The Brown Girl’s Dilemma: Beauty Standards, Media, and Colorism


It is 2011.  Colorism should be a relic of  America’s ugly racist past. Yet one look at Twitter or a BET video countdown and you will see that Black America’s internal struggle with complexion is still alive  and thriving today.  Hash tags of #teamlightskin and #teamdarkskin abound in online social networks and this is sad.  Media conceptions of Black beauty all to often fail to show its remarkable and brilliant diversity; this should change.

We all know that divisions around complexion were created  during slavery to further manipulate and conquer a stolen people.   However, I wonder why we continue to internalize such divisions to collective our detriment.

Today, I  can say without any reluctance or shred of dishonesty that I for one love the brown skin I’m in.  Yet complexion has informed my conception of myself for as long as I can remember.   Whether it was growing up and questioning if my brown skin was really beautiful, or wishing for long silky hair; the issue of colorism crystallized for me well before I could intellectualize it in a useful way.

At five-years-old I did not know about America’s tradition of slavery and legalized discrimination. Then “Jim Crow” would have sounded like a  funny name for a Sesame Street character.  However, I could observe and it was made clear to me through film, television, and even family dynamics that light-skin was preferable.

My father’s family were very dark-skinned people, and in contrast my maternal grandfather could have passed for white.  This led to an interesting color politic between the various households I moved through.   I grew up hearing pejoratives and stereotypes associated with both light and dark skin that definitely colored my self-perception and how I perceived others. Some of the malarkey I heard growing up included stereotypes like: “dark-skinned” women are naturally mean and could not be trusted.  In contrast, “light-skinned” or “yella” women—though beautiful—were highfalutin.   Children were embraced and doted on for their beauty  based on their complexion. Light eyes and soft hair were rewarded, and dark skin and kinky hair were resultantly penalized.

My grandma checked my ears at birth to either confirm or deny what my complexion was going to be.  However, to be fair she was born in 1916 and a lot of her ideas around race were a product of being raised in a segregated South.  My father once told me he wished I had his soft curly hair instead of my mother’s less than soft and curly hair.  As a little girl, I can even remember asking my mother why I was so much darker than her, and expressing that I wished I was her complexion.  It is memories like these that formed the foundation for my  self-conception as a dark skinned Black woman.

School reinforced this original conception.  When I played pretend with my schoolmates, we would imagine we were light-skinned with long hair.   In the 80’s and I would argue even now, fair-skinned beauties were the dominant representation of  which Black was beautiful.  We wanted to look like Vanessa L. Williams, Tracey Spencer, Pebbles, or The Good Girls. From where I stood, the girls in school who were considered the most beautiful and popular were those with fairer skin and long hair.  I am positive that this experience was felt entirely differently from the girls who embodied these traits.  In fact, since my adolescent travails around color, I have talked to my girlfriends who have the light skin, the green eyes, the soft hair.  Guess what?  They experienced just has much hurt and color confusion from being ostracized, stereotyped, and otherwise harassed.

Dating  in the DMV is always an interesting experiment in color politics.  This area is probably more susceptible to this kind of nonsense because of the transient nature of the residents and  the area’s historic ties to Black Bourgeoisie or African-American elite.   As a very brown girl, I have had the experience of being told I was beautiful–with the caveat.  Those who have this experience know exactly what I mean.  You know the whole “your pretty for a brown-skinned girl” or “I don’t usually date dark girls” spiel.  I frankly cannot stomach this kind of talk and it is an immediate turn off. It is fine to have a preference around what you find attractive; however, I would challenge those with these kinds of ideas about complexion to look at their own experience. I’d ask you to consider how much of what you deem attractive has been informed by the media, hip-hop, the beauty industry?   Similarly, I say to the women who say they want their kids to be light-skinned or have good hair, you are simply fueling a disgusting cycle of self-hate.  Please stop.

You may have seen the trailer for the soon to be released documentary film “Dark Girls”.  The film—produced by Bill Duke for Duke Media and D. Channsin Berry for Urban Winter Entertainment— documents dark-skinned African-American women recounting their painful experiences around their color. The amount of sadness, self-loathing, pain, and denial in this brief preview is demoralizing.  Yet the film has ignited  a long overdue public conversation around colorism and intra-racism.

