On Being Black and Having It Both Ways In The Mainstream Media

h515894B7[VSB Note: Today I'm handing off the podium to Shamira aka Sham-wow who said to me I've got an idea and I said, that's good. Share. So she did. So ladies and gentlemen, give it up...for Shamira!]

Yesterday there was a rather spirited discussion in the VSB comments section about whether or not The Boondocks was problematic because of the way that it exposed presumed “black” culture to audiences that are primarily white.

This isn’t a new point by any means – it seems that whenever anything that is viewed as uniquely black develops a mainstream platform an iteration of this conversation rears it’s ugly head. A very notable example of course is when Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit TV show. More recently, however, versions of these talking points have emerged in the context of the Black Jeopardy skit that happened on last weeks episode of SNL.

I found the kerfuffle via SNL to be particularly interesting in the wake of the concerted effort from folks for the show to have a more substantial black/nonwhite presence. For better or worse Lorne Michaels did exactly that, casting a black woman as well as hiring two black writers. Yet when we got a sketch catering to a black audience written by black actors and casting black people…(some) folks took issue.

This begs the question: if we are given the seat at the table that we demand, should we be concerned with how our message is received.

Before I go any further, let me admit my bias and say that I thought that the Black Jeopardy sketch was funny. (I’m also quite easily amused so you may want to take my humor tastes with a grain of salt – I’m currently giggling at an overweight cat falling right now).

Beyond that, however…I’ve never been explicitly concerned about how white people receive black content once it’s been given the space for a large audience. While I understand other peoples valid concerns, I don’t think putting  content out removes the social responsibility of white people to see their privilege and know when they are able to jump in and when they should just step back and listen.

Furthermore, the folks who use caricatures and entertainment-created characters to justify their prejudices are not my worry. I don’t find value in putting out content that takes every effort to avoid the potential of future confirmation bias. In my opinion, desiring a space to depict the varying versions of the black experience is disserviced if we feel required to dilute the message to accommodate for the ignorant and the hopeless. The second we feel dictated by people who are already uninterested in our narratives is when we cede our power before mobilizing it.

To sum up…it’s not my problem if the white audience didn’t get the joke.  I’m only interested in ensuring that we have a multitude of avenues to say what we want to say in the manner that we see fit. If nonblacks get it, great. If they don’t…I’m trying to find a bother, but it seems that my pockets are all out of them at the moment.

Anyways, what say ye, folks of VSB? Am I being ignorant of reality here? Or should we go three sheets to the wind and stop worrying about what white folks may or may not think?

-SHAMIRA

It’s A Black Thing?: What Had Happened Was…

obamaHello.

I have a question. Like a real one too.

I’m going to ask this for education purposes, intellectual reasons, and overall curiosity satisfaction. Creep with me:

Has anybody ever heard a non-Black person say, “what had happened was…”?

I’m serious. Kind of. I mean, I’m sure somebody else has said it. And by somebody else I mean a person who doesn’t celebrate Black History Month. Like Don Lemon. But is there any more statement that is so “Black” in nature? Like, short of my personal favorite, “I wish a motherf*cker WOULD do xyz…”

Quick aside: I actually do be wishing motherf*ckers would do such ‘n such. Like I have sat in my bed at home before, eyes clenched holding my comforter tight, asking and hoping somehow someway could it be arranged for X person to do Y thing JUST so I could act a complete donkey. I try not to pray about it because that just seems wrong. Then again, since I’m not praying, it rarely, if ever, comes to fruition because, well won’t he do it. God be knowin’ y’all or nah?

I still be wishing a motherf*cker would though; I can’t stress that enough.

Back to the lecture at hand though. While I can’t say that I know as many non-Black folks as others, and all of those that I do know have spent considerable time around The Blacks, I do wonder if that’s just a…ya know Black thing (and you wouldn’t understand).

Let me take a quick step back here. I’m fascinated by the evolution of language. For instance, I don’t know if you people realize this – I’m sure you do but why would you ever think about it – but we went as a species from communicating by saying “uggggggghghgh” to words like “onomatopoeia”. Do you realize how much occurred to get from one point to the other? Like, why is a door a “door”? These things keep me up at night. Language if fascinating. It’s also why I take such issue with other folks issues with words like “conversate” and “irregardless”, etc, two words that I’m fairly certain are considered uniquely Black though it is completely understandable how any one might arrive at both word usages. I’m not here to argue for them since I’ve already done that in a previous post.

