Why Black Bloggers, Writers, Fans, And Followers Need To Have Each Other’s Backs

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Like all other relationships between creatives and consumers, the relationship between bloggers/writers and fans/followers is symbiotic. What differentiates our dynamic from most other creative/consumer relationships is that there isn’t much separation between us, and our connection is a bit more intrinsic and fraternal. Aside from a random retweet or an Instagram follow, you’ll probably never interact with the man who designed your shoes or the women who directed the last movie you watched. But, you might have conversations with your favorite blogger three times a week. Maybe even everyday. And maybe you remember when the person who’s your favorite blogger today was just another outspoken and witty regular at what was your favorite blog a couple years ago.

This relationship is built on trust. We trust you won’t use the information we reveal about ourselves to harm us. (And we trust that you, you know, actually read.) In turn, you trust that we stay consistent, honest, and appreciative of your attention and support. The uniqueness of this relationship makes us — the Black blogosphere — a real, live community.

Adding to that uniqueness is the fact that most of us — for reasons practical and understandable — are hidden behind some sort of pseudonym or avatar. And, even those of us who actually use our real names and pictures usually won’t volunteer personal details that could reflect badly on us and people close to us.

So, when someone steps out there and offers intimate details about themselves with their real names and real faces and real locations, we need to have their back. And I’m not just talking to fans and followers. I’m talking to bloggers, writers, popular Twitter/Tumblr personalities. Everyone.

This means when we see that an article penned by or about one of us is shared on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, and people are getting nasty and personal with the comments and insults — as what happened last week with Jamilah Lemieux’s Huffington Post profile — we jump in there and defend them.

This means when a person is harassing and stalking several members of the community — yes, Adonis Ash, I’m talking to you — we don’t stand idly by and say “Damn. That’s f*cked up.” and we do actually do something about it.

This doesn’t mean being a part of this community makes you impervious to criticism. Or even that we always need to jump in there whenever we see it happening. I can’t express how much I’ve grown as a writer (and a person) from the feedback I’ve received from my work, and anyone genuinely attempting to perfect their craft will say the same thing. Plus, echo chambers are no fun. And neither are people who can’t take any criticism and don’t allow for their skin to eventually thicken.

The problem is when the criticism goes from constructive to intentionally destructive. And while I guess you can say there’s a fine line between the two, there really isn’t. You know when shit goes too far, and it’s disingenuous to pretend you don’t. And, when it’s taking place somewhere your voice could actually matter — a Facebook comment section or an email thread opposed to a YouTube or Yahoo descent into Hell — it’s irresponsible not to do anything about it.

And yes. This all goes for me as well. There have been multiple times when I’ve neglected to use my voice and status to speak up when well aware that the criticism certain people received crossed the line.

I need to do much, much better, and this is me calling myself out, too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Blood, Sweat, and Heels: Say Heffa Say What? Oh No She Didn’t!

"I'm going to toast to this stupid sh*t right now....but wait til I get to my computer."

“I’m going to toast to this stupid sh*t right now….but wait til I get to my computer.”

Tonight, Bravo debuted the show Blood, Sweat, and Heels featuring a few women I’ve never heard of, Melyssa Ford (who is still hot and was once referred to as the Cornel West of video hoes to me), and blogger extraordinaire and the one with sense, Demetria Lucas, of A Belle in Brooklyn fame. I didn’t watch the entire show because, well, I just wasn’t that interested. But after a few “are you watching this sh*t?” text messages and reading the Twitters disbelief at the (apparent) sheer idiocy of a few of the women on the show, I was all in.

I’m here for non-sense.

Fortunately, I managed to catch a segment that holds near and dear to the hearts of nearly all persons who have ever taken fingers to boards: what is and isn’t off-limits to be blogged about? Demetria attended a brunch with a bunch of her “friends” from this show, they said stupid sh*t (or at the very least debatable sh*t), and she decided to write about it. Wash, rinse, repeat for life.

Of course, this caused issues with her friends as they not only didn’t appreciate her using that brunch for material, she also did what all people who write about their personal lives and opinions do; she wrote it from her point of view AND made dumb sh*t sound dumb as hell. As you can imagine, this didn’t go well and never does. With anybody. Shenanigans will ensue. Whether this show will be worth watching from a positive perspective remains to be seen. Thus far it looks like it will be Basketball & Hip-Hop If The Chicks Could Read. But I’m sure I’ll watch for the potential non-sense. Because non-sense. Because shenanigans.

