26 May 2009

Punch Drunk Love

Dear Gayle,

I started watching internet videos again. I know. Absolutely not the way to get any writing done, but what can I say other than it's addictive? There's some good, mind-numbing stuff on the web. Anyway, last Friday morning, I logged on to Twitter, and some of the folks I follow were talking a Charles Hamilton video that had been making rounds on the internet. Admittedly, I haven't paid much attention to Charles Hamilton, but not because, like Carl Thomas, his name makes him sound less like a rapper I should know and more like somebody's uncle. Rather, I yawn at this dude because: 1. with few exceptions, most days I care more about than I do about new emcees; and 2. Charles is a known beat jacker, and for that, he gets bozack from me. But there's something about a tweet link that compels me to click away. So, yeah, I watched it.

If you haven't seen it, here's a synopsis: It's a clip of Charles Hamilton and a young woman, who is, I guess, his girlfriend. Apparently, young Charles had been a mark ass buster previously, and the gf was miffed. In response, she wrote a poem/rap. During the video the unofficial hypeman, whose name just HAS to be Tyrone, instigates a rap battle. So she spits. From her Blackberry. Then Charles spits and commences to talk about how he had sex with her, etc. In other words, Charles Hamilton, like a lot of his hip hop brethren, was acting like an obnoxious asshole. But before Hamilton can finish rapping about their sexuation, the gf straight punches him in the face. How nice. (Maybe she was just upset by the fact that it's officially on blast that she slept with a dude who looks like Cam'ron's nephew with that stuffed Pink Panther on his wrist {all in the name of being a blipster, I'm sure.}.) Anyway, a few days later, the couple decides to apologize to each other. On camera. To add, the hypeman/mediator gets on his soapbox, telling folks who dissed Chuck in the interim that they suck, because Charles was a real man by not retaliating. Again, how nice.

If anything, the twitsponse reflects my love/hate relationship with Twitter: I love the links some people supply; I hate the commentary (and the fact that some folks think having egg whites for breakfast is somehow tweet-worthy. But that's another story.) Some of the stuff I read either found the Charles getting cracked in the jaw funny, wanted to discuss where/when how violence between the sexes is justified, or implicitly praised young Charles' for his self-restraint. As for the latter, I guess, folks are still smarting from the Breezy v. Reezy public relations fiasco, which I wrote about previously.

Gayle, I suppose people are glad that a young black man used his words. (The gf tells me that's ["use your words"] what you say to toddlers who prefer to point and make noise until you give them what they want. I find its use here more than appropriate.) Whatever. What got lost in the whole "Thank God Charles Hamilton ain't Chris Brown" response was how he responded to her, what he said to her. Homegirl was obviously hurt. And though I think she would have benefited from a ghostwriter to help her express that shit more cleverly, and though it probably would've helped not to put shit out on internet front street, his blatantly disrespectful response confirms that black love is deader than chicken fried hard. And, of course, she shouldn't have hit him.

His retort, in all of its nonchalance, was all about the fact that he'd fucked her. No matter how wack her poem/rap was and no matter where she shared it, she didn't deserve that shit. Essentially, she said, "You hurt my feelings and I'm mad about it," and his response was, "But I hit it, though." Both video clips are chocked full of disrespect, and the only thing more unfortunate than her response and the apologies and forgiveness in the aftermath, is the fact that I know this kind of thing is normal to women who neither date up-and-coming rappers, nor work out their relationship issues in front of a video camera.

It seems that the standard for romantic relationships has sunk so low that a man is considered "real" when he doesn't hit a woman (back). As if not engaging in domestic violence is now some admirable quality that Angie Stone and/or Jill Scott should add as a lyric to their next ode to black men. Since when is whittling down your partner to a sex object and your relationship with her to a mere sexual encounter or two not abusive, especially when she seems to believe that what you all had was more significant than that? Dear Hypeman, Your boy might wear pink, but he ain't all that progressive, nigga. Not from this view.

But more to my point, when did this kind of interaction become par for the course in the game of (heterosexual black) love? Is the self-esteem so low, have we digested the whole scarcity of good black men schtick for so long that any ol' mediocre, silly-acting, not phsically violent one will do?

Of course, Gayle, I don't want to seem like I'm being too hard on young Charles. He did, after all, apologize. Perhaps this was an isolated incident, and unfortunately, a video camera was just there to catch the poor behavior. The situation could be unique, and not indicative of their entire courtship. Maybe, despite this, he's a good guy. Maybe it's all a publicity stunt. Charles' camp has been known to stage internet dust ups, so I hear.

Maybe I was hoping all that pink would seep into his skin, and help him get in touch with, I dunno, some sort of womanly(?) perspective. Yeah. I was totally wrong about that. Skinny jeans don't have that kind of special power, either. But I dunno, Gayle. I can't shake the feeling that something fucked up happened when Meth met Mary. (Which reminds me. Saf and I need to get to work.)

