Category Archives: Race

Iggy and Azealia: Good and Evil In Black and White

The coin has two sides.

The coin has two sides. (Left: Revolve Clothing; Right: Jason Nocito/Spin Magazine)

I’ve spilled virtual ink on Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, and their complicated relationship to each other and to music before. Twice in fact. But that was back in 2012, during this particular play’s first act. It looked like both were poised for big success and that we were destined to witness even more episodes of The Flora Wars because of it. But that was only half right.

Thus far, commercial competitiveness hasn’t been a defining element of the relationship between these two at all; it’s been the overwhelming unevenness of it. A month after Iggy’s debut album “The New Classic” dropped in April 2014, she was already standing toe-to-toe with the Beatles as the second artist in history to simultaneously occupy the #1 and #2 spots on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The album itself wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it debuted at #3 and has gone on to sell over 420K units in the U.S. alone as of early December 2014 (and that’s before counting the “Reclassified” reissue). Meanwhile, Azealia’s first official album finally made a surprise landing on November 6, 2014 and lo, the critical acclaim rained down in buckets…but sales have not. It entered the Billboard 200 at #30, selling 11K or so albums in the U.S., and if its second week sales of about 4K were any clue, it won’t be setting any records unless Black Jesus decides to grant Ms. Banks a holiday miracle.

“Black Twitter” (whatever that means) would like you to believe that Azealia is a 21st century lovechild of Nina Simone and Moms Mabley, while Iggy is just a cultural appropriator, an interloper looking to make several million fast-twerking bucks off of hip-hop culture. On the other hand, there are those who cast Iggy as a beautifully enchanted, fat-bottomed elf (the Tolkien variety, not the Christmas variety) from the Outback, who made her mark in a highly competitive genre despite being the wrong race and sex, and despite torrents of venom spewed her way by a rabidly envious, tragically wasted talent in the form of the Great Serpent, Azealia Banks.

The truth is that they’re both wrong.

We all know that Vanilla Ice was a pretender who hid behind a papier-mâché street resume and hi-top fade, but can we really say the same thing about Iggy? I’ve never heard of her misrepresenting who she is or where she’s from, in any sense of the words, as an attempt to gain acceptance or recognition. If you want to argue that because Iggy raps in an accent that is uncharacteristic of her race or where she’s from that she’s faking the funk, I’ll kindly ask you to pop in a Dana Dane tape or stream some French Montana and have a sofa’s worth of seats. Iggy grew up listening to black American rappers, so she raps like a black American rapper. Simple mathematics.

Then there’s the unspoken implication that talent is the deciding factor for whether someone gets an unrestricted pass into the Halls of Blackness. J. Cole’s recent words aside, very few black folks have anything to say about Eminem or Justin Timberlake. Of course, Eminem and J.T. happen to be top-class artists, and I’m not suggesting that Iggy is in their league. With that said, let’s be real: as a professional rapper, the woman is at least average.

I enjoy the hell out of “Work” and even as far back as “Pu$$y,” her talent was obvious. If her tracks were movies, maybe they wouldn’t be “Mad Max” yet, but cats are trying desperately to throw her in the discount bin with “Crocodile Dundee II,” and dude, that’s just wrong. I can think of multiple currently hot rappers who I’d rank like 13.7 levels below Iggy. (Cough. Migos. Cough. Young Thug.) The fact that there are constant rumors swirling that her mentor T.I. writes most/all of her lyrics, despite any real proof, should be a strong testament to her skill. Yet the hate persists.

And Iggy’s biggest hater is her nemesis, Azealia. She certainly not lonely though, ‘cause over the years Ms. Banks has gotten into more beef than a top-class Wagyu stud. I mean, the woman is firece, fiery, and flamboyant, and woe to he who trips her wire. She’s bickered with what seems to be a never-ending cavalcade of other artists and industry insiders, most importantly Interscope—which had been her major label home since 2012—before they dropped her in the summer of 2014, prior to even releasing her album. The woman has burned more bridges than the Luftwaffe, and as I’ve said before, she just seems so damned mean.