But Demetria’s decision to blog about a conversation that was had where she clearly thought the opinions of the other women were suspect brings up a very interesting point of debate that (like I said) every blogger I know has gone back and forth about. Champ and I have spent CONSIDERABLE amounts of time talking about life situations that we can’t ever write about for various reasons. But those are overly personal…

…what happens if you’re out amongst the homeys and somebody brings up a convo that gets the creative juices flowing? For most of us bloggers who dabble in the opinion and perspective arts our daily lives and conversations are the drivers for all of our journalistic whims. Hell, we look to it on purpose for material because its hard as hell to create new content daily without some inspiration. I know that I’ve definitely jacked my personal life for material and have taken conversations from the real world wholesale and turned them into blog posts. Now, I will usually, say nine times out of ten, let the people involved in a conversation know that I may use it for blog purposes. Which could be very well why so many conversations I have start with some variant of “don’t write about this” or “I do not want to read this on your blog!”

Of course, if you drag anybody over the rails, there’s going to be push-back no matter how necessary. And you have to expect that as a blogger with a popular forum that folks will read. And in Demetria’s words to her #bae, she said she had to hold folks accountable for their words (paraphrasing), except public blog #shotsfired feels personal. Granted, in these situations, the audacity to write about some sh*t without ever having that convo in person is usually worse than the words…hence the personal part. Especially since if a real conversation ever happened, the blog post may not have or wouldn’t be met with such surprise and “AND HEFFA SAY WHAT? AND HEFFA SAY WHAT? oh no she didn’t”.

But all that’s irrelevant. Only not at all. At the end of the day, as a writer/blogger/opinion artist, once you find a topic worthy of discussing you discuss it. Decorum and presentation matter and all that jazz, but if we’re convo starters, then if we have a convo thats worth having, don’t we owe it to ourselves to drop that bomb on ‘em?

So what say you? Would you be upset if you saw a convo that you just had with your writer friend show up on their site and you didn’t know they were going to write about it? Does it only matter if the subject matter shines a negative light, even if the post is completely anonymous? What’s the line?

Basically to all you writers out there…what dat blog do?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka TANGLE JIG P aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

The Surreality, Hypocrisy, And Futility Of The “Serious” Internet Argument

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There is a strange type of popularity that comes with being a well-known blogger. It’s almost surreal. While a (very, very, very, very small) percentage of the general population is very familiar with you and your work, an even larger percentage isn’t even aware that the medium you derive your popularity from exists.

You can be an obscure author, comedian, or rapper with a small but very passionate and very engaged fanbase. What separates blogging is that even if most people haven’t heard of that particular author, comedian, or rapper, they’ve at least heard of books, comedy, and rap music.

Let me put it this way: I’m sure many of you reading this have, within the last couple of years, had explain to someone what a “blog” was. If not, you were probably the person someone explained “blogging” to.

I’m not complaining, mind you. This surreal strain of “fame” is just a reminder that the internet world, while limitless, is very small—and very exclusive—and that helps keep things in perspective.

That said, when it comes to internet-based arguments and debates, this perspective tends to get lost pretty frequently by many people…including me.

To wit, Panama and I had a 1500 word long discussion last week about street harassment that led to over 800 comments. This discussion was prompted by a burgeoning national conversation about street harassment that doesn’t seem to be losing any steam.

But, I doubt the men who are online all day pushing back against the anti-street harassment movement are actually the ones on the street catcalling women. I’m also sure that the women arguing with these men are aware of that. What you end up having is an impassioned internet argument that doesn’t really serve any lasting purpose besides teaching people how to win or lose an impassioned internet argument.

You also see this whenever any internet conversation about dating starts to get heated. Despite the fact that many (if not most) people offline seem to have had good relationships and generally feel good about their relationship future, online the dating world turns into World War Z. I had a friend tell me a few years ago that she didn’t even know she was supposed to feel bad about being single until she got on the internet.

And please, don’t let the topic be interracial dating. Aside from Rick Santorum and Black barbers with bad haircuts, no one offline gives a damn about who you date. Online, though, you’ll find Black men who’ve had nothing but positive interactions with Black women offline referring to Black women as hoodrat bedwenches, and Black women who, despite the fact that they have Black fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, nephews, and friends they love and Black sons they’ve produced, consider Black males to be the bane of all existence.