People get very dogmatic about which words aren’t appropriate, whereas I couldn’t care less. I’m a creative…new words are what’s hot in these streets. Especially if you manage to put 3 or more words together to make an even more awesomer word like travashamockery. <— not a real word, but you understand exactly what’s being said there. Genius.

I’ve meandered and veered clean off the path I was heading down. That yellow brick road? Full of redbones. Bong bong. Das racist.

Back again to the lecture at hand. So words and phrases are created and divied up at the Ethnic Word Convention and it seems that Black folks ended up with “what had happened was…” It’s almost a rite of passage. Even the most bougie (“r” or no “r”) has likely uttered this.

I heard a coworker sound like he was going to give it a run one day but he left out the most crucial word in the statement. Buddy of the caucasian persuasion left out the “had”. He, trying to be funny, merely said, “what happened was…” and other coworkers laughed like I’ve laughed when somebody has lobbed out the infamous “what had happened was…” which makes me believe that while the sentiment is the same, there really is a “Black” way to say that thus making it a “Black” statement.

Granted, this all matters not in the grand scheme of things and a brother was pontificating this evening while looking at the moon when something happened that caused me to say, to another soul, that what had happened was…

Well this really all got me to thinking of what are statements that are uniquely Black, white, or other (Father forgive me for being too lazy to list out every other ethnicity like Aleutian Eskimo, etc). I presume that certain statements like, “I’d like a loan for $50,000 unsecured, right now” would be, ya know, white, but I’m sleep.

So what do you smart people have on my gas money? First, have you ever heard anybody non-Negro say “what had happened was…”? And further, what are some uniquely ethnic phrases across the board. And yes Puerto Ricans, the whistle counts.

Help me with my curiosity. PJ out.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. SAY HEFFA SAY WHAT?! aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

40 Million Ways To Be Black. What’s Yours?

311_87419235376_365_n

While talking to Panama a couple weeks ago about the reaction to the post about Pharrell’s GIRL cover and Black male privilege, the conversation somehow segued to us discussing how different our backgrounds are, especially when it comes to the ambiguous and amorphous concept of Blackness.. He’s biracial, lived in the Blackest state on Earth (Alabama), the Blackest city on Earth (Detroit), and Germany. (Yes. That Germany.) He also went to an all-boys HBCU, and currently lives in the Bougie Black Person’s Mecca (Washington, D.C.).

I grew up and still live in Pittsburgh, PA -- the Whitest major metropolitan area in the country. I also lived on one of the most dangerous streets in the city, but I was somewhat insulated from that because my parents sent me to private school in the suburbs and, from the time I was maybe 12 years old, I was a star basketball player. (By my junior year in high school, we moved to that suburb.) This awkward simultaneous connection to and distance from Blackness continued in college. I went to a predominately White university, and I immediately immersed myself with the BlackBlack people on campus. As a junior I was an officer in the Afro-American Society, and my senior year I was an editor of the Black newspaper, The Nia News. But I was also a scholarship basketball player. Which meant I was immune to many of the issues Black students faced.

The conversation then shifted to how the uniqueness of each of our backgrounds, upbringings, and character traits (both learned and innate) controls each of our thoughts and actions today. None of our beliefs, opinions, personalities, and biases happened by accident. All earned their way to be with us.

Maybe I’m not as dogmatic about love and marriage if I didn’t grow up in a household with two parents deeply in love with and committed to each other. Maybe I gravitate towards the back of every crowded room I’m in today because of residue from being so self-conscious about the shape of my head as a kid that I made sure to sit in the back of every classroom so there’d be no one behind me to tease me about it. Maybe I don’t finish our book and make the decision to write full-time if the program I worked for at Duquesne University doesn’t lose its funding…and maybe I don’t end up at Duquesne if I didn’t get tired of being in the classroom…and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten tired of being in the classroom if I taught at a better school district.

Anyway, to quote Dr. Henry Louis Gates, if there are 40 million Black Americans, there are 40 million ways to be Black. I just shared a couple snippets from my Black American story. What’s yours? How did you come to be who you are today?

(And, if you don’t happen to be Black, but happen to be reading this, share your story too. We’re all family here and shit.)

