young black man is the protector of women in his community, and not the victimizer. Where I don’t have to call the police again because some twenty something black males with dark clothing are assaulting yet another gay man or woman or old lady.
I’m not sure from whence you came, but in case you were unaware, the people you love to take from so much are hard working people who go to work every day, who save their money, who have dreams, who have families that love them. For you to find it so easy to snuff the life out of them because you want some new shiny thing that you are too lazy to work for is reprehensible. And I’m tired of society’s excuses for you.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to advocate for better lives for young people. I want to help and support and give back to young people. But how can I do that when every time I am victimized it is at your hands? I know it isn’t all of you but it’s too damn many, and frankly I’m starting not to be able to tell the difference anymore.
Twenty something black male in dark clothing, I am so angry that you have made me fear you. That you have changed who I am with your relentless attacks on me and my neighbors. How can I effectively advocate for someone I fear? Why would I go to the mat for you, if afterwards you’re going to break into my house? I long for the day you appeared at my house to shovel snow, not to case my home.
It saddens me, twenty something black males in dark clothing, that I can’t look at you with adoration and pride about your generation. That I am not hopeful for your future. And for all the amazing twenty something black males in dark clothing that are doing the right thing, you too need to step up because the others are giving you a bad name.
And you know what? Some of you did have a parent that cared. He or she did tell you how important your education was, how important a hard day’s work was. But you, like most teens didn’t listen because you thought you knew everything. You looked to Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy for your inspiration and ignored everyone in your life that actually had your best interest in mind. And life has been downhill ever since.
And now, you’re my problem.
I look at you and see all the potential for your life, potential you probably were never made aware of. I look at all the future husbands and fathers and scientists and lawyers and teachers and electricians and computer programmers, who have chosen, instead, to settle for the worst life has to offer.
But you know what, I’m really sorry you had awful parents. I’m really sorry no one cared and no one taught you better. But that still doesn’t give you the right to make me and the other million hard-working citizens of this city your bitch.
I look at you and so badly want to see the next Barack Obama, but too often I don’t even take the time, because I’m too busy locking my door. Do better. There, I said it.
(And no I’m not necessarily good, it’s just an assumption I ask the reader to make for this essay to work.)
I was listening to a song, which shall reman nameless lest i contaminate those who are for more decent than myself, and I found myself singing the most obscene lyrics along with the performer. And not only was i singing them while driving in my car (with the windows up), i was singing them with gusto and fervor. There were lyrics that involved ball-licking, beating up a “pus”, various drug using and dealing, and bites on a wall.
Now I’m a grown ass woman and here I am grooving to what, by any measure, would be lyrics i would never allow my imaginary children to listen to, and frankly, would be absolutely annoyed if i heard them blasting from a car next to me. I would point to songs like this and their ilk as the beginning of the end for hip-hop and the civilized world in general. And I’d point with purpose and passion with a really straight pointy finger, that would occasionally wag.
But how can i judge others, artists and listeners alike, for promulgating and supporting the worst depictions of urban life, if I, the judger, cant even resist the pulsing bass and clever lyricism, albeit insulting and counter to everything i believe? Am I a hoochie, but just don’t know it? As a woman, how can I possibly like these songs? Am I just some dickless man ? And I not only like them, but I “that’s my shit” like them.
And this isn’t an isolated incident.There are plenty of instances like this in my life, beginning with the golden age of hip-hop. “Put It In Your Mouth” was a party favorite. I went to the West Coast and “Bitch Betta Have My Money” always got me out on the floor, and I won’t even go into the “Skeet Skeet” song. From the windows to the wall, indeed.
However, if someone were to print out the lyrics of these songs, I would probably go to jail or catch an STD just by reading them. The depiction of women and urban life is just so distorted and tragic, particularly for a community that has come so far. They are sad and maddening. But if this is true, why is it so darn easy for me to sing along?
I’m a well-adjusted woman from a good home. My student loan bills tell me i have a bunch of degrees. I wasn’t molested by some creepy family friend. So what gives? Why am I not horrifed and appalled at such demeaning songs. Songs that demean me and my mama and every woman i know. Why don’t my grown woman sensibilities kick in and I turn the song off when I hear such lyrics?
It’s interesting, growing up listening to hip hop, you generally had to be a pretty bad girl to be insulted in a song i.e Brand Nubians’ “Slow Down” or Oran Juice Jones’ “Walkin in the Rain” (ok, i know he’s not hip-hop but i couldn’t resist) . Most women-hating songs were reserved for crack whores or gold diggers or indiscriminate dangerous freaks. But nowadays “bitch” is the default and women must prove themselves otherwise.
