29 June 2009

The BET Awards: A Running Commentary

6:58 -- i hate to say it, but joe jackson stole those locs from kool moe dee.

7:02 -- ok. new edition needs auto-tune.

7:02 -- bobby brown is just nasty.

7:06 -- this 'beat it' performance [by jamie foxx] would've been way better with an appearance by michael delorenzo. i'm just saying...

7:10 -- don't call me miss cleo, but i prognosticate that this show will come off like the talent show portion of a black family reunion. (call me now!)

7:11 -- dear jamie foxx, next time, please borrow a teleprompter from obama. love, me.

7:12 -- paging dr. timberlake.

7:13 -- tyra! do your "black or white" bit!

7:14 -- michael jackson should win EVERY award tonight--even best male athlete.

7:16 -- BET feels the recession; they laid off award nominees.

7:18 -- hopefully, allowing ginuwine to share his memories of mj saves us from his rendition of "she's out of my life" (yeah, i bought 100% ginuwine. and i still hate myself for it.)

7:20 -- [commercial break] i bet you $5 michael jackson has said to james brown, "this is some bullshit" at least twice.

7:25 -- keri hilson: totally debunking the stereotype that negroes are a musical people.

7:26 -- text from my homegirl, keisha: if you're not a good impersonator, just say you'll miss him.

7:28 -- way to go, ne-yo. [that's all you're getting from me.]

7:31 -- i hope they got swv to sing the human nature remix of "right here." does coko still have her nails?

7:35 -- akeelah spells AND sings?

jamie foxx performance. moving on...

7:41 -- dear tiny, call fantasia. love, me.

7:42 -- i love snoop dogg. there. i said it.

7:46 -- did jamie foxx just call nichelle nichols "star trek"?

7:54 -- i need a translator to understand t-pain. or autotune.

7:55 -- i dare an award winner NOT to thank god. sorry. God.

7:57 -- [commerical break] i'm nearly full from this soup sandwich.

8:00 -- is mariah carey there? i hope she brought trey lorenz.

8:02 -- what time does the mc hammer show come on?

8:02 -- BEYONCE!

8:03 -- wait. what the hell is beyonce doing?

8:05 -- sarah mclachlin? mj ain't write that. "gone too soon"? the free willy jam? give me a reason not to hate you, bey!

8:06 -- my cousin, michael on bey's performance: how u gonna come out and sing a meaningful song in lingerie?

8:08 -- did anybody tell beyonce that michael jackson died?

8:09 -- if i were joe jackson, i'd cuss out everybody and leave. they tarnishing your legacy, fam!

8:13 -- [on the martin lawrence/jamie foxx "wanda and she ne ne" bit] i can't believe it took this long to see black men in drag.

8:22 -- dear mc lyte, no need to scream. there's a microphone right in front of your face.

8:24 -- zoe saldana, no need to put nichelle on blast. older folks need to make water.

8:25 -- did zoe just say "taraji" like her name was "celie"?

8:31 -- i bet michael jackson is really pissed off about folks saying how he made it possible for them to be (t)here.

8:32 -- keith sweat still can't sing, but i love him.

8:33 -- guy! with a keytar

8:35 -- bbd! i am still trippin' off the fact that kwame wrote "poison."

8:36 -- lesson learned: new jack swing did not require good singing.

8:39 -- ok. i think the show has peaked.

8:41 -- [commercial break] maybe it's me, but i just don't think black people should do cotton commercials.

8:42 -- confession: i love nene [from the real housewives of atlanta.]

8:42 -- who chose ciara to sing this song? fire him/her.

8:44 -- [ciara sings "heal the world"] eff the world, ciara. heal your vocal chords.

8:46 -- hellloooo, paula patton.

8:49 -- as a general rule, i love monica. the boy was/is hers. no diss, brandy.

8:52 -- well, for memyselfpersonally, i think BET just should've aired moonwalker.

8:53 -- [commercial break and highlight of my night]: e's "i believe i can fly"/"you are not alone" mash-up.

8:56 -- the mayor of philadelphia, ms is also a member of the nation of islam. sorry for the default and lazy black man in bow tie joke.