Oh well. At least he's dating a black girl. *Shrug*


22 May 2009

I Ain't Hip

Dear Gayle,

Don't you just hate trends now that the internet is around? Two kids wear ties around their waists and sing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," and the next thing you know, the blogosphere is babbling about this new "thing" happening in [insert random locale here]. What I find most irritating about these moments is how many bloggers and the media treat these mini-events as if somehow they're are new and ahistorical, without precedent, as if it was something they had never before seen. Like a black president. Oh wait. Nevermind.

I felt this irritation when I checked out what was happening over at The Root the other day. An essay on the site called, "The Rise of the Black Hipster," couldn't have been more irritating if it had been printed on sandpaper and given to me to use as emergency toilet paper. (I didn't mean to imply the article was shitty this early, Gayle, but if the trucker cap fits...) You guessed it. The article is about all these weird-dressing and -acting black people the writer has been spying lately, I guess--perfect fodder for The Root. Instead of just calling them regular-ass Negroes in ostensibly funny (for Negroes, of course) clothing, they go by the term "black hipster." Excuse me, Gayle. I mean "blipster." For nothing says trendy more than a portmanteau. You know you're hot shit when you've gone the way of the spork. Anyway, the byline, "What happens when the hybrid hipster culture hits black America?" should have alerted the smoke in my head to start slowly billowing from my ears. Surely, there was no where to go but up, right? (Wrong.) Either way, I have plenty of water on the brain to create the necessary steam. Once my initial skim revealed that one of the paragraphs began with "Asher Roth" the cranial liquids began to bubble like a recently opened can of Faygo.

Of course, to recognize a black hipster, one would have to know what a regular, um, white hipster looks like, right? And thankfully, the author tracks that for us--not. She writes, with no hint of irony, "By now, the traits of hipsterism are easily recognizable to culture vultures," and goes on to describe the hipster tendency to rock skinny jeans--that would give even the most modestly endowed young man a hysterectomy--bright t-shirts, a taste for the underground and esoteric, and of course, Pabst beer. Apparently, young urban black folks have taken up this style recently. She notes (again, no irony), "Simply put: The racial archetypes that had defined the last 15 years of masculine street style have given way to a radically new aesthetic."

The assumptions in the piece are many; all of them irritatingly (yes, you've noticed a theme) problematic. First, well, the traits of hipsterism aren't as recognizable as we might think. The term "hipster," what it means, who it describes, et cetera has been long debated. Just because you've recently noticed that more and more nigs are covering their ass cracks with Sonic the Hedgehog boxers and jeans that fit doesn't mean they're all hipsters. Second, how about giving the reader a little morsel of the word's etymology? Surely being a (black) hipster goes beyond rocking a Members Only jacket and listening to afropunk. What hubris (or laziness) one must have to ignore (the possibility of) lineage, and treat this whole schtick as if it were fresh! Forgive me, Gayle, but I thought it went without saying that nothing, especially in this post-modern world, is new under the sun.

Perhaps going beyond "Hey! Look! A black kid on a skateboard!" might reveal some pretty interesting things, some stuff that might give one pause before applying the term to black folks or other people of color for that matter. And we might learn stuff, like the term's West African roots, which might lead us to think that the term was racialized long before Kanye put on purple Reeboks. We might even peruse the Norman Mailer essay on the subject. (I know. I know. "The White Negro" is totally not available on the internet; we'd actually have to pick up a book to read it. And then there's that whole stabbing thing. Oh, Norman...) Perhaps we'd learn that the term was used initially to describe white folks who were appropriating black culture, and later evolved to describe rather apathetic white kids who could voluntarily marginalize themselves for the sake of being, I dunno, awesome.

What would we do with those revelations? Maybe we'd think long and hard about what it means to apply a term associated with folks who could easily eschew labels--purely because whiteness allows them the privilege--to black people. Maybe we'd ask whether or not alleged black hipsters were entitled in the same kinds of ways. Maybe we'd question what it means to apply the phrase used to describe people who evacuate various expressions of race, gender, and class of all meaning for the sake being "cool" to the group they originally appropriated. Can one appropriate an appropriator? Especially when it was your shit they appropriated in the first place?

Maybe we'd think--as a homie on Facebook responded when I posted the article--that black people have been doing this shit for years, and that calling someone a "blipster" really intimates acceptance of a narrow construction of blackness. Doing so keeps white at the center, making them tastemakers, while the expression(s) of people of color remain mere reactions. Further, accepting this stuff doesn't compel us to interrogate the constricted notion of blackness one gathers from popular portrayals of black culture. Rather, embracing and employing the phrase "blipster" in such a way implicitly agrees with what those images profess: that black is one thing, and every black person who isn't that is somehow special, indie, alternative.

Frankly, "hybrid...culture" hasn't come to black America. Hybrid culture is black America. Black culture is inherently a hybrid and radically inclusive. Just because they don't tell that you on your t.v. (on the radio) doesn't mean it's not true.

So, no. I ain't hip--just black, whether I listen to Santigold or merely put ice on the gold. And if you know like I do, you're just black, too.

Later, Gayle.


P.S. It's good to be back. I missed you.

12 May 2009

Working My Way Back to You

Dear Gayle,

I'm coming back to you. We need each other.


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