In the realm of hip-hop, shouldn’t I be most enthralled with softer little diddies like “I Need Love” or “Bonita Applebaum” or “Make the Song Cry” or “I Got You” or “Make Me Better”? Songs that reflect the ideas of romance and the positive man-woman relationships of yesteryear (ok 15 years ago). But as much as I love these songs, just like those poison poppies that temporarily fell the strongest of lions, if im not careful, the ignorant shit just drags me in.
But I have realized, I am of two minds. Sometimes I hear this profanity-laden music blasting out of cars at gas stations assaulting all within earshot. Niggas, bitches, dick, this. Niggas, bitches, dick, that. It drives me crazy. I roll my eyes at the driver and shake my head at the lost art of hip-hop and romance and fun. At the same time, working out at a gym across town, my earbuds are hypocritically blasting some pretty ill shit.
Is it really as easy as, it has a good beat and you can dance to it? Or is there something else in these gutter lyrics that appeals to a “normal” woman like me? I’ve tried to figure this out.
I’ve rationalized: well, its just that they put together those degrading gutter lyrics in a clever way. I’ve minimized: well, its just that the beat is so hot and they play it so much, you can’t help but like it. I’ve intellectualized: it’s a just another form of the willing suspension of disbelief convention where you can be fully entertained by something while knowing it has no basis in reality, a la Harry Potter or the X-Men or a Herman Cain candidacy. At times, I’ve even given up and surrendered: I guess I’m just a nihilistic undercover hood rat ho at heart.
Is what appeals to me in some of these songs, which are admittedly in the minority on my playlists, the same things that appeal to this millennial generation upon which I look with disdain because they’ll never know when hip hop was great? Maybe the difference is that, those songs aren’t all i know and thus don’t shape my world view. Is the difference that I would never blast these songs from my car in public and therefore, they’re my own little guilty pleasure? Like eating cereal out of the box with my hands or leaving underwear on the bathroom floor for three days. I know it’s wrong but…
I know, I know. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s just lyrics. Fantasies of the rapper for the listener. But is this fantasy life rappers speak of appealing in some sort of madonna-whore way? I mean, you live right 99% of the time, so maybe sometimes, just sometimes, during that other 1%, you just want to hear someone tell you to bend over and lets fuck, for a change? For some of us YOU, doesn’t that make it tingle just a little?
Maybe that’s it, it’s like the music version of porn. Harmless fantasy? You can listen occasionally, but its only problematic when it gets you fired from work.
I honestly don’t know. I wish some prominent sociologist would do a study of this phenomenon. Because I know by the number of ladies on the dance floor when “From the Windows to the Wall” comes on, I’m not alone in this. And I need answers.
So per usual, I have no solutions, but I thought I’d share my struggles with PIIYMP in hopes that someone smarter than myself could shed some light on this issue and assuage my guilt. But maybe there is no answer, maybe it’s the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Or maybe it’s that all women have a nasty freak in them just waiting for an opening.
Or maybe, just maybe, as Big Boi says, “bitch that’s just the way it goes….” (I love that song!)
Please somebody stop me, before I bob my head again.
Life-affirming moments are tricky things. The media tells us that self-actualization comes in the form of eat/pray/love fantasies. Over the top journeys that leave us changed forever. But sometimes, just sometimes those epiphanies are much closer to home. Buried within in the banal. Camoflaged in the form of a white middle-aged couple, drunk with the wine of the world, and loving every minute of it.
There’s a cliche made popular by some song or bumper sticker or whatever that says, “dance like no one’s watching.” And while I generally do, much to the chagrin of my friends, I had never seen that trite t-shirt slogan embodied like I did at a recent outdoor festival.
Initially, I thought there’d be trouble. You can never tell with drunk people. Especially white folks. It could go either way. So during the introductory crap before the music, there were some oddly timed non-sequitur hoots and hollers from a, clearly drunken, middle aged couple in the crowd. For example, the emcee would say, “are you ready to party!!!” and they would respond “OBAMA!!!!!” You get the drift. The man wore a big straw hat, army green cargo shorts, polo shirt and, of course, sandals and socks. His companion was rosy cheeked and Chico’s-clad with mussed meg ryan hair and that “I love the World” look mostly sported by hippies or people rolling on E. (Ahem) Or so I’ve heard.
