Number Crunching with Lyfe Jennings: The Problem with Statistics

I’ve never been good at math. Perhaps that is why I find Lyfe Jenning’s “Statistics” so troubling.¬†¬† Several months ago I addressed the issue of the “lonely black girl” narrative and how it is pervading the cultural zeitgeist.¬†¬† Since then this narrative has become even more familiar, as the subject of Black radio broadcasts, editorial pages, and¬† general water cooler conversation.¬† With Helena Andrew’s Bitch is the New Black on bookstore shelves and the sequel to Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale‚ÄĒGetting to Happy‚ÄĒdue in stores this fall, I have no doubt the BGBHS (Black Girl By Herself) onslaught will continue. Into this cultural m√™l√©e, enters Lyfe Jennings, a R&B artist well-known for his gritty urban¬† story lines, with his new song Statistics. While it purports to be an education to help prepare women to find Mr. Right, I¬† suggest that it is a further contributor to the widespread miseducation of Black women in the lessons of life and love.

For the sake of the overall polemic, we will leave aside Jenning’s fitness as a teacher on such matters, given his history.¬† But the basic premise of the song suggests that there is only a certain percentage of black men available due to a series of maladies, personal shortcomings, character flaws, and other characteristics‚ÄĒsexual preference‚ÄĒthat makes them unavailable.¬†¬† The song opens:

25% of all men are unstable
25% of all men can’t be faithful
30% of them don’t mean what they say
and 10% of the remainin’ 20 is gay

That leaves you a 10% chance of ever findin’ your man
That means you better pay attention to these words that I say
I’m gonna teach you how expose the 90%
and show you what to do to keep the other 10.

It goes on in similar fashion setting forth rules for the women folk, which include among others “Don’t be a booty call”, “Tell him that your celibate”, and “Be the person you wanna find”.¬† On their face, I don’t have a problem with any of these propositions.¬† However, if Statistics if at all prescriptive, it is a merely chicken soup for what has really become a relational cancer in the Black community.

I have heard people suggests how deep this song is and how Jennings really hits the nail on the head with this one.  Yet to me its more like he is tightening  an already well-driven screw.  Suggesting that only %10 of men are quality/available within the dating pool will only make the situation between men and women more tenuous.  Right now what Black women and men need to hear is a message of self-love.  One that demonstrates how to live a life of experiences and joy, how to leverage their personal power to make a difference in the Black community and society-at large, and how to the heal the historical wounds and mend the discords between them.

The extent to which Jennings algorithm is valid is debatable.¬† So many of the women in my life‚ÄĒself-included‚ÄĒare so consumed with meeting societal norms of having the loving boyfriend, big white wedding, children, and the white picket fence that we fail to acknowledge if this convention is even aligned to what will really make us happy.¬† What would it look like to be beautiful, intelligent, educated, financially successful and completely self-possessed to point that¬† having or not having a partner did not define our happiness?

The blogosphere has been rumbling for months now on the role of the Black church in keeping Black women single.  Columnist Deborah Cooper really sparked the conversation, which has since been picked up on by the likes of, with her article The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African American Women Single and Lonely. The article basically blames the Black church as an institution for a sort of magical thinking within its Black women parishioners that has left them single and alone.  It goes on to make the argument that Black women should abandon the Black church en masse and focus on themselves and their families.  Essentially, I disagree with this premise because it suggests that Black women and the Black church are a monolith.  However, I do think a refocusing on what it means to be a fearless Black woman is in order.

Many of us our not living our lives to the fullest because we are afraid.  We are afraid of being alone.  We are afraid not reaching our full potential.  We are afraid of tapping the most divine part of ourselves. Many of us are deathly afraid of loving ourselves fully.  We are afraid of loving the God within us.  We are afraid of sacrifice.  We are afraid of failing.  We are afraid of getting outside of our comfort zone.  We are afraid of forgiving.  We are afraid of putting down our bags (baggage).  We are afraid of our creativity.  We are afraid of our dreams.

Yet I am convinced that if we sat aside these fears and tapped into our greatness we would not care about statistics‚ÄĒdaunting or otherwise.¬† We would be convinced that providence has us precisely where we need to be and “with” who we need to be at any given moment.¬†¬† I am tired of seeing the women in my life unhappy in relationships and unhappy alone.¬† I am tired of seeing this in myself.¬† As I grow and learn each day, what has become manifest to me is that life is truly an opportunity to love and be loved.¬† This love will emerge in all manners, romantic and otherwise; it is our responsibility to be available to it in all its forms.¬† This responsibility requires us to learn to accept ourselves as whole, perfect, loving, harmonious and happy‚ÄĒeven if we do not always feel this way.¬† My hope is that in the “knowing” and “accepting” of our greatness will bring love in to our lives in such abundance that the numbers will not even matter.