Then, last week, Azealia did an interview on Hot 97 where she articulated the frustrations that led to her most recent attack against Iggy. During the conversation, she talked about the latter’s silence in the wake of recent police violence and her view that it reflects a general lack of true concern for black people on Iggy’s part, despite an avowed love for their cultural artifacts. Overall, she lent a powerful voice to the sense that despite a general consensus that she and other black women like her are tremendously talented, many seem happy to ignore their contributions to culture.

“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is: ‘Oh yeah, you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to black kids: ‘You don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ And it makes me upset.”

Her teary emotional breakdown inadvertently exposed the depth of the wounds that she’s been nursing these last few years as a black woman in her early 20s, trying to navigate the landscape of an industry built on the immolation of your kind and the appropriation of its gifts. Despite being a thirtysomething black American man, I understood her plight in a deeply personal way, without ever having walked specifically in those mesh, platform wedge boots. There’s an undeniable truth to her recognition that there’s been a consistent effort to mine black cultural talent, refine and repackage it for white audiences, then enjoy the fruits of that appropriation.

Still, I wasn’t ready to lay the blame for that at Iggy’s feet…and Iggy wasn’t ready to accept it. Instead, she pointed at Azealia’s “piss poor attitude” as the cause for her inability to capitalize on critical success. With uncharacteristic bellicose gusto, she went on taunting Azealia: “Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.”

The truth is that they’re both right.

It’s easy to look at the two artists’ mismatched outcomes and see a classic good vs. evil struggle in progress. The simplicity of a story with a well-defined hero and villain can be seductive—it’s worked nicely as the foundation for mountains of myths, fairy tales, and movies, and it makes for effortless moralizing—but the best modern storytellers understand that real life isn’t always so simple. They know that the boundary separating hero and villain is often blurred, if it exists at all. And it’s actually there, in that moral no man’s land, that we find Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, their allies, and their armies, engaged in a pop cultural proxy war for control of black identity in general and black female expression in particular. The ones funding the war on both sides are the millions of white fans who prop up an exploitative system, most of whom are just young, dumb teenagers, woefully and sometimes willfully ignorant of the real cost of the album that they just downloaded, even if they jacked it for free.

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After Ferguson, Is Violence An Answer?

50 years later and we’re still holding the same signs. (Credit: Wiley Price/St. Louis American)

For my initial commentary on the killing of Michael Brown, see my earlier piece, “No Escape: The Realities of Living with Police Violence.”

I watched the post grand jury decision protests in Ferguson morph into a riot on live television, and by the time a police cruiser went up in flames my blood was boiling. I was afraid, but there was more than a little excitement coursing through me, too. I could hear the part of me that I usually don’t bring to dinner parties whispering, “Take this to Clayton. Take it to Ladue. Take it to the suburbs that white folks actually care about.” And it was that small, dark prayer that led me directly to a question: Can violence in any way help Black America in its struggle for justice?

As those thoughts crawled around my head, I tried to squash them. They embarrassed me. I knew that, one way or another, rioting would inevitably produce innocent victims. Still, I’ll be damned if watching it all unfold didn’t make me feel alive on a day in which the central message appeared to be that, at any moment, I could be killed with impunity. After a few hours though, I made an uneasy peace with that surprising sense of vitality. In so doing, I realized that I was actually entertaining the possibility, no matter how distasteful or remote, that rioting might have a role to play.

A protest is a sternly written letter to the management. 21st century America is immune to them. You can march until your feet bleed, but unless you and your faithful companions are playing bagpipes or holding a string with a colossal, inflated cartoon character at the end, you will most likely fail to capture the American imagination. Violence, however, seems to work like a bloody charm. It’s in our national DNA.

In 1773, a group of American patriots demonstrated their displeasure with a certain British tax policy by dumping what would be the equivalent of over $1.7 MM in corporate property into Boston Harbor. Less than 100 years later, 11 southern states snatched a page from their colonial forbearer’s playbook and took up arms against the U.S. government, resulting in 620,000 deaths and an estimated $1.5 B loss in Southern physical capital alone (not to mention the billions in other direct and indirect costs on both sides), and that’s in 1860 dollars: it would be more like $39 B today. The slavers lost, but they’d made their point, and after a few short years they succeeded in resetting the clock on their social and political dominance of Southern life. Fast forward one more century and the American Civil Rights Movement, the very campaign created to counter the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, was relying on violence for its effectiveness, too. Oh, it’s unequivocally true that Martin Luther King, Jr. appealed for non-violent action by protestors, but he knew very well that every blow from a policeman’s baton in Selma was worth 10,000 renditions of “We Shall Overcome” on national television. Police held those nightsticks, but they were King’s weapons.