Ultimately, we need get away from these toxic and misinformed conceptions born of a racist past.  We should not let this ugly tradition fuel what and who we are today.   Beauty is socially constructed and hence can be deconstructed.  Accordingly, we need to start embracing various representations of Black beauty.   However, if we look critically at this issue, I think more than diverse representations we will find the need for a catharsis.  The hurt caused around this issue is what troubles me more than anything.  I hope that “Dark Girls”  will be a platform for this.

So where do you stand on this complexion thing?   How has colorism affected your self-conception?  How does it affect your dating choices and options? Where do you see historic remnants of colorism playing out in our modern time?  Do you subscribe to the Team Light Skin and Team Dark Skin parodies? Do such attempts to make light of this obviously complex issue help or hurt the matter?

What Happened to Ciara?: R&B and the New Sex Entrepreneur


It seems like it was just yesterday when little Ciara was singing an ode to the benefits of keeping one’s cookies in the jar.  Six years later,  her now delicately cultivated sexual Lolita image has been either co-opted or manipulated into outright hedonistic vixen.  I for one am not happy about it.  With  her recently slumping album sales, this new level of sexuality reeked of desperation and was bad form for a clearly talented young woman.

I was extremely disappointed with the video for her gym friendly single “Gimme Dat”.  The single has her once again leveraging the southern fried hip-hop laced stylings that put her on the map, except this time around the audience is distracted from the intricate choreography and gravity defying dance moves that made her famous.  Instead, we find her in a full sexual spectacle popping it on a handstand, gyrating, and clad in her underwear dancing in the rain.  Her dancing is amazing, but the imagery makes her come off like a glorified pole dancer; she even performs much of the dancing in the ubiquitious stipper shoe—the glass heel.

Make no mistake that this exotic dancer/stripper imagery is by design. It is not an accident.   With the recent popularity of Amber Rose, Maliah—others, it makes sense that the largely patriarchal music industry sees an economic opportunity in co-opting the images of its female R&B starlets to  evoke a similar aesthetic.

I do not want to get all judgmental big sister on Ciara because sexuality has always had its place in R&B and soul, but there is a thin line between sexy and trashy.  Take for instance, Christina Milian.  She was carefully managing the naughty good girl image—up and until—her video for “Dip It Low” found her sliding across the floor and gyrating in pools of oil.  Her singing career tanked soon there after.  Even Janet Jackson—the master of the naughty good girl image—couldn’t survive the nipple slip seen round the world.  She blurred the line between trashy and classy for a good run, but one near fatal move finds her musical career barely gasping for life.

With Rihanna giving us a lot of manufactured S&M imagery and both Keri Hilson and Kelly Rowland  following much of the same path, it seems to succeed the modern R&B star must become a sex entrepreneur.  She must balance equal parts talent, sexuality and purity−so as not to appear “deflowered” to their male fans (see inside image of Rihanna’s Loud CD). This seemingly impossible challenge has been mastered by few.  Remarkably, Beyonce has managed to walk this tightrope for over a decade—balancing sex kitten, with empowered feminist, diva, and business woman.

I would hate to prematurely morn the loss of Ciara, as I believe she has the time and talent to rebrand and redeem her image.  I am not suggesting she take the sex out, but instead she remember the importance of artistic integrity to her fan base.  She is certainly not a strong vocalist like a Melanie Fiona or a Jennifer Hudson, but she was well positioned to inherit a Jacksoneque like role as a consummate entertainer.

So what do you think?  Are the sexualized images of R&B stars like Ciara, Rihanna, Rowland and Hilson simply the norm now for a music industry plagued by poor album sells?  Does legitimate talent allow artists to avoid the trappings of the over-sexualized image?  Does the male consumer drive this trend or are women—as consumers—equally responsible for our representations?

Darling Nicki: Okay I Admit it….You Had Me At Hello


I am about to admit a very painful truth.  I am now a Nicki Minaj fan and I have probably always been ***hangs head low in knowing embarrassment***.  My girl crush on Nicki started with her feature on Yo Gotti’s 5 Star Bitch, but for a long time I was stuck in this moment of cognitive dissonance trying to figure out who this girl was and why was she everywhere like parsley.

