Monday, January 31, 2011

Are Black Women Ok with Misogynistic Lyrics?

As a thespian, one thing I especially appreciate about the film industry is its rating system. Movies rated R, NC-17, and of course X, are not available to the general public (or not supposed to be.) This is why the Toy Story trilogy is available to a different audience than the Girls Gone Wild saga. This isn't censorship; this is simply ensuring that the appropriate parties receive age-appropriate entertainment.

Music, however doesn't have a similarly successful system. There are "parental advisory" stickers, but those don't do anything for the relatively ubiquitous presence of adult themes represented in popular music on radio, television and other mass media markets. (While I realize that all genres of music have a raunchy side, I'm most concerned about the urban music because it harms marginalized groups that are already suffering crippling blows.) I know the lyrics to songs I don't even want to know the lyrics to. For example, if you want to avoid hearing No Hands, that means no Top 40 radio for you and no walking down Benning Road or any MLK Avenue in America. You can say that No Hands was meant for an adult audience, which justifies its bass line in 21+ venues, but not its presence on the radio.

This conversation is one I've been having for years but almost always with Black Americans. Until last night. I was talking to a Salvadorian-American friend of mine, a studious, keen, and pretty undergraduate studying history and she hesitantly asked me (out of the blue), "How do you feel about female rappers?" I admitted my unstoppable love for Nicki Minaj. She continued... slowly at first, and then gathering speed,
"In my study of the history of women, particularly Black American women... I've seen how they've been portrayed since slavery as promiscuous women of a lesser value... and I just don't understand how they... you... could be comfortable with Black women calling themselves "bitches" and "hoes." It seems like so many of you have worked so hard to be something better than that, and yes... men are misogynistic, but for women to say it about themselves? And be ok with it? Calling themselves the baddest bitch, talking about p***y on sideburns... it's baffling to me. Outside of reggaeton, the Latin community would never allow our music to get so virulently anti-women. The women, we would stop it. Why don't you say something? Are you ok with it?"

I was for a moment... speechless. I've heard those exact sentiments from Spelmanites, Oprah, and my Black peers, but to hear another minority speak so passionately in favor of Black women standing up for themselves was... a whole new experience for me. We could get into the nitty gritty about whether Latin music is better or worse than "Black" music, about how she too is a part of the problem every time she dances to Get Low, but that would be tangential to the main point. She seemed genuinely concerned about what she saw as Black women's betrayal of themselves.

I did take the time to share with her the few things I know:
  • artists often have little control over the content of their music
  • Black women have continuously protests against misogynistic lyrics and made several strides (famous case in point: Spelman's Take Back the Music Campaign)
  • lots of great men and women who portray us in a better light (Common, Will Smith, Janelle Monae, even Nicki has her moments)
But I don't think this answer is sufficient. So let me hear from you:

1. Was Chris Rock right when he said, "If the beat is right, she will dance all night?" Are we perpetuating offensive music by dancing to it, listening to it, and often times in the case of Nicki, Kim, Foxy, Trina, et al, writing it?
2. What's the solution? Should there be a stricter rating system and limited availability of this music to certain markets? Or should people force it off the air by making it commercially unsuccessful?

I don't welcome your responses; I desperately ask for them. Let's discuss.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Women are Chivalrous Too

I think my friends over at provided a great service for the world when they wrote, "The verysmartguide to 21st century chivalry." Most men still  open doors without a second thought. (I always find it charming, when guys have a low-key anxiety attack when you're walking on the outside and physically move you to the inside of the sidewalk.)

But some men are grudgingly chivalrous. A friend of mine has asked me at least twice, "What is the female equivalent to men's chivalry? What do you all do that warrants our gentlemanly behavior?"

Short Answer
The short answer is history and precedence doesn't dictate that we have to do anything. For centuries, women weren't allowed to work. "Gentlemen" (usually fathers or husbands) funded "ladies" lives. Even in working-class cultures where men and often children were expected to work arduous hours in factories, some men still didn't want women to work. A woman's job was to take care of house and home. Chivalry arose as a need, not so much as an arbitrary responsibility for men.