‚ÄúOur deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.‚ÄĚ

Marianne Williamson

Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend: Naomi Campbell’s Blissful, Beautiful Ignorance

Naomi Campbell is a world-famous supermodel with money, power, access, and influence.¬† Over the span of her career she has clearly¬†lived¬†a life of privilege based¬†on the commodification of her physical beauty and her ability to market that as an asset.¬†¬† Ms. Campbell has garnered and actually leveraged a reputation as a world-class diva or bitch, depending on your point of view‚ÄĒlargely steeming from¬†her tendency to lose her cool and¬†launch objects at “the help”.¬†¬† The most recent spate of¬†¬†controversy to hit the glamazon involves her alleged receipt of blood diamonds from ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who is charged¬†with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Sierra Leone’s civil war.¬† Campbell was summoned by the¬† war crimes tribunal to give evidence on the alleged exchange.¬†¬† Despite her initial¬†refusal to attend, Campbell was subsequently subpoenaed and gave 90 minutes of testimony that bordered between reluctant and blithely stupid.

As a Campbell fan‚ÄĒalbeit now wavering one‚ÄĒI was very troubled by the portions of her testimony I saw online and read in the press.¬† Her appearance at the trial of¬† the alleged war lord¬†was certainly an odd pairing in the world of pop-culture and international politics.¬† Yet, to come to such an event on the world stage with such a¬† callous¬† and indifferent demeanor was simply irresponsible.¬†¬† After arriving at the proceeds fashionably late but fashionable in a cr√®me brulee¬†ensemble and perfectly coiffed main, Ms. Campbell stated “I didn‚Äôt really want to be¬†here.¬† I was made¬†to be¬†here. Obviously I just want to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a major inconvenience for me.”

Some are reporting¬† that there were obvious gasps from the public gallery in response to this statement, no doubt a reflection of her seeming lack of concern for the larger context of¬†the day’s events.¬† If you watch the video, she generally seemed annoyed and put off by the entire proceedings, and spoke in a tone that suggested¬†that given her beauty, fame, fortune, and status she was really “above” the entire situation.¬† I suppose strolling down catwalks¬†and jet setting at white parties with Diddy¬†is more appealing that testifying before the Hague, but Campbell should¬†have shown some more dignity and class, as a citizen of the world but also as a person of African decent.¬† Suffice it to say,¬† I am quite sure the victims and surviving families of the bloodshed and other indignities of war¬†were at times inconvenienced, as well.

Campbell was born in the UK and had a rather posh upbringing.¬† Discovered at 15, her quick rise and phenomenal success in the fashion world put her in a social strata that perhaps shielded her from the realities of those struggling with war, famine,¬†and poverty‚ÄĒthough she has done work with Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund and other charities.

Throughout¬†her career she has been known to behave like a petulant child, but Ms. Campbell showed a real lack of respect for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and those concerned¬†with their plight, with this most recent episode.¬†¬† Whereas I once regarded her as an icon of Black beauty in an industry¬†that has historically rewarded¬†the more¬†western beauty¬†aesthetic, I now wonder if Ms. Campbell is simply all style and no substance.¬†¬† During¬†one baffling exchange in her ¬†testimony she stated that she had never heard of Charles Taylor before, never heard of the Country Liberia before, and had never heard the term ‘blood diamonds’.¬† I mean even Kanye West had a song about Blood Diamond, perhaps he might fill her in on what she has clearly missed; I mean they do move in the same circles.

Now granted my knowledge of world events¬†is¬†grounded¬†in what I can learn reading the Washington Post, listening to PRIs¬†The World, and the second hour of Diane Rehm Friday newsround¬†up, but honestly¬†I pray Campbell is feigning ignorance on these series of¬† general world news factoids.¬† While Campbell may have very well not known what the “dirty little stones” being offered to her were, I truly doubt this is the case. I think Ms. Campbell was fully aware of what she was receiving, despite¬†the best impression of an empty-headed ignoramus she gave during her testimony.¬† I argue pleading ignorance perhaps allows her to keep the attention on her physical person, her bread and butter and keep it off those contents of character, like intelligence, morality, courage in the face of your greatest fears, honesty, and personal accountability.¬†¬† Ironically¬†these traits so readily describe¬†Nelson Mandela, Campbell’s¬†adopted grandfather and mentor in her philanthropic¬†activities.¬† So accordingly,¬†I¬†accept that¬†Campbell is not a Rhodes Scholar, and her role in society is not to make insightful world political commentary, but as¬†the fashionista¬†jet sets around the world, she could really benefit by learning more about it.

