Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Why I Keep Talking About Janay Palmer

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

My mother taught me a basic moral imperative before I even entered Kindergarten: Unless you’re defending yourself from someone who continues to attack you, don’t hit people. Having said that, it should be clear why I was appalled at Ray Rice’s behavior in the recently released casino footage. He not only hit his fiancée twice, but once she was out cold, he also dragged her and prodded her body with his foot the way one might handle a neighbor’s dead Golden Retriever. None of his actions were based in self-defense, and many were quick to point out his unjustified viciousness. I fully support this.

I was struck, however, by the almost utter absence of condemnation for Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. She incontrovertibly engaged in physical violence with Rice that night, and she acknowledges it. Journalistic sources acknowledge it. It’s a matter of record. It’s there for anyone to see, and based on the basic moral principle I outlined above, I say her behavior is worthy of some outrage, too. My opponents disagree, and their dissent takes three major forms.

First, there’s the argument of moral superiority. Some say that though they were both wrong, Rice was tremendously wrong, thus Palmer’s behavior doesn’t deserve much, if any, scrutiny. The problem with this thinking is that it sets a post hoc minimum threshold for moral indignation based on the relative severity of participants’ actions. In other words, do anything you’d like to do to another person; as long as the stench doesn’t reach a level to be determined later, and the other person’s foulness rises even higher than yours, we’ll look the other way.

This is indefensible. We have the capacity to direct moral outrage at both participants in an altercation while simultaneously acknowledging that one participant may have acted worse than the other. Bigger wrongs don’t need to blind us to smaller ones.

And speaking of size, it’s also wrongheaded to hold men to a higher moral standard than women just because men are generally capable of causing more harm. That’s the essence of the argument from physical relativism, and it basically states that bigger adults have a responsibility to act more ethically than smaller adults. A variation of this idea relies on the same fundamental assumption about the impact of size and gender to accuse me of blaming “the” victim.

I categorically reject the notion of one victim here. Two people victimized each other, regardless of the fact that one’s savagery was more complete. Rice is larger than Palmer, and most men are stronger than most women. Unfortunately, self-control isn’t doled out in proportion to size and strength. At the same time, decreased potential to inflict as much harm as your adversary due to differences in stature, strength, or skill doesn’t negate accountability for your actions toward them. Solange deserved universal public humiliation for her attack on Jay-Z in that other infamous elevator incident, regardless of whether he was ever in any “real” danger; instead, Solange got a magazine cover and Jay-Z got mocked. While total physical equality between the sexes is a fantasy, total moral equality shouldn’t be. Men and women must be judged equally for the pain and suffering that they inflict or attempt to inflict upon each other.

Finally, we come to the most dangerous argument against my rebuke of Palmer, and that’s the argument from moral necessity. The thinking goes something like this: Calls for disapproval of Janay Palmer are morally irresponsible since they shift the focus away from Rice’s actions and distract the public from the larger issue of male-on-female domestic violence. It’s an attractive point of view, and its allure flows from the appeal of its core truth: domestic violence is horrible, usually perpetrated by men toward women, and only a villain would derail efforts to eradicate it.

But therein lies its perniciousness. I’m not obfuscating Rice’s guilt, nor am I painting Palmer in the worst possible light so as to diminish his foulness. I’m shining a light on the darkness of the entire situation, and I can do that without negating the sheer ugliness of what he did. Despite the fact that female-on-male violence almost assuredly happens much less frequently than its opposite, if a woman puts her hands on a man and she’s not in clear and present danger, she’s wrong. No amount of lamentation regarding the state of violence that women in the world endure can make the case against that any stronger. When a victim becomes a victimizer, it doesn’t negate their former status, it just adds more tragedy to their story.

My stance is an utter refutation of domestic violence in all of its forms. We must condemn Rice, vividly illustrating why what he did was so far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. Simultaneously, we should condemn Palmer in a manner proportional to what she did. Women need to know that physical weakness cannot be used as a shield or as a weapon when it comes to domestic violence incidents in which they’re perpetrators or participants. If we don’t do that, we’re sending mixed signals regarding our views on brutality, and that’s irresponsible.

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Bitches Still Ain’t Shit

Bad bitch or not, somebody tell me when they start making lifesize Nicki dolls.

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This just in.  Though bitches have been around since before the days of Delilah and Salome, they’ve recently evolved into a higher, more refined form.  These creatures are reverentially known as bad bitches (canis femina superior).

Whether geneticists recognize this phenomenon or not, we’ve got Nicki Minaj self-describing as a “bad bitch…a cunt” down to “kick that ho, punt,” newcomer Azealia Banks serving notice that she’s a “bad bitch…that supply what your girlfriend can’t supply,” and Iggy Azalea proclaiming that she’s a “white girl [with] a team full of bad bitches.”  Hell, Rick Ross has a bad bitch that resembles a tote filled with currency.  (She’s a shapeshifter, too!)  In short, there’s a lot of bad bitches runnin’ around.  I wonder if all the hoes are scared that they’re gonna get crowded outta the market.

Enter Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad.”  If you haven’t seen the video yet, check it out below.

Lupe Fiasco – Bitch Bad from Gil Green on Vimeo.

The thrust of the song is that when “bitch” is used as a compliment, especially when combined with the contronym “bad,” it undermines emotional understanding between men and women.  Seems pretty uncontroversial to me, but after reading a couple of articles where cats took Lupe to task on his position, especially this one, I had to speak on this a little bit.

In the aforementioned critique, Brandon Soderberg of SPIN goes the extra mile to tell us that this song and video are “moronic” attempts at preaching to the choir.  According to him, we don’t need Lupe to inform us that bitch is bad and that lady is better, because hip-hop has sufficiently addressed that question and is already yawning. We’re on to “cunt” now, thanks to Azealia Banks.  And besides, he writes, “does any female want to be called ‘a lady’?”

Bitch, please.

Soderberg’s argument that this song is evidence of Lupe’s severed connection with the heart of current rap music is patently laughable.  I’ve already given multiple examples of the exact term “bad bitch” being (over)used by some of the most influential names in the genre, and if I’d had the chance to hit the strip club before writing this I would’ve been able to come back with like, a hot 97 more.  No lie.  I ain’t never told no lie, I ain’t never told no lie.

So, it’s Soderberg that seems out of touch. He points to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” as an example of a track that “sensitively deconstructed” the use of the word “bitch,” but unless a sensitive deconstruction consists of using the word umpteen times, I don’t have a muthaeffin’ clue what he means.  But, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll assume that he meant to reference Jay’s “Bitches & Sisters” off The Blueprint 2.  “Unless you fucked a dude on his own merit and not the way he dribble a ball or draw lyrics you’re a BITCH!”  Preach.

Anyway, Hova in fact does a great job of contrasting sisters and bitches there. And yes, others have broached the topic over the years, too.  But what makes Lupe’s take interesting is the fact that he doesn’t explicitly tell us why being a bitch is bad, he shows us, via a nicely packaged fairy tale, that being a bitch must necessarily be a negative thing.  No matter how much attractiveness, independence and self-determination being a “bad bitch” might imply on a good day, it’s still associated with vampiric women possessed by a thirst for cash and attention.  That inherent dissonance is why the cats hollerin’ about bad bitches are the same ones screamin’ that they don’t love them.

When you tell a woman that a bad bitch essentially does all that a “basic” bitch does except maybe have sex with your homeys (unless you want her to do so, in which case she might be extra “bad”), you’re begging for a problem.  So, y’all keep sending and accepting those mixed signals.  Meanwhile, a generation of women are growing up believing that bad bitches are the shit…when they’re really just shitty.

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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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