Kanye: Prophet or Punk

Kanye Grammys

By Keevin Brown

Kanye West’s playful almost interruption of Beck at the Grammy’s was an homage to his actual 2009 Grammy award interruption of Country artist Taylor Swift. The irony of the situation was meant to instill humor and to some level, show a sense of growth and maturity. We as Americans supposedly live in a “post-racial” society, but once again racism rears its ugly head and seems to be the inescapable lens in which we view society.

Due to the antagonistic and outright racist history of America, every interaction between Black and white people is seen through a racialized lens that forces us to question each others intentions. When Kanye faked us all out during Alternative artist Beck’s acceptance speech for Best Album at the Grammy’s, his actions were automatically read as “a Black man picking on a defenseless white guy.” No matter how much Kanye explains that his actions were in jest and that the voices in his head told him to do it (another joke Kanye made that was in jest) he will still be demonized as the “Black bully” who is selective in his victimization to only innocent and unassuming white people.

In an attempt at scolding the Black boogeyman, Garbage singer Shirley Manson in an open letter uses coded language to reprimand Kanye. “You disrespect your own remarkable talents and more importantly you disrespect the talent, hard work and tenacity of all artists when you go so rudely and savagely after such an accomplished and humble artist like BECK.”  Manson’s comments were said in reference to an E! Entertainment post-Grammy’s interview where Kanye espoused his opinion that the Grammy’s don’t respect artistry. Black people have been called “savages” since before the inception of America and for Manson to posit Beck, who is white, as “humble” and Kanye, a Black man, as a “savage” is nothing more than reinforcing tropes of uncivilized Black people who threaten the purity and sanctity of whiteness by virtue of simply existing.

If we are to truly move past America’s bigoted past and present, we need to level the playing field. What Kanye did is exercise his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Kanye did this is 2009 with Taylor Swift and contemporarily with E! Entertainment. Manson also expressed her opinion, which she has every right to. The only difference is when a powerful Black celebrity like Kanye says something it is viewed as savagery, but when white people in the entertainment industry do it, they are touted as heroes e.g. Seth Rogan and his film The Interview. When Seth Rogan wanted to release his controversial and satirical movie that depicts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a less than favorable light, Hollywood stood up for him, but when Kanye feels a Beyoncé should win an award over another artist, which is extremely less controversial he is berated in the media. Hollywood backed Rogan, who will stand up for Kanye?

 

 

Jackie Robinson West & Black “Border-Jumping”

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By Elizabeth Todd-Breland

“I wanted to reach out to you to thank and encourage you to continue to speak out against border-jumping families.”  This was the message delivered from a former Little League official to Chris Janes, the white Vice President of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association who accused Jackie Robinson West’s all-black Chicago youth baseball team of violating neighborhood boundary rules in route to winning the 2014 U.S. Little League World Series.  Little League International stripped Jackie Robinson West of its title after an investigation, prompted by Janes’ allegations, found that players did not live within the necessary neighborhood boundaries to play for the team.  The Little League official’s invocation of “border-jumping” was chilling.

In the U.S., border crossing summons powerful images of race, class, and repression, from deported Latino migrants who crossed into the U.S. in search of economic opportunity to African American parents jailed for forging addresses so their children can attend better-resourced schools.  For those fluent in American history, white anxieties about black “border-jumping” are nothing new. However, the former Little League official’s reference to “border-jumping” is also grounded in a white middle-class suburban ideal that links the idea of community to property ownership and residence.  This notion of community is different from the ideal of community that the black families of Jackie Robinson West created in a park on the far south side of Chicago.  In one of the most segregated cities in the country, the borders between black and white Chicagoland have long been contentious and governed by racism.  These borders also generated different types of communities.