8:58 -- jeremy piven = this generation's robert deniro.

8:58 -- joe jackson is still at the show?!?!? get out!!

8:59 -- ok. i was used to BET not showing the nominees. now, they are showing them. god, BET. get it together, or leave it alone.

9:00 -- beyonce talks. *cringe*

9:00 -- jiggaaaaaahhhh.

9:01 -- [again] joe jackson is still at the show get out!!

9:06 -- i REPEAT: i don't think black people should do cotton commercials. jazmine sullivan, i'm talking to YOU.

9:10 -- why couldn't mj's death inspire a moratorium on self-hype/promotion? shut up about your tour already, jamie foxx.

9:11 -- don cornelius!! one of the greatest afros ever.

9:13 -- at this point, the only thing that could redeem this show? DEBARGE.

9:14 -- my problem with the ojays? the random third member. much love, though.


9:17 -- tevin, can we talk about where you've been? what's that? you've been sitting idle in a boat, while everyone else was down the stream?

9:18 -- i miss gerald levert at black awards shows.

9:22 -- i still miss the tyrese from the coke commercial.

9:32 -- first obama shout out. shucks. we almost made it to the end!

9:35 -- jesus. there's still an hour left?

9:37 -- [the ojays' performance] ojays to the new jackers: THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.

9:41 -- the ojays had HITS! next time they play at a casino, i'm there.

9:42 -- how to look famous: wear sunglasses inside. it confuses the camerapeople.

9:44 -- i swear to god, mariah carey and trey lorenz BETTER sing "i'll be there" at the end of this show!

9:47 -- [idris elba on stage] i love black people with british accents.

9:48 -- dear debra lee, i hate you. love, me.

9:51 -- what's debra lee saying? i muted the tv. lemme guess. something like, "i hate black people"?

9:52 -- every time debra lee smiles, a puppy dies.

9:55 -- the least BET could've done was play "man in the mirror" during the wyclef and alicia keys in africa segment. lazy. just lazy.

22:02 -- wyclef, your work in haiti is the least you could do to make up for that duet with the rock. hell, for everything after the carnival.

22:10 -- tiny, what i need from you is understanding. what's up with your roots?

22:11 -- everytime i see ving rhames, i'm reminded of (no, not holiday heart) jack lemmon.

22:11 -- [on ving rhames and baby boy reenactment] the belt? as if the ads for BET's upcoming shows weren't embarrassing and ignorant enough.

22:15 -- [introducing maxwell] what's that, jamie foxx? you're a dressing-in-drag homophobe?

22:15 -- maxwell time.

22:18 -- after tonight's fiasco that was the BET awards, how much do you wanna bet maxwell will only be checking puerto rican on the 2010 census?

22:22 -- [commercial break] this just in, folks. jim crow is back.

22:24 -- how does debra lee sleep at night? oh wait. obviously she doesn't.

22:28 -- ok. so BET got that time delay thing together in time for lil wayne's performance. shout out to eddie levert for getting "shit" by the censors!

22:30 -- from "wheelchair jimmy" to "bar stool jimmy." drake. boo. michael jackson NEVER sat down!

22:35 -- the last performance [drake, lil wayne, some other folks] just let me know that many just did not understand michael jackson's legacy.

22:36 -- [commercial break] this just in, folks. slavery is back (just like the mcrib). now in canada, too! (thanks, drake!)


22:39 -- [foxx and neyo sing "i'll be there"] screw you, jamie foxx. where is trey lorenz?

22:43 -- in the words of michael's sister, janet, "that's the end?" f'real, BET this took 3 whole days? TIME compiled a whole magazine in three days! that's the way love goes, i guess.

*what ever happened to, "you have to be twice as good..."?

*ok. show is over. time to go wash the black off of me, a la the Ex-Coloured Man.

*if BET is still on the air in september, in time enough to air the new shows we saw during the commercial breaks, it's our bad. in the words of Diddy, "Let's go people!"

25 June 2009

Dwele MJ Tribute

Can't stop, won't stop watching this.