As my great grandmother would say, it was clear they had had a few “smiles” before coming out and ultimately i lost track of them and forgot about their shenanigans.
However, as the music started and the party began. I thought more about them. God bless ‘em. I applauded them for not being stuck in some McMansion in the burbs watching Antiques Roadshow. Secretly, i hoped that i too could one day be out with my significant other in my late fifties, hooting at hip hop deejays. But it wasn’t until about an hour into the show, that this older, white, joyously drunken, couple moved my soul.
The crowd was being entertained by one of the hottest deejays in the world. I ultimately forgot about the couple and became lost in the mix of hot energy and air generated from bodies who couldnt help but move to the rhythm. Even me, four weeks after foot surgery, managed to get a mean two-step in.
But, suddenly, like an old John Hughes movie, I look up and who did I spot in the crowd so tight you could barely tell where one body ended and the next body began… It was them. The world went into slow motion, and like an old film noir, the place became dark except for a single spotlight on none other than that drunk white couple. There they were, still there. Braving the Youngs and the Slows and the Normals and the Tourists and those hip-hoppers who always dance too wild to stand next to. Who would’ve thunk that the other pair of eyes in my oft dreamed about “our-eyes-met-across-the-room” fantasy, would be those of a middle-aged drunk white couple. But there it was.
Through all the writhing bodies, there they were. Dancing. Their. Drunk. White. Asses. Off.
At that moment i felt like i was seeing what a life well lived look like. I was acutely, divinely aware, like that Henry Miller quote. They danced off beat like they owned the place. They looked at each other and smiled, and occasionally helped to keep the other from stumbling. They were so happy and their faces reminded me what real happiness looked like. A happiness that has become all too fleeting as we concentrate on whatever successes we’ve chosen to chase. Whatever was going on at the office or the house or with the kids, was long forgotten by this couple.
I realized how much I missed those moments in my own life. I realized that our so-called successes are often pyhrric victories. Too often the sacrifices we make in our lives in the name of success, leave us empty and unfulfilled.
Dont get me wrong, often we dont have the luxury of dancing like no one is watching. But when we forget what that even feels like, something is indeed amiss. As i watched this couple, I felt that hole in my soul. I missed those moments of living with drunken, joyous abandon. It doesn’t have to be drunk-dancing outside, it could be reading an author you love or getting together and laughing your ass off with an old friend, it could be Shakespeare in the Park, or going to see live music, a good ole one night stand, or just sitting on the fucking porch watching the world go by.
We try to fill those holes daily with Faceook and online shopping and cars and 1000% Indian hair weaves and big TV’s and 800 channels and God knows what. But soon we’ll all leave this earth and, God help us, if all we have to look back on is how hard we “grinded” or “hustled” or how many “likes” we got on some dumb ass status update.
Until that moment I hadn’t realized what i had been missing in my own life lately. I used to live for those moments before i got caught up in stuff and screens and The Grind. So i just want to personally thank those wonderfully inebriated white dancers, whoever you were, for reminding me.
Tyler Perry told Spike to go to hell. NeNe Leakes told Star Jones she was fat and crazy. Al Sharpton told Cornel West to come down from his ivory tower, Grant Hill ripped Jalen Rose and Tavis Smiley thinks that Obama does not care about black people.
The word I hear associated most often with these public black on black ideological battles is “embarrassing.” Of the Sharpton/West battle, radio personality Tom Joyner said that they should have kept that behind closed doors. I have even heard people say that athletes should just shut-up and play or ask “why would Star Jones bring the only two other black women into the boadroom on Celebrity Apprentice, it just makes all black women look bad.”
Why are black folks so uncomfortable when high-profile black people have public disagreements?
It really is an odd phenomenon.
On one hand, I understand that a history of racism and oppression tends to make a community always want to present a united front to the world. It symbolizes strength, community and unity. It has long been taboo for black people to criticize other black people in “mixed company.” Bill Cosby is case and point. Although there was a significant backlash about Bill Cosby’s remarks a few years ago, it was less about what he said, than about him saying it in public.
But on the other hand, why would we ever want to stifle the exchange of ideas and opinions, no matter how heated? At what point do we stop obsessing about what white people think about us? Our continuing reluctance to disagree in public seems to be the manifestation of some latent inferiority complex. In some ways we are still that oppressed minority who fears exposing any cracks or dissent within our ranks, fearing our overlords will use those cracks against us.