I realize that burning and looting, even if executed in a tactically sound way, is a far cry from the noble social jujitsu that King et al. practiced. I’m not attempting to suggest otherwise. I am, however, suggesting that they both spring from a recognition that the only means of affecting change in a corrupt system is to dismantle it, either in whole or part. That process is chaotic and violent by its very nature.

If you believe that a solid proportion of your fellow citizens are aligned with your cause, no matter how quiet they may be, you might be encouraged to press forward with less aggressive displays of frustration, hopeful that those demonstrations will turn silent supporters into active advocates. On the other hand, if you find that despite crying out until your voice is a memory, most of your neighbors are either apathetic about your cause or worse, antagonistic, it becomes more difficult to trust that signs and songs will save the day.

And it in fact, it does seem as if we’ve reached a point at which learning that unarmed black people are being beaten, gassed, and killed, even when the acts are perpetrated on camera, no longer elicits a sympathetic response from much of White America. Case in point, only 15% of whites agree that Darren Wilson should’ve been charged with murder for the killing of Michael Brown—not convicted, mind you, charged—as opposed to 59% of blacks. Then, just nine days after the Ferguson grand jury’s decision, we were told that Eric Garner’s killer wouldn’t be prosecuted either, despite the fact that millions of us watched the life get choked out of him needlessly, over and over again on YouTube and the news. How can you find common ground with someone when you apparently live in entirely separate dimensions?

Here’s to hoping that this image is the first word in an answer to my question. (Credit: Johnny Nguyen)

It should be apparent that I have no answers to present here. I don’t fancy myself a revolutionary. I’m certainly not foolhardy enough to think that any sustained violent interaction with the police or other authorities would ever lead to the establishment of a somehow more just regime in our country. And I’m loath to picture an America where destructive clashes with the powers that be become as common here as they are in…well, much of the world touched by European colonialism. Yet I now find it difficult to rid myself of this question of violence, and I’m a thirty-something MBA who’s a product of prep school and the Ivy League.

Many of the people in my circle share similar pedigrees, and I’ve been shocked at the number of them who’ve almost squealed in agreement when I’ve relayed my dismaying thoughts about the Ferguson riots. We are not disaffected urban youth with nothing to lose. Not by a long shot. We’ve got careers, and summer shares, and kids. And still, here we are, basking in the televised glow of a burning cop car, asking ourselves whether launching a brick through a window might bring us at least some small measure of psychological relief. It’s a question we don’t want to ask, but it’s becoming difficult to avoid. And that should scare America to death.

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No Escape: The Realities of Living with Police Violence

Throw ya hands up.

Throw ya hands up. (You may still die.)

For my commentary on the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury decision, read my subsequent piece, “After Ferguson, Is Violence An Answer?

It was a sweltering summer afternoon in 1993 in St. Louis, MO, and I was 16 years old. I was walking to a friend’s home about 10 minutes away. As I made a right turn up a street on a hill, I noticed the sound of a car creeping behind me. I kept my stride and waited for it to pass. It didn’t. I risked a quick glance and realized that the good news was that the vehicle wasn’t filled with thugs. The bad news was that it was a police car, and it was pulling up beside me.

To understand my mind state then, you need to know that upon reaching adolescence, my family had imparted a concept to me that went something like this: If you’re black, no matter what else you may be, you’re always a suspect. Until then, it was an abstract nightmare. But at that moment, the nightmare was eyeing me from the window of a Crown Victoria.

Fortunately, after complying with the passenger’s request that I empty my pockets, he flashed a smile like he’d just eaten a few shit-glazed donuts, wished me a nice day, then motioned to his partner. Off they went, leaving me to stumble through a daze of shock, anger, and shame.