23 June 2009

You Remind Me of '03

The other week, during a visit to New York City, Sarah Palin and her daughter, Willow went to a Yankees game. Later that day, David Letterman quipped that "during the seventh inning, [Palin's] daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez." According to Letterman, he thought he'd been making a joke about Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol (got a baby), and not 14-year-old Willow. Many of us are familiar with the elder Palin daughter as the poster teenager for both the pro-life and abstinence movements. The Palin Machine (if we can call it that. And if we can, the machine was built by GM circa 1983) kangaroo'd on the public relations opportunity, calling Letterman's joke about "raping" Willow Palin "disgusting [...], contribut[ing] to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others." Letterman apologized--in a very Letterman way--and even invited Palin on the show. Not wanting to serve as a ratings boost--again--Palin declined the invitation, but accepted the apology.

The whole bit reminded me of something. I just couldn't figure out what it was.

Then, I remembered.

About six years ago, Dave Chappelle presented two now classic skits, "Pee on You" and its remix, on the genius but short-lived Chappelle's Show. In them, Chappelle impersonates R. Kelly, singing about peeing and defecating on a woman over a Kelly-inspired track. Of course, the germ for the spoof was a videotape--leaked in 2002--of a person resembling Kelly and a woman; in the now infamous video, the man, who looked a lot like Kelly, is filmed urinating on the woman after having sex with her. As we know, the video was more than comic fodder; it became a crucial piece of evidence in Kelly's trial, where he faced 21 counts of child pornography. But Chappelle's response to Kelly's anger at him for doing the bit is poignant to say the least. Chappelle announced, "R. Kelly was pissed. No punchline to that. Nigga was pissed. He was all, 'How could you go and make a video about peeing on someone?' Nigga, how could YOU go making a video about peeing on somebody?"

Granted, both moments inspired jokes. And though Chappelle is essentially putting Kels on blast while Letterman jabbed both Rodriguez and Bristol Palin, Other than that, these are two rather disparate and completely unrelated comedic blips on the pop culture screen. But I want use them to make a larger, perhaps more significant point. The crux of both issues-- the Letterman joke and the outcome of Kelly trial-- was a case of mistaken identity. Letterman mistook Willow for Bristol. I can understand that; I can barely tell one Atlanta rapper from another. I digress. Though jurors believed it was Kelly on the tape in question, they decided not to convict him because: 1. they claimed that they needed to be able to determine the girl's/woman's age, but couldn't, and 2. she chose not to take the stand as a witness.

I'm not particularly interested in the legal aspects of it all. What I am interested in, however, is the degree to which the burden of proof was and continues to be literally placed (back) on a black woman's body. The implicit claim in the Letterman/Palin beef was, "He should've known..." and therefore how dare he? Which is to say that in no instance can the sanctity of white womanhood be questioned or joked about, even if that sanctity is about as believable as the claim that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience. To do so, it seems, would be criminal. Did the Palin Machine make a crazy argument by turning David Letterman's bad joke into a claim about sexual perversion? Hell yes. But it sparked debate, nonetheless. And people actually took Palin seriously--again.

Assumptions about black women's bodies, however, never compel such conversations. Criminal themselves, they make guilt potentially debatable rather than inevitable. Instead of an injection of fabricated criminality, the Kelly case required the opposite. Dependent upon an interpretation of the black girl/woman in the video, innocence or guilt became possible only through intense scrutiny. And, as always, her body was outside such jurisdiction. The question became: how could he have known?

Obviously, this disregard for black women and their bodies is about as fresh as using Auto-tune on a hip-hop track. So why do I, why should we still care? Because this is how racism, sexism, classism, et. al. work; this is the legacy of slavery. Such "-isms" are rarely, if ever, about individual choices for friends, or in voting booths, and therefore can neither be primarily understood nor defeated by positive gestures of either. That even as we congratulate ourselves for the apparent strides we've made (whatever they may be), we remain so unaware of--or perhaps simply refuse to understand--the ways such fluff of pop life are connected. Because it reminds me, us that even in this alleged post-everything world, it's never simply a debate about Michelle Obama's arms, or special appreciation for her butt. And so, when (black) women and their bodies are again somehow within the purview of the societal lens, directly or by proxy, it seems only right to discuss the real stakes, especially if I must deal with Palin pouncing on publicity.

