Tag Archives: Racism

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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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 I

Said the Hip-Hop Florist: “Which one do you want?”  “Yes, please,” I replied.

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Beyond the weird similarity of their names,  Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks seem like versions of the same person, but from parallel universes.  This is a cool concept off top, ’cause it suggests that somewhere out there, there’s a white Scissorhands who makes indie pop tunes with old school hip-hop influences, writes about how utterly comprehensible women are…and is famous.

But, I digress.  These two have had a very public war of words going on for the last couple of months, and as as symbol of hip-hop’s race and gender conflicts I found the whole thing fascinating.  But, before I give you a war report, you need to be briefed on the combatants.

Banks is a 20 year-old native Harlemite who got the industry buzzing in 2011 when she released her single “212” (the area code for Manhattan).  The music for the track itself is a sample of a bouncy, playful, electro house song by producer Lazy Jay and sounds nothing like anything anyone might associate with Harlem…except for the ratchet-ass talk about “cunts gettin’ eaten.”  And when I say that, I don’t mean it the way I’d mean it if I were talking about the music of Houston-festishizing fellow Harlemite A$AP Rocky.  I’m talking ’bout the fact that this sounds like some straight-up fist-pumping, ecstasy-enhanced, White Folks ClubTM shit.  One listen tells you that this woman is a smart, artful rhymesayer in possession of an open mind that she’s filled with a buncha DIFFERENT shit.

When you think about it, that probably isn’t so surprising since she’s a product of New York City’s famed arts high school LaGuardia, alma mater of Isaac Mizrahi, Slick Rick, Liza Minnelli…and Nicki Minaj.  From an early age, she was prepped to draw inspiration from an outside world that was inaccessible to most black girls in NYC.  I mean, she spent time listening both to Interpol AND Lil’ Kim as a teenager…which was like, three fucking years ago, in case you forgot.

After a failed deal with label XL Recordings left her depressed and detached, she picked up and moved to Montreal to regain focus.  Since “212” went planetary in 2011, she’s been storming Europe, working with Adele producer Paul Epworth in London and performing for cultural bigwigs like the King of the Vampires Karl Lagerfeld in Paris.  C’est la vie, and her new life really began once she catapulted herself out of the hood and, importantly, out of America.

Iggy, on the other hand,  spent the better part of a decade trying to land her amazingly melanin-deficient, yet seemingly ample ass in pretty much the exact muthaeffin’ spot that Banks vacated.  Growing up in Mullumbimby, Austrailia, she was a lonely, shunned elementary schooler who was introduced to 2Pac at age 13 and never looked back.  A year later, she was getting booed off stage at rap battles and…

Wait a minute. I want to pause right here and take a moment to have y’all reflect on how bad you must be to get the Sandman treatment in Arsefucking, Austrailia.  Think about that, seriously.  That’s like showing a newly sighted, formerly blind woman a painting you did and having her be so unimpressed by it that she pulls up her dress, summons the requisite muscle control, and takes a piss on that bitch standing up.  Horrible.

But now imagine how big Iggy’s femballs must be, ’cause she didn’t give up.

No, she kept at it, and using money that she saved from her commercial cleaning business (hustle), she moved to Miami in 2006 at the age of six-fucking-teen.  She made ends meet by both working illegally and doing illegal work, the latter consisting of credit card scams (hustle hard). All the while she kept at the music thing though she knew no one in the industry, that is until she bounced to Houston, got mentored, and finally started sharpening her darts, as the Wu might say.  Moves to Atlanta and L.A. followed, and at the start of 2011 she uploaded the homemade and fragrantly titled “Pussy Two Times” video to YouTube.  By August of that same year it was easy to see that our favorite Aussie was on the come-up, as she released the still vaginally themed but MUCH more polished “PU$$Y” promo video to fuel interest in her first mixtape “Ignorant Art.”

Listening to Iggy would provide most people with no clue that she’s from the twangy-ass Land Down Under.  I mean, babygirl straight sounds like a New York chick who spent a few years visiting her peoples down south or some shit…which she halfway is.  And that’s interesting, because Azealia Banks often sounds like a Harlem chick who spent years raving with white girls in Brooklyn…which she absolutely is.  It’s scary how much these two seem to have in common, which makes it all the more sad that they’ve got enough beef between ’em to host a barbecue.  With shrimp, of course…so Iggy can skew it.  ‘Cause she’s Australian.