The next summer, while riding with a friend and some acquaintances, police ordered us to exit the car and walk into an alley. One officer demanded that we pull down our shorts and underwear; he checked us for drugs as his partner combed through the vehicle. By this point, I wasn’t even surprised. I’d come to accept that potential police harassment was just a part of life in the ‘hood, like liquor stores and food deserts. The ghetto offered no escape. If I wanted to be free from it, I reasoned that I’d have to leave the ghetto behind forever.

Of course, I now realize that there was absolutely nowhere to run.

During Freshman Week at Harvard, a group of police approached me and a few other friends, insisting to see our IDs. There were dozens of other potential targets for their suspicion standing around…but none of them were black. Classes hadn’t even started and we’d already learned that even Ivy League walls weren’t tall enough to shelter us from the prejudicial attitudes that lead to harassment or violence at the hands of police. Later, the police shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo in New York City, Ronald Madison in New Orleans, Oscar Grant in Oakland, and Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina became further testimonies to the irrelevance of geography in the equation.

Innocence and guilt are also inconsequential. Some who fell victim to police brutality, like Diallo and Ferrell, are universally acknowledged as having done nothing wrong. In contrast, others have been assigned post-hoc backstories that color them with just enough guilt to be somehow less deserving of human rights.

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo stood a few feet away from witnesses and choked the life out of Eric Garner. Garner was rumored to have been selling unlicensed cigarettes prior to his homicide. Michael Brown fell at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, less than 30 minutes away from my own first encounter with the police, and was left to lie like carrion in the street for hours. A full six days later, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson informed us that Brown was suspected of stealing cigars, only to confess hours later that Officer Wilson was unaware of the alleged theft when he confronted Brown for walking in the middle of the street.

Friends, tobacco may indeed be a pernicious drain on society, and we’ve all felt the sting of a jaywalker’s heinous disregard for the law, but I’ve got trouble believing that summary execution was in order for either of those men, even if the accusations against them are true. But the truth isn’t important either. Perception is everything, and if you’re black, the perception is that you’re a threat.

That fact stands even when the victim is a cop. Just ask the father of William Wilkins, an Oakland police officer killed by so-called friendly fire in 2001, or the widow of Omar Edwards, an NYPD officer who met the same fate in 2009. For too many police, black people can no more rid themselves of suspicion than they can rid themselves of their skin.

This could be every night, in every city in America if we're not careful.

If we’re not careful, this could be every night, in every American city.

Unlike fellow St. Louisan Michael Brown, I’ve been able to walk away from my run-ins with police with nary a scratch. For that, I’m thankful. But despite leaving the ghetto I grew up in, attending world-class academic institutions, and calling one of the most cosmopolitan cities anywhere home, I have never been able to escape the shadow of police violence, because even when unnecessary police aggression produces no physical damage, it creates psychic wounds.

These wounds serve to keep one in a perpetual state of low-level fear, and when you’re afraid, you’re malleable. It increases the likelihood that the next time you’re in a similar situation, you’ll be more willing to follow orders, regardless of their justification. Today, that might mean surrendering your ID for no apparent reason, or allowing unwarranted access to your car. Tomorrow, it could mean surrendering freedom of the press and facing indefinite, illegal detention. For decades, many Americans have seen police harassment and brutality as a black issue, but if we continue walking the path toward authoritarianism, black people won’t be the only ones searching for an escape.

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King Kong, Kanye, and Me

King Kong

“They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor, they gone come to kill King Kong.” – Kanye West, Black Skinhead

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I remember the first time I saw King Kong. I’m not sure if it was the quaint, goofy-looking classic from 1934, or the 1976 version with a seriously hot Jessica Lange. What I do know is that I was watching it as a kid on local TV in St. Louis, Missouri.

The looks of unmitigated terror appeared suddenly on the faces of the crowd that had come to see Kong, the spectacular star of the show, then rippled out across the streets of New York City in tandem with our protagonist’s bottomless rage. He ripped and smashed his way across the urban landscape, and in the blink of an eye, Kong had gone from being an unmissable bit of vaguely threatening and therefore palpably exciting exotica for the bored bourgeoisie, to a raving, uncontrollable beast. Windows were smashed, cars morphed into tangled mounds of steaming metal, and (I could only assume since this was a PG movie) people died. I was rooting hard for Kong though, and that’s even more true now.