Chicago has a long and well documented history of border-creation through segregation in housing and education.  For decades government policies, contract mortgages, restrictive covenants, and racial redlining reinforced segregation and restricted black residents to specific areas on the south and west sides of the city. When these were ruled illegal, less formal geographic barriers including viaducts, highways, railroad lines, and parks continued to serve as convenient lines of racial neighborhood demarcation.   For much of the 20th century, whites defended these borders and barriers to exclude black residents, at times violently.  Despite this, during the latter half of the 20th century many white neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides increasingly transitioned into predominantly black residential neighborhoods.  This change was the result of duplicitous blockbusting practices and white flight to the suburbs, which was aided by federal subsidies.  This history produced the predominantly black communities around Jackie Robinson West’s park on the far south side of the city.

This history also produced the predominantly white suburb of Evergreen Park, IL.  Like many suburbs, Evergreen Park developed as a homogeneous white suburb with a history of racial exclusion.  After World War II, Evergreen Park’s population increased as whites fled the city and its growing black population.  Today, the community is still predominantly white, but is surrounded by Chicago communities with significant black populations.  Recently documented cases of racial profiling in Evergreen Park demonstrate an enduring commitment to policing the racial borders of the community.  So, for many African Americans, the Evergreen Park Athletic Association’s policing of Jackie Robinson West’s border crossing is all too familiar.

Little League International and Chris Janes mobilized white middle-class suburban notions of community and neighborhood that defy the histories and lived experiences of black urban communities.  Little League International projected a concept of neighborhood that “embraces policies designed to preserve traditional community-based leagues in which classmates play with classmates, friends with friends.”  This romantic construction of community is premised on property ownership and residence and was used to punish Jackie Robinson West’s “border-jumping” families.    It obscures the profit-motive imbued in youth sports and imposes a notion of community that is often not possible in black urban neighborhoods.  A sense of community based on property ownership and residence is difficult to sustain black communities that suffer from systemic disinvestment: closed schools, foreclosed homes, commercial flight, and shuttered mental health clinics. This, however, is not to suggest that black urban neighborhoods are void of community.

If anything, the remarkable success and deserved praise of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team showcased the strong sense of community that continues to exist in black neighborhoods.  The families who participated in Jackie Robinson West’s baseball team created community in that park on the south side of Chicago while navigating blended families that straddle the city and suburbs, gentrification and abandonment, neighborhood violence and long-standing block clubs. The social and economic forces that created predominantly white racially exclusionary suburbs like Evergreen Park also fostered the conditions of disinvestment that require black Chicagoans to create a different understanding of community beyond property ownership, residence, and school attendance areas.

When people exclaim that #BlackLivesMatter, they are also declaring that black culture and black communities matter. I stood with my child on the corner of 63rd and Halsted Street this summer with other black parents and grandparents, children from local daycares, and black students and workers from nearby Kennedy-King College, waiting anxiously for the Jackie Robinson West team’s victory motorcade to pass.  The people assembled on those corners did not necessarily live on the nearby blocks, but we were part of a broader community that day: a black community, a community of Chicagoans, a community of “border-jumpers.”  As that crowd swelled with pride, we felt that black lives and black communities, however constituted, mattered.

It is ironic that black kids from segregated black communities are being punished for “border-jumping” onto a team named after Jackie Robinson, a man who is venerated precisely because of his “border-jumping.”  There are many lessons to be learned this Black History Month, but I hope we remember that the black children and families of Jackie Robinson West brought a community and city together on their own terms.  For that, they will always be champions, regardless of others’ attempts to patrol borders.  

 

Photo: Jackie Robinson West/White House

Nikisha, One Half of Urban Bush Babes, Talks About Her Struggle With Mental Illness

From Afropunk:

Watch this enlightening video on a subject many of us shy away from, suicide and mental health. Nikisha, one half of the Urban Bush Babes (the online beauty and culture publication) lets all bare as she discusses her history of ADHD & Anxiety Disorder, and her son’s diagnosis with the disorder.

h/t Afropunk

Watch: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Trailer

From Clutch:

In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.

Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, Straight Outta Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job). The drama is produced by original N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who are joined by fellow producers Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright. Will Packer serves as executive producer of the film alongside Gray.
h/t Clutch

Is ‘Orange’ the New Green?