Now Run Tell Dat ‚Ķ.Home Boy: Antoine Dodson and the Ghettoization of Black Online Identity

Antoine Dodson is a digital Ghetto Superstar. For those living under a rock, video of a news broadcast featuring an interview with the Alabama native went viral over the last week and is now the most downloaded video on YouTube.  In the instantly infamous footage, Dodson gives a rather colorful interview on the attempted assault of his sister.  In recounting the confrontation with the intruder, he does not emote an ounce of fear or intimidation standard for such evening broadcast news fare.  In contrast, Dodson is confrontational.

Donning a red bandanna, he threatens to go after his¬†sister’s¬†attacker and subsequently¬†dares¬†the intruder to ” now run and tell dat… homeboy”, in the video’s most quotable line.¬† The video and that particular¬†gem of black vernacular¬†has been remixed, mashed-up, auto-tuned, chopped and screwed and composed into song.¬†¬† However, as a cultural phenomenon, there is something much¬†more signficant about this video than its platform for comedic improvisation.¬† It reveals some particular conflicts about how Black people negotiate identity in the broadcast media, online, and within¬†larger society.

The Dodson video is culturally relevant because it adds to a larger narrative about Black identity that is being negotiated right now, particularly in the digital sphere.  Just the previous week, we saw former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod being taken to tasks for being a racist, after doctored video of a speech she gave to the NAACP was posted to the Internet.  The power of this story was the speed in which it took hold in the public consciousness and the equal speed in which the story shifted course.  Similar to the Sherrod video, the Dodson video has taken on a life of its own, but to what consequence?

I could not help but find the video comedic but at the same time I wondered, who in the news room edited this segment and was there at least one Black person involved in its production?¬† Many¬†Black people will argue that the portrayals of Dodson’s¬†family and there¬† living conditions was unflattering and not reflective of¬†¬†¬†the overall¬†experience of¬†the Black family¬†in¬†America.¬† The accuracy or honesty of the narrative that this video puts forth is arguable because it is a mediated¬†cultural artifact.¬† Moreover, your sphere of experience in the world is going influence how you view and understand this video. So for instance, while I can see the humor in this video, I can also understand the real frustration Dodson and his sister have with their living conditions and really the overall social stratification in American society.¬† ¬† Denoting the suspect as “some idiot from out here in the projects”, Dodson’s sister¬†hints at¬†the liabilities that come with inner city living, public housing, and general¬†urban blight.

The problems extend beyond simply lacking that invaluable feeling of being safe in one’s own home, though the importance of this cannot be underestimated.¬† The¬† problems run the gambit and¬†extend to any number of¬†socio-economic limitations: from¬†access to healthy foods, good education, safe housing, medical resources,¬†and employment to access to high-speed digital Internet.¬† The irony of the digital divide is particularly felt when viewed in the context of the Dodson story. While he is an internet superstar,¬†I cannot¬†help but wonder if him and his neighbors have access to the¬†Web.¬† While fiber may be¬† laid in¬†many urban areas, unlike many rural environments, inner city Blacks still lack¬†access to¬†high-speed web connectivity, outside of their mobile devices, due to cost and other¬†barriers to entry.

And yet we are still left with Antoine Dodson and what has become a national lampoon of a certain representation of Black identity.¬† His construction of the English language, his use of Black vernacular, body language, and cultural references are something that a Black person is going to view differently than an outsider.¬† To be the number one downloaded video on YouTube, it is clear that this video is being viewed, interpreted, and reinterpreted now by persons outside of the Black experience.¬† This can be¬†dangerous ground because while many of us may be¬†able to laugh at this video, we can still commiserate with Dodson and his sister’s experience.¬† Because race remains such shaky ground in this nation, it often feels that in these kinds of situation the outsider is not laughing with us but as us.¬†Leading me to wonder to what extent a video like this confirms widely held stereotypes about the entirety of Black identity, and furthermore affirms the exceptionalism that many outside our race assign to President Obama and other articulate, intelligent, and successful Black people.¬† We cannot simply reduce¬†Black identity to the haves and have nots among us, and we should not let this happen in the larger culture. Moreover, the¬†importance of¬†the attempted¬†rape of a Black woman is seemingly marginalized in this narrative.¬† It’s almost as if we forgot that a crime against a woman happened.¬† Where are the feminist on this one or are they laughing, as well?

The Dodson narrative is still unfolding.¬† Apparently, a T-shirt line and any number of other commercial opportunities are emerging from this cultural moment, leaving me to wonder how Dodson may capitalize on his instant fame.¬† It would be a shame for his likeness and¬†what amounts to his intellectual capital be appropriated and him not benefit.¬†¬† This moment remains complex and difficult to negotiate in my mind.¬† What about you? Is Dodson’s interview simply a humorous cultural moment or does it say something larger about Black identity in the United States?¬† If so, does what it say reflect¬†positively or negatively on the wider Black community?¬†In an online¬†sphere that has largely been the bastion of the elite¬†and intellectual among Black thought leaders is there any benefit to the ghettoization of Black online identity?

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