Long Answer
I agree with the short answer. But I think that for every chivalrous man out there, there are "chivalrous" women that do the following things for men:

Disclaimer: Just like every man is not a gentleman, every woman does not do these things.
1. Your team becomes our team. I know some women are into sports just as much as men, and they may be a fan of your rival team, so they are exceptions to this one. But otherwise, if you're a Buckeyes football fan, we overnight become Buckeyes fans too. We may not know the difference between a field goal and a touchdown, but we think it's appropriate to make scarlet and gray cupcakes in support of our new team, and we go hard in the paint for a team we knew little to nothing about before you. (But if there's a bad breakup, please believe we will support your rival for life! This is how I became an Auburn fan.)

2. Your passion becomes our passion. Somewhat related to the previous one, this one is also something women do without being asked. I remember a girl friend of mine was up late studying HTML and CSS Code. Why? Because her new Web Designer boyfriend was a total techie who talked about it all the time and she wanted to relate. Sure, a good guy will go with you to a play to show support, but they typically won't study it.
What's crazy is we even support passions that don't look promising. We support long-shot rap careers and pyramid schemes too.

3. We keep bodily functions to ourselves sometimes risking danger to internal organs. I hate to break it to you, but all women pass gas, burp, do #2, and some even have the urge to spit. But most of them don't do it in front of you. Some will sit uncomfortably for HOURS clenching body parts just so that you don't see this very human side of us. While guys usually do this at first too, they're usually the first to let one loose.

4. We remember the little things that you often take for granted. For some odd reason, you may like sitting facing the window when you go out to restaurants. So, when the hosts walks us to our table, we automatically opt for the seat that we know you don't want. Why? Because our brains seem to have this strange function where it retains details that make your lives smoother. And we love doing it. You don't have to ask; it's included.

5. We learn how to make that one dish you love. All women can't cook, and it seems men are reluctantly realizing that it is not a guarantee that they'll find a woman who even wants to learn. But if there's one dish you rave about that your momma makes or that you salivate for, we learn how to cook it (or where to buy it). There are a few dishes in my repertoire I would have never learned to cook if it wasn't for certain individuals' specific tastes.

6. We know how to do things there is absolutely no reason for us to know how to do. Like a Windsor knot on a tie. Or folding your pocket square.

Some people wouldn't consider these things chivalrous, and that's fine. Dissenting opinions allowed. I do think however, just as men do things for women that go above and beyond the call of duty, so do we.

What did I miss? Anything I left out?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Patriotism Has a Funny Look to It

Last week, the Washington Express' front cover was of a Islam extremist in Pakistani at a rally in support of the anti-blasphemy laws. These laws were recently under fire because a Christian woman, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for "allegedly assaulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad." Soon after the rally, a Pakistani governor, who supported overturning the anti-blasphemy laws, Salman Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security for his "liberal" philosophies. In a sappy, patriotic moment, I BBM'ed a friend and said, "I'm so glad I'm an American... where I can be Christian without worry of a death sentence."

Less than a week later, (D) Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot by Jared Loughner.

I don't think America's political climate parallels Pakistan.That's melodramatic. However, I do think we can learn a lesson from the mistakes being made in Pakistan and other countries. The loose-lipped political rhetoric from the left and the right is dangerous, and can easily provide fuel for people to justify their fatal actions. We've got Congress members interrupting the President in the chambers, rallies from conservative extremists that get nasty and include racial epithets, Rush Limbaugh saying "I hope our President fails", Bernie Sanders resounding filibuster, and Glenn Beck being... well, Glenn Beck.

Interestingly enough, on the day that the news broke about Rep. Giffords, I was discussing Glenn Beck's responsibility as a voice that speaks to millions. Beck is not a politician, he's an entertainer, which some people believe gives him the right to say whatever he wants with no regards to the consequences. The person I was discussing Beck with insisted that while he is a "hothead", he's a "true patriot." Allow me to walk you through a few of the patriot's comments:
Progressives are using the same tactic as Hitler did in "rounding up Jews and exterminating them"...Obama is the antiChrist... Maybe it's better that [America] doesn't make it because they (who is they?!?) are building a global cage...Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama don't share any respect for the Constitution... Obama has a deep seated hatred for white people... The health care bill is the end of America as we know it...Bailing out General Motors is FACISM!... America is destined  to repeat FACISM! Facism is on the rise!The climate change people are pulling a page from Nazis' Hitler youth.