CookCountyJailuniforms

From the Chicago Reporter:

Most people see a jail and think about crime, tragedy and heartbreak.

Others see dollar signs. That’s because incarceration can be a big money maker.

Consider the drab polyester and cotton scrubs worn by detainees and inmates at Cook County Jail, where about 100,000 people are booked annually. (At County, the men wear tan and the women wear blue, not the more infamous orange.)

In 2012, Ohio-based company Pyramid Enterprise Supplies, a minority-owned business that also provides Smith and Wesson handcuffs and leg locks to the jail, won a two-year,  almost $1.7 million county contract to provide the Cook County Department of Corrections with clothes, undergarments and accessories. Jail executive director Cara Smith said the county activated the first of three renewal options for the contract last fall at an additional cost of about $340,000.

The original contract included more than 50,000 inmate uniforms, totaling about $600,000.

  • The uniforms were manufactured by Gardena, Calif.-based Robinson Textiles—a company whose alleged ties to sweatshop labor in the Dominican Republic ran afoul of San Francisco officials in 2012.Alleged violations included problems with worker health and safety, wages and sexual harassment.
  • When Robinson Textiles shut down in 2014, the Bob Barker Company agreed to fulfill Robinson Textiles’ contract obligations. Those obligations now include supplying Pyramid with uniforms for Cook County inmates.
  • In 2008, the Bob Barker Co., a family-owned business based in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., also was accused of using sweatshop labor. The allegations stem from work at a Bangladesh factory that supplied the company with inmate undergarments. Workers allegedly complained they were beaten for making mistakes or refusing shifts, forced to work strenuous 18-hour shifts or work overtime if they fell short of hard-to-meet production targets.
  • Touted as the nation’s premier detention supplies provider, the company has won other contracts tosupply inmate shoesjuvenile detention uniforms and mattresses. Records show Bob Barker Co. has been awarded at least $13 million in federal prison system contracts since 1995, including agreements with about 100 federal prisons across the country.
  • In 2009, Bob Barker Co., which has nothing to do with the popular TV game show host, founded a nonprofit foundation to help fund programs focused on reducing the number of incarcerated people who return to jail.

Read the entire article on the Chicago Reporter

Photo: Sophia Nahli Allison

Stay Mad Then! : In Defence of The Right To Be Angry

Kanye Grammys

On Kanye West, Azealia Banks and a call for a deeper reading of their rage.

By Jay Dodd

Kanye’s narrative has been riddled with often sloppily generalised tantrums. While we must hold him accountable to his “seat at the table aspirations,” we often, as consumers of his frequency of Blackness, only hear him as whiny child begging for attention. In 2009, when Kanye stormed theMTV VMA’s to call out the injustice of Taylor Swift winning Best Female Video over Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, official lines in the sand were drawn in the Kanye Fan Club. Some supported him: critics fetishizing his Black Boy rage, BeyHive stans who wanted to do it themselves, and me, clearly (sorry bout it). Others saw this act as yet another temper tantrum from the oft caustic and flippant egoist Mr. West. 

Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive.

In the time since, we have seen him marry into a pop cultural case study of race, class, and positionings of Blackness, all while trying to negotiate his own. And since the birth of his daughter he has taken on new forms and new languages for his work. Last night he performed both his recent homage the lineage of woman in his life , and his conversation about respectability with Rihanna (“Only One,” and “FourFiveSeconds,” respectively). Kanye, his mouth, (his dick) and his whole brand are constantly seen through a lens of anger. But recently, he has shared with us smiles and some thought things were “safe”, however: Kanye West absolutely cares about Blackness and artistry.

As part of the anti-black violence “some call cultural smudging” in the popular culture, we see this trope of the Angry Black Folk. They speak out the mouth, they clap back, they embarass & destroy. Kanye has screamed out at varying levels of injustice, and at each of them we should attempt make a space to hear it. While often misread as infraction, Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive. While this violence on Kanye is a child like caricature and salivation at his smile, this violence is compounded for Black women.