So although Letterman's joke wasn't very tasteful, what it reminds me of leaves a lingering bad taste in my mouth...and the opening notes of "Feelin' on Your Booty" in my head.

11 June 2009

Boxball: A Sketch

Dear Gayle,

A few weeks ago, the gf dragged me to her daughter's awards ceremony. I thought I had done my spring semester duty by attending the school play, but I guess not. Frankly, I don't enjoy these events (who does?), but the kid had invited me, and how do you say no to a 9-year-old (or say yes and simply not show up) without it coming up in therapy 25 years later? So I went. It wasn't all bad. I spotted kids who I'm guessing will peak in high school, and pointed out the ones who will assuredly get picked on during grades 9 -- 12. I predicted that the girl who won the special reading award will major in women's studies. Just a hunch.

Anyway, at some point, I whispered to the gf that a lot of these kids were getting what I like to call self-esteem certificates. They're akin to the participation trophy one might receive after the tee-ball season or during youth soccer. It's sort of like saying, "You're mediocre--you might even suck--but we don't want you to feel bad, so here's a ribbon." I'm not a supporter of these things. Maybe it's because I don't have children. Or a heart. I think it turns these kids into adults (and by adults, I mean college students) who want recognition for doing absolutely nothing or merely showing up. It creates a false sense of accomplishment, totally lowers the bar--like 5th and 8th grade graduation ceremonies.

In ostensibly unrelated news, for dissertation purposes, I've set a Google alert for the term "multiracial." And apparently, nine years after the dawn of the "mulatto millennium," multiracials are still the lick. According to several news sources, the multis are the fastest growing demographic group in America. They're so hot right now, just like Hansel. They're might be trendy, but they're not the new black.

There are some who have argued that this meteoric rise is the result of some post-Loving interracial love baby boom. I suppose part of that is true. My great-grandmother could have checked a couple of boxes and identified as multiracial had she been born after the Supreme Court ruled that Mildred and Richard could safely(?) return to Virginia (officially truly for lovers after that 1967 decision, I suppose), and not in 1914. But Nannie's rather untimely birth compelled her to identify as Negro, making her yet another victim of hypodescent. But when the government allowed folks to check two or more boxes for race on the 2000 US Census, well all of that choose or lose stuff got kicked off the train like it was Homer Plessy.

Perhaps it's because I strongly and unabashedly claim American Negro always and forever, but for me, being able to check the multiracial box is like receiving a participation trophy. Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that being multiracial sucks or is equivalent to being mediocre. Being acknowledged is cool, especially when the government recognizes five-fifths-- and not merely, say, three-fifths--of you. But what happens after that? And more importantly, what are the stakes of that?

Asserting a multiracial identity is nice, and may heighten the raw numbers, but it also requires the tide of identity to recede so far back into the political ocean, that the waves no longer crash on the shore. It makes racial and ethnic identity purely biological issues, and presumes that neither thing has or generates political purpose or meaning--or that such things never belong in the space beyond a discussion of population. And that, in my estimation, not only stands in opposition to but disrespects political blackness and the racialized blackness from which it stems. And so I contend that multiracialism is sort of like receiving a self-esteem award because it doesn't go beyond acknowledgment. Though it recognizes the individual and makes him or her feel good, it also sterilizes the power of those who have gone beyond merely showing up, and consequently questions and criticizes the latter's very existence.

To add, multiracialism refuses to understand the way privilege works in all of this. If your mother is white and your father is black but you're poor, I get the feeling you're not harping too much on being identified as multiraced. When you don't have access and money, someone else always checks the box for you. If they bother to check it at all.

Cablinasians stand up.


03 June 2009

(Timberland) Boot Straps

Dear Gayle,

I'm sure you've heard by now, but just in case you haven't, Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter. Understandably, women and people of color, especially Latinos, are rejoicing about the pick. This moment is historic. And though I doubt it, I hope her previous judicial record and her time as a Justice are as liberal as choosing her as a replacement seems.