Say what you want Glenn Beck; you still have that freedom. But don't you dare consider yourself a patriot, when you speak of an impending doomsday for our country and use riotous language.

Whatever happened to supporting discussion and compromise? People consider compromise an ugly word because they construe it as giving in. I wonder if these people ever had to share their toys as a child or traded sandwich triangles. Did you ever say "Have some of my ham and cheese so I can have some of your peanut butter and jelly?" It seems 3rd graders have a better handle on compromise than many of our congress members and adult citizens.

I'm no Glenn Beck with an apocalyptic prophecy for the end of America and the world as we know it, but I will say this. If we want to move forward as a country... if we want our citizens and congress members to be safe, if we want the U.S. to truly progress (which is not a dirty word), we have to cut the crazy talk, stop being so stubborn, listen, and hold people accountable for virulent commentary under the thin veil of "entertainment" or "patriotism."

Disclaimer: I'm not blaming anyone, aside from the individual who pulled the trigger, for the shooting of Arizona citizens, federal judge, and Congress members. However, I do believe that many (Fox, MSNBC, Huffington Post, ex Alaskan governors, Congressmembers, etc) have helped to foster an ugly, angry climate that causes much more harm than good.

What do you think? Is the present political climate healthy or no? Should we cue EPMD's "You Gots To Chillllll"?

1. (book)Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America
2. (article) Washington Post: Arizona Shooting Suspect
3. (article) Washington Express: Gone Too Far? 
4. (article) Washington Express: Pakistani Extremism
5. (song) EPMD - You Gots To Chill

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Hard Out There for A Celebrity

We have non-profits to support all kinds of causes - underprivileged youth, breast cancer research, babies with cleft lips, but none for a cause that has for years affected many individuals.

Celebrity Life.
It's tough. Real tough. Stonewall Jackson.

Imagine this:

Case Study 1: You're a B-list rapper, you just performed at a show to dozens of fans, and you get back to your Extended Stay Hotel... All you want is some sleep and rest. But to your dismay... there are 3 fans standing outside of your door asking to... *gasp* TAKE A PICTURE WITH YOU. How rude is that?!?!? How dare people who buy your music, travel across town, break curfew & their piggy bank, risk punishment for their entire senior year of high school by attending your show and then... on top of that... have the nerve to want to take a picture?!?
This is the sad, horrific life that Wale has to live every day. The preceding story prompted the following tweet from Wale, a DC Native, and hip-hop artist most known for his ability to rhyme motherf***a with motherf****s on the Waka Flocka hit, "No Hands":
It's sad how many people think it's ok to follow an artist to the hotel..and wait outside his room for a picture..really. - Wale.

Case Study 2: You are a musical genius. Everyone's favorite picture of you is one where you're juggling 6 Grammys in your arms for the sorta-eponymous album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." You are the original singer/rapper, way before Estelle and Drake. You're all set to perform for a show at a Brooklyn venue at 8 PM. But you're running late. The audience gets fidgety, but accepts that this is what often happens at concerts. 9 PM rolls around, and people are starting to worry nervously if you're stuck in traffic... 10 PM hits... and the fans are thinking, "Man, I can't believe I rushed here, I coulda stopped at Coldstone and got a Cookie Don't You Want Some" in the Love It Size!" 10:30 PM... The fans are now angry. They search their pockets for a receipt, anything to scribble out a sign to you. One even makes a play off your track Lost Ones and writes, "You Just Lost One." But what reaaaaaallly.... grinds your gears... is that your keyboard player who was ridiculous enough to be on time, puts up a sign that says, "I Was On Time" on his keyboard. You paaay this guy and he has the nerve to side with the fans, the ones who bought your music, and incidentally... his paycheck too... but..... STILL!!! HOW DARE HE! So at Midnight, when you show up, and all these blasphemous signs are thrown in your face by your fans and keyboard player, you are reasonably peeved! As the crowd boos/applauds, you tell them: "If you're unhappy, you're welcome to go back and ask for a refund... I apologize for being late, but there's a lot that goes on in getting this out to you... I don't apologize for that... When I hear people complain, I don't know what to tell you... I know I'm worth the wait."