From the grave understating of Janet Mock’s byline, to the racist vitriol from Rosie O’Donnell this week against Lauren Chief Elk; rage and clap back on Black women is shamed and essentialised. While several Black female artist, there is a particular defense available for emcee and teen witch Azealia Banks. Our conversations often position Banks as angry Black girl. Her language, often without nuance and absent critical construction, can read has “terror”-inducing and occasionally complete reproduces problematic violence. However, that explosive narrative, she also calls out the racism of the cis-queer community and resists notions of submission. In her rage, critics are quick to strip her of her openly queer identity. It appears folks want to sanitize her queerness to delegitimate her critiques.

While her responses are flippant, the accusation of Azealia’s “homophobia” seem unfounded because she has been openly queer since her first big hit“212”. Her interactions with Perez opened a flood-gate of Twitter beefs combating the racism (internalized and otherwise) in Hip Hop and the language-policing of Black artist. She has tuned her outcries toward the cultural erasure happening in Hip Hop and connected it to the larger conversation of anti-Blackness in America. There is a productive space for Azealia’s resistance. So, how are we to take these complicatedly justifed angry Black folk. For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility. Though aspirations of validation are varied, there is a consistent desire to be seen .To be seen by your own, to be seen as human, to be seen as worth something. Banks and West cry out to be seen, and reserve the right to.

For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubbling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility.

Mitigating Black anger is an often used as tool in the erasure of Blackness in popular culture; capitalizing on its sub/superhuman quality, why pathologically killing Black people in the flesh. To quell, or quench or smother Black rage is an often tried tactic of institutions built around language and media. In the ways that, Martin Luther King Jr. can be painted as soft or easy or unradical, he outcried with such rage he too was target. Anger on Black bodies circumvents any performance of respectability, they will be read as dangerous in life, and eviscerated in death.Kanye decided, last night, to mitigate his own anger. He, whether premeditated or knee jerk, did not throw a tantrum on stage. He spoke to a center of pop culture in America. He laughed and smiled through crying injustice. He negotiated rage into a language he has been attempting to acquire seemingly since his debut.

If Kanye has learned anything in his fame’s trajectory, it is subversiveness breeds conversation. He juxtaposes personal understandings of class, sexuality, and most often race in culturally accepted locations. His sex-tape capitalizing wife on his the cover of Voguehis capsule collection of jeans and t-shirts; these subversive dichotomies are revealing of his new languages of resistance. Academic and Activist, Zoe Samudzi recently tweeted that: “Black Skinhead” from 2013’s Yeezus,is “a dissonance of being conscious and seeming to so desperately to want [to be] this king of the world artistic genius celebrity.” These cultural paradoxes are sometimes frustrating with his brand of brash messaging but he consistently has wanted Blackness and artistry to be linked and celebrated. He is more than just saying what we think, he is rattling our notion of popularity and disarming what we rely on as the angry Black man trope.

The Grammy’s, like other growingly archaic award shows, have made it clear that Blackness is not valued only “profitable”. Many argue that outrage against the consistent erasure and rejection of Black art is not productive. We must consider that Kanye, like Ava Duvernay in her Oscar snub, know their artistry exists whether or not these “academies” recognise it or not. While Black artists all choose to push back or respond to such dismissal differently, we need to make a space for frustration and anger that comes along with being framed as unworthy. There is a place for Kanye, and angry Black folk.

This post originally appeared on VSnotebook

Photo: Youtube/Screenshot

Black Future Month: Why “History” Don’t Satisfy

black lives matter

By Aziza Barnes

On my phone in a group text, November 2014.

I’m in a 3 way conversation with my homegirls post Darren Wilson non-indictment/Daniel Pantaleo’s non-indictment/ post we-lost-track-of- the- names- the murderers- and- how- much- they- get- paid. We’re numb, the way people get during war time to make it through the day. We’ve been waiting for the verdicts. We’ve watched every trail on live stream. We are each childless, but full of the possibility of becoming a Black American Mother. It’s as if we are watching our stock plummet exponentially.  I type, “we gotta get outta here.”