I know that it is standard operating procedure for the dayum near thirty and over set to hate on Nicki for among other things her purported lack of lyrical prowess (I disagree), her uncanny ability to produce strong features while simultaneously offering lackluster solo efforts, her affiliation with the Young Money Crew, her penchant for pink, her surgically enhance derrière, her fake love affair with Drake, her faux British accent, and cartoonish sputtering flow.

Yet what I’ve come to realize is what we hate Nicki most for is not being Lauryn Hill Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Da Brat, Remy Ma, or Trina. Nicki represents a  shift for hip-hop fans of my generation; and the sting is particularly potent because she has come on the scene like an all consuming flood, after a long drought of successful female MCs.

I can imagine a similar tension was felt by fans of Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and Mc Lyte, when Kim and Foxy hit the scene.  Their anti-cconscious hip-hop aesthetic was certainly frowned upon from a certain kind of feminist hip-hop head. Kim and Foxy created a brand that  eschewed traditional feminist values—apart from a hyper sexual aggression that could be viewed as a form of sexual liberation.  They created an archetype for the female MCs of today whose material largely focuses on sex, materialism, the criminal life and excess.

As far as the Lauryn Hill nostalgia goes, I can certainly sympathize with a desire for her educational, heartfelt, and emotive—if not sometimes preachy—brand of hip-hop.  However, Lauryn is highbrow; comparing her with Nicki is like comparing Tyler Perry to Spike Lee.  They both have their unique brand of genius, but one is driven by popular appeal and the other by artistic merit.

Nicki Minaj has appropriated aspects of this brand of female rapper, but has created her own infectious rap style  and persona that makes allows her not only bankable but primed for superstardom.  Her verse on Kanye West’s Monster marked my conversion moment from secret fan to outright Minaj advocate: “So let me get this straight/wait I’m the rookie/But my features and my shows ten times your pay/50k for a verse no album out…”

Fire.  This lil’ broad is going in!

Nicki’s theatrics have also been subject to critique.  A lot of folks have a problem with her strange voices and singy-songy animated delivery; but like her visuals and the dramatics are part of her brand.   A former performing arts student, Nicki understands the importance of being over the top and its has been invaluable to helping her stand-out.  It’s like hip-hop Glee and I love it.

Set aside the animated facial expressions, cartoonish voices, and references to Barbie and listen to her verses.   Her flow is multi-faceted and dynamic, mixing Jamerican inflections, brash storytelling, and yes pretty decent use of metaphor. Check her verse from the 2009 Hip-Hop Award Bet Cypher and tell me it’s not fire:

Nikki has the bravado, confidence, and killer instinct of some of the hottest male MCs and she does it in bad ass Giuseppe stilettos.  The girl’s shoe game cannot be slept on. This signals another thing I’ve come to appreciate about young Nicki.  She does not apologize for being a girl’s girl succeeding in a testosterone laden industry. Right Though Me and Your Love are written from a uniquely female point of view and are void of typical sexual innuendo. These songs are about relationships and I can dig ’em.  However, Let it not go unsaid that Nicki does manipulate and leverage her sexuality. She  even plays with her sexual preferences in the same way drunk girlfriends dance with each other to beg male attention in the club, see her verse on Usher’s Lil Freak:

Excuse me little mama but u can say im on duty
Im lookin for a cutie a real big ole’ ghetto booty
I really like ur kitty kat n if you let me touch her
I kno u not a bluffer.. i’ll take you to go see usher
I keep a couple hoes like santa I keep a vixen
Got that dasher dancer prancer vixen
Comet cupid donner blitzen….

I cannot wait until Pink Friday.  On November 22nd, along with much of the 106 and Park contingent, I will be purchasing the album and Kanye’s effort due for release the same day. With her mentor Lil’ Wayne released from prison just today, it will be interesting to see where Minaj’s career goes next. I’m excited to see.  So Nicki critics, here is my message to you:  put down the haterade and let this young girl do her thing.

Hair Today Gone Tommorow…The Boldness of Baldness


Chrisette Michelle '"For Freedom, Not Beauty"

I did not exactly shave all my hair off  last year, but I came really close.  I was going through a period of transition and I hastily decided everything needed to be simplified.   So I rushed to the barbershop and asked the wonderful barber, who remains my guy ’till this very day, to just shave it all off.   He is so cute; I think I keep it low just to see him sometimes, but I digress.   Cutting my hair  was a harrowing experience, but very freeing.  I looked at my little boy bald head and thought wow,  no hair.  Sitting in the barber chair, staring at my now huge eyes and prominent nose, I began to questioned myself:  is this the same me?   Can I be pretty without hair?  Will men find me attractive?  The latter concern was of course reinforced after  my dad protested my decision, saying ” Why would you do that?…Men don’t like  women without hair”.

