Impact of Baduizm: “On & On/…& On”

baduPick yo afro, daddy, because it’s flat on one side

You need to pick yo afro, daddy, because it’s flat on one side

Well, If you don’t pick your afro, you gonna have one side hiiiiiiiigh…

That’s basically the trailer to Erykah Badu’s “On and On.”  When I hear those words, one image comes to mind: my undergraduate students.

Last spring, a student did a presentation on Badu using the video to this song.  The video is announced as a story that opens with the lines above. As soon as that third line hit, If you don’t pick yo afro daddy, you gon have one side hiiiiiiiigh, the class sang in unison.  And then everybody just started laughing.

Yes, I was cracking up too, but I was also surprised… now hold up, yall— yall was only 2 years old when this song came out.  What yall know about daddy’s afro being high?  They ignored me except, of course, Aysha, who came to my office (and still on many other occasions) to tell me I was EXTRA (I was always extra: extra with the homework, extra with the assignments, extra with the discussion topics, extra with the earrings…. just EXTRA… I have come to love this word!)  I get away with these kinds of comments as a college teacher, stuff I never got away with when I taught high school.  During lunch, I always turned on the old school at noon on HOT 97 (my hip hop station back then) so when students finished eating lunch, many would come to my classroom.  I should have known better but I was surprised when these students knew ALL of the lyrics to every and any Rakim or Sugar Hill or Roxanne or KRS-One song they heard, though many were not born at the time or, at least, they were still crawling in diapers.  When I expressed my surprise, they got all personal, snapped on me because I grew up in Ohio, and accused me of trying to learn to pop-lock when they just came out the womb knowing Hip Hop.  Yeah, they took it THERE.  I was not phased though and would describe, rather rudely (with reminders of what they just had for lunch), the kind of excrement they had in their diapers while I was grown, understanding what I was hearing, and able to wipe my own behind… in Ohio.    Not exactly one of my finer moments, I admit, but, hey, I wasn’t gon let them play me like that.  Sometime you gotta do what you gotta do.  Point is: there is a cultural apparatus and literate community here that recreates black experiences through music.

erykah-badu-feet-319487You don’t need to have been alive when Badu first came on the scene with that first album, Baduizm, (and every album thereafter) for it to make its impact on how you understand your life and the ways in which you understand being a black woman.   With Badu, I see my students placing themselves into new aesthetic expressions, whether it be through body adornment, sound collaborations, or the crafting of one’s singing voice.  Badu even designs new AfroDigital experiences to go along with her opening lament of a lost love or with her choral request that someone simply clap for her and have her back  (see Badu perform “Window Seat” at the 2010 Soul Train Awards below).  We seem to notice, maybe even over-notice, when young people of Afrikan descent gravitate to meaningless or, worst yet, offensive commercial musicians who often have very little to contribute in content or talent.  When students start singing a song that came out in 1997 as if they have lived that moment with Badu (they were only 2 and 4 years old at the time), then, clearly, it is not accurate to think they are only gravitating to commercially successful artists who trade in poppy gimmicks for style, choose corporate branding over aestheticism and music, and pursue money rather than soul. I love when my students let me feel the ways that they are feeling those differences.

When I have students who are so deeply invested in a genre or musician that is literally before their time, I stop to notice these explicit ways that black communities  sustain culture, memory, sound, and history.  In this particular case, there’s a word for it: Baduizm.

Impact of Lauryn Hill: Beyond Double Standards

“I don’t know any black woman that could go out here and make a sex tape and get a cupcake line, a clothing line, a perfume line, and be touted around on the arm of an athlete like this is my girl, cuz you know when we do that kind of stuff we called Supahead… I’m [not] put on a pedestal like the other women.”  ~Sherri Shepherd

These were the words spoken by Sherri Shepherd on a panel discussing black men and women’s relationships.   I was struck by the relevance and accuracy of the sentiment but also by her ability to push this reality much farther than how we usually like to see and talk about such issues: as “double standards.”   This notion of “double standards” just doesn’t go far enough and stops incredibly short of any real analysis.  I prefer bell hooks’s terminology: “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy”— a totalizing and interlocking system.  Strange as it may seem, there was something, or rather someone, in particular who triggered my memory of Sherri Shepherd’s words and my general disdain for every everyday discourse that names social violence on black women as “double standards”:  that person is Lauryn Hill.