Case Study 3: Chris Brown. The heartthrob that stole our hearts, made a horrible mistake, apologized, and still can't seem to earn forgiveness. People across America are still mad at him, including Raz-B, former member of B2K. When will this guy get a break? Just because his tweets are read by millions of people, he's required to restrain himself? Just because he can afford someone to monitor his public image, he's required to do so? Just because teenagers across the world, are already gripped by homophobia, many possibly molested, he's supposed to refrain from cheap potshots at someone who requires a full explanation before you even know who he is? ("Whose Raspy? Raz-B? Who's that? B2K?.... Sounds familiar, what they sang?.. Bump Bump Bump? Wasn't that Diddy? Oh they were singing in the background? Oh ok, I think I know who that is. His brother was in Immature. Nah, the other one? Oh...")

It is really hard being a celebrity. I'm so thankful that I'm just a 9-5 peon. We got it made. We don't have to worry about owning Black cards, astronomical bank accounts, adoring fans, and getting booed when we show up for work late.

Tell me why you're grateful you're not a celebrity. If you're interested in seeing a video of how horrible this life is, watch Lauryn tell you:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Most Hated Holidays

It's 2011, a new year, which means, the opportunity to celebrate all our favorite holidays again. most recent post and the comments have informed me that some people hate certain holidays. More than I hate coconut, domestic cats, and bad hair days. Which ones are they?

Why People Hate It:
Every year, I hear theories about how this holiday was created by:
A. Hallmark to create revenue
B. Happily married women who want to make single women feel left out
People hate Valentine's Day because they perceive it as a time to shine on their loneliness and/or because they don't like the idea of spending money to show someone how much you care. They argue that if you love someone, why not show it every day? Why does their need to be a holiday to commemorate your affection?
Why It's Not So Bad: V-Day creates an opportunity/platform for people to be romantic/mushy without being perceived as soft, and gives many emotionally reserved people a specific time to express their love/affection. Plus kind words, affection, and chocolate are rarely ever a bad idea! And it's been around for centuries; it wasn't created by Hallmark. Read more here!

Why People Hate It: Christmas gets a lot of flack for a myriad of reasons. Many decry its (similar to V-Day), heightened commercialism, its pagan roots, its Christian roots, and its crimes to reindeer. Poor Christmas.
Why It's Not So Bad: Regardless of the several pagan customs that have been attached to Christmas, Christians recognize Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus. In secular, non-Christian households however, Christmas can also represent positive themes including gift-giving to loved ones, time with family and friends, and peace on earth. If you're personally offended by Christmas, then take it as an opportunity to give to others, volunteer (you're off anyway!), or spend time with your family. Either way, it's a win-win!

Why People Hate It: Traditionally, we're taught that the first Thanksgiving dinner was a meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans, who shared their food with hungry Europeans. Thanksgiving Haters have a great point. Commemorating a meeting between the violent, hostile and racist/culturalist/imperialist./everythingelseist New Englanders and the peaceful, friendly Native Americans is barbaric. (Sidenote: The previous sentence contains dramatic generalization, but you catch my drift.) As we all know, the European arrival in America was nothing but tragic for Native Americans/American Indians. So why should we sit down to a dinner and pay homage to these horrible events?
Why Its Not So Bad: I don't eat turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, dressing, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, or ham so you'd think Thanksgiving wouldn't be that important to me. However, in a country where the American Dream includes the urge to keep up with the Jones' and want More, More, More, I embrace a holiday that encourages us to be thankful for what we have. Thanksgiving is one of the few times of year I get to see my family, eat a hearty meal, and be purposeful about reflecting on what I'm grateful for. When else are we expected to literally attempt to count our blessings? Your turkey dinner and acknowledgment of the awesome things you have isn't going to cause a Native American to be scalped somewhere. I recommend for those offended by this holiday's origins, they teach others the ugly side of American history, often swept under the table, but also thank the people in their lives for what we are lucky to have.

Other Hated Holidays include Columbus Day, Halloween, and Martin Luther King Day. I say research them all, and do your best to find the silver lining. Because everyone can use a day off every now and then.

What about you? Do you hate any of the holidays listed? Do you love them? Share a word or three.