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

For the next nine days, you can purchase your own I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt via Teespring for the insanely low prices of $11.50 for a men’s shirt, $13 for a women’s shirt

front

and $24.50 for a hoodie.

front (2)

The campaign ends Sunday, March 23. We’re already halfway to our goal, but we still need to move a few shirts to reach it.

Anywho, they’re available now, so go and BUY!!! and be fly.

Shit Bougie Black People Love: Intentionally Overtipping

tipping

If you talk to enough BBP in your travels, you’ll soon find they tend to share a hyper-awareness about two things.

1. Mattering

Told their entire lives that they’re a little smarter, a little funnier, and a little cooler than their peers—basically, that they’re uniquely special motherfuckers—much of a Bougie Black Person’s existence is predicated on the idea that merely existing isn’t enough. Being a cog in the system or a worker bee won’t cut it. They’re destined for bigger and better things. Not only do they have to matter, they’re supposed to.

2. Blackness

There are no other types of Black people more in tune with, aware of, and (surprisingly) in love with the concept of Blackness than Bougie Black People. Not regular Blacks. Not militant Blacks. Not Black scholars. And not even Blacks from Memphis. They are conscious of what “Blackness” means, the arbitrary variables often used to craft that definition, and the fact that this definition needs constant assessing and recalibration. Although they’re often comfortable navigating non-Black worlds, they’re intentionally, almost painstakingly cognizant of how Black people are perceived by non-Blacks. If one ever needed to know the “level of Blackness” of any person, place, or citrus fruit, a BBP would be the best person to ask.

This consciousness largely stems from the fact that BBP’s inherent self-consciousness about being a BBP puts them in perpetual thought about their own Blackness. By extension, this leads to frequent thought about everyone’s and everything else’s Blackness. (Even certain White people’s level of Blackness is a popular topic of conversation among BBP¹)

When you combine this need to matter with an obsession with Blackness, you’re prone to find some very peculiar behavior. One such behavior occurs whenever Bougie Black People go out to eat at a restaurant.

At first glance, their behavior doesn’t seem any different than any other people eating crab-stuffed curry grape leaves at the city’s trendiest Greek/Jamaican fusion tapas hookah lounge. They sit, drink water with lemons, order and eat their food, and have conversations about Willow Smith, yoga mats, and gentrification.

All normalcy changes when the check comes, though. While most other demographics tend to tip between 10% and 20%, BBP trend a bit higher, regularly tipping somewhere between 25% and 40%. This increase also has nothing to do with the service. Short of squatting and shitting in a Bougie Black Person’s salad, there’s not much a server can do to fall below the 25% baseline.

Now, overtipping has obvious benefits—better service, better karma, better chance of impressing Bougie Black Girls enough to earn the elusive Bougie Black Girl head, etc—but the BBP’s primary motivation for partaking in this practice has nothing to do with any of that.

Black people are generally regarded as terrible tippers. Whether this perception is actually true is irrelevant.² Also irrelevant is the chicken/egg argument of which came first: Blacks receiving shittier service (and becoming shitty tippers as a result) or Blacks tipping shittily (and receiving shitty service as a result). What is relevant is that this perception follows Black people everywhere. Bougie Black People—already hypersensitive to all things Black—are very aware of this, so they overtip to send four separate but somewhat overlapping messages to the (usually White) server.

1. “Yeah, you thought you were getting $7, didn’t you, racist motherfucker? Well, here’s $11. How do you like them apples?”

2. “Don’t worry. I’m not like the rest of them. Here’s proof.”

3. “So what if the bill was $40 more than I expected it to be. I was recently promoted from Mid-Atlantic New Media Practices Diversity Initiator for Exxon Mobile to Mid-Atlantic New Media Practices Diversity Manager for Exxon Mobile. I can afford both it and the 35% tip. Bitch.”

The last message, though, is most important.

4. “I know how you probably feel about Blacks and tipping. This will reverse it.”

The Bougie Black Person’s belief in mattering is so steadfast that they believe a 30% tip left by one of them will be enough to neutralize every thought his server has ever had about Blacks being poor tippers. And, if this particular server has never possessed that thought, the overtipping serves as a preemptive measure to counteract any future thoughts.

