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Aisha Harris Is A Writing Ass Chick We Love

I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been a fan of Aisha Harris. (Three years, maybe?) But I do know that the 27-year-old staff writer at Slate has been a personal favorite long enough for me to confidently state that she is the shit. (Also, I can confidently state that she is not Aisha Tyler.) With degrees from Northwestern and NYU and a background in theater, the Hamden, CT native’s breadth of pop culture knowledge is so impressive that if “Aisha Harris’ breadth of pop culture knowledge” was a person, I’d totally take “Aisha Harris’ breadth of pop culture knowledge” to bottomless brunch with me.

Naturally, she was the perfect choice to debut Writing Ass Chicks We Love — a new VSB feature where we have conversations with, um, writing ass chicks we love.

As one of the last remaining inhabitants of Kanye West Island, I have many job titles. Deputy mayor, high school basketball coach, cabaret bouncer, junior pastor, Chipotle franchisee etc. I am a man with many hats. One of these hats demand that I take island attendance every couple months or so to see who’s still here. 

I’m lazy, though, so I don’t always enjoy going door to door. Instead I’ll just ask. Are you still on Kanye West Island?

Harris: Have you seen ‘Ye lately? Because I don’t even think he’s still on Kanye West Island. The poor guy waded out to sea at the VMAs with nothing but his haze-filled confidence, and got caught up in the swift currents of gobbledegook and “fresh juice” not long after. I don’t think I was born yet the first time the world caught on that MJ had, at least psychologically, passed the point of no return — that was when he started carrying around Bubbles and the little kid that played Webster, right? — because, unlike, Kanye, I’m actually a millennial. But I think we’ve reached peak Yeezy season and may never make it back. He’s officially fulfilled all of the wacky, feverish, instantly quotable dreams he’s promised us ever since he first uttered that Dubya doesn’t care about Black people while Mike Myers turned a ghastly shade of pale. Everything he does from here, artistically, publicly, or what have you, will be just a bit of a let down.

All that being said, I’ve still got one foot left on Kanye West Island, at least from a musical standpoint. And I think somewhere in that speech, and a lot of what he says in general, there are some smart, real truths that he brings to the table about artistry and appreciating Black creativity. I only wish that his public arguments were half as meticulously crafted as his music is. If there’s anything that speech reiterated, it’s that the man is his own worst enemy, and he needs to paddle himself back to shore, stat.

I still think we haven’t reached Peak Kanye, because we haven’t yet heard a Peak Kanye album. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy comes closest conceptually and musically, but it would have been even better if he spent less time on the last half of it apologizing and channeled more of the id found on “Hell of a Life” and Yeezus. But yeah, a Peak Kanye album — and the critical/commercial praise that would accompany it — would produce Peak Public Kanye. Can you imagine what a finally validated Kanye West would be like? He’d be Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch, but on everyone’s couch. Which would really suck for people with white couches.

Anyway, I thought one of the more interesting parts of Kanye’s speech was him considering himself a millennial. Because, he is not a millennial. I get why he feels this way, though. He’s a few years old than me, but we’re part of the same generation; a bit too old to be a millennial, but not quite old enough to really be a part of Generation X. Is there an appropriate name for people born between 1976 and 1982, Aisha “My last name is Harris, not Tyler” Harris, or are we doomed to float in a label-less ether?

Harris: Maybe we’ve seen Peak Public Kanye already, and his next album is the one that means Peak Musical Kanye? Maybe he knows we’re all going to kiss his ass when he finally drops his Paul McCartney-laden masterpiece, and this is just him preparing us for the greatest album of all time. Because he’s a motherf***ing genius.

I could’ve sworn that you guys were generation Y? I vaguely remember there being a ’90s Time or Newsweek magazine cover story about it, featuring some weird looking pre-teen White kids looking sulky. I could be completely wrong, though. Generations don’t make much sense to me. At work, we keep getting younger and younger interns and they’re still considered millennials. And yet, they missed the 15-month period when Spice Girls ruled the world and when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “My Heart Will Go On.” (Practically all the girls in my 5th grade class, with the exception of us two Black girls, owned Titanic t-shirts. And wore them to school every day for several months.)