Since the nomination, I've nearly drowned in the deluge of up-by-the-bootstraps/American Dream rhetoric Sotomayor's biography has inspired. Here's a sample or three:

from the Washington Post:
There is much to admire in the achievements of Sonia Sotomayor [...] Born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in a housing project in the Bronx, Judge Sotomayor went on to excel at Princeton and earn a law degree from Yale.
from the New York Daily News:
The audience was transfixed, many in tears themselves, at a story that was at once classically American and one of a kind* - her mother's determined role in launching her daughter on an improbable journey from a South Bronx housing project to nomination as the nation's first Latina Supreme Court justice.

Sotomayor's father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English. He died when Sotomayor was 9, and her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for her two children.

Sotomayor grew up in the Bronxdale Houses, a sprawling, 26-building low-income project of seven-story apartment buildings in Soundview just north of the Bruckner Expressway.

"Sonia's mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood," Obama said. "[She] sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman, out of the belief that with a good education, here in America, all things are possible.
from the New York Times:
It’s impossible* not to be moved by Judge Sotomayor’s story — born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents and brought up in a city housing project. She was found to have diabetes as a child, and her father, a factory worker, died when she was 9, leaving her mother, a nurse, to raise her and her brother. Judge Sotomayor attended Princeton, from which she graduated summa cum laude, and Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the law review.
and from the President:
Sonia's father was a factory worker with a third-grade education who didn't speak English.

But like Sonia's mother, he had a willingness to work hard, a strong sense of family, and a belief in the American dream.

When Sonia was 9, her father passed away, and her mother worked six days a week as a nurse to provide for Sonia and her brother -- who's also here today, is a doctor, and a terrific success in his own right -- but Sonia's mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman, out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.*

With the support of family, friends and teachers, Sonia earned scholarships to Princeton, where she graduated at the top of her class, and Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, stepping onto the path that led her here today.

Along the way, she's faced down barriers, overcome the odds, and lived out the American dream that brought her parents here so long ago.

*emphasis added

Touching, right? Yes, absolutely. But this, Gayle, is an example of what I will call the POC (People of Color) Candy Cocktail (until I come up with a better name). Though it is inspiring, the subsequent hustling of Sotomayor's story as "compelling" is really about making a person of color palatable, digestable, understandable, and acceptable to white people--sort of like when my mom dips Nala's medicine in peanut butter. Compelling is nothing but code.

Many Americans like to believe in the American myths of hard work and the equal playing field. So much so that you would think that they had actually read Horatio Alger or Ben Franklin's autobiography. Sotomayor's story fits nicely within that discourse. The unfortunate death of Sotomayor's father (justifiable, and "non-black" father absenteeism), her mother working two jobs to support her and her brother, studying grammar books over the summer to catch up to her Princeton classmates--all that fits nicely into that narrative.

What it also does is imply that every other person of color who doesn't "make it" is a lazy whiner. What it does is hide the fact that housing projects in the 1950s and 60s were different from the ones (still) around now. (I did a quick search. Bronxdale Homes is in Soundview. Sotomayor notwithstanding, every other notable citizen is in the music business. Amadou Diallo was shot in the neighborhood. What does that tell you?) What it really does is obscure the structural barriers that somehow had nothing to do with the fact that every other resident worth noting in a Wiki entry is a rapper. Can you imagine KRS-One, another South Bronx native and only 11 years Sotomayor's junior, as a Supreme Court Justice?

Folks want to continue to believe that racism works merely on an individual, personal level. That it's about drinking from colored water fountains (now that's an idea for blipsters), being called wetback, and famous white people pulling their eyelids back and taking pictures. And spinning Sotomayor's tale in this way works right into the mythos. What's more, it allows folks to silently agree that POC have to work hard to get shit the straight white male (should) just naturally possess--things like material wealth, seats on a court (and courtside seats), and intelligence. Perhaps memory fails, but I don't recall Chief Justice Robert's story being served to me like that.

Perhaps this is all part of game. The POC Candy Cocktail: A beverage so tasty The Man doesn't even know what he's sipping, and by the time he figures it out we already have the keys to the car and he's too drunk to do anything about it. Only time will tell. I guess I'm just tired. I'm not sure I've the stamina to continue tricking people into respecting me. Besides, I fear we've been tugging on our frayed bootstraps for so long they're going to break soon. Again, only time will tell.


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