I’ll have him know that much to the contrary, I’ve found many do.

When I shaved my hair, I was not making a political statement or seeking to adopt any trend; it was more about a personal journey.  Taking off your hair, as a woman is like removing a security blanket.  Society is so hair obsessed that opting out can be viewed as revolutionary, even if one’s motivations are purely economical.

While I was not out to subscribe to a particular counterculture beauty aesthetic, I got to tell you not having hair is truly liberating.  There is real freedom in not having to go the hair salon and sit under the dryer  for hours, or fuel the cream crack economy.   Yet, I am now facing a real conundrum: to grow back or not to grow back that is the question.   My confidence journey is well-played out now having been hairless for close to a year and I want options, but at the same time options can be costly in time and treasure.  Plus I love the way a new shave feels on my scalp. However, I tired of men rubbing my head at public events.  I am short and I think they feel warranted to do so.  Yet I am stating unequivocally that it is not endearing, but instead, very jarring; so please stop it!

Chrisette Michelle, who recently decided to go low, has a wonderful poem entitled “For Freedom Not Beauty” on her website .  The poem is about her choice to shorn her locks.  In the poem, she asked the question, “Since when is creativity subject to criticism?”  In response to Michelle, I would argue since the invention of “the critic”. However, I too  was floored when Solange Knowles was berated in the and blogosphere last year for her choice to shave off  all her hair.

I found it odd folks were not happy with her “personal” choice.  Magazines accused her of doing a “Britney” and blogs were even more cruel.  Perhaps the criticism was because the original cut was such a hack job,or because she was seen in a wig at a public shortly after the bold move was made, or simply because there is just a lot of Solange resistance out there (methinks misdirected anti-beyonce sentiment?) .  In response Knowles stated:

“I guess you just go through different phases in your life. I was pretty much at the point where I needed the change and I needed to focus my energy on more productive arenas. I was putting too much into my appearance and I needed to make this about growth and going to the next stage of my life. I felt like I was being distracted by something as simple as hair.”

Here, here Solange.  Ironically, Solange’s sister, Beyonce is responsible for a lot of what is going on with hair culture now in my opinion.  As pop-stars and celebutantes like the Kardashians, Ciara, and Ms. B get these larger than life weaves, it sets unrealistic beauty standards in the real-world.  Women are getting all kinds of lace fronts, wigs, weaves, extensions to replicate this idealized hair aesthetic and even it isn’t real.  It is certainly not a realistic beauty standard for a lot of Black women, who are so often told to embrace and emulate western standards of attractiveness, if they want to be accepted.

Last year, I saw Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” shortly after getting my haircut off and it made me feel even more empowered.  Watching the film, I learned hair is a big business and it is a business whose revenues are seen largely outside of the Black community. I try to support “Carol’s Daughter” and other black vendors with that thought in mind.  However, I need hair to buy black hair products — it is a predicament indeed.  So what should I do?  While I make my decision, its comforting knowing I have at least one fan.   On the blog Beautiful Black Woman – Thoughts of a White B’woy, a site dedicated to uplifting and honoring the beauty of Black women around the world, blogger Andreas post:

Fact: The only women that looks good in shaved/bald hair/head are the black women. This fact is strictly subjective and reflect only my view. But hey, black bald women can be really fine! 🙂

Hair today or gone tomorrow? I need your help.

Thoughs.

M.I.A.’s Born Free: Violence, Media, and Artistic Representation


Another week…another controversial music video…

This time up to bat is avant-garde hip-hopper M.I.A., with the short film for her single Born Free.  M.I.A., born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasa, brings politics front and center with a violent albeit cinematic critique of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The shocking video was banned from YouTube just yesterday.

The daughter of a Tamil revolutionary father, M.I.A. is no stranger to the violent political discord, the likes of which her video dramatizes.   She was born in London but was raised in Sri Lanka during the decades long Sri Lankan Civil War that pitted the ethnic Tamil minority in rebellion against the Sri Lankan government.  The conflict was characterized by forced evacuations, raids, and many argue genocide.