She type, “and go where?”

I type, “I don’t know.”

She type, “you don’t know cuz there’s nowhere.”

And she type, “Pick a country that don’t have a history of killing black folks and enjoying it.”

And she type, “It’s every country. It’s the world. “

And she type, “There’s no place for us to go.”

I type, “maybe it’s not about our bodies anymore.”

She type, “it’s always been about the body.”

I type, “Not moving them anywhere. Something different gotta move now.”

I start watching the video of Eric Garner’s wife rejecting Daniel Pantaleo’s apology for choking her husband to death. Flying Lotus’s “You’re Dead” album plays on my laptop speakers, a music video of “Coronus: the Terminator,” on the following tab. As with most of Fly Lo’s recent music videos, it begins with a depiction of a Black man on his deathbed. The video is of his afterlife. This man, post mortem, walks through his house to find Flying Lotus and two other Black men covered in white powder, sitting in anticipation in his family living room. They sing, “the days of men are coming to an end…so come with me, if you want to live…” Our group text peters off because we are mourning and still have to go work and still have to buy groceries and still have to pay the light bill so Con Edison don’t show up at our doors. Still. The song plays on, “there’s nowhere left to go, so I’d like to save you…my hands been bloody since the day I came…” Eric Garner’s wife leaves the podium. I imagine the night after the press subside. She’ll go home. Her husband won’t be there. She will tuck her children in. She will clean the bathtub. She will begin the daily process of staying here.

Eric Garner’s wife is doing the thing Black Americans have historically done since our introduction to The West, and continue to do (as far into the future we allow ourselves to be seen). She is trying to: “freak it,” “make it work,”  “work it out,” “make it happen,” “make something out of nothing,” “a way outta no way,” “suck it up,” “keep it pushin’,” “figure it out,” “handle it” “get the job done,” “take care of it,” “hold it down,” and all other variety of phrases Black folks have built that say, essentially, “do an impossible thing and do it seamlessly.” It’s a cool behaviorism. Don’t get hot. Don’t let them get you worked up. Even in death. Shit, primarily in death. Maybe it’s the reality for people whose bodies have been commodified. Death can’t afford more time than necessary. You’re on The Clock. You’re forever bound to the moment. To work. Grief can linger. But not the moment of death. As a potential Black American Mother, this is a future I can look forward to. As a potential Black American Mother, this is my history.

I return to Flying Lotus. Play the video “Never Gonna Catch Me” featuring Kendrick Lamar. The scene: a funeral parlor in Central LA, the city I grew up. A church of Black folk wearing black. Two caskets. One with a girl, no older than 7 or 8. One with a boy, same age. The scene is familiar. The photos surrounding each child’s coffin are familiar. The candles. The choir clapping, trying to raise their spirits. I’ve been to this scene. For my cousin. For my friends. Someone killed the kids. It’s not unusual. It was police. It was other kids who’ve been victimized by the police. So, it was the police. This particular video doesn’t say. I understand where I am until the kids wake up, leap out and start dancing this intricate swing routine in front of their families, their congregation, who don’t notice their bodies in motion, who continue to mourn. Kendrick’s lyrics fly behind their impossible dance, “I got mind control when I’m here/ you gon’ hate me when I’m gone/ ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear/ I got hope inside of my bones / this that life beyond your own life/ this say this go for mankind / this that outer-body experience / no coincidence you been died/ you are dead.” Out of body experience. Escaping the body. Not out of shame of being Black. Out of necessity for survival. I’m intrigued by the thought.