You see, in the decades that have passed since that evening in my grandmother’s living room, I went on to attain what is, by anyone’s measure, an elite education: Hotchkiss, Harvard, Columbia Business School. I’ve worked for some of the blue-chippiest companies on the planet, beginning with the one that pretty much defined the concept of Wall Street. Started from the bottom, now we’re blah, blah, blah. Except it’s not true.

Despite my inscrutable educational accomplishments, obvious intellectual curiosity, well-documented affability, and noted charm (ask somebody and see if you ain’t heard), since my early career days I’ve felt the imposing presence of The Cage. DuBois called it The Veil, others refer to it as The Glass Ceiling. Pick a nominal metaphor. The point is, it sucks, and I use that word deliberately. As a black person in the U.S., it’s all around you: a cage initially fortified by blatant racism, now maintained by the institutional variety and reinforced by the ignorance of its passive beneficiaries. You can feel it, even if your face isn’t actually smashing into it at that very moment, and the cold realization that you can only move but so far begins to suck the very life out of you. Near the end of my time at one of those companies I was so despondent and angry that I wore all black to work every day…for three months. Some of us just aren’t content living in captivity. I’m not. Kong wasn’t. And neither is Kanye West.

Recently, Kanye appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show, ostensibly to clear the air between him and the host after Jimmy did a parody of Kanye that Yeezus made known he did not like. After hearing of this, I decided to check out Kanye’s latest “rant” for myself. Considering my knowledge of the man, I expected that I’d hear multiple declarations of his own greatness, I anticipated being treated to wild parallels between him and famous historical figures, and I presumed that all of it would proceed from his lips at a dizzying pace, with not a hint of irony. That’s par for the Kanye course, and yes, it was all there. What was also quite apparent however, was that along with the awesome amounts of self-aggrandizement, I was watching a man who was trying desperately to free himself from a cage too small. See for yourself:

Kanye made a name for himself as a beatsmith and rapper with a big sense of style and an even bigger mouth. The public and the media ate it up. Critical accolades poured in, with some even crediting him with bringing back the musical aesthetics of hip-hop’s Golden Age. Everybody loved the Louis Vuitton Don. What Kanye has been trying to tell us for a while now though is that he hasn’t been the Louis Vuitton Don in a long time. In fact, he wants to put his name (or his mother’s to be more accurate) on your back, but has found himself running up against barricade after barricade. In his own words: “To have a meeting with everyone…and everyone kinda just looks at you like you’re crazy…And you just cannot overcome it.”

Sing, dance, and rap well, and you're a genius. Complain that you're being limited...now you're some kind of crazy clown.

Sing, dance, or rap, and you’re entertaining. Do it well, and you’re a genius.
Complain that you’re being systematically constrained…now you’re a clown.

It is in this sobering context that I see his legendary Twitter diatribes, the famed New York Times interview with Jon Caramanica, and yes, this latest appearance on Kimmel, as hallmarks of a man who has decided to stand defiant, beat his chest, and devote the core of his being to demolishing the bars keeping him from the full measure of greatness. The anger has been building for a while. His indictment of George W. Bush during the Hurricane Katrina telethon was an early sign of the rage within. The Taylor Swift incident was another. The mean old gorilla threw shit all over the pretty little girl’s dress. Look, some people may get hurt during this process. Anger is no friend to discipline. But it takes fury to break out of the perfumed hellholes reserved for the likes of people like me and Kanye, and accordingly I have just one word for those that happen to be nearby when we finally bust out.

Run.

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Somewhere In America: Twerking As Cultural Artifact

"Oh, I ain't got no ass? So why you lookin'?" Well, played, Miley.

The Zen of Miley: Don’t try to see the ass. Realize that there IS no ass. It’s only then that you’ll see it.

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Sometimes, I use the internet to look at images of sexy women. Often, these images move. If seen by my mother, about half of them would cause her to reevaluate her opinion of me. I am not necessarily proud of this.