French director, Romaine Gavras sets the video in a generic-gray cityscape, complete with the high-rise tenement housing that serves as a backdrop for the docudrama styled film.  Born Free’s sonic rock, drum laden beats and distorted vocals open the video with a police raid on one such tenement that finds a terrorized couple, nude in their bed and under attack.

Next, the video narrows in on its disjointed narrative, which finds the police squadron singling out, kidnapping, beating, and eventually executing red heads.   The most jarring scene features a redhead boy being shot in the head at point-blank range.   Other violent scenes include cringe inducing police beatings and a graphic landmine explosions, one in which a man is blown up and torn apart limb by limb.

The selection of red heads as the terrorized minority seeks to satirize and critique the absurdity of ethnic and religious divisions that characterize such genocides in the real world.  The video could have easily extrapolated its narrative trajectory from the recent Nigerian massacres; in which Christian villagers were trapped and killed by Muslim herdsman—between 200 to 500 were killed.  Similarly, it could be connoting the Armenian genocide, during which 1.2 million Armenians were killed under Ottoman-ruled Turkey.  As an aside, Armenians around the world gathered to commemorate the mass killings just this past Saturday.

The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the war in Darfur, or the Bosnian Genocide are all variations on the same tragic narrative that has plagued too much of our collective human history: arbitrary violent division justified by differences that when compared to our common humanness are as negligible, as the between red or blonde hair.

Lady Gaga’s Telephone video filled with bondage, sex, and Quentin Tarantino references felt risky and subversive less than two months ago—now with Badu and M.I.A. making strong and radical political statements in their videos and songwriting, Telephone’s celluloid sexuality and materialism feels like light fare.  [See M.I.A.s humorous take on Gaga here]. 

M.I.A.’s social justice critique does not single out one group, conflict, hero, or villain in the video; instead she takes wide lens in her radical approach to confronting injustice of persecuted minorities.  Like Erykah Badu’s Window Seat, Born Free seeks to make a bold political statement about injustice—through asexualized nudity and graphic violence.   Badu’s assassination and M.I.A.’s executions are both uniquely striking visual representations, during this cultural moment.  M.I.A. inserts an international voice to the domestic conversation Badu started with Window Seat.   The systematic persecution of people of color, undesired minorities, poor people, and immigrants is a shameful and all too common reality in this country and around the globe.

How timely that this video would come out at the same time that Arizona enacts a law ” that requires local police to question the legal status of anyone they “reasonably suspect” of being in this country illegally”.  The law—noted by our immigrant son President as being “misguided”—will no doubt lead to increased racial profiling and harassment of ethnic Native,  Mexican, Hispanic, and Latino peoples, regardless of legal  their status.

The law appears unconstitutional and against the very precepts and values of a Nation supposedly founded on the equality of all men; a nation alo built by immigrants and “displaced” people, whose checkered history on human rights rightfully deserves interrogation. From the historic treatment of Native peoples, the tragic past of African enslavement and Japanese internment to the systematic plague of urban warfare that plagues are large cities today, America should pay close attention to Born Free, before life imitates art.

Militia groups, Tea Partiers, Birthers, and any number of groups are rallying in the name of freedom, with cries of “we want our country back“.  However, what does “our country” really mean?  The radical fringe elements of these and other groups are advocating secession, civil war, armed rebellion, and even the assassination of dissonant voices.  This is scary stuff.   With Palin’s firearm rhetoric and talking heads spewing hateful and malicious  vitriol 24/7, I wonder where our great country is headed.  Is polarization and divisiveness really our only future?

While cable news can be scary, it is not nearly as frightening as the government mandated discrimination that provides the framework to the Arizona law. For those concerned about civil liberties, regardless of political affiliation, this law should be of concern.  It brings us as a country—developed nation and all— one step closer to the police state depicted to in the M.I.A. video.

So what do we think? Does M.I.A.’s use of graphic violence to critique the injustice of genocide provide the cultural stimulus required to start a national or even international conversation on human rights?  Or are her unapologetic politics to radical much for the entertainment sphere?  Is political music and art vital and/or commercially viable in this cultural moment?

Thoughts.