lauryn-hill1Quite frankly, with the exception of my classrooms that enroll large numbers of young black women, most of what I hear black folk— men and women alike— discuss in relation to Lauryn Hill is her mental and emotional collapse after her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  Between the emotional abuse she has obviously endured from her partner, the inability to perform with her original music and hence the bands she deploys, the legal tax issues she faces, and the allegations of mental breakdown and drug use, she gets dissed all around.  And yet, every time I see Bobby Brown or Q-Tip, I suspect the crackpipe is not far away.  In the words of Rick James, cocaine is a helluva drug! I always (secretly, I admit) wonder when Busta Rhymes is going to leave the steroids alone because something just ain’t lookin right (I say the same about L.L. Cool J and Botox).  Wesley Snipes still ain’t figured out what taxes are.  I am also amazed by the way we enshrine Eazy-E without nary a word that the brotha died of AIDS with seven children from six different women. Needless to say, that brotha was clearly into some shit (not unlike the many, many men Supahead so fabulously chronicled for us). The folk who are so curiously silent on these issues are the same fools who diss Lauryn.  Double standards?  Naw.  There’s more than just that going on here.Lauryn+Hill+PNG

Like what I recently said about Aja Monet, Lauryn Hill gets love from my students every semester.  I don’t even have to bring her name up— they will do the work.  I am noticing this more now as I close out a semester of teaching black women’s rhetoric.  I see my students’ embrace of Lauryn Hill as a way they combat a system intent on stealing a black woman’s light, a system that they too are up against.

I am confident today that my students have a substantial, new body of knowledge on black women’s history, that they even know some rhetorical theory as well as black feminist thought.  But what I am most impressed with is the way they fight for black women’s lives: they fight to let. black. women. live.  That’s what I see them doing with Lauryn Hill against an “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” that intends to obliterate her.  I stand with my students on this one: much love to you, Lauryn! 

Liberated Response to Patriarchy

Imagine that you are a black woman who had a full-day, grueling job interview and then returned to your hotel room to speak to your partner until 1am in the morning, though you needed to return to the interview at 8am the next morning.  In the course of the day, you did not encounter any other black person so you know that taking this job will be more than a notion.  Your partner, a black man, is in distress via work-related issues (since his job looks similar) and so that is all that you talk about because, after all, this is what it means to truly support someone.  However, never once, not even in the weeks and months later, did he ask you what happened at that interview (and clearly a lot happened since the interview lasted for more than 15 hours).   As a black female professional/academic, this scenario is more common than not and approximates the kinds of conversations I routinely have with many girlfriends— married, dating, looking, AND single-by-design.  And while this example is certainly from a now bygone and regrettable past, it ain’t that past as to represent some kind of different century when women were supposed to just be barefoot and pregnant… and yet, you would think so.

After Tyler Perry dropped yet another movie about purposeless/pathetic/pathologized black women, I spent my last week talking to many black female students about their anxiety that their professional success will make them undesirable to black men, the message they receive everywhere around them (the weeks after a Tyler Perry movie are always a rollercoaster ride in my office with young black women who want to talk about relationships).  Even Tyrese, RayJay, and Keith Sweat give dumb, misogynistic advice in new relationship books targeting black women now. To quote Keith Sweat himself: sumthin sumthin just ain’t right. With Steve Harvey’s banal relationship books topping numerous bestseller lists (and considered one of the top 10 bestselling relationship books of all times) followed by his movie that grossed 28 million dollars in its first week, there is obviously some real big money in black men telling black women what to do. I usually ignore this stuff because it is just so simple and played-out but I end up chiming in, if only to shift the direction of the conversation when I am talking to young black women.

Now let’s imagine another scenario.  A black woman’s partner disappears for 6-8 weeks to focus on his own project but expects that she’ll be there waiting when he returns.   The culture of patriarchy nurtures men to live this way as stoic, individual prototypical Lone Rangers who keep to themselves, presumably able to move through the world all alone and on their own, so this scenario should not seem so strange.  On the rare occasion when the partner checks in (maybe between coffee stops and drinks at the bar), she is expected to listen and give support. Nevertheless, he never once gives any such support to her though her own project is just as critical during this 6-8 week period. Though there were some occasions when she was supported (like, maybe, in the very beginning), those occasions are not in the majority because, after all, as a black woman, she is regarded as someone made of Teflon. As such, her person isn’t seen as needing the same kind of care, attention, or defense as a non-black woman (or in more pessimistic terms, black women are simply not as valued as white women or other non-black/women of color so are not seen as deserving of care).  It’s not an understatement to say that many of us feel like we are supporting and holding up the world and never getting that back in return from anyone anywhere. Self-help books do get some of it right though: folk (family, friends, partners) will take and take and take and give almost nothing, but ONLY if you let them.  These texts, however, offer no critical social-help.   The kind of support that women need in these new work-worlds that look unlike what women have ever entered in such large numbers is simply not forthcoming from many male partners at home.   Unlike what you get in mainstream discourse, black women are not trippin’ because we make more money than black men, because there is no one to date, or because we have terminal degrees with extra letters behind our names now (see what I have to say about what it is like to be a black woman in graduate school and you will really understand that we do NOT experience ourselves as being on top of the world).  You have to wonder how and why white mainstream pundits and black male public figures so frequently talk this way about black women.  We can STOP talking now about how to “find a good man,” the mantra you hear ad nauseum.  This notion of “finding a good black man” sticks too closely to the good man/bad man binary under patriarchy (a good man is, after all, just a benevolent patriarch).  We need to instead START talking about building a partnership with a LIBERATED MAN (yes, they exist), which is what I think Jill Scott has in mind here:

These very public (and lucrative) discussions about cultivating black professional women to find black male partners is just a cover-up for the real issues: what will happen to partnering in a patriarchal system when the economic world no longer gives ANY man the sole capacity to be bread-winners (poor black men have always faced this)?  Will we re-script maleness or just blame this newest lack of breadwinning on women/feminism rather than on new modes of capitalism?  Will femaleness get re-scripted or will we go to work, come home, and then act as if we are still stay-at-home moms so that patriarchy can look in tact?

Old, patriarchal models won’t serve working women well who need the same emotional support that men have always been able to count on from women (see the above examples).  The crisis of patriarchy under new capitalism means white supremacy punishes black women the most by labeling us as most undesirable or irrational (or just such robust workers/cotton-pickers that we won’t need anyone or anything). These exaggerated levels of attention that get paid to professional black women who are “unable” to “find” “good, black men” COULD actually point us in the direction of a new rupture of patriarchy if we see that, at root, that is really what we are talking about. Black women’s discourses can lead the way here just as much as when black women became the first and only women to openly and publicly critique male physical and sexual abuse via the Blues— a historical fact that I see as the single-most important contribution of Angela Davis’s book, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism.  The fact of the matter is that the model of male breadwinner/patriarch and stay-at-home wife (or the almost stay-at-home wife with a man who earns twice as much and who, therefore, has the career/needs that take precedence) is no longer viable for anyone except a very small 5% of the wealthy, elite.  That was never viable for working-class black people anyway but now a more multi-hued middle class is getting to experience what po’ black folk have always faced, hence, all this attention.  And in true American fashion, the nation will work out its psychoses on black bodies.  Unless you are with a trust-fund baby or a Wall Street crook, you gon be workin in the 21st century.  Old notions of domesticity just won’t cut it, not even for white male patriarchs.  I suspect black women will be the ones to take on this charge of re-framing how we understand these old notions though we won’t be acknowledged as such… right now, that is certainly what my office hours are looking and sounding like.

“So Hot It Hurts”

IMG154After more than his fair share of, shall we say, “resistance” (there are better words for it but I’ll leave it there since I am feelin celebratory today… expect more on that later), Dr. Todd Craig, one of my advisees, successfully defended his doctoral dissertation yesterday!

IMG159This dissertation is an examination of Hip Hop DJ Rhetoric based on Craig’s own life-story alongside more than 9o interviews with foundational Hip Hop deejays whose literacies, rhetorics, and ideologies are, often for the first time, magnificently centered.  To open his dissertation defense, Dr. Craig, of course, spun a set that merged the music, quotations, and samples from all of his first chapter so that we could hear, in yet another fantastic way, what that first dissertation chapter was dropping.

IMG156These deejays— more aptly described by Dr. Craig as “mixologists and turntable technicians, beat-blending specialists, scratch scientists and musical grandmasters”— are theorized as the “21st century new media reader, writer, and literary critic.”  It is the Hip Hop deejay whose tastes decide what gets poppin in the streets as well as how turntables, headphones, mixers, and computer software are now engineered and re-invented.  Yes, yes, yall… and that’s just the first paragraph of the literature review.  That’s all I will reveal for now but when this dissertation drops as a book, let’s just say, I tole you so!  Despite all the naysayers, haters, lynch-mobbers, and supremacists, this thing is real and can’t be stopped!  To quote Dr. Craig, when he quotes Havoc of Mobb Deep: “this is all the way live/and the way that I survive.”

As if fate had finally kissed me on the forehead, one of my undergraduate mentees, Valerie, came back to the university (she already graduated) to tell me, just minutes before this dissertation defense, that she was accepted at all nine medical schools to which she applied… and this, despite, being told by a wanna-be-prominent white male administrator that medical schools no longer accept “unqualified” “black girls” like her.  I’m looking forward to the health research and advocacy that she will do on black people’s behalf and the way she already knows how to keep those fighting embers and inner shine glowing.

There have been few days in my academic career so far that I can chalk up with some positivity.  But, to quote Cube from way back when, I got to say it was a good day.