With that said, last week I came upon a little gem that, while somewhat suggestive, was pretty lame…I mean, tame. It featured champion surfer Anastasia Ashley warming up before a competition. Have a look for yourself and I think that you’ll agree that it’s not exactly the stuff of which empty Kleenex boxes are made.

As I watched this pro athlete alternate between stretching her quads and pumping the briny ocean air, I found myself smiling and shaking my head. The smile was me wondering whether “Bubble Butt” was an ironic choice for the accompanying song or if the video’s creators actually believed that Ashley’s certainly cute, yet hardly rotund posterior was actually bubbly. After all, I could show those cats women that would make her rump look like perfect Euclidean planes. On the other hand, the head shaking was motivated by at least a smattering of annoyance.

I mean, this was just another example of cultural appropriation, and not a very good one, right? After all, the media calls it twerking, but what Anastasia Ashley and Miley Cyrus were doing was NOT twerking. For the love of Magic City, it was booty popping…although Miley’s since gotten it right. (See below, starting at 1:26.) And while we’re at it, the 70ish bpm, bass heavy, snare rolling music that these EDM dudes are making is not trap music. Trap music is defined by rap lyrics that are drug related (thus the trap moniker) delivered over Dirty South beats, not by exaggerated components of said beats themselves. Or is it? After taking a minute to consider, I had to reevaluate my position.

Culture is creativity in collective form, and like all species of creativity, it can only reach the height of its expression when shared. A bedroom masterpiece is no masterpiece at all: it’s only after a creative act has been consumed, evaluated, critiqued, and celebrated by others outside of it that said creative output acquires value, and that value is measured by the extent to which it inspires a desire for ownership. In the case of individual works of art like paintings, evening gowns, or songs, this translates to buying (or stealing) them. When it comes to communal art, i.e. culture, this means acculturation. We take the best from other communities, making it ours, with our own accumulated experiences and aesthetic POV, transforming it into a new artifact to be claimed by someone else further along the cultural chain.

Unlike artistic efforts by individuals, we cannot choose who consumes, takes ownership, or modifies cultural output. Culture is the original open source software. It’s constantly re-imagined, renamed and remixed. There are no intellectual property laws protecting it, and thank the gods for that. Otherwise, we’d have no surfing, no bikini (at least not by that name), and no hip-hop, which means no Anastasia Ashley bustin’ it open on the beach. You may not like what she did, how she did it, or that white girls like her get so much attention when they do it, but the fact that it happened is actually a beautiful thing. While Anastasia and Miley are still twerkin’, we can sit back and reflect with pride that somewhere in America, a black girl is riding a killer wave.

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Niggas Embarrassed: Gwyneth Gets the People Goin’

Don’t make me get in my zone…

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By now, you’ve heard how Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted a picture of herself with Jay-Z and Kanye West on stage at the “Watch the Throne” concert in Paris with the caption, N**gas in Paris, for real…”  And you probably also know that said tweet ignited a firestorm of fuckery all over the internet regarding her right to use that word.  Basically, the anti-Gwyn squad’s well-trod argument goes like this: nigga is a word that has been at least partially rescued from its racist past and co-opted by certain black people for use as a self-referential noun.  There is a law governing said use.  In its strong form, only those who self-identify as black can access the word.  In its weak form, those who don’t necessarily identify as black but who possess sufficient African ancestry can use it also, e.g. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and other Latinos.  White people don’t make the cut though, not even white rappers, unless they’re given a special dispensation by their local chapter of the NAACP personal circle of black friends.

Look, I’m just gonna put it out there and say that this line of thinking is naïve at best and hypocritical at worst.  It’s naïve because white people are presented with instances of black people using nigga on the daily.  The word is everywhere.  It’s on the lips of comedians, definitely in your favorite rapper’s lyrics (even the so-called conscious ones), and most importantly, it’s firmly embedded in the public conversations of everyday black folk on the train, on the bus, in the line at McDonald’s, and at school.  Why in the name of Strom Thurmond should any white person feel like they shouldn’t be able to utter that word when black people have made it seem as regular a part of speech as the slightly more common but only somewhat less annoying use of “um”?  The aural evidence suggests that they just shouldn’t care since we as black people apparently don’t either.

Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga,

Damn fool.

Monkey see, monkey do.