Now there are a couple thoughts as to why this beef popped off.  You know I got my opinion, but since I’m past my 800 word limit for you ignorant bastiches, you’ll have to read the rest in a couple days.  That’s right, I’m DOUBLE POSTING within a week.  Yay, for you!  And for anybody making cracks about me not having written the conclusion of “Beauty and the Beast” yet, close your mouth ’cause nobody cares about you or your life.  Beautiful art takes time to produce, and so does this shit.  So just wait.

Devil Fingers Salute!

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White Wednesdays

What if the shoe were on the other foot?

About a week ago, a friend of mine was telling me about somebody that was annoying the crap out of her at work. “Are you gonna say something to them?” I inquired.  She gave me that glare that African-American senior citizen ladies are prone to shoot you right before they’re about they’re about to say, “Chiiiild” and curtly responded, “Aw hell naw.  It might be a problem – I’m too black today. ”

I chuckled. “Wait.  Ain’t you black every day?” Again, she hit me with the Sojourner Truth look. “Oh, you didn’t know? Sheeeeit…I’m white on Wednesdays.”

The ensuing laughfest must have added several more lines of definition to my already well-sculpted abs.  Seriously, ladies.  My stomach looks like a close-up of Albert Einstein’s brain: I make The Situation look more like The Speculation.

But, I digress.

My friend left and I recovered, but I started to think.  What if, for just one day out of the week, non-whites got to see what it was like to be white? What if White Wednesdays were real?  The implications are tantalizing.

Eddie Murphy touched on a similar idea in one of his SNL sketches.  We’d see a surge of loan applications from erstwhile African-Americans and Latinos looking to finally start that business or buy that house.  No credit?  Bad credit?  You wanna open a shop selling furniture made of toenail clippings?  No problem, Mr. and Mrs. White!

Arrests would fall precipitously on Hump Day.  Government officials at all levels would celebrate as they declare it the safest day of the week.  European tourists could now enjoy their doe-eyed wanderings through the streets of Harlem during the middle of the week too!   No more waiting ’til Saturday in order to blend in with dredded Japanese hip-hoppers or Sundays when Jesus walks with them.

But AHEM…please note that I said not one word about crime dropping.  I said arrests.  With everybody looking the same, how would cops use their trusted “gut instincts”?  How could they exercise a decent stop-and-frisk?  Like Paul Mooney says, for one day, everybody would have the Complexion for the Protection.  Matter of fact…

Convictions would fall too.  Judges would be stricken with the same degree of paralyzing impartiality as police: “So what this is your third DUI arrest and you tried to trade a rub-and-tug for five bucks from the bailiff!  I can tell you’re a good kid, so I’m just gonna give you 60 days in rehab.  Want a little nose candy to celebrate?”

But White Wednesdays wouldn’t be a happy time for everybody.

The world over, white women in superficial interracial relationships would exhale a collective sigh of sadness as they were forced to see their prized black and Latino stallions as…well…human beings.  Meanwhile, non-white men who use ignorant sexual stereotypes (true though they may be…holla!) to generate interest from lusty white girls will notice their magic sticks emitting less pixie dust on those days.

Oh, and thank Sammy Davis, Jr. that most people don’t hit the club on Wednesdays.  In major cities all across the U.S.A., good colored folk would face unbearable frustration as they watched themselves lose control of their limbs on the dancefloor.  The concept of rhythm would suddenly hold no meaning as the steady beat of the drum somehow became confused with the steady stream of song lyrics.  Many would simply give up and start doing what white people do in the majority of social situations: stand around small-talking and get shitfaced.

But for most non-white people, Wednesdays would be the shit.  Yeah, you don’t have to go to that soul-crushing job on the weekend, but on Wednesdays you don’t have to DO any work anyway.  You can just talk a good game!  Or schmooze the holy cowboy stuffing out of your boss.  Or if you do work, you can work half as hard, i.e. at a normal level – you wouldn’t have to prove that you deserve to be there.  And when that dude in Operations calls you “bro,” you’ll know he means it and isn’t tryin’ to create some BS sense of connection based on his “love” for hip-hop.  (Which to him basically starts and ends with N.W.A.)

In other words, you’d have one day when you felt completely free to be you.  The assholiest part is that it would be the one day when that is so goddamn untrue.  Sigh…I guess even white people can’t have everything.

P.S.  I know that I never explicitly mentioned Asians in this post.  That wasn’t an oversight.  Y’all are basically honorary white people.  C’mon, son.  There’s no use in arguing.  As a group, y’all own more violins and pianos than all North American orchestras combined.  You make white people feel inferior at school and work.  Plus, your food is muthafuckin’ delicious, even when white people make it.  That shit is shady.

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