As this February comes around in 2015, I realize that it ain’t the first time the phrase “Black History” has felt redundant. History doesn’t serve me the way it used to. Of course we have a history. We relive it, are engulfed by it, traumatized with its revival on a consistent and daily basis. We know, intuitively, that Emmett Till is Trayyvon Martin is Sean Bell is Oscar Grant is. It’s our lineage. Claudia Rankine says as much in her most recent printing of “Citizen,” with the extended passage of yet-to-be-dedicated Black men yet-to-be-killed. I look at science fiction in tandem with our current news headlines and am overwhelmed with our erasure as a people. Can we envision ourselves 10 years from now on Earth? 50? A century? We haven’t been given the luxury given our need for a culture of survival. A culture of survival is fortified by history. By how we’ve overcome before. That we can do it again. The impossible thing and do it seamlessly. What lies beyond the point of “freaking it?” “Making it work?” “A way out of no way?”

Can we envision ourselves beyond our bodies, as Flying Lotus does? Lotus reminds me of the works of other Afrofuturists, in the tradition of Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, Janelle Monae, P-Funk/Parliament Funk-a-delic: seeing past Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and into, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot / stop and/ let me/ ride!” An escape. A future. A commitment to our Decided Exodus. We know what’s going on. And we gotta dip on out. For P-Funk, Space was the place. A “Mothership Connection.” A new frontier and we don’t got to be the cargo? I’ll fly that ship quick. Eric Garner’s wife refuses to appease the white gaze upon her, refuses to make her imminent future opaque. She says, “hell no. The time for remorse was when my husband was yelling to breathe…no, I don’t care about his apology because he’s still working. He’s still getting a pay check. Feeding his kids. And my husband is 6 feet under and I’m trying to find a way to feed my kids now.” Find a way. Steal away. We know this tune. I’m invested in “that life beyond you own life.” For Eric Garner’s wife. For every potential Black American Mother. I’m invested in Black Future Month for this 2015. Getting past “a way outta no way” and into uncharted territory of a life without the negation. Without the “no way.”

 

Aziza Barnes is blk & alive. Born in Los Angeles, she currently lives in Bedstuy, New York. Her first chapbook, me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun, was the first winner of the Exploding Pinecone Prize and published July 2013 from Button Poetry. You can find her work in PANK, pluck!, Muzzle, Callaloo, Union Station, and other journals. She is a poetry & non-fiction editor at Kinfolks Quarterly, a Callaloo fellow and graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is a member of The Dance Cartel & the divine fabrics collective.  She loves a good suit & anything to do with Motown.  

 

Get Free: LGBT Rights and Black Liberation

get free

Recognizing how mainstream LGBT and racial justice movements have often ignored the issues that young Black LGBT people face, BYP100 seeks with this video, and future mobilization efforts, to broaden the narrative of what’s at stake for Black people in the LGBT rights movement. At the same time we want to push the mainstream civil rights community to expand its analysis of how issues such as violence, homelessness and health care impact young Black LGBT people,” saidCharlene Carruthers, national director of BYP100.

Communities of color and LGBT communities are NOT mutually exclusive Prof. Elizabeth Todd-Breland states in the video, “LGBT people are in communities of color.” In fact, LGBT folks have historically been on the front lines of many struggles within communities of color, despite a history of being silenced. That legacy of participation continues today, as seen in the recent protests of police violence held across the nation. The struggle of the LGBT community, like the struggles of all marginalized communities of color, is a fight for human rights, an assertion of voice and a declaration that all lives matter.

Over the past several months the stories of police violence have moved to the forefront of many minds, but we still have work to do. BYP100 is outraged at the lack of indictments in Ferguson, Staten Island and around the country, of police officers whose violent actions resulted in tragic fatalities. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by a police officer, security officer or self appointed vigilante. This cannot stand and we have not stood by quietly. To expand the story of police violence and create transformative change, BYP100 has led local direct actions to advance our police accountability campaigns in cities including Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, DC. The Agenda to Keep Us Safe serves as a manual for BYP100 and allied groups seeking to end the criminalization of Black youth.

Johnae StrongBYP100, Chicago chapter leader, explains, “It is not one struggle, one fight. We are fighting for the right of a full life. And sexuality, how we practice and present ourselves, is definitely a part of that.”