Top Cheating Songs of All Time – Musical Musings on Infidelity


Is it me or is cheating the new black?  It seems like everyone is getting their “creep” on.  The long list of public officials, celebrities, sports icons, and other noteworthy individuals engaging in this—at times—extremely tawdry behavior has made cheating uniquely part of this cultural moment.   We all know the infidelity is older than David and Bathsheba, however, the media saturation, public interest, and hyper speed revelations of mistresses, porn stars, call girls, and prostitutes have created new spectacle around the act. While JFK’s philandering remains largely mysterious and surrounded by myths, now we get Twit Pics, YouTube confessionals, text message transcripts, and enough tabloid fodder between the newsstands and cyberspace to fill a landfill the size of Texas.

Take a look at today’s Google entertainment news.  The top stories include the Sandra Bullock and Jesse James debacle and Oprah’s planned interview with former John Edwards mistress Rielle “skankalicious baby-mama” Hunter.  Lest we forget  the peripheral cheating news of the week, Tiger Woods is returning to golf after a five month absence stemming from the fallout of his well-reported extra-marital trysts.   Over the last year, the list of cheating hearts has been epic: Eliot Spitzer,  Kwame Kilpatrick, Mark Sandford, David Letterman, Steve McNair (R.I.P.), David Patterson, and even country music sweetheart LeAnn Rimes have all be caught up in the media scandals involving their reported philandering.  When what’s done in the dark come to light, there are tears, lies, hurt feelings, and countless numbers of broken marriages that illustrate the repercussions of infidelity. 

For all the hurt, this basement of the human experience that is infidelity has also produces some pretty good tunes.  Songs about infidelity run the gambit, from the campy and sardonic, to the emotional and lyrical, to the morally ambiguous. So with no further ado, here is The Kabosh’s countdown of the top cheating songs of all time:

As We Lay – Kelly PriceKelly lays bares her soul on this soaring ballad about a night of passion with a secret lover. While I prefer this version, the original sung by the legendary Shirley Murdock is also yearning and breathtaking. 

Resentment – Beyoncé: B’s take on the inner conflict of staying with a cheating lover builds to a roaring crescendo of heartbreak and pain.  

Fool of Me – MeshellNdegeocelloA barebones confessional that emphatically asks, “You made a fool of me, tell me why?  If you have ever been cheated on, you may need the tissues for this one.

G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T. – Changing Faces: When a woman’s fed up, brotha you betta get to steppin because, as the song states: “I can do bad all by myself”. 

In My Bed – Dru Hill:  This soulful breakout hit, which along with the then controversial single’s video, put Dru Hill on the map. 

I Can Be – Aaliyah: A bass-driven funky boast of a woman who is ready, willing, and able to be the other woman. 

Love Should Have Brought You Home – Toni Braxton : A hit from the Boomerang soundtrack, this song always reminds me of when in the film Halle Berry responds to Eddie Murphy’s declaration of love stating, “…love shoulda brought your ass home last night” and proceeds to smack him silly.

Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr:  A philandering classic of star-crossed lovers kept apart by their current relationships. 

Everything I Miss At Home – Cherrelle Featuring Alexander Oneal – The duo famous for Saturday Love recounts an affair of the heart.

Me and Mrs. Jones Not much to say about this one, they had a thing going on.  Strangely enough, in blue-eyed soul news, I found out Michael Bublé has a version of this song, as well.  Something about this feels wrong…blasphemous even!

Creep – TLC – Everyone’s favorite keep it on the down low anthem—the lyrics to which my mom still manages to mangle:  “just keep it on the downside“.   

Down Low – R. Kelly – Don’t mess with Mr. Biggs’ Woman Kells; Ron Isley will get the reach on you.  Nuff said. 

Not Gon Cry – Mary J.  BligeSome of us are still waiting to exhale.  Listening to this Mary track should get you at least half way there.

O.P.P. :  Naughty By Nature – This song is without a moral thermometer, but it sure does rock the club. 

Laundremat – Nivea & R.Kelly Soap, Powder, Bleach, Towels, Fabric Softner, Dollars, Change, Pants, Socks, Dirty Drawers I’m Headed To The Laundromat

Now give me your favorites.  Which cheating anthems get your blood boiling? Which help you cope with the pain of a wayward lover?  Do you blast them in your room in the mirror? Or do they provide the soundtrack while you bust the windows out his car?  Also, what does this cheating moment mean?

Thoughts.

