Wednesday, December 26, 2007
OK, I just want to share my theory on the N-word. Over the last few years I just couldnâ€™t figure out why a word that black folks have been using amongst ourselves since slavery without incident suddenly became the subject of all this fiery debate and the symbol of everything wrong with Black America. What suddenly became so wrong with black folks saying â€œniggaâ€ to each other? You look at African-American expression in all art formsâ€”literature, art, music– and black people have used that word with each other since the nineteenth century. You think those folks that laid down their lives for the civil rights movement didnâ€™t listen to Miles Davis and say, thatâ€™s a bad nigga there! You think MLK didnâ€™t use that word? I KNOW Jesse and Al surely use it. And up until now no one really seemed to care. So what suddenly changed??? Why has the N-word been able to exist peacefully in the comforting arms of the black community for a hundred years until now? I think I have the answer.
Hip-Hop. Wait, before you start groaning, hear me outâ€¦.
I think that us suddenly distancing ourselves from the n-word is part of our collective obsession with what white people think about us. Because just think, for the last hundred years, as long as we could say the word to each other in our homes and on the b-ball court and in the jazz clubs and at the bar or the greasy spoon, we were cool. And there were rules. You knew not to say it in â€œmixed companyâ€(white people), you knew the fine nuances that distinguished when you used nigga versus negro. It was an art form. The black community and the N-word had an understanding. Things were cool. But then came hip hop. See when hip-hop put our little secret community word on major blast for the world to see, we suddenly all had to pretend that we found it repugnant and reprehensive because the rest of the world did. Its like when you wear a shirt you know has a hole in it, and then when someone points it out you act all shocked like you had no idea it was there.
The pressure was on. What do we do? The n-word made us look bad and made white people uncomfortable. All of a sudden white kids were listening to young black men use that word ad infinitum and we now also had to explain why it was OK for us to say it but not them. Our hip-hop became the excuse for white people to act all confused about what is acceptable behavior with regards to racial dialogue and what isnâ€™t. So now, we find ourselves having to explain our use of this word to â€œmainstream society.”
I posit that if hip-hop hadnâ€™t brought the n-word to white America and uttered it thousands of times within the sanctity of their white homes and communities, we would not feel the need to explain it, distance ourselves from it or bury it. The problem started when we broke the â€œdo not use in mixed companyâ€ rule. The early days of hip hop had it right. You didnâ€™t hear nigga used very often. But NWA came in and changed the game and weâ€™ve been backpedaling ever since.
So, thatâ€™s my theory. My theory as to why I lived my whole adult life using and listening to the n-word and no one cared, and why now we are suddenly up in arms about it and acting like we canâ€™t believe such a derogatory term is used in our communities. And it all comes back to my favorite acronym, WWWPT (pronounced Whippet), â€œWhat Will White People Think?â€ Personally, I donâ€™t care what white people think about that word. I donâ€™t feel we need to explain why we use it or why they canâ€™t use it. You just canâ€™t. Period.
I donâ€™t feel like I have to justify it as a term of endearment because sometime it is and sometimes it aint. Sometimes itâ€™s just a fucking pronoun. Why do I have to explain a such a complicated, nuanced cultural concept to mainstream America? Howâ€™s this for an explanation: you canâ€™t use it. Itâ€™s like talking about your mama. You can talk about her but no one else can. Itâ€™s because you love your mama and have a relationship with her, itâ€™s that simple. Why are we allowing white folks to make it so complicated? More importantly, why are we all bowing and scraping to make it make sense for them? Black people (and maybe the occasional Puerto Rican) can say the N-word, white people canâ€™t. Get over it.
Itâ€™s like Chris Rock and his â€œblack folks vs. niggasâ€ routine in his stand-up. Black people have been saying this in our communities forever. Only when it got on HBO and â€œmainstream Americaâ€ saw it did it become â€œcontroversialâ€ and the impetus for a sudden intellectual examination of race in America. I remember he was on 60 Minutes being interviewed by Ed Bradley about it. RUFKM?? (r u fucking kidding me?)– Ed knows that he knew exactly what Chris was talking about, but he had to put his blackness on the shelf and play his reporter role and challenged Chris to now explain this concept to mainstream America. Remember those t-shirts from the 90â€™s â€œItâ€™s a Black Thing, You Donâ€™t Understandâ€? Sometimes, thatâ€™s the best answer.