And there is an absurdist aspect to this attitude. People claim to be embarrassed to see Al Sharpton and Cornel West argue over ways to improve our community or the performance of President Obama, yet we accept the most debasing music and images of ourselves in popular media, without a peep. THAT’S what we should really be embarrassed about.
It’s 2011 and we are more diverse as a community than ever. We should embrace the lively debate of the issues that effect us. Lets celebrate the fact that we all don’t agree about everything. I want to hear more ideas and viewpoints and theories and solutions and proposals, not less. We shouldn’t be afraid to criticize our leaders, our celebrities, our academic institutions, our churches and yes, our children. It is through the exposure to opposing viewpoints that we learn the most, and frankly the answer almost always lies somewhere in the middle.
We shouldn’t look at the Grant Hill and Jalen Rose beef and think, “this is so embarrassing, two black men going against each other in public, that’s just what white people want us to do.” We should look at the disagreement as two accomplished men with differing perspectives and different experiences debating race and class in the context of college basketball.
It is this apprehension and this compulsion about always putting on a good face for the “public” that keeps many of us from holding other black folks accountable for their behavior. Whether its an elected official, entertainer, church leader, athlete, or teacher we should enthusiastically debate the important issues, particularly when those issues are relevant to our progress.
I understand the inclination to withhold public criticism. In politics, for example, often we are just so damn happy to have an African-American in the office, that any black person who dare say something negative about them is accused of trying to bring down a good brother or sister. However, all brothers and sisters aren’t good, some ideas aren’t good, some behavior isn’t good. And the deficiencies of the most prominent members of our communities should be challenged just as vigorously as anyone else’s. It’s about freedom. Only when are comfortable enough in our own skin to debate each other as loudly and passionately as we deem necessary, no matter who is watching, will we be truly free.
Hell, even when the debate has nothing to do with our progress or freedom or equality or any of the huge concepts we have deemed important, sometimes simple intellectual curiosity and the exchange of differing ideas is good for us. Debate helps broaden our minds, exposes us to differing points of view. We are offended when society considers us as a monolithic group, yet we cringe when we see black people publicly disagreeing with each other.
Just like we praise the achievements of successful black folks, we should also be able to tell them to go hell. What are we so afraid of? That white people will look at us and suddenly think, “OMG, they disagree amongst themselves! let’s reinstitute slavery”? In other words, I’m not sure what we are so afraid of. Maybe it’s just habit. It’s all in our heads. Long-held behaviors and cultural beliefs are not easily shaken off. Admittedly, these were behaviors born of the survival instinct.
As exemplified by the Birther movement and Donald Trump, there are some folks who will always believe in our inherent inferiority and will take every opportunity to marginalize us, not because it’s true, but because it is so essential to their own sense of self-worth. It is a sad truth that some people only feel worthy by deeming themselves better than someone else. But fuck them.
Regardless of the wacko forces around us, it is not our job to present to the world a docile community who marches in lock step and whose disagreements are all handled in hushed tones behind closed doors. It is our job to present ourselves as diverse, intellectually curious, and progressive individuals who do not confine our thoughts and beliefs based on what other members of our communities think.
We should revel in our ability to challenge each other intellectually, not recoil from it. How else will we take full advantage of the marketplace of ideas our country is so proud of?
The freedom to fight is essential to our development as world citizens. We should not be shackled to group-think simply because it makes us feel funny inside to see Al Sharpton and Cornel west going at it on MSNBC. If Grant Hill wants to rip Jalen Rose a new one in the New York Times then, by george, let him. Newsflash: black people don’t agree on everything. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all know that but for some reason we don’t want the world to realize it.
The world should know that some of us think Meet the Browns is buffoonery, some of us think Duke players are a bunch of goodie-two-shoes-white boys, some of us don’t like President Obama, some hate Oprah, some love Maroon 5 and hate Kwanzaa, and some of us think that any call for reparations are some bullshit. It’s OK ! I even ran into a sista who believes all poor people should be put in shantytowns down by the river. What the hell, I heard her out (though,after a few minutes of thinking about it, I ultimately rejected the idea).
So the next time you see two high-profile Negroes going at it over some issue in the media, don’t hang your head in shame. Perk up, listen to both sides, evaluate the arguments, pick a position and by God, let them fight. Because if we don’t, how will we ever realize that, like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, sometimes they’re both right.