The most pressing issues facing Black LGBT folks are not a focus of mainstream LGBT or Black organizing. Issues of safety and criminalization are making headlines but homelessness, and denial of access to adequate housing, education, healthcare, and employment are equally important for Black LGBT individuals and must be addressed by both Black and LGBT social justice organizations.

BYP100 members are committed to working in a space that is building a Black queer and Black feminist politic. Charlene Carruthers, continued: “For us there is no way for Black people to be free in this country or in this world, without also the liberation of our LGBT brothers and sisters throughout the movement.”

 

 

From Brownsville to the White House

Vidal

From the White House:

A couple of weeks ago, a photo of 13-year-old Vidal appeared on Humans of New York, a popular blog. He talked about his principal Ms. Lopez, saying: “She told each one of us that we matter.” After garnering more than 1 million likes and shares on social media, the photo gave rise to a national campaign that has raised more than $1 million for Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn — the neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York City. The funds will send students to visit Harvard, support summer programs and provide scholarships.

 

 

 

Un/Classically Beautiful: The Problem with the 2015 Grammy Awards’ Selma “Tribute”

Ledisi

By Erika Dickerson

While we were waist-deep in circular (yet necessary) conversations about Iggy Azalea’s Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album, her “blaccent,” and appropriation of Black music and culture at-large, the Grammy Awards were undermining Blk women in another way: the “tribute” performance for Ava DuVernay’s Selma. Let’s quickly recap the shameful dismissal that has encircled Selmato date:

At the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, Selma was nominated in every major category: Best Drama Motion Picture, Best Original Song (Glory), Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture (David Oyelowo), and DuVernay became the first Blk woman in Golden Globe history to be nominated for Best Director. Still, we left only with a win for John Legend and Common’s “Glory,” reminding us that America will accept our rap music but not our stories and the reality of this country’s violent racism. Not to be outdone, the 87th Academy Awards (The Oscars) only nominated Selma for Best Picture and Best Original Song. DuVernay and her actors were cheated out out of rightful recognition of their dynamic directing and acting, respectively. The Academy’s 432 voters are reported to be 93% white and 76% male. Had DuVernay been nominated, she would’ve been the FIRST Blk woman nominated for Best Director. The Golden Globe Awards has existed since 1944 and the Academy Awards since 1929 and still  a Blk woman has yet to win an award for Best Director. Think on that.

Then there’s the 57th Grammy Awards. With very few nominations for artists of color, the awards show decided to attempt diversity on stage. They even threw in a tribute performance for Selma including “Glory” introduced with a snippet of Mahalia Jackson’s “Precious Lord” sung by Ledisi Beyonce…even though the song was sung by nine time Grammy nominated artist, Ledisi ,who played Jackson in the motion picture. Thus far, I have listed the year of each award show to highlight how Blk people’s talent and industry work has been undermined at best and at worst, altogether ignored. This year, the Grammys reminded us that dark-skinned, counter-cultural women are still unwelcome on the main stage, that their work is not good enough for broad recognition, that systematic oppression exists in the arts beyond rap, and that Blk women don’t always choose each other over opportunities for self-advancement.

None of this is new. When I heard the news of Ledisi’s dismissal, I immediately thought of the NY Times critic who deemed Viola Davis “less classically beautiful.” I thought of the outrage at the fair-skinned Afro-Latina, Zoe Saldana, playing Nina Simone in the biopic that never quite made it to the screen. I think of Beyonce’s 2011 blackface photoshoot/tribute to Nigerian artist, Fela Kuti with L’Officiel Paris. I try to reconcile the questionable L’Oreal ads that all but dismiss Beyonce’s Blkness. I think about howDreamgirls was marketed with Beyonce as the main character and all of the blog feuding concerning Jennifer Hudson “outshining” her. I remember the 1949 film Pinky, where a light-skinned Blk woman was played by Jeanne Craine, a white woman, though Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne auditioned for the role. I remember Hattie McDaniel, who often filled stereotypical roles such as the mammy in Gone with the Wind. Something in my belly churns when I remember that she became the first Blk person to win an Oscar for that role but was forced to sit in a segregated area away from her colleagues. That same uneasiness comes over me in thinking on Halle Berry’s 2002 Oscar win for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Monster’s Ball, where she arguably plays the object of the white gaze and the sexual object of a racist white male. I think on the difficulties that Ethel Waters encountered because she was not only Blk and female, but a dark, full-figured, Blk female. I think of the fact that Alfre Woodard is hardly mentioned when speaking of beautiful Blk women actors.