Soâ€”howâ€™s that for a hypothesis? The N-word is only an issue in our communities because white folks have made it an issueâ€”and in order for us not to â€œlook badâ€ to them we all now cast if off as something ignorant and hateful, even though when we use itâ€™s generally not out of ignorance nor hate. Sure, itâ€™s now disguised as a black movement with black leadership at the forefront speaking out against this word. But I challenge you to look deeper, and ask why all of a sudden did they come out of the shadows so strongly against this word? Especially when you know that all those pall bearers of the NAACP N-Word casket are somewhere calling somebody a nigga right now. So lets all get our shovels and go dig the poor N-Word back up. BTW, where was the N-Word buried anyway? Probably next to Common Sense.
Finally, ONE thing me and Michael Eric Dyson agree upon. Sure I may need more data points, but thatâ€™s my hypothesis, and its worth about as much as you paid for itâ€¦. Merry Christmas!
makes you all warm and fuzzy inside doesnt it…?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Something struck me as I watched the promotion for the new holiday movie â€œPerfect Holiday.â€ The trailer mentions a single mom who finds love at Christmas-time or some bullshit. And it made start to think about how many African-American TV shows and films are centered around a single mom or dad. And it made me realize the impact of reality versus ideality, and how our obsession with keeping it real has resulted in a collective lack of vision.
Walk with me on this one: There was a time when you watched TV and film for images of what was possible. We watched â€œperfectâ€ people in â€œperfectâ€ lives who managed to solve all their problems in 30 minutes. And while most of these shows, although classics, would be dismissed as typical Hollywood schlock, the biggest impact of these shows wasnâ€™t in being high art, it was the fact that they helped establish societal norms and mores that we all aspired to emulate. They set the standard.
For example, I came from divorced parents and so did almost everyone I know. BUT when I sat down and watched Good Times or The Jeffersons or The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Fresh Prince or Roc, they showed me what an optimal family looked like. It gave me something to learn from and aspire to even when I didnâ€™t have examples to turn to in my everyday life. It provided an IDEAL. Something to strive for. The fact that TV didnâ€™t reflect my reality was a good thing. Because my consciousness was shaped by ideals rather than by reality, I grew up believing that a nuclear family was the norm, and getting married and having a family like the people on TV became important to me. Most importantly, I saw it as totally within my reach, something that maybe my parents couldnt achieve but i certainly could because there it was, right there on TV. Sometimes art is about not showing people their lives but showing people whats possible for their lives.
We often herald true-to-life depictions of our lives on TV. People say that single parents should be represented in our media portrayals because it is so prevalent in our communities and we should keep it real and show life how it really is. Have we ever stopped to think that it is so prevalent in our communities because thatâ€™s all weâ€™re shown? This generation wouldnâ€™t know a nuclear family if it bit them on the asshole all the way down to the red part. So, regarding family, what do we give them to strive towards? They donâ€™t see it in the real world and they donâ€™t see it on TV and movies. Is it any wonder that marriage isnâ€™t even considered by most young people anymore? If all you see and hear is â€œI donâ€™t need a man,â€ how long does it take to believe it and live it? We are robbing our youth of ideals. We only rise to level of our expectations and if all our youth expect is to be be single parents and have baby mama drama and a no-good man and to pimp him before he pimps me, thatâ€™s exactly what theyâ€™ll do. If all we show them is The Parkers and Gilmore Girls, then The Parkers and Gilmore Girls is who theyâ€™ll be. In one generation we have changed the family paradigm in the name of reality. And its killing us.
Remember Different World and School Daze? It made so many young people want to go to a black college because they made it look so doggone fun! So what if a kidsâ€™ parents had never gone to college, so what if they couldnâ€™t afford it, so what if their high school grades were badâ€”it didnâ€™t matter, Different World gave a generation an ideal to strive for. We wanted to be them. We wanted to be Freddy because she was earthy and had cool hair, we wanted to be smart like Duane Wayne and rich and sexy like Whitley. Who do kids wanna be now? The Hills? Charm School?
Remember Martin? Even as so many look back at Martin and wanna yell coon this, coon that, I remember Martin for so much more than Sha Nay Nay and Jerome and that funny-ass security guard dude. I remember how Martin made everyone want a boyfriend or girlfriend. Martin made a relationship between a black man and a black woman look so healthy and , again, so doggone fun! We all wished we had a Martin or a Gina in our lives. How many dudes didnâ€™t play around and say to their girls â€œgrab my ears!â€ And everybody was like â€œyou go boyâ€ â€œyou go girl.â€ Black men and women actually loving one another. On TV. Imagine that. A fun relationship was the ideal and we all wanted that.