Basically what I’m saying is that generations, like decades, are super arbitrary, and virtually figments of our imaginations. Yes, there are shared experiences that may bond us if we were of a certain age when major historical stuff went down, like a war or catastrophic event, but the lines can blur easily around pretty much everything else. Kanye’s imagination happens to reach realms most people will never see, and in his mind, he’s a millennial. I hope whoever gets his next interview asks him about this specifically. They will likely tell him he’s not, in fact, a millennial, and then he’ll scream about how confident he is and break out into “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”

I do vaguely recall a Generation Y moniker that lasted about as long as Pepsi Blue. But that’s the point. It’s easy for you to discount the importance of belonging to a widely-recognized generation because you belong to one. Your millennial bonafides and resume will never be questioned. You’ll never live with the unsettledness of not knowing which generation you truly belong to. Basically, you have generation privilege, and you need to acknowledge that. #allgenerationsmatter

You bring up a good point, though, with the Titanic t-shirts. In terms of how certain cultural touchstones often assumed to be universal are actually a bit more narrow. As a Black woman who covers and deconstructs pop culture for a mainstream publication, how does that — the difference between the assumed universal experience and your own experience — impact your writing? (If at all.)

Harris: If there’s one thing I’ve discovered having written for Slate for almost four years now, it’s that the “universal experience” is not actually a real thing, unless, to paraphrase an old adage, we’re talking about popping out of the womb, dying, or paying taxes. (“Even that last one is iffy,” Wesley Snipes once quipped long, long ago.) I consider myself a pretty well-rounded individual when it comes to pop culture, and I’d like to think I am more so than most, considering it’s my job. But my blind spots are tested on a daily basis at work, when unexpected news events or new movies or albums, or books come out, and there’s a chance for someone at Slate to respond to them. For instance, I knew White people loved Seinfeld and Friends, but I didn’t realize just how much they–and Slate readers, especially–LOVE Seinfeld and Friends. Now, I passed on those in the ’90s (mostly because I was too young the first time around), and have never had any interest in trying to binge-watch since, based on the few episodes of each I’ve seen. So, depending upon who on our culture team is available at any given moment and on their knowledge of said cultural item, when something does come up that’s Seinfeld or Friends, etc.-related, I’m likely not going to write on it, and someone else will. And vice versa. That’s one of the advantages of our team, though–we have a nice mixture of areas of interest and/or expertise that overlap in some ways and not in others, and on any given day each of us might find a news peg to indulge in them. Things that I’ve often been tapped to write about due to my interests include: Movie tropes, Community (RIP), and Key & Peele (RIP x2!).

On the more personal side, I’ve had many occasions to bring my perspective as one of the only Black female staffers on Slate to our readers who may not otherwise encounter it elsewhere, and that’s something I’m happy to do. More often than not, it’s through “mainstream” cultural things that everyone’s ostensibly already talking about, or at least aware of–like writing about how Lena Dunham having no people of color in big roles on the first season of Girls makes sense, or how Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is the perfect protest song (and my jam). I write these things not so much as an “educational” tool for our heavily White, liberal audience — though sometimes, that is the case — but as a way of unpacking what they mean to me.

On occasion, there may be a reference I think of that I want to throw in to a piece — often, that reference is from the TV biopic The Temptations — but I know that, unlike with “Winter is coming,” or “I’m the one who knocks,” most Slate readers ain’t gonna get it.

Are there any recognizable references from the Temptations movie other than “Aint no one coming to see you, Otis!“? (Poor Otis.) I consider my literacy levels of Black-ass shit to be somewhere between “moderately high” and “Paul Mooney,” but I can’t think of anything else I’d cite in regular conversation. Are you attempting to out-Black me, Aisha?

Harris: I don’t think there’s any way for me to out-Black you. And now that you mention it, yes — that is the most quotable part of the movie, by far. I guess I only ever want to throw out “Ain’t nobody…,” probably because there are an infinite number of situations where that phrase is appropriate. Now, The Jacksons: An American Dream, on the other hand, has lots more quotable lines. (“Go to bed, Joseph! GO. TO. BED!” “No no no no no, I don’t wantchu no mo’…”)

You can find Aisha Harris at Slate, and follow her @craftingmystyle.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    That was cute. She seems interesting. I’ll look out for her writing.

    However….I love Aisha Tyler. And I’m not afraid to admit it. At all.

    • Dcetstyle

      I like her a lot too. Didn’t know that was a thing.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Ehh it’s not really a thing, some people just act like Black nerds are still a weird thing, and I have no idea why.