And then there’s Ledisi. The loc-sportin, chocolate Blk woman who often shows more vocal range than cleavage, is nearly a decade older than Beyonce, and is perceived as inferior to Beyonce’s cross-over sex appeal, Grammy nominations, and overall award wins. Beyonce, in all of her Blk girl glory, is, in many ways, more digestible that Ledisi. Beyonce is a blonde bombshell with curves in all of the “right” places. She’s one-half of American’s beloved hip-hop power couple. She’s rich, commercially successful, and seemingly balances marriage and motherhood effortlessly. She can sing and damn it, despite the ruffling of white feminists’ feathers, the girl is magic. Beyonce will undoubtably get ratings. The politics behind the Grammys’ Selma tribute decision was surely political. To mention that Beyonce will perform anywhere guarantees millions of faces plastered to the screen waiting for the magic to occur. In addition to the historical undermining of Blk and moreover, dark-skinned Blk women actors and singers in mainstream Hollywood, there are several  other factors to consider in this matter.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, John Legend and Common revealed that Beyonce contacted them about performing “Precious Lord.” Legend went on to say, “You don’t really say no to Beyonce if she asks to perform with you.” While I love and respect John Legend and Common and have recently applauded them for their gracious acknowledgment of Ava DuVernay during their Golden Globe acceptance speech, I am gravely disturbed by Legend’s words here. Despite the extent of Beyonce’s celebrity and the many other opportunities to collaborate with her, Legend affirms taking an opportunity at the expense of Ledisi. Additionally, there is no evidence that Legend, Common, or Beyonce even considered collaborating with Ledisi on the performance in an effort to respect her role as the actor and singer of the song in the film. It’s one thing for Blk people (and dark-skinned women specifically) to be overlooked by historically racist systems like these award shows, but it cuts differently when we overlook our own.

I am disappointed that Beyonce did not choose to be audaciously brave in calling out and undercutting colorism and ultimately, the system’s racism by deferring to Ledisi, or at the very least, collaborating with her. I am disappointed that I was told by an older Blk sister via social media that I should simply accept that Beyonce is doing a job and be glad that chose her instead of Ariana Grande. I am angry at the idea of settling forany representation instead of accurate representation. What messages about ourselves have we begun to believe? Since when did we start accepting breadcrumbs? I will never settle for Beyonce though I love her. She is critical to Blk feminism, Blk Hollywood, and a shining example of work ethic. She complicates Blk women’s sexual politics and prowess. She is magic. But so is Ledisi. As a powerhouse, it is my hope that Beyonce won’t always ride the fence in obvious injustices like #Ferguson or in covert injustices like this Grammy Award fiasco, that she won’t always pepper social media with politically correct statements about pay inequality between men and women or sample Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism without using her influence to eradicate injustices, much less be a tool in committing them. Beyonce (John Legend, Common, and any other beloved celebrity), though wonder-filled, is not and cannot be above reproach. We must critique those we love, be critical in accepting mass media representations of us, and intentional in representations of ourselves.

May we never forfeit our dignity or the dignity of others and the pursuit of equity for an opportunity at the expense of one of our own. May we never settle, even for Beyonce.

Also, remember that time Ledisi killed that Peaches verse in Nina Simone’s classic “Four Women”?

Be Blk. Real Representation Blk.

 

This piece was originally published on The Daughter’s Table

Photo: Ledisi/Ron T. Young Photography/Facebook