Unfortunately, doing this could lead to another unfortunate thought: Black people can’t do math.

¹Unfortunately, this is limited to White men (who just have to be romantically linked to a Black woman to be considered more “Black.”). A White women, however, can be mayor of Detroit and sleep with the entire Wu-Tang Clan and still not earn any Black points.

²It is true, though. Irrelevant, but true.

 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

To Be Young, Gifted, Urban, and Employed

It's funny because it's true. And um, let's also pretend we don't know each other so people won't think we're a gang.

It’s funny because it’s true. And um, let’s also pretend we don’t know each other so people won’t think we’re a gang.

Because most of us can read, most of us have jobs. Or at least have had jobs. And because most of us are in that part of life where we’re not girls, but not quite women – Black Girls Rock and sh*t – many of us are cubicle jockeys and middle management corner office holders with small-to-no-windows. Buck buck buck to those who are self-employed on that 1099 steez. Get thee to an Obamacare exchange post-haste. Then rub your *CENSORED* if you love hip-hop.

Well the difficult part about working in an office is Blackness. And this is not a Black in the sense of having some ratchet, but a ratchet having no gotdamn sense. See, while we all know better, sometimes we just forget. And nowhere is that more prevalent than in an office. I see you outchea trying to figure out, “P, what iz y’all sayin?”

What I’m saying is that I’m is kind, I’m is smart and I’m is important all up in the office. And I’m also sometimes suffering from youth and ethnicity. Like so.

1. Dancing a little too hard in my chair…

…and not even sure if anybody is paying attention. You know how folks hear a song and yell out, “that’s my jam!!!” Of course you do. If you’re Black you likely do this anytime the radio is on and any song comes on. If you’re not Black there’s a good chance you’ve still done this at least once in the past 6 months. Point is, all of us have that song that we love that will cause us to move uncontrollably. And if you have Spotify or any other streaming music service there’s a good chance that you have caught yourself giving  your chair that work. My song is currently “Pop That”. I go full ratchet when that joint comes on. I mean full arm swang and eveything which wouldn’t be an issue at my desk except my co-worker cool caught me off guard. I had in my headphones so I didn’t hear buddy slide in and ask me for – basically – an Excel cheat code. I’m just saying. Which leads to…

2. Singing louder than you intended to

Yeah. You’ve done it. You’ve been sitting at your desk with your headphones in and that 50 Cent “Many Men” came on and you started singing along. You probably didn’t even know you were doing it until it was almost too late. That happens to me at least twice a week. And there’s only so many times you can play off “many men, wish death upon me” as a the remix to Johnny Cash “Folsom County Blues” before folks start asking questions and googling. Also, there’s nothing funnier than me walking into a coworkers office who is listening to hip-hop. Seriously.

3. Talkin’ a lil too loud with the homeys

My boys all call me at work. We have wholesome conversations about money, hoes, and clothes and not specifically in that order. Now, because these guys and Jesus are my homeboys, we also spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about music and hip-hop in general. This wouldn’t be an issue except hip-hop tends to be very polarizing and draws out emotions. One of my homeboys and I have had a very passionate 15 year argument about ATLiens versus Southernplayalistic… and it comes up at the most inopportune moments and STILL draws very passionate (read: loud) discourse. Which, again, all good except when you work in an office with paper thin “metal” dividers, well, everybody is hearing everything you say. So yelling out, “n*gga please” is soooooooo not the move. At all. Ever.

4. That a little bit too funny for its own good Gchat conversation

We all do it. Unless your job has blocked chat at your job through some jacked up policy setting. We all sit and have conversations with one another to pass the day. Hell, 90 percent of the folks I talk to thru the day are people I’ve met via VSB. Every so often you find yourself in an actual funny conversation that ends up causing you to laugh like Eddie Murphy just walked into the room and give it his all. Or similarly you see a video that causes you to shed real tears (this will NEVER not be funny…real tears my ninja) and have to pretend you are either crying or having a coughing fit strong enough to get suggestions of visiting the nurse. I’ve had to remove myself before from my office (or close the door) because of a conversation I was having.

Well that’s a good starting place for work place shenanigans. Or at lest difficulties, which I know I have a lot of. Like a lot of.

Most of us have jobs. What’s your job difficulty? Holla at me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. I WORK, I GET THE JOB DONE aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3