Now weâ€™ve â€œprogressedâ€ to shows and films that are more representative. Meaning, they show life like it is. They keeps it real. Great. Non-stop dysfunction. Weâ€™ve gone from showing whats ideal to showing whatâ€™s real. And sure we all have elements of dysfunction in our lives but thatâ€™s precisely why we donâ€™t need to wallow in it in our art forms. Today we celebrate adversity and embrace ignorance, all in the name of â€œrealityâ€, and wonder why our communities are in shambles.
I know in many respects Im generalizing wildly, but you get my drift right? I guess Im feeling nostalgic, I just miss having people on TV that I wanted to be like. That could teach me something. Sure, its fun having people on TV we can laugh at, shake our heads at, make fun of. Sure, I get a kick out of watching those girls on Maury run off the stage when Tayshawn is NOT the father. Iâ€™ll cop to that. But dayum, even when we do tell our youth to do better, we never SHOW them what better is.
Our youth imitate what they SEE, why donâ€™t we try showing them something ideal for a change. And thats real. (Sigh) Gotta go, I Love New York is on!
â€œArt for artâ€™s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.â€ â€“Chinua Achebe
Saturday, December 8, 2007
If you dont mind, I’d like to toot my broke-ass horn for just a moment. I was named of one Radar Magazine’s “New Radicals”â€””a group of entertainers and writers who are shaping up culture in the right way.” Radar recognized myself and three other members of what they term “The Bloggerati.” Woohoo!!!
You can find us all in the special Year-In-Review December 2007 issue of Radar magazine! I would really like to thank the editor Maer Roshan and writer Brian Marsh for recognizing the impact of African-American cybervoices on popular culture.
Wow, maybe all these countless hours drinking in front of a lonely computer (eating tunafish because my server fees are kicking my ass) are really all worthwhile…..
Friday, December 7, 2007
I recently had a conversation with someone I am very close to and during that talk I divulged some very personal and admittedly unflattering information. And I mean REALLY unflattering. I will say now that I was a wild teen and like most wild teens I made some extremely bad decisions. But while I look back at my youthful indiscretions as trivial footnotes in the story of my life, this person saw me as a hypocrite. How could I run a site that tells people to do better and write a blog that reminds folks that conversate is not a word, when I have a past that would shock the conscious of most? Do I have the right to tell anybody anything?
It is only by the grace of God that I have come this far. It is true that I have been in situations that could have easily de-railed my life. It is true that I have been irresponsible, selfish and reckless. Does that make me less able to challenge others to do better than I did? I feel like I get it from both directions. People accuse me of being a privileged bourgeois negro who looks down my nose at those less fortunate. Now Ive been accused of being such a ne’er-do-well in my past that maybe I don’t have the right to tell others what to do.
Im not sure. But I will say this, my slogan is WE got to do better. Not y’all. I am included in this. I look at my life and as incorrigible as I was at one time, the only thing that helped me thru was the belief my parents instilled in me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. My household stressed education. And although what I did afterschool would end up on hotghettomess.com
, I never lost sight of my goals. I had a strange disconnect between my real life and my play life. As bad as I was, I was good when it counted. And that’s only because of my upbringing. Its because my parents (who were not together) did not accept C’s. C’s were average and I wasn’t average. And they told me that everyday.
And that’s all I’m really saying here. There are some basic fundamental values that we can instill in the next generation that can carry them through tumultuous times and bad decision making they will inevitably encounter. I was a bad kid and did some bad things. Am I wrong to judge now? Does being a bad kid forever prohibit you from challenging others to be their best? Should it stop you from challenging the community around you to excel and to raise expectations of ourselves and our children? From recognizing bad behavior and calling it out?
Can a criminal go back into a community and speak to kids about the dangers of a certain lifestyle? I think so. Who would know better than him about the truth and consequences of crime? I don’t know. I feel conflicted. I have made bad choices. At what point are you disqualified from challenging others to do better? Are you ever? I’ve learned from my mistakes. As my man once asked me, is redemption possible? Throughout this journey, I have made it a point never to put myself on a pedestal because believe me, that’s the last place I belong. I’ve never held myself up as a prototype or role model. I’m just a regular fucked up fatherless girl who happened to do OK for herself in this world. And I want us all to do OK for ourselves in this world and I want kids to have a world that encourages them to be their best.
Yes, I was bad. But Im doing better now. And I want US to be better. I want us to do better than I did.
Yeah, yeah, I’ll be back soon enough talking about more pop culture bullshit but i just really needed to know:
Am I a hypocrite?
I dont know anymore.