Now, although these internet arguments don’t have much of a direct effect on or connection to what happens offline, they’re not completely purposeless. I was aware that some men catcall and randomly proposition women on the street, but I never thought to consider how dehumanizing it could be and how unsafe it could make women feel until reading a few pieces about it.

Also, I’m aware that I’ve led a (relatively) “easy” life so far, and these serious internet arguments—as hyperbolic as they can get—tend to increase certain awarenesses for people like me. Maybe things aren’t as bad as the internet would tell it, but extremes help reiterate the fact that different people have had different experiences, and these different experiences create different ways of viewing the world.

Still, the next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated internet debate about a topic that only 0.000000001% of the population would even consider discussing, do me a favor. Log off, take a walk, tell the first person you see in the street about the nasty argument you had in the comments section of VSB about passport stamps, and study their face when they ask you who and what the f*ck you’re talking about.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

A Response to An Open Letter To Yours Truly

A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.

One of the best parts about this whole blogging experience is the interactions it creates. You get to meet new people and exchange ideas with people you’ll likely never ever see in person. The hope is that you matter enough that when it’s all said and done people remember you, and the hope is that the memories aren’t negative.

Well, in similar fashion, one of my favorite parts of blogging is the feedback. And the criticism, and perhaps masochistically when people come at me sideways. I’m like a battle rapper in that regard. All beef is worthy of being taken on. So is all criticism if its sincere. And to be completely frank, all writers, artists, what have you need honest criticism and feedback in order to grow and mature as a craftsperson and as a human being. So when I received an email yesterday from Tina Watkins, letting me know that while she’s a longtime fan and reader of VSB, her readership has waned because most of our posts are ridiculous and that my post on the teacher breastfeeding in class and the comments that followed disturbed her. It was with that in mind that she felt compelled to pen “An Open Letter Encouraging Very Smart Brotha Writer Panama Jackson.”

Now, I’m not about to encourage everybody with a grievance to write open letters to VSB – heavens no – but if you do, and especially if you call me out specifically, know that I will respond. And I don’t mean that in an aggressive, antagonistic way, but in a “I respect you enough to hear you out and engage.”

So with that being said, Ms. Watkins brings up some interesting points and I’m going to discuss what I got out of her letter.

PS. Can we keep things civil around here today. I don’t want anybody reading her letter and disagreeing with any of it and taking aim at her. She’s a VSB contributor folks, let’s all play nice. It’s Friday.

Moving on.

What I got out of her letter was this: “with great power, comes great responsibility”. And when it comes to issues dealing with women, that taking some of the stances or presenting issues the “man” way that may or may not exhibit any real empathy or attempts to understand is not only counterproductive, but maybe even doing a disservice to the growth I purport to be seeking out. Oh, and I have a daughter now so I should think of how my daughter would be affected by the way I think, etc.

That’s what I took from her letter. And my guess is that’s something that’s been said to and about a vast number of people who venture here on the daily.

Quickly, much like I’m the kind of guy who always has nicknames, I must also be the kind of cat prone to receiving letters questioning if I was wasting my gifts. I can remember at least two other instances where I received either handwritten or typed letters indicating that the writer felt like I had all the fits in the world but were squandering them by not using them for greater change, etc. One even told me that I should be using my talents for God and and that I was using the vast talents I had for the devil’s work. That might have been the most backhanded compliment I ever received, by the way.

Moving on. I’ve always had a problem with the “with great power comes great responsibility” tagline when it comes to bloggers. Why? Glad you asked. See, while I understand it in theory, in practice it more or less implies that at some point, should you reach a point where you could be considered influential, you have to shift from what makes you happy to what does the most good. While that may sound selfish, the fact is, what usually brings people to you in the first place as a writer is your sincerity and honesty which is largely personal. And you’re ability to connect to people however it may be which is again, usually largely personal. Plus, we tend to pick and choose who we think should be responsible for social change. Diddy has way more influence than I’d ever have but there’s no movement to get him to change the world. And maybe that’s because he told people to vote. Me no know. Maybe it’s because nobody really respects his mind but his business acumen.