Erykah Badu’s Window Seat – Baring Body to Lay Bare Truth


Erykah Badu Window Seat Image

Erykah Badu In Window Seat

 

Erykah Badu’s new video for the single “Window Seat” is either art for controversy’s sake or controversy for art’s sake.  Either way, Badu is back and people are talking.  With over 36,000 views on YouTube, an article on CNN.com, and a variety of both pro and con blog postings, Erykah has made her statement.  Now, it’s time to assess what exactly that statement is.   

The video features a plainly—if not shabbily—clad Badu walking down a Dallas, Texas, sidewalk  and stripping butterball naked to the melodic base line of her thumping new song Window Seat.  Shot guerilla style in a single fluid take, the video ends with a fully nude Badu being symbolically killed at a spot near where President Kennedy was assassinated.  In the songs post script, a prostrate Badu lies on the ground; her voice cues in with a commentary on the problem of group think: ““They play it safe, and are quick to assassinate what they don’t understand.”   How timely Badu’s video is with the resurgence and proliferation of militia groups, hate websites, and tea bagger propaganda.   

Erykah Badu is everyone’s favorite flower power, bohemian, sister friend, diva-activist panther, earth mother, soul child.  I love her.  I was just remarking to a friend how On & On changed my musical journey, nearly 15 years ago.  She has always been quirky.  Among other personal anomalies, Badu has carved out a unique musical and physical aesthetic.  In a music industry full of blond lace fronts and Herve Leger dresses, she has a proclivity for rocking large afros, locs, and even a shaved head at one time.  In this video, she rocks a stocking cap.  Her personal style evokes Jimi Hendrix, meets George Clinton, meets Velvet Underground with some combination of Bob Marley and Janis Joplin thrown in for good measure.  Either foreshadowing or critiquing Hollywood strange baby naming trend, Badu’s children are named Seven, Puma, and Mars, respectively.   Her songs are lyrical, challenging, and intelligent and basically the sister is just deep.  

Window Seat is no exception and I say it again:  how timely this video is.  Time for a toast… 

Here, here Badu a toast to you! Way to rage against the machine.  Way to stand apart and be an individual.  Way to risk it all, when we all see what happen to Alanis Morisette’s  career, after she tried nudity as political commentary in 1997.  I only hope folks will not get so hung up on your dunk that they miss the underlying thesis of this powerful piece of political art.   

This is the second time in as many weeks that a music video featuring nudity has caused mainstream controversy; Lady Gaga’s crotch now feels relatively tame compared to what Badu has achieved.  Gaga’s video is subversive in its critique of commercialism, sex, violence, misogyny and feminism, but Badu is going for the jugular of this political and cultural moment.  

It is not an accident that this video is coming out around same time a Christian militia group “Hutaree” was taken down by Federal officials in the Michigan boondocks.  Nine members of the group are being brought up on “sedition and weapons charges for a plot to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising” (http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/the-new-militias-vs-government/).  I am all for personal liberty, but it floors me that individuals are allowed to stockpile weapons in the woods and plot on how to take down the Nation.  Beyond this ludicrousy, is the fact that in certain circles such behavior is considered patriotic.  

Therefore, Badu’s video cannot be viewed outside the context of the times we are in.  The nation is politically polarized and each side (for those who choose to take one) is completely indoctrinated by the bloviating talking heads of cable TV and AM radio.  For example, the propaganda and outright lies spread about the healthcare legislation were swallowed en masse by folks who are also apparently prone to believe that our President is a communist, not an American citizen, part of a new world order, and potentially a sign of the apocalypse (see Terry Gross’ interview with Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center).    

Badu’s video critiques the problem of group think that is not only assassinating civility, but is potentially sending us down a more dangerous path.   The feeling s of tension in the nation needs to be addressed.  Hope and change, while inspiring at best– and if not– at least innocuous to most of us, is a very threatening prospects for certain segments of our country.   We saw that with the Kennedy’s assassination almost 50 years.  Let this video’s allusion to this tragic event wake us  up to the fact threats on our President’s life are real, the problem of race in this country needs to be addressed, and there are more important things happening than American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.  

Sometimes, you have to do what is right and it is not going to make you popular.   You will be misunderstood, judged, criticized, obscured, and at worst ignored.  

Ms. Badu:  You bared your body to bare some truths about this cultural moment.  Thanks.

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