        I could only wish to hustle half as hard as she does.

        • Geeks are territorial

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Just like every other social group, but they take it to another whole other level, by fighting against rejection and elitism with an inflated sense of rejection and elitism in reverse.

            • Yeah, no one cares that you liked Iron Man before the movie. We all in the same theater now

              • RewindingtonMaximus

                Exactly. Its all good to love something from the very beginning, but trying to prove you love it more than someone who just found out about it just screams arrogant.

    • Instagram SuperModel

      I c u on your GQ mode! Love it.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Awww shucks, thank you madam.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Lana Kane is BAE and I don’t even care if she’s a cartoon character.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        WERD. Even pregnant Lana can get it.

    • For the longest Aisha Tyler to me was the black chick that had on Friends for a second… Don’t judge mr

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        But that’s fine. She was that. But she went on to do so much more. And I just love her hustle. S h i t is too real for words. One minute she’s doing her podcast, next minutes she’s hosting a tv show, next minute she’s doing the E3 press conference for Ubisoft Games, 3 years in a row.

  • aww. love it!
    its awesome to find out about dope bw doing awesome things!

  • Dcetstyle

    You kids still hanging in there on Kanye West island are so cute. Really I get it because I never left Neverland, never. Even through the physical changes and his mess, never gave up on Mike.
    But on another note the fact that you guys quote the Temptations and not the Five Heartbeats makes this Gen Xer feel really old.

    • Im still on the island, cuz Gemini and he hasn’t made an album I didn’t like yet

      • Dcetstyle

        Makes sense, I do think he is a very talented musician.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been a fan of Aisha’s writing on Slate for a while now.

    I also breathe a sigh of relief when she is announced as a guest on the “Culture Gabfest” podcast during a week when something particularly black is happening (same with Jamelle Bouie on the “Political Gabfest”). Otherwise, the conversations can get a little uncomfortable to me. It’s nice of her to acknowledge her own pop culture blind spots, but I do wish they would pull her in to talk about more general topics — not just the black stuff.

  • miss t-lee

    “I do vaguely recall a Generation Y moniker that lasted about as long as Pepsi Blue. ”

    I also remember this. It was short lived as fcuk.

    • Dougie

      Maybe I’m showing my age here, but do you remember crystal Pepsi? That, too, was short lived.

      • miss t-lee

        I most certainly do!

        • Sigma_Since 93

          It was tasty. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it didn’t do well in other test markets.

          • miss t-lee

            Eh. I’m not a fan of Pepsi.

  • The Five Heartbeats was way more quotable than the Temptations movie. Who in here don’t know Big Red’s office hours?

    • AlwaysBluffing

      TFH might be more quotable, but it’s not as good or as iconic.

      And fun fact…the actress who played Baby Doll wrote “B*A*P*S”.

    • Overtymer Adio

      Sniff sniff…9 sniff to 5…sniff

      • Poor Jidenna ain’t get none of them checks after

        • I swear that was my first thought when I saw Jidenna.

          • If he ever gets a new song he gotta get the Midnight Falcons in the video

        • GoodeLyfe

          ?????

      • brothaskeeper

        Poor Bird….

    • Alli

      Lmbo sooo true….Robert Townsend’s movies were always great….miss his point of view….

    • I would say Temptations is more quotable simply because I never seen the movie and I know ain’t nobody coming to see you Otis. Five Heartbeats is more known for the songs and “every night I gotta fight to prove my love” .

      • I guess since the Temptations movie was so long its hard for me to pick out enough defining lines. TFH on the other hand had defining moments every 15 minutes. I could act out the entire cracked out Eddie King (pronounced Kang) scene right now. “Dadaaang!”

        • I refuse to believe his name ain’t Eddie Kane Jr

      • heyheyno

        I’ve never seen the five heart beats. When I saw the same guy who played David Ruffin playing in the first few scenes in five heart beats I turned the movie off. I’ve already associated him with David I can’t mess that up.

  • She’s cute, idk if I’d ever read Slate on purpose tho, at best a headline crosses the TL. Also I separate generations by if you went your entire high school life without a cell phone.

    • I got my own phone senior year. I refuse to be labelled a millennial either way. My soul is Generation Y.

    • brothaskeeper

      I didn’t get my own cell phone until a month after 9/11…I was 27….

  • heyheyno

    She’s 27 likes the show community and quoting the temptations movie. I like her already.

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