Me no know, but the point is if you gained power by being true to yourself, should you alter that version of yourself to hopefully “move” the most amount of people? I don’t know how I feel about that. Now that isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t grow. In fact, if you’re not growing in this business then you’re not only going to lose your fans but you definitely are wasting time. However, how that growth materializes is a very personal thing.

I wrote that post two weeks ago about losing my edge because that’s how I feel. It was honest. But it wasn’t to change anybody’s life. It was because that’s what I felt like writing. That’s how Champ and I have treated VSB. Sure there are times when you feel an obligation to speak on something happening in the social consciousness. That’s part of the gig. People want and need to talk about certain things so you do that. And hell, since we’re a people too we also feel that need. But I know that very little of my writing has an agenda. Hell, that’s probably part of the popularity, there isn’t one…though we’ve been accused of being Kanye d*ckriders on more than one occasion. But largely, I don’t have an opinion on anything until I realize I have one. Which is why me writing about women’s issues would be largely disingenuous.

For the most part, my observations about womanhood are reserved to the differences between the sexes. Of course, on occasion I’ll weigh in on a topic that either matters to me because its been introduced into my world via my child or something. And it’s not because I’m afraid of those issues, its just that I’m not a woman. I don’t even realize half of those issues are issues. Does that make me oblivious…perhaps. I will say that there are some realizations that I’ve made though as of late about being a woman that I intend to broach here. But I also won’t feel guilty if I don’t, nor will I feel like I’m doing myself or our audience a disservice.

Also, I’m not even sure how Wednesday’s post could be considered incendiary. Sure, I focused on the breastfeeding and that was likely only a secondary issue but let’s be real, that’s what the majority of the discussion centered around. I’m not sure if I’m trending towards the mean there or if the mean is just mindless men who don’t realize that boobs are for feeding. Point is, while it’s a shame that we live in an oversexualized, yet taboo-centric nation when it comes to the female form, the fact is we do live there and boobs are boobs. Sure women don’t see the big deal, but that doesn’t make them not a big deal. It’s a larger problem…agreed…but I’m not sure that I feel any obligation to attempt to undo that pathology. Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know.

Perhaps this is all a copout because I have never had any designs on being an influencer or somebody who would change the world. For the most part I feel like my obligation is to my family and to ensuring that I don’t bring shame to them. Everything else is fair play. I’ve shifted some of my thinking towards creating a legacy that my daughter can be proud of. At this point, between everything I’ve written, all the music I’ve created, and all of the videos floating of me out there, I can make sure that my daughter never has to wonder who her father was should something happen to me. That is honestly one thing that does motivate me. The ability to stay alive through my words for her. While she may not like everything that she reads, she won’t ever think of her father in a negative fashion, I hope. Or at least not permanently.

But does creating a forum with a large following make one a de facto leader? Eh, I’m not sure. A facilitator maybe. But leader? Now, in life, I’d probably be considered a leader but that’s because I can only follow for so long, plus, I’m arrogant enough to think that in most forums I’m as good if not better than everybody else at what we’re doing. Let’s be real, I blog at a place called Very Smart Brothas…arrogance came with the price of admission. However, I don’t know that I ever wanted to use this forum to “effect change” so much as provide a place to think out loud. However, should I ever decide to take on an issue or attempt to change perceptions and bridge any gaps, I’d definitely feel comfortable enough to do it, but it would also be because at that time, it’s just what I felt in my soul.

Which brings us full circle. I get where Ms. Watkins is coming from, assuming I’m interpreting her letter properly, and she’s fair to make that critique and offer her encouragement. It’s all in play and all in bounds. I’ll even take it under advisement. But I also don’t know that I truly feel compelled to become an “issue” blogger just because I have the platform to do so. But who knows, maybe I’ll feel that way at some point. Perhaps a particular issue will compel me to dive headfirst into something and attempt to save some souls or something. Maybe not. But I get my any means on whenever there’s a drought…get your umbrellas out because that’s when I brainstorm.

So I guess we’ll see.

“Now before I finish, let me just say
I did not come here to show out, did not come here to impress you
Because to tell you the truth when I leave here I’m GONE!
And I don’t care WHAT you think about me – but just remember,
when it hits the fan brother, whether it’s next year, ten years,
twenty years from now, you’ll never be able to say
that these brothers lied to you JACK!”

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka HE WHO IS LONG WINDED aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3