— Da Lench Mob, “Ankle Blues”

Right about now, some of you are saying, “Oh, hell no.  Just because WE can say it, that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden Whitey has carte blanche to say it.  That word is OURS.”  And see, this is where I start going gorillas, ‘cause that’s just hypocrisy, and hypocrisy can get the fucking…Balzac.  Excuse my French (but I’m in France).  Either the godsdamned word is unfailingly vile and only holds one meaning in every situation, thus it should never be used by anyone, or it’s a word like any other, meaning it has a significance that can vary across time and context and as such its use should be evaluated on a case by case basis.  What you cannot do is mix both of these views on the act of using the word nigger – let’s call it niggerating – into one pot and serve that shit up like it’s some kind of indignity flavored gumbo.  If the word is hateful in all places and times, then it’s always wrong, no matter who says it.  Jay-Z and Kanye: wrong.  The kids in the fried chicken joint: wrong.  Me and you, your momma and your cousin, too: wrong.  And yes, Gwyneth Paltrow: wrong.  On the other hand, if the word may or may not be offensive depending on the circumstances, then we must evaluate each instance on its own.

I think it’s safe to say that only the most sensitive among us would accuse Ms. Paltrow of being any more of a racist than your average person.  She certainly doesn’t seem like a bigot, and she’s never shown any signs of hating black people, to my knowledge at least.  In fact, she seems genuinely happy whenever she’s photographed with her black friends, if that counts for anything.  If you agree with this admittedly superficial personality reading, then based on what I’ve written above there’s no reason to tar and feather her for niggerating.  Babygirl was just expressing her excitement about participating in a very meta experience with some folks who she really enjoys and who in turn apparently really enjoy being niggas in posh European capitals.  If you don’t like that they like it, then maybe you should get outraged at them.

I’m definitely in my zone…

Oh, and black people do not “own” that word.  If anything, we borrowed it from some really mean people who used to shoot it at us like so many bullets.  In reality, no one can own any word, but since they created it, I’d say that white racists are the ones with the biggest claim to it.  Fortunately, I believe in the mutability of words and language, so I support the notion that black people reshaped the word “nigger” into something new.  In addition to serving as a vessel of hatred, now it’s also one for love and laughter, as well as a simple synonym for “person.”

The fact that we were able to accomplish this transformation is either a testament to our resilience and ingenuity or to the deep internalization of someone else’s hatred.  Since we’re human, it’s probably both.  With that said, “nigga” is an undeniable part of African-American culture, and since African-American culture forms the basis of modern pop culture worldwide, “nigga” is now a piece of world culture.  Trying to mandate that black folks should be the only ones who can niggerate is therefore futile, dude.

But besides being useless, that stance is also lazy.  After all, the real problem that Paltrow’s critics have with her isn’t her niggerating.  Whether they know it or not, what they’re actually upset about is the idea that black people around the world can never really know the extent to which racism is rooted in the heart of any given white person.  Instead of addressing that fundamental concern though, they take a shortcut via censorship, fooling themselves into thinking that it will solve the problem.  “Hey!  Maybe if they don’t say it, then they won’t think it!”

There’s only one worthy response to that.  Nigga, please!

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You Say Azealia, I Say Azalea: Part II

You missed a spot…

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OK, so I’m assuming that you read my last post, which served to introduce you to the actors in the drama known as the Azealia-Azalea War.  If you didn’t, catch up here.  I’ll wait.  (Next time, read that shit when I post it and stop playin’ so damn much.)

We all up to speed now?  Brilliant.

Now there are those who would say that this disagreement is all about Iggy being some kind of hipster racist.  They say that because, well, young Amethyst (her government name) had the gall to refer to herself as a “runaway slave…master” in a reshaping of a Kendrick Lamar lyric.  OK.  Shit, I’ll admit that was foul.  Foul like, you might get invited to speak at the Republican National Convention foul — but Iggs later admitted as much.  As she said in her apology, she was trying to walk the line, but ended up linecrossing like a muphucka.

Well, our friend Ms. Azealia Banks wasn’t trying to hear Iggy apologin’ though, and she let it be known via Twitter…but only AFTER Iggy made the 2012 XXL Freshman Class cover.  That brings us to the second theory about the origin of this here catfight: envy.  Here’s an in-depth look at Azealia Banks’ opening salvos:

“Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong…How can you endorse a white woman who called herself a ‘runaway slave master’?
Sorry guys. But I’m pro black girl…I’m not anti white girl, but I’m also not here for any1 outside of my culture trying to trivialize very serious aspects of it. In any capacity. *kanye shrug*”

— @AZEALIABANKS

Look, I can’t say what the truth actually is.  I don’t know these women personally, and Banks is totally right about the slavemaster lyric.  No doubt about that.  But why did it take an industry tip of the hat to your fellow newcomer for you to open your exquisitely fashioned mouth and say something, love?  When you couple this with the fact that Banks has also been vocal about her issues with Nicki Minaj, and most recently Lil’ Kim, her credibility starts to falter.

Then throw in the fact that her most publicized fracas before the one with Iggy was with white, female rapper Kreayshawn, John the Baptist to Iggy’s Jesus.  From where I sit, Banks was just itchin’ for an excuse to throw some verbal bullets Kreay’s way — homegirl did absolutely nothing to deserve the Twitter poison that Banks poured all over her mentions.  After all of that, Azealia Banks starts to look an awful lot like a highly talented, beautiful, potentially groundbreaking woman with some serious bitch tendencies.

It’s hard being blonde and famous.

Meanwhile, almost everything Iggy says off-stage seems level-headed and wise.  For example:

“People expect me to drag [Kreayshawn] through the mud.  I don’t need to and I don’t want to do that.  I think there aren’t enough girls in hip-hop…I want to be the number-one person, but I don’t want to drag people through the mud when I know how hard it is to be a female rapper.  I want there to be other people out there.  I don’t want to win by default because there is no one else.”

— Iggy Azalea

On the real, it makes my ass itch to see a white woman reach that higher plane while the sister seems to still be stuck at the gate.  (I know that’s a different kinda plane, but I like the metaphor.  Sue me.)

I mean, black women have it hard, y’all.  Blah, blah, overblown stat about proportionately more young American sisters being single.  Blah, blah, stat about filling in the shoes of black men who are overly incarcerated, gay or no damned good.  And finally, blah, blah, blah, stat about the overall detrimental psychological, economic, and social implications of being a double minority.  Seriously, even if some of the above has been exaggerated to the extent of borderline stereotyping, they deal with a lot.  And I don’t think that possessing some of the world’s greatest asses assets makes up for the shortfall.

In a strange twist though, the rap world itself is like a parallel universe of our own.  It’s a grotesque distortion, with white women occupying the place usually reserved for black women, i.e. the bottom rung.  In that world, it is THEY who are the double minority, trying to find a voice, then yell loud enough so that they can be heard over the din of the doubts and suspicions pumpin’ out their neighbors’ ovaries speakers.

Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t worried about Iggy.  Regardless of whether she’s better than her contemporaries or not — and for the record I have to say that although Iggy’s certainly got some skills, Azealia Banks simply has a tighter flow — Iggy is gon’ be more than aight.  Why?  Because she’s got something that pop culture has been dying to see: the looks of a hyper-European runway model (I’ve seen glass doors darker than her), street cred courtesy of Grand Hustle and (her man?) A$AP Rocky, plus some undeniable talent thrown in for good measure.

So, while she’s endured the trials of double minority status thus far, I predict that she’ll break through rap’s obsidian ceiling very, very soon.  Finally, the man from 8 Mile will have a queen with whom to share the Throne of the Great White Hope.

And where does that leave Ms. Banks?  She’ll be fine, too.  Even if she stays on her Euro shit and drops an album with hella EDM tendencies, she’ll blow up in Europe and make some noise with cosmopolitan white folks in the States.  If she scales it back just a little, she’ll be massive here, too.  Hey, Nicki could use some company, and Banks has way too much potential to be ignored.

But don’t take my word for it. Read what one of Banks’ fans had to say in a comment they left about her “212” video on YouTube:

“this may sound stupid but you heard it from me first – she’s like a black, female, Eminem, what a GREAT track…”

— 79effo

Parallel universes, indeed.

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